Archive for May 24th, 2007

Today I’m going to talk about something critical to game design. It’s something that I harp on a lot in other forums, but it came up yet again tonight and, yet again, I’m convinced that too many designers do not understand this simple, basic, fundamental concept. Before I get into the details I want to stress the general idea, which is this:

People play games to have fun.

Now, I am quite sure that some people play games for other, strange reasons. But the vast, huge, immeasurable majority of players play games simply to have fun. They want to enjoy themselves; they want to be entertained; they want to laugh and smile… in other words, to have fun.

Because people play games to have fun, it is necessary to design games to be fun. And therefore, designers must absolutely make certain that they do not implement anything in a game that is not fun. If something accidentally makes it into the game that isn’t fun, it must be excised as soon as it is discovered. Most particularly, here, I refer to game elements that are the antithesis of fun. In general, again unless you are some sort of an abnormal person, you won’t be having fun if you are angry, or annoyed. Annoyance is not fun for anyone (sane). When you are angry, you are not having fun — you are pissed off, furious, aggravated, not enjoying yourself. No game that is well designed ought to incorporate anything into itself that is designed to make you angry. That would be poor game design.

This brings us, like a homing pigeon, to the game Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. I have been playing this game for a few months, and it contains three basic activities: adventuring, crafting, and diplomacy. Here I will confine myself just to one: crafting. When one crafts in Vanguard, one must allocate “action points” that are in limited supply, to the various activities of forming and refining the crafted item. That is all  very interesting, except that as one goes along one can have a “complication.” These will reduce quality and it costs action points to make complications go away. Again this fundamentally isn’t too much of a problem, except… complications occur about once every four or five clicks of the mouse, and a crafted item takes upwards of 20 clicks. This means that you get something approaching five complications every time you craft an item. Often this will result in the inability to finish the item. More than one crafter has ended up gnashing his teeth in utter frustration, and getting so aggravated as to stop crafting for the day. In some cases, such as my own, it is so annoying that one just stops crafting altogether. It can in no sense be called fun.

Now, one could suspect that the designers just don’t realize that this absurdly high level of complications is not fun — that they don’t understand how aggravating it is. Surely they would not purposely design something to make people mad — would they?

Well it turns out that they did just that. This was (unwittingly, I am sure) admitted by the crafting developer, “Silius”, on Vanguard Crafters. In this thread, Silius made a post that had the following comments (and I quote):

“I get that penalties suck, I know that clicking alot is annoying, I certainly understand that repetitive gameplay gets boring, but complications are meant to make you angry they are not meant to make you happy.”

In other words, complications were purposely designed to piss players off. This is not an accidental side-effect of the system; it is deliberate. They want you to be angry while crafting, not happy. If you say, “These complications make me so mad I want to throw my computer out the window,” then their answer is, apparently, “Good — that’s working as intended.”

This is fundamentally and, to my mind, unquestionably, bad game design. Apparently Silius has been told this, because later in that same post he defensively says (again quoting):

“What I won’t do is accept that I have done such a poor job as a designer that the crafting system needs some major revamp…”

Silius, my dear blind soul, that is exactly what has happened.  You have done such a poor job as a designer that the system needs a major revamp. I can say this without the slightest reservation or doubt, because you admit that you purposely designed the system to piss people off, and that is certainly poor game design. Anger is antithetical to fun. You cannot be having fun when you are angry. Angry people are not happy as Silius even admitted in the first quote. He’s basically saying, “This part of the game is not designed for your enjoyment.” Well guess what, Sil? People are paying you to play this game (well, not you but your company). They are not going to pay you to piss them off. If you piss them off, they will just cancel. That this proven by the numbers, which are (to the best of my knowledge) that 200,000 people bought Vanguard initially, but now, within 4 months of its release, already more than half have canceled (the best estimates we have seen are that about 90,000 accounts remain). You’ve lost half your subscribers because you and your fellow developers thought it would be a good idea to piss people off… because you don’t understand the core fundamentals of game design, which are that people play games to have fun, and that being pissed off is not fun.

Again let’s make this clear:

  1. People play games to have fun.
  2. Being pissed off means you are not having fun.
  3. Therefore people will not play a game that is designed to piss them off, because that means they’re not to be having fun.

The numbers could not be clearer on this. Games designed to be pure fun, like Guild Wars and World of Warcraft, are flourishing. Games designed to piss people off, like Vanguard, have been relegated to the “also-ran” category. You cannot design a game to make people mad, and then expect them to pay you to play it.

Silius, my dear blind fool, you need to go back to game design school. Or better yet, just quit designing games, as you are obviously clueless.

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