Back in April, Ben Brode announced he was quitting his job as game director on Hearthstone to form a new studio called Second Dinner. After 15 years at Blizzard, it sounded like Brode was excited to leave the grind of being a senior executive on a global franchise to get back into the trenches of actual game development. That enthusiasm certainly comes through in the keynote Brode gave at PAX Dev at the end of August, the audio for which he recently shared on his personal YouTube channel.
In the talk Brode outlines five tips for game development that he says ought to be obvious, but sometimes go overlooked. The topics covered include how to keep controls ultra crispy (he actually gives a pretty specific definition of what crispiness entails), the importance of protecting noobs using skill-based matchmaking, and why developers need to limit the scope of their games. You absolutely don't need to be a game developer or C++ student to find this stuff interesting, as it's all very layman-friendly. Brode's trademark avuncular style also make it easy to extrapolate his points to other games, as well as shedding light on his time at Blizzard.
His final two topics—how to keep players happy and advice on avoiding crunch—might seem self-explanatory to the point of being unnecessary, but they're both hot button issues given the increasing pressure on developers to engage directly with players, and the current discussions around unionisation. Brode offers several nuggets for how to succeed in terms of improving player sentiment. He notes that if you don't respond to a controversial Reddit thread in the first 30 minutes you may as well not bother at all, and talked about setting up a hotline at Blizzard so people could tip him off.
As for crunch, aside from companies needing to plan better and be willing to delay releases or cut feature creep, he emphasised the need to stop "microcultures" in which developers make their colleagues feel guilty for leaving on time. Or, to put it another way…
Although we don't actually get to see Brode on stage, he's added a bunch of gif-style images to the 18-minutes and change video to keep you bouncing along through it. The medium is the message, after all. We still don't know what Second Dinner's first game will be yet, but Brode did mention that the studio has secured financial backing for it. After leaving Blizzard, Brode was joined at Second Dinner by Yong Woo and Hamilton Chu, both of whom were also long-standing senior members of the Hearthstone team. You can keep up with Second Dinner via its Twitter feed.
Final fun fact: At PAX East, our own James Davenport noted that Brode was checking out Artifact, the new Valve CCG. I'd love to know what he made of it.