January 4, 2023
The Power of Joy and the Joy of Games
An interview with Jon Warner, SVP, on his secret ingredient for making great games
“Alton Brown (one of my favorite chefs!) once said that you should eat food prepared by someone who loves you. Because that love and that care translates directly into the quality of the meal you consume. I feel exactly the same way about games.” In this interview, Jon Warner, SVP Entertainment for Hyper Hippo, shares his thoughts on why we should aim to play and create joyful games.
The Joy of Playing Games
What was the first game you remember that gave you that feeling of joy?
I have played video games from a very early age, starting with Atari Pong in 1975. That very first home video game experience filled me with wonder, but I have to say that The Legend of Zelda (NES 1987) is the game that has given me a lasting sense of joy.
In your opinion, what is it about games that makes people happy? Where does the power of games come from?
Games allow us to step away from the pressures of our daily lives and enjoy moments of pure immersion in an experience. It releases those good chemicals into our brains, and allows us to feel clever and accomplished. The power comes from us–the humans that both make and play the games. Whether you are uplifted by a well told story, beautiful art, or a smooth and delightful play experience, games have the power to move us, to heal us, and to bring us closer together.
Why is that important for us, as game makers, to remember?
The joy that we experience as we create the game–the enjoyment of our craft in all its many facets–is translated to our players. If our days are filled with friction and discontent, it will have a tangible impact on the experience our players receive.
What is it about games that brings us closer together? What are some of the ways games make us feel like we’re part of a community?
I believe that games are ultimately a communal experience, even if they are single player. Like theater, sporting events, or movies, games give us a common context to feel a full spectrum of emotions and then we want to share that experience with others. We play together, talk about it on social media, upload clips of our triumphs and defeats. We spin up endless threads on strategies, speculation, and frustrations. That common experience, whether in Wordle, League of Legends, or AdVenture Capitalist, has the power to bring us together in a way that transcends boundaries of location, culture, and status.
Hyper Hippo makes idle games which are known for being played in short bursts. Is it more challenging to create joyful short-form experiences? Does the feeling of joy depend on the level of immersion within the narrative world?
I think games that you experience in small bites are akin to short stories. Neil Gaiman said, “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
There is a very specific art and craft to making games that allow you to feel that wonder in a short session and have you “back in time for dinner.” You have less time and fewer elements to convey those feelings, and so in some aspects it is more challenging.
The satisfaction we get from games comes from many vectors. Narrative immersion is just one of them. Feeling skilled and clever, accomplished, or social are all ways we can evoke that special feeling of joy in our players.
Making Joyful Games
What does a joyful team look like? What do teams need in order to be able to create joyful games?
Joyful teams have a lot of trust in each other, they can be vulnerable in their creative choices. They have each other’s backs and hold each other accountable. They can bring their whole selves to work, laugh and cry with one another. I believe a joyful team has an environment that nurtures creativity. They are empowered to make decisions and have the autonomy to pursue their goals. They have meaningful work which they love.
How does this translate to the end product? What tools do we have to know if our games are bringing people joy?
When it all comes together right, it translates to a game that people love to play. They want to visit and revisit it throughout their days. We can observe this in the reviews and comments they leave, in their behaviors that our data shows us. And in the F2P (free to play) world it can also be seen in how they spend their money with us as well as their time. We love our players, and we respect them, and it shows in how we treat them both inside and outside of our games.