[MUD-Dev] Removing access to entertainment

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Wed Dec 3 11:40:56 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003


Raph Koster writes:
> From: John Buehler

>> Players are jumping through the hoops that game designers are
>> presenting to them.  But I wonder how many of those hoops would
>> be jumped through if they were optional.

> None. Humans drive powerfully towards convenience. However, games
> are not about convenience, they are about overcoming obstacles to
> a given goal.

I can't argue here because I think you're making an axiomatic
statement here.  That your definition of 'game' is entertainment
that is predicated in overcoming obstacles.  I don't look at the
broad genre of multiplayer virtual environments as venues for
participants to overcome obstacles.  I always start with the
perception (which I picked up from you, by the way) that they are
about the social interaction.  Overcoming obstacles is just one
thing that can be used to cause social interaction.

I wonder if players associate 'game' with 'overcoming obstacles to a
given goal'.

Entertainment is about obtaining enjoyable stimuli.  Convenience
happens to be part of that.  Removing convenience produces reality.
Or an alternate reality.

>> Do players really care about the actual process of leveling,
>> carrying anti-mez equipment, devoting character skills to dealing
>> with annoying mob behavior, etc?

> Yes, they do. They take pride in learning the intricacies of the
> system, and they need the "puzzle" element because that is what
> lies at the cognitive heart of gameplay.

Again, if 'game' is defined as above, I can hardly debate this.  If
we're talking entertainment, then achievement is only one card in
the deck.

> The place where these things become annoying is where they provide
> obstacles that cannot be solved. Your travel time example is one
> such. If you can find a way to shortcut the travel, then it is a
> puzzle. If you cannot, then it is merely tedium.

I don't debate that the mindset that you're talking about exists.
And in large numbers.  The players of existing games prove that.
But I think that there is a segment of the population that doesn't
even go near 'games' because of the very view of gaming that you are
describing.  I keep stepping into the gaming world in hopes of
finding entertainment, and all I find are barriers to getting to
entertainment.  Barriers that, whether there are 'solutions' or not,
I'm just not interested in overcoming.

Use my example of playing basketball with friends.  We're going to
meet at the gym.  But there's a traffic jam.  To arrive on time, I
have to use my skills to solve the puzzle of the traffic jam so that
I can arrive on time or at least in the shortest time.  But the
challenge that I chose (basketball) is not the challenge that I have
before me (traffic jam).  The traffic jam is a hoop.  The basketball
game is entertainment.

>> Or do they endure them for the sake of doing something online
>> with their friends?

> They SAY they endure them and hate them, but when they are
> removed, they say there's no game, and it's "just a glorified chat
> room."  Obstacles are vital.

LOL.  So having hated elements of gameplay to bring players together
is a good game?  I don't think that people are confused.  I think
that there is a mix of entertainment and barriers to that
entertainment.  They stay for the entertainment and hate the
barriers.  But which parts are entertainment and which are barriers
varies from player to player.  And I believe that is a valuable
observation.

>> If players could instantaneously transport to destinations at
>> will, would they do it?  Or would they find that such
>> transportation would detract from the entertainment of the game?

> The answer is yes and yes. Such transportation DOES detract from
> the enjoyment of the game at some level, and players will do it
> anyway. The level to which the instant travel detracts depends
> strongly on what is being skipped over in by passing the journey,
> however. If the journey offers interesting challenges, then
> they're potentially missing out on a lot of gameplay.

Right.  But the question is one of whether those challenges are
interesting to a given player.  Travel can be a barrier to
entertainment or it can be entertainment itself.  If I'm not
interested in dealing with the traffic jam right now, then it's a
barrier.  If I want to challenge my driving skills, then it's
entertainment.

>> If players could instantaneously change their class at will,
>> would they do it?  Or would they find that such changes would
>> detract from the entertainment of the game?

> Yes and yes again. They would find that all challenges are easier
> to overcome, because they have access to every tool the game
> offers at any given moment. Having a limited toolset that forces
> creative solutions to problems is one of the things that drives
> fun. So is collaborative problem solving based on finding the
> right mix of tools scattered across multiple individuals.

What if the individuals that we want aren't available?

What if we've already solved the problem 'this way' 10 times?

The creation of a new character in games predicated on leveling
requires a lengthy level grind before that character can be used in
the game content at the level that the players are working with.
We're back to a barrier to entertainment.  What the players want to
do is to bring in a Goblin Engineer to their group so that they can
tackle the challenge the way that they find entertaining.  They want
to use catapults this time.  They've already attacked with pure
melee, with archers, with mages, with infiltration followed by
archers and myriad other approaches.  But now they want to try
siege.  But they can't until they jump through the hoops that the
game has placed in their way.

This is about being able to do what the players find entertaining,
not what the gamemasters think the players will find entertaining.
As I said, I don't want to kill a dragon on day one.  But once I've
completed the challenge of killing a dragon, maybe I don't want to
mindlessly work through the 'challenge' the exact same way where
I've already completed the steps.

> That said, players will simply optimize their problem solving and
> render the challenges non-challenging (and therefore unfun) if the
> choice is offered for them to do so.

I don't think that anyone finds the challenges of these games
particularly challenging.  I think they find them annoying, onerous
and mindless.  The task of chipping through a wall with a rock
hammer (analogous to the leveling process) is not a challenge.  A
challenge is one where my skills as a player clearly come into play.
I have yet to see that in any of the big graphical multiplayer
games.  What I see is a requirement that I spend time in the game.

You may be asking "So why do you play the games?"  Because I enjoy
socializing and doing whatever exploration I can.  In achievement
scenarios, I'm purely supportive.  I have no interest at all in
obtaining the Gizmo That Few Have.

>> In the end, the very hoops that players are invited to jump
>> through in the process of upping their game turn into barriers to
>> accessing the entertainment of the game.

> Careful here--there is no entertainment without hoops. You're
> really asking a question of which hoops to include.

More than that, I'm saying that the players should be given options
so that they can pick and choose hoops at a finer level of
granularity than an entire game.  This is particularly true of hoops
that have been dealt with once.  Okay, make me ride the boat one
time.  I did that 'challenge'.  I've experienced it, so I know how
much fun it is.  Just don't make me do it again.

That might be the essential point here.  That having to repeat
'challenges' over and over again in order to get to the
entertainment I'm trying to reach is a nightmarish mistake that game
designers make.  Dark Age of Camelot recognizes this to an extent.
Once a player has developed a level 50 character, then can
immediately start new characters at level 20.  It's not ideal, but
it sure is a help.

>> Because various players don't want to make the investment of
>> time, energy, concentration, whatever, that the game requires via
>> that hoop.  The entertainment that the game provides attracts a
>> certain type of player interested in a certain thing.  When the
>> hoops deviate from that type of entertainment, it presents a
>> greater barrier than when the hoops are consistent with the
>> entertainment provided.

> To rephrase, "the cognitive puzzles that the game provides attract
> a certain type of player interested in a certain thing. When the
> activities present deviate from that (cognitive puzzles of a
> different type or that are old hat or that are merely obstacles
> that cannot be creatively solved), it presents a greater barrier
> than when the cognitive puzzle density remains consistent."

Sure, except that you've fundamentally altered my statement by
equating entertainment with cognitive puzzles.  Not all
entertainment is a cognitive puzzle.

>> So don't put in strong solo classes if you're going to require
>> multiplayer interactions of those characters.  Don't put in slow
>> transportation if speed of leveling is the essential
>> entertainment of the game.  And so on.

> These feel reductionist. For example, in SWG we had a ton of
> landmass. When the game launched, everyone complained that there
> was a lot of open space and overly long travel times. A few months
> later, there were thousands of player placed structures placed on
> the map, and people started to complain that the travel time to
> wilderness was too long. Now, we've added player cities, and
> players are starting to be able to teleport from player city to
> player city. Soon, the complaint will be that you cannot bump into
> people exploring the wilderness. And this month, we'll add
> vehivles, and the effective map size will shrink dramatically
> anyway.

> Was the right choice to have smaller maps and less tedious travel
> at the outset, perhaps give people instant teleporting from the
> get-go?  No, because it would have precluded thousands of
> player-placed structures that make a robust economy, player
> cities, mounts, and vehicles. (Granted, it would have been even
> nicer to have had all those things at launch, but...)

I'm currently of the opinion that large worlds are a realtime
mistake.  If you want players to derive their entertainment from
your game while they are exclusively interacting with your game,
don't make the world large.  Work it so that your players are spread
out at a density that is consistent with your gameplay mechanisms.
In other words, make sure that you don't have competition for
entertainment nor mandatory downtime.

The alternative is to make interaction with the game occasional and
generally offline.  When that is the case, long distance travel can
be part of the game experience because opportunities for
entertainment will pop up as the player's character travels.  The
offline player is then notified of an opportunity - which they can
accept or reject.  For the duration of time that players are
interacting with the world in realtime, they see characters all over
the place, doing their thing while the characters' players are
offline (but reachable because my interacting with a currently
offline player character constitutes an opportunity for that offline
player).

Want vehicles and mounts to be part of the game entertainment?
Okay.  What entertainment do such things afford?  Is it the
experience of actually being on the transport or is it an enabler
for something else?  Is it just a competitive advantage in trade?
If it's a competitive advantage, don't make them a hoop for people
who aren't interested in the trade game.  If it's about the
experience of actually driving or riding, then just have races or
open spaces that they can be driven or ridden around in.  If they're
a status symbol, make them slow mounts that people ride in heavily
populated areas.

Figure out what the entertainment value of a game feature is and
then work that into the game for what it is, not what it represents
in the real world.  That way, we avoid having hoops to jump through
that have nothing to do with a form of entertainment that the game
is offering.

Note that generically adding vehicles is adding a hoop.  If I want
to operate in the game world like everyone else, I have to gain
access to a vehicle.  Otherwise I won't be able to get to
destinations like everyone else.  I'll be the odd man out.  No
matter my reasons for playing, one of them is going to be
socialization.  Now you've made access to a vehicle a socialization
tool.  The two don't fit naturally when we talk about entertainment.

JB
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