[MUD-Dev] DGN: Reasons for play [was: Emergent Behaviorsspawnedfrom...]

Lachek Butalek lachek at gmail.com
Thu Oct 27 11:35:28 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005

On 10/14/05, Damion Schubert <dschubert at gmail.com> wrote:

> The problem with the Philosopher King approach is that it's very
> easy to claim you know better than the unenlightened masses. It's
> very easy for a philosopher king to stand on the mount and
> proclaim the unenlightened masses SHOULDN'T like WoW, or they
> SHOULD like to roleplay, or they SHOULDN'T prefer a level-based
> system to a skill-based system. It in fact appears, at least
> casually, that they do, they don't, and they do, and scholars of
> the art need to be sure these observations are correct, and then
> disassemble the reasons why rather than disparaging the opinions
> of the teeming millions. Our opinions are all good and well, but I
> have to constantly remind even my designers that our opinions are
> not the same as those of our playerbase.

The disconnect in this discussion seem to be the definition of
"good". One thing that strikes me is that what Damion is describing
are "virtues", not "factors of entertainment". If discussing a
Platonic type of "absolute good", it makes sense to discuss
virtues. If discussing if an artform has value to its
users/viewers/consumers, it makes sense to discuss entertaining

In book reviews, focus is usually placed on "virtues", as book
reviewers tend to be sophisticated, academic types who typically
don't give a hoot if anyone reads the book but them. In movie
reviews, equal time is usually spent on "virtues" and "entertaining
factors", as the purpose of the review is to both generate a
critical review and to provide a service to potential consumers of
the work. Food critics are entirely focused on mass-market appeal -
if the chef uses organic Fair Trade lima bean oil or margarine in
the stir fry doesn't matter, as long as the end result tastes good
and the general atmosphere of the place is appealing.  Don't even
get me started on fine art critics. :)

So, what type of "good" are we referring to? I definitely believe
there are a set of "game virtues" which can be objectively defined
for each genre ("immersive storyline" works for Myst but not for
Tetris), but these are and will always be completely distinct from
"entertaining factors" that win mass-market appeal. WoW is a typical
example of a game which have almost no "MMO game virtues" I could
imagine, but has plenty of "entertaining factors" to win a large
subscriber base. In a way, I think "Dude, Where's My Car" is an
unfair comparison - DWMC feature plenty of "Comedy Movie Virtues",
although it has very few of the "Dramatic Action Movie Virtues" of
The Seven Samurai, and so it's virtuous in its own way.

So while there may be a correlation between "virtuous" and
"entertaining", in the same way fresh, in-season, hand-picked
vegetables could taste as good as or even better than a sloppy Big
Mac, that doesn't mean people will stop enjoying deep fried lumps of
lard - even if it's bad for them. I do not claim sainthood myself,
so there are times when I grab a quick burger and there are times
when I camp a spawn zone, but that does not mean that discussing
"virtues" is pointless. Mass-market appeal does not necessarily
equate to fun, which is why I've cancelled my WoW account and why
I'm not hardly ever firing up Sims 2 anymore. Mass-market appeal
translates into short-term financial success - that's all. If our
aim is to make games more "fun" - and I believe that's the point of
this - then we would do good to define and adhere to a set of
objective virtues, even if market forces seem to indicate
otherwise. While a market study would show that "great 3D graphics"
is driving sales of games, this is hardly what keeps game players
interested over a period of time. While EVE Online can claim "huge
game world", this is hardly what keeps their players hooked on the
game. While WoW can claim "tons of content", the static and
repetitive nature of that content is ultimately disappointing to

In short: discussing objective virtues is useful for game
development, even if this doesn't correlate into greater sales, for
the same reasons as formulating objective virtues in storytelling
has provided us with literary masterpieces - even if the most sold
books are still Harlequin novels. WoW's success may or may not be
transient due to their failure to adhere to MMO virtues, but this
will have no impact on the validity of those virtues in any way. To
direct the thread in its original direction, it may be beneficial to
consider only market forces (great graphics, marketing) and ignoring
virtues (great level design, ingenuity) when considering why a
person whould choose one game over another, as it would be far
closer to the truth.
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