Guild Wars 2
But first things first. I read a bit of GW2 today and among a lot of interesting stuff I found this:
The slower-regen idea seemed so good on paper, but in practice the original design was just more fun. As we roll into this next demo season, there are a few major changes that we thought we should tell you about, and without further ado, here they are.To me this is exactly what goes wrong. Apparently the game designers carefully created some kind of slower-regen game mechanic. Maybe they thought about 'interesting decisions' or prevention of 'optimizing the fun out of it' or general flavor.
Subsequently, they tested it and found it to be lacking. Now, I wasn't there. So, maybe they were right and the new mechanic was awful. However, my guess is that they tested something for a few days and then decided that it's unfun to use in a MMORPG which players are meant to play for thousands of hours. Maybe they looked at players playing the game at conventions were the players behave and think radically different than at home.
Fun Fallacy all over again
Let's use one of those chess-analogies. Imagine you test chess to find out whether it's fun enough. You make three moves. It turns out that it is totally boring; each single one. You scrap the project.
At the heart of this evil is Brenda's quote. At the time I first found it, I didn't see it for what it was. I considered it an interesting piece of "wisdom". But, in fact, it isn't even wrong. And that's among the worst things you can say about something.
Game designers nowadays assume that fun adds up. Just like a number. A wonderful way to explain why this is wrong is the soup analogy. You can add a lot of salt to a bad tasting soup and it tastes much better. You can still add quite some salt to a good soup and it tastes better. But you may add just a pinch of salt to a really good soup, otherwise you spoil it.
Salt represents a game mechanic that is the more fun, the worse the game. And there are lots of them. For example exponential character power progression, or starting out as a hero at level 1. These things make the game more fun if the gamer coincidently found out about it and decided to test it for 3 minutes. But ultimately they make the game worse.
What keeps you playing
Looking at metrics, designers found out that the highest potential for more players is keeping them from quiting during the first few minutes of play. Consequently, they figured the most important thing wasn't so much to make a fun game in the long run anymore, but rather to enthuse players during the first few minutes. Now, I don't dispute that it's good if a game is fun right from the start.
Rather, I fear the kind of fun that is used to achieve this. In the beginning, since the player doesn't know the game yet, he has no ambitions, little expectations, no dreams. And instead of giving the player something to dream about, the game designers give him something "awesome" and "cool". This is short-term fun. Just like playing an arcade game is short-term fun. It is a distraction. Salt, a sensation.
Compare that with one of my very first WoW experiences: I was on my way to the first city and saw some guy fly over me. What I didn't know back then: He was just flying on a flight route. And the route had deliberately been bent this way to make new players 'dream'. This dream was a more powerful motivator than short-term gameplay fun could ever be.
What made me play to level 60 in original WoW wasn't the short-term fun. In a way, the game was awful. It was highly, no, it was extremely repetitive.
What made me play to level 60 were dreams about exploration and power. If somebody had given me the isolated leveling gameplay out of all contexts, and asked me whether I looked forward to doing this for 300 hours until I reach level 60, I would have told him that making three moves in chess isn't fun, either. Actually, that's what I told some friends when they asked me how playing WoW can be fun.
Had I played original WoW pre-release at a convention, I would have left dreaming about playing it. I would not have remembered how heroic I felt while I played it.
Dreams of Denial
Game designers nowadays make games that want to be loved; not games that make you fall in love. Game designers nowadays go to conventions like attention whores; wanting to be praised for their badass dragons. And they iterate their game until it is exactly the way you "wanted" it.
Game designers nowadays are like the cute boy in school who did everything you asked of him; until you considered him creepy.
That's not the way it works! The most powerful art has the most agonizing flaws. The most engaging people have the most distressing weaknesses. The most attractive partners never do what you want.
The best games never succumb to you; they keep you dreaming.