Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Challenge Fallacy

Currently people complain that the low level content of WoW is too easy. They are countered by people who say that leveling was never challenging and should not be challenging.

I agree. With both groups.

Leveling, indeed, was never challenging. And it would be impossible to make it challenging for 30 different speccs and different levels. What the people who claim that leveling is too easy mean is not that they want it to be challenging, but interesting.

Consider two mobs.
1) This mob takes 20 seconds to kill. He reduces your health by 20%-80% depending on how 'skillful' you are (20% = pure auto attack).
2) This mob takes 1 second to kill.

Now, which mob is more challenging to beat? Neither. You have a 100% chance to succeed. But which mob is more interesting to beat ?



  1. I think you have an overly selective interpretation of the word challenge. It means "difficulty in a job or undertaking that is stimulating to one engaged in it" according to, which is exactly what comes into play in the first of your two mob examples. It means that there are obstacles in your way that you enjoy overcoming. I think you do like challenge. :P

  2. Shintar wrote: I think you do like challenge. :P

    I wouldn't be so sure. I did not like ICC heroic modes much, for example. I like making plans and executing them. But if making the plan is trivial (watch youtube) and execution is the entire problem, things become frustrating fast.

    The word 'challenging' in these discussions should really be replaced by 'interesting' or even 'fun'.

    I do not want the low level content of WoW to become 'challenging' so that new players die all the time. But I want it to be interesting. If a mob dies within three GCDs, combat is not interesting; not fun.

  3. Challenging to me merely means increased risk. The more challenging the content, the more likely you will die, thus it requires more concentration, effort and preparation. The risk is that it will take longer.

    But certainly it's more interesting.

  4. That's not an easy topic to tackle =P
    the problem is that indeed, we all understand 'challenge' a little differently - I do agree with your example though, it pretty much hits the nail on the head for me. nothing in WoW is too challenging, you can be successful quite easily in this game. the difference is made by how encounters and 'challenge' are designed, boring or diverse, interesting, difficult etc.
    'difficult' again being a rather dodgy term!

  5. Devil's Advocate: Explain again why the first mob is more interesting? You never actually prove why it is, and if a player knows they'll kill the mob automatically just by right-clicking it, why make the fight take 20 seconds?

    I agree that killing mobs instantly just by targeting them is not the solution, but I disagree with you that the situation is made better when we add 20 seconds of watching healthbars move up and down in a way that never really calls the outcome into question.

  6. @ Bristal:

    I disagree. Risk is usually defined as "probability" x "significance" of an undesired event.

    By this meaning Russian roulette is very risky. And it is indeed. But is it challenging? I don't think so.

    Is it interesting ? .. yeah - but for a reason that would not exist if you made a virtual Russian roulette.

    More importantly, it is actually not fun - not even in the real world. Certainly not with a virtual char.

    Increased challenge can make a game more interesting and more fun, but it not necessarily does.

    "Challenging" is certainly not the same as "increased risk".

  7. @ Christian:

    At some point you need to stop to prove something. I cannot prove to you that a 20 second fight is more interesting than oneshoting a mob.

    Give me an abstract general definition of 'interesting' and I can try. But I don't think you will be able to do that, because whether something feels 'interesting' depends too much on the individual person.

    However, I think we can agree that some things have a higher probability to feel interesting to more people than others, and that fun things necessarily are 'interesting'.

    You write:
    I agree that killing mobs instantly just by targeting them is not the solution, but I disagree with you that the situation is made better when we add 20 seconds of watching healthbars move up and down in a way that never really calls the outcome into question.

    I could reduce this ad absurdum: Is killing two mobs with one mouseclick even better than killing one?

    And 1000 ?

    And leveling to 85 with just one click?

    Now, if the 20 seconds fight does not feel 'interesting' we should remove it. If the remaining one-shoting feels non-interesting we should remove it. If the leveling to 85 with one click does not feel interesting we should remove it, too. This quickly becomes a the Fun Fallacy.

    Moreover, please remember that adding two mobs of type (1) is actually 'dangerous' and since players have an interest in progressing as fast as possible, the 20-seconds mob that makes you lose only 20% of your health if you play well, feels like a challenge: The challenge to kill him efficiently.

    The penalthy for not killing him efficiently is a slight downtime. Since this downtime feels 'natural', it is not much of a problem. However, that's also been the way death penalthies started out and we know where it lead them:
    At some point somebody decided to reduce tham drastically and since then they do not feel 'natural' any longer, but arbitrary and annoying.

    I am certain that a similar 'evolution' can take place with any kind of penalthy. But, of course, you need some kind of penalthy, because otherwise combat feels todally uninteresting. The trick here is really to make the penalthy feel 'natural' and not arbitrary/annoying. But that largely depens on the player and his prior experience with MMOs.

    And on a completely different subject: This is actually a key part of social welfare: Making necessary penalthies feel 'natural' and not arbitrary/annoying.