[MUD-dev] Fun in Games (the Fun Dogma)

Ron Gabbard rgabbard at swbell.net
Tue May 7 10:50:26 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


From: "David Kennerly" <kallisti at tahoesnow.com>

> Fun is not a quantity to be measured, as you said, it's like
> basically a process of stimulating the mind in ways it hasn't been
> stimulated before.  That's not all it is, and not all things that
> stimulate the mind are fun.  But it's something that delimits the
> game as a unique art form.  The game stimulates finding and
> exploiting some good and interesting, and ultimately successful,
> strategies.

I agree and disagree with you here.  Fun has two basic components:
mental stimulation and emotional satisfaction.  Everything that
stimulates the mind is 'fun' for someone while not for everyone.
Also, an activity in MUDs can have very low mental stimulation yet
have very high emotional satisfaction and still be 'fun'.  (Think of
the people who sit in the 'noob' areas/lobbies and randomly buff
people, give away items, or just answer questions.)  Those are the
only two 'coins' the game designer has for creating fun.  The
objective then becomes to use those coins to create a combination of
mental stimulation and emotional satisfaction that results in 'fun'
for the most people over the longest period of time.

Secondly, while 'fun' cannot be quantitatively measured in units, it
can be measured qualitatively in terms of relationships.  Because of
the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility, we know that the amount of
enjoyment derived from repetitively performing a particular activity
decreases over time.  All else being equal, killing mob_Y the first
time yields X amount of 'fun' and killing mob_Y the second time
yields less than X amount of 'fun'.  You can graph this.  While the
slope of the line will vary from person to person, the vast majority
of players will have a downward sloping line that will eventually
drop to zero.  (Actually, it would never get to zero as the player
would switch to an alternate activity where they would have more
'fun' long before they got to zero.)

The conundrum then is defining the unit of activity as this will
also vary from person to person.  For example, a group of 5 people
start killing 'orcs'.  For Player 1, the 'activity' may be beating
the AI and killing orcs.  For Player 2, the 'activity' may be
earning enough experience points to get to the next level to get new
spells or abilities.  For Player 3, the 'activity' may be getting
some piece of armor that the orcs drop.  For Player 4, the
'activity' may be earning enough cash to buy a house.  For Player 5,
the activity is just hanging out with their friends.  (Chances are,
each person would be a combination of the above 5 factors.)  It's
the weighting of these activities that will dictate the 'time unit'
the player uses in comparing the activities.

Player 1 that views the activity as developing a strategy to beat
the AI will have a much steeper downward slope to their 'fun' curve
from repetitively killing orcs than Players 2 thru 5 that views
killing the orcs as a means to an end.  This is the attraction of
PvP combat as Player 1 gets a relatively new experience each battle.
This is also the brilliance of 'loot & levels' EverQuest.  With the
emphasis placed on two activities that are very time intensive, the
intervals for comparison for Players 2 and 3 are stretched out over
days and weeks instead of 5-minute spawns resulting in a lesser
downward slope to the 'fun' curve.  Players complaining about the
low marginal utility of camping another mob for loot and levels
after they have played for 9 months is preferable to players
complaining about the low marginal utility of beating redundant AI
after one month... players NOT eventually complaining is a pipe
dream as the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility dictates that
eventually they will all 'burn out'.

In short, there may not be any set unit for 'fun'.  However, using
basic economic and business principles it is possible to graph 'fun'
over time which helps the designer keep that fun level above that
line where the player quits as far into the future as possible.

Cheers,

Ron



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