Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"The skill" and fun

Yesterday I wrote about a game that hasn't received new content for 150 years yet hundreds of millions play it. There are lot of games with similar characteristics. Below I try to pinpoint the reason why such games exists.

Evolution has developed a simple system to motivate mindless beings to do what is bad and good for the survival of their genes: pain and pleasure. The dog doesn't know that standing on a hot plate is harmful for him, therefore decreases his chance of having offspring. Yet the dog jumps off the hot plate because it hurts him. The neural pattern that recognize hot as painful appeared randomly long time ago. Since it increased the survival chance of its owner, it multiplied. Alike the act of being with other dogs is "fun" for the dogs, they are clearly happy be with each other. This pattern rewards forming a pack that increased their survival chance greatly in the times when they were wolves.

Humans are creations of evolution, so their pain and fun concept is the same. Feeling pain has a positive correlation with being harmed, while feeling fun has a positive correlation with increasing our chance to multiply. Of course correlation doesn't mean equality, my countless posts about "ape subroutines" were focusing to the exceptions. It's easy to find such exceptions: dentist is painful, yet helps the person, drinking alcohol is fun, yet harmful.

However today I focus on the rule, not the exceptions. It's clear that the correlation exists, most painful things do harm and most fun things are doing good to the person. I'd like to categorize the fun things into groups and there discuss where games can use it to provide fun:
  • Sex. The sex itself and all actions that usually leads to it (like nudity). It's usefulness is obvious, it rewards making offspring. Games have little place here, since pornography does better.
  • Social: being with people who are friendly with us. It rewarded staying with the clan and sharing with them. The clans were our close relatives, sharing our genes. It was clearly beneficial in the prehistoric age, much less nowadays, most of my blog is about how harmful it it to pursue social fun. However here I just note that games have little chance with the social fun seekers, as Facebook, chat rooms, forums and other social media does better. Facebook doesn't have to spend resources of designing a murloc. While games were serious social fun source, they were simply beaten by the purely social social media.
  • Exploring: finding  new things that we haven't seen yet. This fun rewards finding new resources or early warning for dangers. The cavemen who explored their surroundings found food when they needed easier than those who started searching only when they were starving. Most games rely on this kind of fun. Such games can and will succeed, as "sell the box once" games. They are fun once, but has little replaying or endgame value. You saw the content once, explored it, had the fun, game over. Unless developers can create content faster than players consume it (they can't), exploring games won't last.
  • Honing skills: the soccer, the chess, the basketball, the poker all demand "skill" from the players and playing it improves "the skill" (whatever it is). This activity is fun because it rewards preparation for upcoming challenges. The tribe that spent its time with wrestling and running competition was more likely to be successful hunters than those who spent their time idling.  The psychological name of the "fun coming from improving skill" is flow. I'm absolutely sure that this is the only kind of fun that permanent games can provide. Tomorrow I'll list the different skills and explain why Vanilla WoW was such a huge success, despite being grindy. I will also explain why there are no FPS MMOs and why don't adults play hide and seek.


Jumina said...

I must say this is an excellent post.

This reminds me different feelings from playing WoW and Aion. In WoW I started as a warrior tank and in those days even low level 5man were really fun and a challenge. In contrast I left Aion on level 31 after I run 5 times "Fire Temple". The gameplay was so boring.

Anonymous said...

There are MMOFPS' out there, like Planetside for example (400 player maps iirc), but granted, they don't receive the same playerbase as fantasy/sci-fi MMOs.

Christof said...

What is the point in an FPS MMO?
At the end of a counterstrike match, you get direct feedback about the progress of your FPS Skill.
You dont improve your character, rather you have the feeling of improving yourself.
The problem for the FPS MMO is, that its like playing soccer 100 vs 100, your skill isnt a major input. so the FPS MMO lacks the feedback of the single/small group shooter.

Dangphat said...

I think that the game uses all four of your fun factors in different amounts.

The "sex" part is obviously the least but it is still used, why else would the female blood elf of the loading screen have perky breasts. To extrapolate from sex it also offers soap like romance in the most recent story line cut scenes.

The social part is the biggest driver of WoW, numbers it takes what facebook does and then blows it out the water. You can do more than just see a profile you can work together in a common goal in a spirit of adventure. A lot of longer lasting guilds survive due to these bonds (although as your experiments show they may not achieve as much).

Exploring is part of it, but it is my opinion that it is only within a social context that we enjoy this,

And the honing of skill is important and is easily understood.

I will suggest a 5th, random reward, all animals are drawn towards a random reward rather than a steady reward system. A rat faced with a button that deliver food will press it now and again, a rat faced with a button that produces food seemingly at random will press it furiously.

Bronte said...

Let's see, the WoW today has dam near no social aspects, everything is organized by the game. There is no exploring aspect, because every quest can be found on WoWHead and mods like QuestHelper2 make the leveling game completely trivial. And the level of skill, although high in endgame raids, has been universally dumbed down, such as the warrior threat changes a short while back.

Perhaps these reasons have contributed to a decline in subscription numbers?

Michael said...

>Games have little place here, since pornography does better.

Blink. You don't know about all those thousands and thousands of pornographic games? :o

Also, I'm afraid your model is a bit too simple. "Evolution has developed a simple system to motivate mindless beings..." But humans aren't mindless. Most of our gaming and general activities aren't about simple survival, but about pursuing happiness and fearing loss.

The number one addictive property of WoW is its measurable progression. You ding and level up, you get a boss kill and an achievement pops up. You get gear and get access to new content. This progression is entirely artificial, the skills from WoW have a negligible impact on your survival. But they do have a noticeable impact on your happiness, as anyone who's screamed or run a victory lap after a new boss kill can tell you.

An analysis of gaming needs to focus not just on mere ape-routines, but upon the pursuit of happiness and hedonic utility.

Dillion said...

@Dangphat: I completely disagree about a inconsistent treat for the rat because we aren't rats. If the button only sometimes gives a reward the rat will only press it if it's the only option. If the rat had a choice between the two buttons they'd press the consistent one as often at they could. We have the choice on how we want our treats ftmp. If the treats don't please us, it's our 15$ and we pack up and leave.

And there are already random rewards involved in WoW. Loot drops. Now look at life, where are the random rewards there? Lottery, gambling... Hell even speeding could have the random reward of not getting caught and getting somewhere quicker.

Random rewards don't intice, they infuriate as you show with the mouse. But games like WoW have to have them because once you've played the content once, there encounter cannot adapt to you. Only you to it. The random rewards keep you coming back to see if your gear will drop. In essense, JP and VP just give you a grinding component to your raids that take the edge off of the random rewards. You have the ability to better control your upgrades because you can purchase sometime.

Where are the random rewards in Soccer? There aren't really, IDT. If you don't practice, you don't win. If you don't win, you don't progress. If you don't progress, support dwindles - fans leave and you may not be playing anymore. Nothing random there as it all ties into your ability/skill or even level of commitment.

chewy said...

Your four categories of fun are somewhat spurious "The clans were our close relatives, sharing our genes." in-breeding is not a great way to evolve.

But category four is valid.Honing skills is what helped us to evolve and might explain the enduring popularity of a game with limited rules such as football.

Let me give you a comparison to validate my claim. In 1970 an amazing young player called Pele caught the worlds imagination because he showed never before seen skills within the same rule set.

A while ago you ran the "under geared project" which showed new skills in an existing ruleset.

Both examples show that people love to see a fresh set of skills addressing a simple problem. Why ? Because it appeals to a base instinct in that category you call "skill honing" but in fact is the basis of evolution that the most adaptable and the fittest survive.

Our ape subroutines can't help but be enthralled when we see other apes showing new skills, they have no idea that it's pointless, they're just responding to millions of years of evolution.

Squishalot said...

@ Dillion - the point is, the rats don't press the consistent one furiously. In addition, even when you change the inconsistent one to deliver consistently, the rats will continue to press it furiously - the behaviour has been learned.

(Note - there is plenty of incentive for the rats to press either - in the classic tests, each press administered a dose of speedball, which is a cocaine / heroin cocktail.)

If you want a good example of a game where gambling works, look no further than Diablo 2.