Game Oven Studios is here to help me flirt. Not me specifically, but anyone who needs the help.
"We have 14 anecdotes from people who used our games to flirt," says Adriaan de Jongh, one of three developers from the Dutch indie studio. "So you're at a bar, you meet someone you like, and maybe you start dancing," he says, pulling up an image of two people playing Game Oven's phone dancing game, Bounden. "Or maybe you start touching each other," he says, pulling up a different image of two people playing Game Oven's intimate finger-touching game, Fingle.
Game Oven Studios is best known for its ice-breaking games. By forcing people into awkward, physical situations, games like Bounden, Fingle and Friendstrap (a mobile title where two people hold onto a phone and have a conversation with each other — first person who lets go of the phone loses) help break down certain social barriers and, yes, aid in flirting.
The games don't simply issue instructions for players to rub up against each other, though. That would be creepy. Rather, the developers define their vision for each game and find the mechanics that will translate into a player action or interaction that achieves that vision.
"Game mechanics are used to express something," de Jongh says. "With Bounden, our vision was to make a game that makes two people dance. So we found mechanics to help us approach that."
De Jongh says it's important to know what you want to achieve before you begin designing a game, otherwise you risk shooting in all directions and missing the goal.
"For example, it doesn't make sense to have first-person shooter controls [for a dancing game]," he says. "To get as close to the core vision of your game as possible, you have to ask yourself, 'What do my platformer controls add to what I want this game to be?' Finding this vision is equally hard as finding new mechanics."
De Jongh gave six tips for discovering game mechanics, which he himself uses when working on Game Oven Studios titles.
The first tip, as mentioned above, is to define the vision. For each of the studio's games, the developers knew what they wanted the players to do. In the case of Bounden, they wanted people to dance. For Fingle, they wanted to make the "ultimate finger-rubbing fest." So instead of thinking of mechanics first and an idea second, De Jongh suggests exploring mechanics as a way of achieving the vision, and asking, "If I want people to do X, what kind of inputs will lead to that action?"
His second tip is to "make weird shit."
"You have a lot of ideas, but you don't know which is going to be the funnest or the best until you've made it and tried it," he says. "You need to try it."
He says developers should also be willing to throw things away and not be so precious about the things they make, especially when those things are leading to dead ends. "It's not about the features or level editors you make," he says. "The most important thing is what you've learned."
De Jongh also suggests prototyping until the game works, knowing when to stop and try something new, and working with like-minded people.
These are tips that have worked for Game Oven Studios, and de Jongh believes they could also work for other developers, whether their goals are to make the most exhilarating racing game, the most heart-wrenching role-playing game or, yes, the ultimate flirting tool.