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

Sean Howard squidi at squidi.net
Wed Nov 2 06:50:48 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005


"Lachek Butalek" <lachek at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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".

You speak much sense. I was having a lot of difficulty getting this
across. I thought putting "good" in quotations would make it
distinct from merely good, but it's amazing how easily semantics
gets in the way of a discussion. I think we can find something
better than "factors of entertainment" (something a bit more
concise, at least), but "virtues" is excellent, in my opinion.

> 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.

Though a good point, I'm not sure that's a good example. "immersive
storyline" seems too broad, too subjective to be quoted as a virtue
(for instance, I thought the world was quite immersive, but the
storyline was terrible).  However, I do think that things which
might be entertainment in one game becomes a virtue in another. For
instance, the music in Final Fantasy VII may be pleasant, but the
music in Dance Dance Revolution is fundamental.

> 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.

Man, WoW sure is the whipping boy around here - But, of course, I
agree.  :) In contrast, I'd say that something like SWG has many
virtues but is nearly devoid of entertainment factors.

> 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.

I'm not sure that "Dude, Where's My Car?" has any virtues at
all. It's funny, but it is about as shallow as a movie can
be. That's why I picked it. Stoner comedies tend to be pretty low on
the comedy totem pole.  Compare Dude with Animal Crackers (farce),
Adapatation (satire), or even Porky's (teen sex romp) and it comes
up pretty short. Going a little further, even movies within the same
genre can vary wildly, such as the difference between the parody in
Shaun of the Dead and Scary Movie. Pretty much by any standard
available, be it virtue or entertainment, Dude is inferior. That's
not to say that it isn't entertaining. But I don't think you could
even remotely suggest that it has any innate virtues.

> 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.

That's the trick, isn't it? Basically, this discussion has bounced
back and forth between so-and-so isn't "good", well 10 million
people say otherwise, but they don't have discerning taste, my
that's arrogant to say, etc.

I think mass-market appeal does equate to... wait for it... appeal,
and I think appeal is a large part of fun, much like smell is a
large part of taste. If it smells like Star Wars, then it can taste
pretty bland and you'll still think it is yummy.

But I think of it this way. When you are a kid, you don't yet have a
mature palette. You like strong tastes, like tabasco sauce, sour
candies, or pixie sticks. As you grow older, you start recognizing
subtle differences between tastes, and that middle subtlety becomes
the gauge rather than the end points. I always wondered why my
parents thought Lucky Charms were disgusting. Not all people grow
equally in this regard, so judging something by the lowest common
denominator will not yield any returns for those would benefit the
most from it.

I feel that this conversation is between someone who's been there
and done that and wants something more substantial, and someone who
either still can't see past candy, or at least sees no reason to
sell anything but candy if that's what most people want. There's
value to both sides, I guess, but they want such fundamentally
different needs...

> Mass-market appeal translates into short-term financial success -
> that's all.

I thought so too, but it doesn't look like WoW is suffering for
it. I thought everybody would play it for a few months and get tired
of it, but it seems to be retaining players - and the new expansion
looks like more of the same. I don't think we can equate virtue with
financial success or failure either way. Something can be appealing
and virtuous (ie GTA3, Katamari Damacy), appealing but not virtuous
(ie Final Fantasy, WoW), or virtuous but not appealing (Unlimited
SaGa, anything by Treasure). They don't seem to be related, and I
can't for the life of me find a situation where virtue is the key to
financial success except for word of mouth campaigns.

BUT, it seems that appeal does have a shelf life (even if it does
take several years). The games that are remembered best are the
virtuous games and not the appealing ones. Games like Guardian
Heroes or Valkyrie Profile tend to sell poorly, but be remembered
more strongly with a heavy cult following compared to the better
selling contemporaries (Legend of Dragoon, Final Fantasy 8 or 9). If
these older appealing, but shallow games are remembered at all, it's
only because they have sequels and they represent some sort of black
mark on their past. It's why games like Crash Bandicoot or Spyro
have a three sequel shelf life compared to Mario or Mega Man - when
the appeal dies down, is there something there worth remembering?

I'd say, if you want to make money, be appealing. If you want to be
remembered, be virtuous. But ultimately, you want to do both.

> 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.

Disagree. There's such a distaste for marketing out there. I think
all designers think they are the next Miyamoto and don't want their
pure vision soiled by such unclean forces. As designers, I say we
let the marketing department work out the marketing, and we'll worry
about making sure that our pure vision is worth preserving :)

- Sean
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