Greedy Goblin

Monday, October 3, 2011

Can you imagine playing the same game for 50 years?

People talk about burn-out. They consider it obvious and necessary. They explain the downfall of games with "people got bored of doing the same game". Tobold expresses his disbelief that a game where people never get bored can exist.

Let me introduce soccer. The "content" was published in 1848, more than 150 years ago. Since then, the game received no content patch, just bug fixes, balancing issues. It is played by more than 250 million players. The highest level championship is followed by over a billion spectators. There are no signs that the game would start to lose players.

My father started playing this game in his childhood. Was playing competitively in a semi-professional team associated to his workplace in his late twenties. He still plays with the "old boys". He is playing the same game for 50 years, with varying effort, but never-ending enthusiasm. Also, he is an avid spectator of high level matches.

How come that this simple game can live so long, despite limited content and no further development?
Because the basic activity is fun to the players!

A good game is defined as playing it is fun indefinitely (in terms of years, not playing 24/7). Most games are not good. They are absolutely not fun to play. WoW leveling is a perfect example: you press any random button and the monster dies, giving rewards. Terrible. None of your abilities (thinking, reflexes, concentration, body control, body strength) are challenged and honed. The good question is not "why people get burned out on such games?". The good question is "why do players play such games at all?". The reasons:
  • Exploring: the game world (where the terrible activity takes place) is interesting, beautiful, original, nice. It can be breathtaking graphics or immersive storyline. Exploring is naturally one-time activity.
  • Playing with friends: the player has real life friends or "gaming friends" in the game, and being with friends is fun, despite the game itself is not. While it can keep a social person in the game for long time, the competition from Facebook is strong. Why bother subscribing if we just hang out and chat anyway? Also, most gaming friendship is shallow and meaningless, providing less and less fun.
  • Being l33t: the player assumes that the items or achievements he gets draw respect and envy from fellow players. He keep grinding (as opposed to "playing") for more rewards, as leaving the game and starting a new one would put him to the "n00b" status again. Such player start to burn out either by the amount of grind he "must" do to "keep competitive" or when he sees "noobs" getting things "too easy", devaluing his "effort".
  • Boredom: the player just want to waste time. He will play until the game becomes more boring than the alternatives.
Most of the games available are bad and designed only for one time consumption. Of course that one time can be entertaining. But this doesn't mean that games can't be good. Just have to look at the games that are here for 100+ years and learn from them. Surprise: they all have fixed ruleset, they all challenge and hone one skill, and moste of them are zero-sum PvP.

32 comments:

Sven said...

I think part of the reason games appear to be PvP based is that thats how society defines a "game". Less competitive forms of recreation (such as stamp-collecting, photography, fishing) have also been around a long time, but don't normally get called games.

For historical reasons, non-comptetive computer activities are still called games, even though they probably have more in common with pastimes and hobbies, which are perhaps a better comparison.

Brent said...

The item you missed is "Challenge". When some people see a wall in front of them, their first though is "Can I climb that?", whether others see them do it or not. They know they've done it, and are happy enough with that fact.

That's why I raid, for the challenge. And also why PVE becomes 'boring' when the challenge dies. PVE is by definition an 'ultimately winnable' competition unlike Soccer or PVP. Once you've 'won' the PVE game, it loses interest for you and the only reason you repeat it is to prepare for the next challenge.

Steel said...

Here is a crazy idea:

“The truth is that the real high level game in virtual worlds is not raiding; rather it’s the social game that makes raiding possible. The developers at Blizzard will readily admit this. It is a game that we all know how to play at its most basic level but it requires a high level of skill to absolutely master. The rewards to those that can play this game well are friendship, camaraderie, great memories and yes even character advancement; all those wonderful and seemingly intangible things that attracted me and many others to this genre in the first place.” (Wolfshead)

All of the sudden the raid design of Vanilla and BC makes perfect sense. You had simplistic tank and spank bossfights, but to get to them you had hard tier progression, gear grinds, rep grinds, pre raid preparation, complicated attunements, logistical nightmares, class stacking, server events, and so on. Why? Because it’s not about “the bossfight”, or “the bosskill”, it’s not about twitch skills or mental puzzles, it’s about the social game, reaching out to other players, forming solid guilds and communities, groups of people united by a common purpose, creating bonds and something bigger than the sum of it’s parts. Think about the enormous AQ effort and the quest for the scepter - the whole point was to make people (the whole server) to bond and work together. All the “nostalgia” I hear about Vanilla and BC follows the same pattern – the raids were horrible, the instances were horrible and boring and time consuming, but the people and the community made it worth it and made it fun.

This is why accessibility, streamlining, nerfing, LFR, misses the point entirely. Facerolling (or 300-wipes-to-get-muscle-memory-killing) a recycled-model pixel dragon (for the 20th time) is pointless without a community, without a deeper meaning, without being part of something bigger than yourself. Of course you are going to be burned out and bored to death. You play that game once and you are done with it - and like we have discussed, that’s a valid approach (and market). If you want a MMO that you can play for years – and yes, that model is perfectly possible, and desirable (why not?) - you need a different approach.

Anonymous said...

Don't compare sports where you actually have to move with video games, they are not in the same.

Let me introduce you soccer on PC, can you say anyone is going to play that for 50 years ?

Cathfaern said...

Most of today MMOs main problem, is that their main feature is exploring and grinding (raiding is a grinding too, for many people arena is also a gear grinding). You explore the world for the first time and you dragged in it, it's you "best gaming experience", but after you start to learn it, it's getting duller and duller. And expansion packs don't really changes this. Of course there are some new places, but it's the same game. Thats why people always love the expansion in they started wow the most.
Blizzard try to counter it with class changes, but for most people it's not fun, but work. They just learn the new rotation, talent build, etc from some website. It's just a thing they have to do, not something they want to do or what they find fun to do. Of course balance fixes, and broken class fixes is another story. But most and biggest class changes aren't these.
Btw. it explains why WotLK was so popular: it changed the "old game" in many ways. There was new type of quests (use vehicle for example), not just the same go there and collect/kill X things, like in vanilla and mostly in BC. Most people started doing dungeons (including low lvl, thanks to the LFD!) and HC-s, and many new people was in raids too.
So for many people it was a total new experience, a total "new game" not just some new content for the same game.
And what new they get in cataclysm? Well nothing. Some of them even couldn't do what they could in wotlk (hc-s and raids). Yeah of course they got "some" (well in reality many, but it doesn't matter) new content, but the game was still the same. Which shouldn't be a problem, if the game wasn't about exploring and grinding. But it is.

Okrane S. said...

@Anonymous[03 October, 2011 08:37]

Let me introduce you Starcraft Brood War: people play it for 12 years now.

The problem with video-games in general is player created content within the limitations of the game.

One developper cannot churn out content for a theme park at the same rate people consume it. Someone playing a game, needs to find other reasons for doing it besides the activity.

Striving to get better at the game is one thing that keeps people playing. And for these types of games, the mechanics of the game are what keeps people playing or quitting. As opposed to football the mechanics (what you can and cannot do) are hard coded inside the software. If they are too complicated or imbalanced in the first place people will burn out of fighting a bad system.

Steel said...

@Brent “That's why I raid, for the challenge”

I raid for the sense of community and group. I transferred servers and switched guilds because the main thing I wanted was the whole experience of a 25man raid. I left my last guild because they (the leaders) were too hang up on the idea of progression uber-alles, they decided to go 10man so they could see themselves higher on wowprogress, and that created a lot of tension and drama and overall bad mojo. To me its not (the most) important whether I’m facerolling Marrowgar for the 20th time, or wiping 300 times for a ChoGall HC firstkill, or whether I’m stuck in BT while the top guilds are doing SWP. What matters is having a group of good people, working together, putting in effort together, and having a great time and a great experience. The bigger the group, the more epic it feels.

Oh, and before you say "lol, freindly social-guild", the new guild I transferred to is more progressed than the one I left, while raiding less hours and having a much more easygoing attitude about everything.

Anonymous said...

"Let me introduce you soccer on PC, can you say anyone is going to play that for 50 years ?"

I believe it can! Just to give as example the early 1998 Championship Manager game who later became the much critically acclaimed Football Manager game.
This game renews each year with real players database. If you love football, you simply wont get bored of a game such this. I still buy and play it each year starting from 1998.

Okrane S. said...

At the same time we must keep in mind that a sport game like football has a positive health impact on the player whereas a video-game has a negative one. Thus one is self sustaining while the other is not.

Riptor said...

Counterstrike 1.6 is also still played. I guess what seperates games like Football Manager, CS, Starcraft and Soccer from WoW is that they are in every aspect competitive. While social Groups may form, similar to WoWs Guilds, the basic insentive to play is PvP. Basicly the Players create their own content by playing against each other (no Football Game fells the same as no CS Match of Starcraft Game fells the same). In WoW however Players can choose to be competitive or they can not. Thus the game requires constant new Content to keep all Players happy.

Orgaansint said...

Unlike video games, playing soccer actually does provide a social aspect. Playing with a team makes it way more fun, especially if you know each other pretty well.

Another reason why videogames usually die in the long run, is because developers keep bringing out new games. One better than the other. Eventually, almost all games get replaced.

There isn't really a new replacement for soccer. You can of course choose a new sport like basketball, but that is like starting to play Battlefield instead of Counterstrike.

chewy said...

Nice post and an interesting comparison. One difference between the games is how they were created.

Video games are created for people to play whereas football was evolved by people. I imagine that a group of people started kicking something around and decided amongst themselves what the rules and hence the challenge would be.

Videos games, on the other hand, are contrived to amuse and startle people into parting with money, so no, I don't think they'll have the longevity of games such as football.

Ephemeron said...

The basic activities of playground games are fun for players and challenge their abilities. These games have been played by children worldwide for centuries.

So why don't we see grown-ups playing Tag? Why aren't people playing Hide-and-Seek for 50 years? Do Hopscotch players experience burn-out?

Anonymous said...

There are also people that have played NetHack or other older roguelikes since 1980s (The first version of NetHack was released at 1987) and they haven't showed any signs of dying. This and other examples mentioned in the thread suggest that video games have the potential to be (almost) indefinitely playable.


However, personally I kinda like hotkey-based combat quite a lot even if it's not challenging. Let's say I am just killing monsters: I can send my pet to drag a monster closer to other corpses while I'm killing another one, minimise my time spent running between corpses (for example, I might use instant casts while running to loot a dead mob or leave DoTs to kill the mob while it's following me), try to get as close to 100% perfect ability usage as possible and so forth. I also enjoy the physical activity of tapping buttons in a rapid pace to queue the ability as soon as possible (I have around 300-400 button presses a minute).

Either way, even if you are just killing unchallenging monsters, there is still quite a lot of room to improve and it's not practically possible to reach 100% efficiency. I think improving myself from 98,9% to 99,1% is enjoyable, no matter how odd that might sound. It's not fun enough to keep me playing for two decades, but I think there is a certain appeal in hotkey-based MMO combat for some people that was largely ignored in the blog post. It definitely isn't the only reason to play for anyone and most people probably don't have any interest in combat itself, but I still found it worth mentioning.

Cathfaern said...

Okrane S.:
Most players don't care about health impact. I don't think that who really loves to play football plays it because it good for health. He play, because he likes it. By the way if you play football regularry there's a high chance you will get some kind of injury. If they cared about health, they wouldn't play it.

Riptor:
In the last year there was new content in WoW. Cataclysm (many new content), ZA/ZG, FL dailys, FL raid, etc... still people keep leaving.
There wasn't any new content in 3.3 for 1 year, and people was still coming.
The problem isn't the quantity of the contents (I think not even the quality), but the mere fact, that we need new content so it doesn't get boring, because the only thing you can do is exploring the new content (or grind it, which cause burnout and just boring).

Michael said...

A game that stays fun for 50 years? That's asking a lot! Imagine your favorite movie. Mine is The Fountain. I've seen that movie maybe 20 times. I love that movie, but the enjoyment I got from the 20th viewing doesn't compare to the awe inspired by the first watch.

Content gets consumed and familiarity reduces the impact. A game that lasts longer, or is able to sustain that impact for years, has a very hours-of-entertainment-per-dollar ratio, but isn't necessarily _better_.

If you can afford it, I don't see what's wrong with getting a concentrated burst of happiness/entertainment over a few hours, instead of over a few years.

Riptor said...

@Cathfaern: Exactly.. In PvP based Games the Content is generated by the Players while the Developers only tweak around Balance wise. This goes for Sports as well as for games. Also, PvP games attract a different crowd of Players imho.

@Anonymus: 300-400 Presses a Minute? You should play Starcraft ;D

Hofflerand said...

"Don't compare sports where you actually have to move with video games, they are not in the same.

Let me introduce you soccer on PC, can you say anyone is going to play that for 50 years?"

Madden has been around for over ten years. Personally I'd rather play the real thing, but that's just me. Counter-Strike and StarCraft have been going strong for the same span and will continue to for who knows how long.

The great thing about games like CS and SC is they are extremely competitive and skill-based like sports, but outside of a video-game how many of us get to be counter-terrorists or engage in galactic warfare?

I'll put my money on some games sticking around for the long haul. Hopefully it's the sort Gevlon lined out.

aCasualGamer? said...

@Ephemeron
"why don't we see grown-ups playing Tag?"

Ever watched sprinting? Cross country skiing? Any form of motorsports?

Of course it's not Tag, but it sure seems to have a lot in common with a game where the basic consept is to outrun/catch up to the other(s).

Anonymous said...

good blog post with a good point.

This is where Wow, and most mmos, are failing. The game is not designed to be fun. At all. It is designed to give "tangible" rewards in order to give incentive to keep playing. What you DO to get those rewards is not that fun, it's kind of boring, but people like getting things so they stay.

Other games, like, starcraft, Diablo 2, counterstrike, tetris, scrabble, and sports like soccer, etc, are played because the activity is fun, not because the reward is there at the end.

With it's random monsters, terrain, and loot, diablo had far more compelling gameplay (even though it was all clicking) then wow does with it's more complex combat. Same thing with starcraft. and tetris.

With these games you never know what is going to happen next so you have to adapt on the fly. You don't know what shape is gonna fall on tetris, you don't know what your opponent on starcraft or the opposing team in soccar is going to do, etc etc.

Each time you play it something different then last time can happen. and that makes for more compelling gameplay. And that is why those games are still played today even though they were invented/released decades ago.

The Gnome of Zurich said...

"Don't compare sports where you actually have to move with video games, they are not in the same.

Let me introduce you soccer on PC, can you say anyone is going to play that for 50 years ?"

Just because you can't translate this specific example to a computer game with current technology, doesn't sffect the point. He could easily have chosen, instead of soccer, any of a dozen classic board or card games where the primary skill and challenge is purely mental and it would make no difference to the argument.

Chess, Go, Poker, Bridge, Reversi, Hearts, Spades, Backgammon, Scrabble, Checkers, mancala, pente.

There, that's 12 and I could easily name more, all of which have been played (with minor variations) for well over 50 years. In the case of go and mancala, they have been played for over 1000 years in something resembling their current forms.

All of those games have translated to over the computer play, and have active populations playing on multiple internet servers, with no sign of dying out.

Kurt said...

"The basic activities of playground games are fun for players and challenge their abilities. These games have been played by children worldwide for centuries.

So why don't we see grown-ups playing Tag? Why aren't people playing Hide-and-Seek for 50 years? Do Hopscotch players experience burn-out?"

If the basic elements of Tag, Hide-n-seek, and Hopscotch were fun for adults and challenged their abilities, then adults would play it. Since they don't, we see that your totally unsupported assertion that they do is incorrect.

Anonymous said...

"Don't compare sports where you actually have to move with video games, they are not in the same."

CHESS, been around over a thousand years and people still play it.

Better an individual can play it all their life and still enjoy it.

Ironically I find computer chess to suck but love playing real people.

You could also talk about the longevity of card games.

Sheldon said...

"It is played by more than 250 million players." Almost all of who are children or young adults. I'd be surprised if 5% of the boys Gevlon's father plyed soccer with 50 years ago still kick a ball around with the "old boys". I'd be extremely surprised if the number was 10%. This isn't evidence that soccer is a better game than MMOs, or that it stays popular for decades; it's evidence that Gevlon's father is a statistical anomaly.

"The highest level championship is followed by over a billion spectators." So the fuck what? People watch and cheer for whichever sport is popular. Once, it was bear baiting. Today it is soccer. Tomorrow, it could be hamster racing. The millions would still cheer just as loud and get just as drunk and spend just as much on clothes in their team's colors.

"There are no signs that the game would start to lose players." No, soccer loses players all the time. Millions of them every year. It is simply able to replace them because it has a critical mass of fans and teaching little kids to kick a ball around a field is easy.

Yaggle said...

Soccer stays popular with people because people don't have to continually re-learn it. Re-learn the fights, new zones, rules, new talents, stat changes, new geography, etc. You can learn the rules of soccer or other sport and always enjoy watching it after that, or playing it after that with what you already learned. It isn't a continuous treadmill with a carrot in front of your face like Wow. World of Warcraft must constantly improve to compensate for the fact that you must constantly improve, and learn, also. Eventually it's a scenario of diminishing returns where the entertainment cannot keep up with perceived sacrifice. A newer, better game with better graphics and other improvements must replace it eventually. However, a sport does not have to keep up to keep people interested.

Ninahagen said...

From
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation


(...)

"Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation"

(...)

"Social psychological research has indicated that extrinsic rewards can lead to over justification and a subsequent reduction in intrinsic motivation. In one study demonstrating this effect, children who expected to be (and were) rewarded with a ribbon and a gold star for drawing pictures spent less time playing with the drawing materials in subsequent observations than children who were assigned to an unexpected reward condition. For those children who received no extrinsic reward, Self-determination theory proposes that extrinsic motivation can be internalised by the individual if the task fits with their values and beliefs and therefore helps to fulfill their basic psychological needs."





Basic psychology.

Anonymous said...

Another important reason soccer and many other games persist is that they're "open source" and technically simple. There's no way for your average fan community to keep a good video game going once a developer stops supporting it.

If you enjoy chess or soccer, you can start up an amateur game or league with a little coordination effort. Video games, regardless of how good they are, do not lend themselves to this kind of grassroots adoption.

Kurt said...

"Almost all of who are children or young adults. I'd be surprised if 5% of the boys Gevlon's father plyed soccer with 50 years ago still kick a ball around with the "old boys". I'd be extremely surprised if the number was 10%. This isn't evidence that soccer is a better game than MMOs, or that it stays popular for decades; it's evidence that Gevlon's father is a statistical anomaly. Almost all of who are children or young adults. I'd be surprised if 5% of the boys Gevlon's father plyed soccer with 50 years ago still kick a ball around with the "old boys". I'd be extremely surprised if the number was 10%. This isn't evidence that soccer is a better game than MMOs, or that it stays popular for decades; it's evidence that Gevlon's father is a statistical anomaly"

I'm sorry to say, but you don't seem to know what "evidence" is. Neither you or Gevlon has given anything useful as evidence on how many people play soccer at different age levels. Since you're the one using the term evidence, that makes you wrong. Especially since Gevlon never claimed anything resembling the hypothesis that his father was a member of any statistically large group of elderly soccer players. Did he claim that over 5% of the people his father still played? No, so why did you bother saying it would surprise you? Who cares what surprises you?

Here's a helpful example of evidence: http://www.canadasoccer.com/documents/demographics/2007_demographics_report.pdf

This is for canada only, 4 years old, and comprises registration in leagues, without giving anything more than the most general age breakdown of 18 and under vs. 18+, but it's an example of the kind of thing that we could call evidence, despite being poor quality evidence. What you have provided us, is trolling. I couldn't find any reasonable evidence is under 5 minutes, but I don't have any obligation to since I'm not making any positive claims requiring substantation, which you are. I'm just pointing out what "evidence" should look like.

"So the fuck what? People watch and cheer for whichever sport is popular. Once, it was bear baiting. Today it is soccer. Tomorrow, it could be hamster racing."

So, you curse rudely, then provide examples of two sports that aren't popular. Nice job shooting your own point down.

"No, soccer loses players all the time. Millions of them every year. It is simply able to replace them because it has a critical mass of fans and teaching little kids to kick a ball around a field is easy."

Hey look, you said exactly what he said, but you took 10x as many words to do it. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

Interesting choice. Soccer is far from a sport that is a dominate player in north America. It attracts lots of young kids in Canada and most of them leave the game by the time they are playing the proper rules. There always will be games that attract that niche. It will just depend on how large is that niche.

Azuriel said...

This is one of those posts that sounds more profound than it actually is.

A good game is defined as playing it is fun indefinitely (in terms of years, not playing 24/7).

No. That may be how you define it, although I would caution that it is a dumb way of doing so. Is a good sandwich defined as enjoying eating it indefinitely? Is a blow-out 30-0 soccer game fun indefinitely? Is soccer still a good game if you hate playing/watching it, simply because it can be played indefinitely? Can you actually call anything "indefinitely" fun when you will not exist for an indefinite time? There were still 50,000 Star Wars Galaxies players when they shut the servers down. If servers were up indefinitely, could you not argue that SWG (etc) was a good game?

The bottom line is that I think it is ridiculous to define "good games" as being ONLY those containing an indefinite quality. My favorite games of all time are all single-player RPGs, and I would absolutely sacrifice soccer's, football's, Chess's, etc, timelessness at the altar of a solid 40-50 hour game experience.

Pepper Mynt said...

i think the reason adults don't play tag, hide and seek, or hop scotch, is due to social stigma. those are considered children's games. video games are just now becoming socially accepted as activities for adults. to be honest if i could, i would love to go play some dodge ball, but the only people playing are kids on playgrounds and i don't want to end up on a sexual predator list.

Dzonatan said...

"Let me introduce you soccer on PC, can you say anyone is going to play that for 50 years ?"

Fifa series, Pro Evolution Soccer series... basicly the same games redone over and over and over and over agian. Fifa having 18 years of existance, PES having 14 years of existance. Seeing them lasting 50 years seems reasonably possible.