Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fun While Playing To Win

The Tales of Tyria Guild Wars 2 Podcast closed up shop last week with an interesting and insightful comment on the state of MMO's - the idea that games can't just be fun in the abstract, but need to be fun when you are playing them to win. 

Bridger and company aspired to world-competitive levels in GW2's world versus world non-instanced PVP combat.  They found that the most effective strategy in this format is to form up into the largest concentrated force possible, to ensure that you can quickly kill off your foes, capture your objectives, and move on to the next point.  Defensive measures that might otherwise have served as force multipliers to help smaller groups hold off the masses through sound strategy - such as siege engines - were inadequate. 

Bridger's comment was that any game can be fun when you're messing around with your friends - a past example involved splitting his entire guild into five-man groups just to see how many different "orange swords" conflict icons they could light up on the minimap simultaneously.  To be worth playing competitively, however, the game has to be fun when playing to win.  Sheer force of numbers as a dominant strategy simply wasn't fun. 

I can't speak to the merits of Bridger's claims, having never even played Guild Wars 2 (that I continued to listen to his podcast after deciding not to bother picking up the game is pretty much my highest endorsement).  That said, I find it compelling because it fits with what we see across the genre. 

In many cases, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the design of gear grinds, daily quest grinds, random group (PVE or PVP) grinds, and all the other things that modern MMO's use to attempt to drive player engagement.  Some are buggy, some are excessive, and but many are technically well implemented and most are fun in some form if you are running them with your friends - that would be why they're your friends.  Where MMO's may be falling down is in the experience of a player who is playing the game to win - to contribute as much as they can to their raid group or just to beat a personal best time to collect their daily rewards. 

I often write that incentives have been highly successful in changing player behavior and highly ineffective in changing player preferences.  As Bridger notes, the underlying game itself has to be fun or burnout will be inevitable. 


Anonymous said...

But at the same time, it is still important that the game is fun and balanced even if you don't minmax and devote large amounts of your time to winning. And you need to not be totally demolished by the semi-pro PvP team every time you venture into PvP or else you will just stop doing it.

I see this as more of a PvP issue really.

Jeromai said...

Oh, but those that play to win smash right into the wall of never-always-going-to-be-number-one-forever and thereafter burn out very quickly.

That seemed to be the fate of Team Legacy, though I only kept track of them on their very gradual downslide through the Isle of Janthir (where they were still a decent force to be reckoned with) and then on to Kaineng, where they seemed to be much less numerous than before (mostly mixed in with other guild groups.)

I wasn't surprised when their PR team decided to officially make a face-saving graceful withdrawal from GW2.

Funny how others are still having fun and still being competitive in WvW even when TL no longer thinks they're having fun, eh?

Anonymous said...

This is one of the few areas where I will throw some qualified praise at Blizzard, at least on the PvE side. Running three raid modes and adding challenge mode dungeons seems to do a good job of dangling carrots before competitive players. There are a lot of problems, and most of that has to do with gear, but as a concept it seems to work well.

You can, of course, argue that this divides players and hides them away in instanced areas. That is a broader problem but one that may be solvable, though I'd rather not see a zerg similar to GW2 bosses or the WoW 5.2 silver elites.

Bridger said...

Bridger Here. The other point worth making is that much of the "fun" that people get out of games (though certainly not all of it) is through learning. Our brains are designed to reward us for learning things. Getting better feels good. It isn't fun to constantly fall into the same pit in Super Mario Brothers, or to die to the same boss in Zelda. But when we figure out what we're suposed to do, or nail the timing on the counter-move, we get a rush of adrenaline/dopamine/pride/whatever that makes us feel good and satisfied with ourselves. This is one element of what makes games "fun." In the game design world it's known as the "mastery" element. Some people play for that reason alone (very competitive players) while others play for social reasons or just to kill time.

If a game doesn't have a lot to learn though, and you effectively "master" it and play as well as you can reasonably expect yourself to play, a huge chunk of the fun factor evaporates for many players. Playing competitively isn't about "being number 1" so much as it's about "getting better than I was yesterday." Just ask anybody who's been on a losing streak in League but still goes back to play it again.

I felt that my individual contribution in WvW was extremely low, because the fights took place between dozens of people where you had very little impact (1 person out of 80) on how the battle went. I felt that I had very little agency (another game design term for "control" of the game). That's not something you want to foster in your players minds, even if it's not true.