Greedy Goblin

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I won on the roller coaster!

I was in a theme park and tried out the roller coaster. There were lots of other players with me, but I could easily see that they are n00bs. Despite I never played this particular ride, due to my overall gaming skills I didn't fail like them and left the round victorious. My only problem with this was that they did not give out some kind of achievement to show off my l33t skillz.

Bizarre, isn't it? You can't win on the roller coaster. There is no challenge, the actions you need to perform are trivial, the enjoyment comes from the experience of speed and acceleration that you don't get in your daily traffic. Roller coasters aren't games, they are toys, entertainment tools.

It's telling that "theme park" became a label for certain kind of video "games". Winning or losing is just as impossible in WoW than on the roller coaster. Everyone who pays the fee is entitled to experience a ride.

As always with toys, people are capable of creating game rules that uses the toy in a game. For example you can make a "who can eat more spaghetti before getting sick on the roller coaster" game. It's stupid, but it's indeed a game. So is "who can clear WoW raid encounters faster". It's telling that such games are managed by third party sites and not Blizzard.

Bowling on the other hand is a game. You have to pay to secure a lane, but the fee doesn't include any kind of results. If you fail to hit a single pin, too bad. If a bowling club would make pins fall on their own to entertain "casual players", it would be soon blacklisted for cheating.

Game developers should actually be called toy developers. A pixel orc or a pixel spaceship is not a game, it's a toy. The interactions between toys (how fireball damages orc) is still a toy. The game emerges with creating a ruleset for winning using the toys. WoW arena is a game, using WoW toys. Raiding is not a game. Getting higher on the third-party raider toplist is a game, using WoW raids as toys.

The reason for Wildstar and many other new MMOs failed is that they aren't at all different games than WoW. They are the very same game, just with different toys. To make a different game, you have to imagine it with WoW toys: the same spells, graphics. Wildstar would be identical game, while EVE Online would be different. "EVE using WoW toys" is a great example for this design criteria, so I provide it as an example:
  • The gamespace is divided into thousands of islands.
  • You can travel between these islands using fixed portals.
  • In the central islands there are NPC guards killing those who engage in PvP without declaring war between guilds or the target being a marked criminal.
  • In the other islands there are no such NPCs and warlock players can summon raid members from nearby islands.
  • Most gear is crafted, rare gear is available from doing daily quests for NPCs, epic gear drops from bosses spawning.
  • If a player is killed by another player or NPC, half of his gear gets destroyed, the other half drops. Anyone can loot his corpse.
  • Players can build forts that can only be sieged in certain times and hundreds of man-hours worth of damage needed to break its walls.
Despite this game would use WoW graphics, WoW avatars and WoW spell mechanics, it would be much more similar to EVE Online than WoW and EVE players would rate it higher than WoW players.

The point is when you evaluate a game, you should look at the game rules and not the toys used in the game. Toys can be upgraded and fixed. The game rules on the other hand make or break the success. Wildstar is WoW, just with different toys, and necessarily worse toys due to Blizzard having 10 years and about half billion dollar development in them. No wonder it went down. But indie games published with horrible toys (10-20 years outdated graphics) are successful due to their original ruleset. Even simpler: design a game instead of upgrading toys!

PS: Solo PvP is called the most skilled activity. If so, then bravely solo engaging a capital ship must be the pinnacle of gaming.
On the other hand I keep telling that engaging a 100+ CFC fleet is a dumb idea.


maxim said...

One of the first things i did as a fleding game designer back in my early teenage years was creating a game with what i considered to be very hard winning conditions and then inflict this game upon their friends.
I was very (and unpleasantly surprised) when my friends all beaten it fast and easy because i didn't configure the toys properly :)

Ahem, either way.

First, many people have tried to define what a game is, and so far no real conclusion was reached.

Some people feel that win/loss condition is an integral part of what a game is. Other people are perfectly content with defining game more broadly as "something that you can play", because they are more interested in the process of "play" itself and feel that having too rigid definition of what a "game" is prevents them from making something people can actually play.

Secondly, game developers are not all universally toy developers. One of the reasons why games take so long to develop is precisely because they are not toys.

You see, putting toys in place is easy. Anyone with Unity on hand can make a computer toy in as little as a week. It is figuring out what kinds of games will players want to engage with these toys and whether these games are good or not (from any standpoint (whether monetory or otherwise) that takes the most effort of a game designer.

Finally, it seems the only point you have made is that WoW and Eve are different games. Congrats on your captain promotion, mr.Obvious :)

So what?

Anonymous said...

The talk of toys vs. games reminds me of the classic game-defining essay by Greg Costikyan.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that is why Starcraft is considered an e-Sport. Rules, winners, losers. What about WoW Arenas, though? Rules, and winners and losers there, as well, no?

Gevlon said...

@Maxim: You can practically play with anything (performing non-productive activity for your amusement). Hell, you can amuse yourself by licking the window.

Does that mean everything is a game?

maxim said...

Cold windows are not inherently games. However, a person can make his experience of interacting with said window into a game if he chooses to. That's an abuse of human creativity resulting in a twisted fetish kind of game, but a game nonetheless.

The fact that this makes the concept of "game" (and "toy" as well) largely meaningless is not lost on me. I am not exactly comfortable with that fact.

The sad truth, however, is that in modern game design practice the definition of "game" depends on specifics of a given stuido's corporate culture.

The only thing that is shared across all definitions of "game" that i encountered is that game is an interactive experience, designed with intent to let people have fun with it. (where "play" is defined as process of having fun, whereas "fun" itself has even more definition issues than "game").

Gevlon said...

I think the solution is that toy can be anything that is used for unproductive fun, including the window, or the pen on my desk that I spin in boredom.

Games are activities made with toys, competing with other people (either directly or indirectly via their scores).

In this sense a WoW raid is a toy, but not a game, while League of Legends is a game.

Lucas Kell said...

"I think the solution is that toy can be anything that is used for unproductive fun, including the window, or the pen on my desk that I spin in boredom.

Games are activities made with toys, competing with other people (either directly or indirectly via their scores)."
That's just your definition though. Games don't HAVE To be competitive. A game is simply a ruleset that defines the bounds of play. Win or lose conditions aren;t a requirement of a game.

Anonymous said...

so what?
does EVE being a game while WoW being a toy make my experience while playing Eve better?
a game with lots of crappy rules and loopholes that some people easily can exploit and get away with it, while others can't will give less excitement than a cool toy, that toying with will cause good feelings...

so, what conclusion can we draw from your post?
rather play with good toys than with bad games? or vice versa?

Gevlon said...

The point is written to the text because it wasn't obvious.

Dàchéng said...

Your point is well made, Gevlon. These virtual worlds provide the environment within which we can play games. Some of them are invented by the inventors of the virtual worlds (arenas, for instance), most are invented by us. The themepark in WoW are the PvE challenges that Blizzard provides. The games that we invent (such as raiding league tables) are the sandbox of Azeroth. I made a similar point last year, arguing with Tobold on the difference between toys and games.

Maarten Hofman said...

I thought some bowling lanes put boundaries into their gutters for certain customers, to make sure that they at least hit some pins.

Anonymous said...

Indeed! wildstar failed to deliver PVP as they so shamelessly advertised as good as their pve. "won't fix" pvp related stuff brought to their attention early closed beta. so a huge fail
Every other game. yes I'm sick of wow clones.

Gevlon: ExtraCreditz might be of interesst. Every week they talk about game design topics.

one of my favorites is "power creep" -

Anonymous said...

Ah I see!
Minecraft has horrible toys, but is an excellent game.
This is why EVE doesn#t have 100.000 subs, while MC has over 100.000.000 registered users!!!

Anonymous said...

Actually minecraft has excellent toys, they don't have fancy pixels or fancy sounds, but a lot of versatility which is more important. It's much more of a "sandbox" than Eve is - not much of a game built in, but many games you can make out of it.

maxim said...

I don't share your insistence that games have to be competitive.

Also i am not sure about what is the practical benefit of accepting this definition. What can we do after we accept this definition that we can't do now?

Well, obviously aside from benefit for people who prefer competitive games claiming that only their games are one true games and everything else is "unproductive".

Some of the best and worthwhile games i have played in my life have been the "unproductive" kind.

Gevlon said...

@Maxim: there are many entertainment forms like movies, pubs, sports and so on. They are all unproductive and most of them require some kind of user input (you need to elevate the glass to your mouth in a pub). Without the "competitive" distinction, one can call a movie or pub a "game".

What we gain by sticking to this distinction is separating "computer games" and "passive computer entertainment". Both have future but not from the same user market.

Imagine that in a bowling bar half of the group want to seriously blowl while other half just wants to drink and chat. Won't be a pleasure.

I think successful games will be clearly and explicitly competitive games while successful "passive computer entertainment" titles will clearly lack any means of competition. Everything in-between will fail.

maxim said...

You cannot call movie a game, because it is not interactive.

A pub can be thought of as a game. In fact, if you are the owner of a pub, seeking to improve the experience, it is quite helpful to occasionally put on a game designer hat. However, a pub is a much broader concept than a movie. A movie in cinema theater is like a specific cocktail in the pub.

On another hand, the cinema theater can also be thought of as a game. The fact that all systems requiring user input can be thought of as games is the thing that makes "gamification" processes possible. As someone with vested interest in prosperity of all game-related markets, i'm not really keen on conceptualization of games that threatens gamification markets by calling gamified systems "not a game".

I understand that you want to see competitive and noncompetitive games more clearly separated. Presumably, to both reduce the chance that you personally ever find yourself in a situation where nobody wants to play the way you like. As well as increase the number of games that you can potentially play, given the way you like to play them.
Now, how do you see the competitive - noncompetitive separation achieved in practice?

A separate category for competitive games in various online stores? A "DO NOT ENTER IF NOT READY TO COMPETE" sign on competitive games? Game designers deliberately designing games to actively discourage participation of nontarget audiences? To me the only thing that makes a lick of sense is a separate tag in online stores (different from category), everything else so far sounds ridiculous.

The very same bowling bar solves problems with audience separation without having to devolve into nonsense like that. And certainly without attempting to redefine the very notion of "game".