Wednesday, March 3, 2010

“Maximizing Fun”

All game design should intuitively should rely on the following maxim: Games should maximize fun.

But where? and how? What is more fun and for whom? Who do you care about? When given a decision between making something fun for one kind of player or another, which kind do you choose?

One of the first questions asked when trying to design a game: why are we making a game? Or, more precisely, why will we make design decisions?

You can’t always make design decisions that appeal to the largest number of people because you don’t know what the largest number of people actually want. Game designers probably do not think of why they’re making design decisions in a broader sense—they might say “because this will be fun” or “because this will make money” but they won’t be able to answer much further if pressed. Game design is guided very much by intuition. Designers primarily refit concepts they’ve seen in other games into the context of their game—genres are in this way perpetuated by endless clones with slight variations. Without a more objective criteria for design decisions, “that which I think will be most popular” or “that which I’ve seen and liked before” are the main justifications for design on a broader level—as long as those justifications rule, clones are the order of the day.

When I approach analyzing a game’s design and judging the quality of certain design decisions, I open myself up to the patterns the game reveals to me. How do I play the game? Where are the developers trying to focus my attention? I start from a holistic view of how the game is put together and then look at more specific aspects to see if rough edges show themselves. I try to see what design decisions fit and do not fit with the patterns I noticed when looking at the game as a whole.

From here I can derive the “consistency” of the game design. A consistent design directs the player naturally towards what the game does best and doesn’t distract her with divergent quirks and mechanical dead-ends. Generally, games that have consistent designs are better games. Judging the consistency of a game is one way to get a feel for design quality while avoiding the multifaceted and ever-changing subjective nature of fun that gets in the while of “maximizing fun”. Consistency is still very subjective, but it is at least one step away from blind traditionalism and appeals to popularity to which so much game design seems to fall victim.


Kenny said...

While you might be right about some designers, let's not forget about the beast itself: publishers.

When you have "overeducated accountants" (lol, I so love this wording) making decisions on what products should you start to design, to begin with, all over to marketing who can literally axe features and areas in your game based on charts and diagrams. Or pure bs, if they don't feel like messing in Excel for a few minutes. I'm sure that there are a bunch of, well, "not that much talented" designers out there but I would bet everything dear to me that for every one of these you can find more who would do "the right thing" if they could.

My favorite example is Spore. Just take a look at all the material from 2003 onwards, Will Wright interviews, demos, and so on, and it's really hard not to come to the conclusion that EA pretty much gutted it beyond anything even perversely imaginable.

Unfortunately this facet of the industry is not going to change so , taking the case of EA, why should they innovate (look at Mirror's Edge*) when a simple engine polish (with a few new lines of commentary/new map for NFS) is going to work out 10x more profit for fraction of the invested resources? Makes sense from a big business standpoint and them "accountants" can be happy.

*I really think it was EA marketing who insisted on making it into a "story" game instead of releasing the first of the 21st century version of platform games and lead the way in front of the clones. Shame.

Oh, and I'm bashing EA because all the spotlight was on Activision in the past few days, but we need variety. :Đ

Dblade said...

I don't really have much to say, but reading your post made me think of this link:

Lum and Bartle's take on Stranglethorn Vale. An interesting related argument on maximizing fun. Hope you find it entertaining.