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

Sean Howard squidi at squidi.net
Sun Nov 13 19:08:30 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005

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

> So while wine connoisseurs may sometimes be arrogant, the fact
> that they dictate to the rest of the world what a good wine
> (again, a "virtuous" wine) is supposed to taste like is not.

Well, I think it is arrogant, but I also think that sometimes
arrogance is justified, as in this situation. Arrogance is not an
innately bad thing, and indeed, it is the very foundation of
creation. You can't decide to make a better mousetrap unless you
think that your abilities are such that you, and you alone, could
make what exists now better.

The arrogance of "experts" is that they think that their experience
really does make them qualified to make judgements for
others. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. But I won't
fault their arrogance for trying.  I'm just going to keep them
honest by forcing them to constantly defend themselves :)

> I frequently catch myself thinking that a game, movie or book is
> "bad" simply beause I've read a review pointing out all the bad
> points before experiencing it myself.

Preconceived notions are the enemy of experience everywhere. Even
mundane things can be significantly altered by it. There was a
thread in the WoW boards about a girl who took issues with the
hanging men Halloween decorations because a relative committed
suicide by hanging himself.  Preconceived notions always color the
situation, and I think that a good expert would provide some sort of
intelligent hindsight to make these notions somewhat smart.

I had an interest thing happen this night. I watched "I Spit On Your
Grave" with a commentary by Joe Bob Briggs. I'd seen the movie
before but considered pretty much pure garbage, but with his
insight, I started seeing things I didn't before. Now, I consider
the movie almost righteous, which is completely opposite of the
stuff Roger Ebert has written about it. It's still a terrible movie,
but it's now the good kind of terrible.  That's what I think experts
can bring to the table. They don't tell you what to expect, but
better how you interpret what you saw.

> My theory, again, due to the reason I outline above - people
> *think* they're having "fun", but they're really experiencing
> something entirely different.

Not to be too big a pain in the butt, but how can you think you are
having fun but not actually be having fun? I don't think they
question is whether they are having fun - obviously they are. I
think the question is whether there is something more substantial to
be delivered than pure escapism.

I have a confession to make. When my daughter was first born, World
of Warcraft practically saved my sanity. It was the perfect light
escapist experience that I could play one handed while holding a
baby which slept for 18 hours a day. Now that she's a few months
older and I have more free time, I find WoW to be utterly

It's amazing. The more attention you are able to give a game, the
more you demand of it. If you don't want anything more than escapist
fantasy, if a game delivers that to you. I argue that while World of
Warcraft may not be a "good" MMORPG, for people who lead external
lives, it's just the perfect level of not-deep. However, I can't
help but wonder about those hardcore gamers who obviously have the
time and attention to benefit from something more substantial.

> As you say, appeal = financial success, while virtue has little to
> no correlation with financial success.

Immediate financial success, at least. I think that virtue
contributes to becoming a "classic" or being remembered long after
other games have been forgotten. You can then parlay this into new
products (ie sequels like Advanced Gunstar Heroes, or spin offs) and
potentially new financial success. Remember, Final Fantasy used to
be a cult series in the US, but it wasn't until FF7 was released,
bolstered by the loud cries of cult fans, that it gained financial
superiority in the US.

> Of course, you will probably have a hard time giving away
> Unlimited SaGa by now - the problem would be to create a
> commercially viable landscape for past-primetime games.  And no, I
> don't mean sequels and franchises.

Since we are talking about MMORPGs, what about expansion packs? EQ,
EQ2, and SWG just released one. WoW just announced one and it's
front page news around the globe.

But I think you are being unfair. I think sequels and franchises are
exactly the way the market manages to keep good games afloat. You
release Bloathogs III, and if somebody new likes it, they'll track
down Bloathogs I and II. Reviewers will be more kind to sequels of
cult games (Goldeneye got TERRIBLE reviews, and yet the cult
hindsight bolstered Perfect Dark's reviews considerably).

> Personally, I believe the key is for smaller developers with more
> focused development teams to produce more narrowly focused games
> for smaller audiences.

That's always been the idea, as a smaller team can't compete on that
"appeal" level as someone with a ton of cash to throw at
it. However, I think Tetris disproves this idea. You can create
something with a small team that has extremely broad appeal for
large audiences. I think the key for small developers to is not make
the same stupid, tired games that the big companies are doing.

I know it's hard to create a new, unique game idea and make it work,
but by golly, that's where success is, not by keeping dead genres
barely alive (ie shooters, Myst-like adventure games) or clique

> I mean that *we* should focus on mass-market appeal rather than
> "virtues" when *discussing* why a person would choose one game
> over another ("Reasons for Play").

I made a list of a hundred or so games that I bought but never
played. I then marked each game with one of these categories:

  Hype    - bought it because someone encouraged me to.
  Fan     - I played previous games in the series and liked them a lot.
  Multi   - bought it strictly to be played in social settings.
  Curious - Found something intriguing in the description I had to see.
  Cult    - Has cult following on the internet, wondered what's big deal

There wasn't a single game on the list that didn't squarely fit in
one of these categories, and it was a rare case where more than one
was applicable (usually cult/curious). I also compared the games
with the price point that I purchased them at - didn't seem to make
a difference (in general, I'd buy cult games cheaper, but by virtue
of having a cult fanbase, they are already older games).

I'd say that the biggest selling point is fandom, but games don't
just magically start in fandom. They have to graduate to there from
one of the other categories. You won't buy Makai Kingdom on sight if
you hadn't also like Disgaea, which was bought because of the cult
following. You can be fan of particular genres (I'm a tactics
junkie, myself), but the more exposure you get to a genre, the more
discerning you become (I no longer buy all tactics games once the
genre became commonplace).

Fandom is a complex webwork of connections, but it's self contained.
Fandom rarely introduces new experiences to the web. Even if you
bought Arx Fatalis because it was like Ultima Underworld or
Morrowind, you've essentially still just bought a first person
immersive RPG. Becoming acclimated to new genres and experiences
requires good experiences from outside that fandom - for most
people, this is done through hype (perhaps because they are at the
World of Warcraft interest level and can deal with shallow,
appealing games because they don't ahve the time ... or
intelligence... to think about them).

Anyway, still working on this theory and my purchasing habits tend
to be out of the norm (I tend to read a lot about games before
buying them, while others may rent first and buy later because they
liked it). Still, something to think about...

- Sean
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