The Hummingbird Manifesto

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Sometimes I like to take things slow. I love extra innings with Vin Scully, I indulge in long-winded blog posts, and I’m the kind of guy that takes a Russian novel to the men’s room. But for iPhone games, I’m with Carrie Fisher — instant gratification takes too long!

A couple weeks ago, my old pal Matt Tieger convinced me to buy Westward for my iPhone. Matt and I worked on Darkwatch together at High Moon Studios (where Matt remains as a Game Director and wage slave), so he figured I’d tumble for an Old West-themed iPhone game. I promptly downloaded the game because I am basically an idiot who will do whatever I am told, and I also have this crazy idea that iPhone game ventures should be supported if they look even vaguely interesting.

Darkwatch -- Jericho Cross(we know a thing or two about old west games)

I played Westward for a short while, discovering that it is a quasi-real time strategy game. It is perfectly playable, charming, and enjoyable. I finished the first tutorial mission but will likely never play it again — along with games like Spore and Reign of Swords, I regard Westward as an excellent game that I’m just not very interested in playing on my iPhone.

Call me brain damaged from too much Twitter, but I really don’t want to block out more than five minutes for an iPhone game. Frequently I’ll want to get in and out in even less time. I made plenty of “appointment games” in my past life so maybe I’m just burned out, but if an iPhone game requires that I sign up for some kind of prolonged campaign with tutorials and multiple scenarios, well … include me out.

I want something fast, shiny, and delightful, where the engagement comes not just from the length of the content but from the sparkle of the execution. I want games that are always there for me, require minimum learning, and don’t feel like work to play. I want to be able to flit from App to App without getting married to any of them.

(this picture and all sorts of airy-fairy hummingbird crap are on display at about.com)

This is what I want from an iPhone game. Call it my Hummingbird Manifesto.

Hummingbirds are always moving. These games are on my iPhone, and they are out in the world with me. Make sure your game is something I can play while standing in line, or cheating during a card game. If you must have them at all, keep the menus big and simple, and stick to easy controls that don’t require extraordinary precision. If I can play your game with one hand, so much the better. I love to combine my hobbies!

Hummingbirds flit from flower to flower. Load that damn game, and load it fast. Your game is an ephemeral distraction wedged in around all the reading, texting, talking, and listening I do with my iPhone (to say nothing of all the other games demanding my attention). Make it easy for me to get in and out of your game. Welcome me back with minimal load times and make sure your game is instantly comprehensible so I don’t need to think too hard about what I was doing when I last quit out.

Hummingbirds love to mix and match. I have my life stored on Apple’s little wonderbox — let me use it in your game. Let me bring in my own pictures, and let me share games through my address book. Most important — let me listen to my own music while I play your game. If I want to hear some dumbass podcast while I play your game, let me do that … don’t step on my audio with your lame royalty-free soundtrack.

Hummingbirds are serious little bastards. They zip around like mental patients but they know what they are doing, and their time is valuable. Your games might be short, but I expect quality. Don’t waste my time with knockoffs and bad user interfaces.

Let a million flowers bloom! As iPhone indie game developers, let’s work together to create a brilliant field of vibrant and worthwhile Apps. Let’s eschew the fast buck and build quality entertainment for this amazing new device. Leave the sturm und drang for console games (or bring it here — I said a million flowers and I believe in the Big Tent — just don’t expect me to play it). But let’s recognize that iPhone mobile games are a new game form, deserving new rules and sensibilities.

And respect the hummingbird! According to Wikipedia (so it must be true): “Aztecs wore hummingbird talismans, the talismans being representations as well as actual hummingbird fetishes formed from parts of real hummingbirds: emblematic for their vigor, energy and propensity to do work along with their sharp beaks that mimic instruments of weaponry, bloodletting, penetration and intimacy.”

The Aztecs would carve your freakin’ heart out — and they respected the hummingbird. You have been warned.

(Update: SlideToPlay has commented on the Hummingbird Manifesto. Check it out here.)