Friday, April 22, 2011

Careful with Brenda's Quote

Tobold tries to justify him only playing Rift for about 10 hours with Brenda's quote

Focus on second-to-second play first. Nail it. Move on to minute-to-minute, then session-to-session, then day-to-day, then month-to-month (and so on). If your second-to-second play doesn’t work, nothing else matters. Along these lines, if your day-to-day fails, no one will care about month-to-month, either.

If you want to review a game completely you have to test every aspect of it. In the case of Rift that includes all dungeons, quests, tutorial, raiding, BG-PvP, open-PvP, etc. That doesn't mean however, that you are not allowed to have an opinion before you tested it completely. If the first 10 hours weren't fun, that is certainly valid and interesting information. It just isn't a complete review. In Tobold's case that is perfectly alright. He isn't a professional game tester, after all; he's a blogger.

Now, you should be a bit careful about a final score, of course. Saying that you tested a game for some hours and claiming that it isn't fun (I am talking abstract now) is not acceptable. What you can say is that the aspects you tested weren't fun (for you, but that's obvious).

About Brenda's quote. It doesn't apply to this situation. Brenda gives an advice to developers. She knows that players stop playing very fast if a game isn't fun on even very short time scales. That is the reason for rogue-likes being so unpopular today. They are still a hell of a lot of fun once you managed to get into them. But to get into them is really hard, because the graphics are so much worse than what we are used to.

The quote cannot be used as justification to not test a game for longer than a few minutes. As a developer you have to fear that if your game is not fun for the first 10 minutes, players stop playing forever. As a player, however, you have to fear that you quit a game after 10 minutes, although it could have offered hundreds of hours of fun once you have played for 10 hours. And this is exactly the kind of information I want the tester to give me: Should I invest a lot of time, because the game becomes really, really fun later on?

Moreover, don't interpret Brenda's quote in a way that every single individual, isolated activity has to be fun. Fun Fallacy, you remember? Millions of players got to level 60 in classic WoW, because the second-to-second and minute-to-minute gameplay was fun. However, it wasn't fun if you looked at it isolated from the rest of the game.

If you, as a developer, had employed some testers and given them the second-to-second gameplay without a world, without talent trees, without other players. Just the pure, isolated, immediate gameplay and if you had asked them whether they looked forward to do this for 300 hours /played...
Well, you get the point. The second-to-second gameplay has to be fun, but must not be looked at isolated from the rest of the game. The fact that you can explore a world, access higher levels, explore your character's abilities, meet other people and, yes, even gain equipment, is essential.

Humans like to invest much more than to they like to consume. The feeling of building / creating something is the most powerful incentive in MMORPGs. It gives the game more (subjective) meaning than single-player games. The anticipation of future fun is fun in itself.

In no way should the quote be used to design games as a chain of seperate, inherently fun pieces. Take the WoW-LFD. Even if you ignore the social consequences of the anonymity and the immersion-breaking teleports, the LFD has a fundamental problem: It is just too much candy all at once. Dungeons in WoW are (were?) fun; unless you run 10 of them in a row - or one every day. By cutting out the supposedly unfun elements, Blizzard allowed the player to get as much candy as he wants whenever he wants. This leads to players grabbing as much as they can and then throw up.

Just like cooking is fun due to the pleasant anticipation of eating, the dungeons were fun, because you looked forward to do them. It is the same with shopping: Buying the 20.000 € kitchen in itself is not fun. The pleasant anticipation (of showing it off ?) is.
We need some time between fun events to appreciate them. Chrismas every day is not fun. Chrismas every 365 days, is. For most people, Christmas is also the perfect example for anticipation of an event being much more fun than the event itself.

Pacing of fun events and variety make a fun game. Even the most fun thing in the world becomes tedious and boring if you do it again and again in short succession. Developers should not trust players to know this or even hold themselves back. (They certainly should not offer cookies for chain-eating other cookies!) It is the developer's responsibility to create a fun game, not the player's responsibility to play it in a way that is fun. At least, for your own sake, that is the point of view you should assume as a developer.


  1. Focus on second-to-second play first. Nail it.

    Of course the advice is TO developers. But game testers can certainly see whether the developers "nailed it", and they don't need hundreds of hours for that.

    I totally agree that not every second of a game can be fun. But if you got through a complete multi-hour gaming session without having fun at all, it is time to declare that game a failure and quit playing it, regardless what rewards have been promised to you in the far future.

  2. Make the first ten seconds fun, the first ten minutes fun, so that people are in the game. Get that initial every single second is pure fun and joy bit in. Now people are invested and you can go for more substantial fun like story, long-term goals, challenges, etc.

  3. "Fun" is a pretty loose term. It might be worth looking into what actually qualifies as "fun". I think the general guideline when it comes to games is more what's "entertaining", "involving", "rewarding", "satisfying", etc.

    I think this is more of the reason why I wouldn't be nitpick a game based on Brenda's Quote. If a game keeps me playing but I'm not consciously considering it to be "fun" at every moment, that doesn't mean the larger experience isn't "fun" in some way.

    Also different people have different thresholds for how much it takes for them to feel that they are having "fun", which would have a large effect on the percentage of the immediate game experience that people are willing to qualify as "fun".

    I think it makes sense as a guideline for a developer to keep perspective, but it's too demanding (in my opinion) to review a game expecting it to cognitively register as "fun" from moment to moment.

  4. Well good points , but dont fall too far to the other side either. Games should aim to hit that "minute to minute->hour by hour" targets. Especially for new player experience

    Also be careful with inherently unfun mechanics. Boring forced travel will make most people leave and leave the world empty instead of bringing immersion .

    And so are harsh death penalties, overly obvious time sinks etc.

    Also roguelikes are not played not only because of graphics.For those who get trough graphics aversion completely inane interfaces and "busy work" (time spent struggling with it instead of actually playing) is what turns people off

    Combat in roguelikes is also very bad and is a core activity

    If something is fun be super extra careful removing it "cause it breaks your simulator". Flight is fun, so is jumping . Seek how to incorporate fun without breaking world, do not be a slave to simulators - we have a perfect one ,called real life, already

  5. Real world is very bad fantasy simulator, Max. There's not even magic!

  6. > Dungeons in WoW are (were?) fun; unless you
    > run 10 of them in a row - or one every day.
    > By cutting out the supposedly unfun elements,
    > Blizzard allowed the player to get as much
    > candy as he wants whenever he wants. This
    > leads to players grabbing as much as they
    > can and then throw up.

    Is that really a problem of the LFD? Or did that happen because Blizzard tried to force feed you as much candy as they could?

    You have the weekly cap, which you can't reach with heroics alone. But the cap shows you how many VP Blizzard thinks you should farm every week. That puts up some pressure to run it every day.

    Or the rewards for eating candy:

    2200 VP for a chest. That requires 32 heroic daily random dungeons. Let's compare that with TBC. Even with the T6 badge loot you had to only collect 90 badges. And an instance dropped 3 - 5 of them. 2 more for the daily. If we assume 6 badges on average we're at 15 dungeons. And it was way less during T4.

  7. Klepsacovic: What's fun for the first 10 minutes for a complete newbie might still be tedious for an old vet, and what keeps an experienced gamer interested may be confusing for a newbie.

    So experienced MMO players really do need to understand that the first 10 mins- 1 hour or so of a new MMO may well be slow-paced compared to what they are used to. Because it's there as a tutorial for less experienced gamers.

  8. Spinks, games need to recognize this and make multiple starting experiences/mechanics. Label them as being for new players to the genre or not.

  9. "Make the first ten seconds fun, the first ten minutes fun, so that people are in the game."

    For a span of about two years during my experiences trying to find a new MMORPG, as a veteran, I found the first and most prevelant turn off to be the UI. Not if it was ugly, but if it was unintuitive.

    Now, you might say that was incredibly counter-productive to trying new MMO's, and yes, it was. It took me way too long to get into Dungeons and Dragons Online because I thought the bag icons were TOO DAMN SMALL. Still do.

    Regardless, the point is that the first impression is the most important and I think Brenda's quote addresses that. The first experience is what makes a player try to shoot for that long term goal, and if you fail at it then your entire business model of long-term subscribers is diminished in capacity.