Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's All Games Now

Raph Koster had a well-received talk at GDC some time ago. Yesterday the video went online. I'm left a bit puzzled.

I, generally, like to listen to Raph. He is a smart guy who tries to acknowledge reality and turn it into something better. But looking at what he was actually saying in this talk, I'm left wondering how it could have been received this well; especially among professionals.

“Incomplete information can add to games”
Rules constrain players so that they have more fun. Anybody who is surprised by that should not attend GDC, really. Circumventing good rules (cheating) is only fun as long as it is new or as long as you think that your opponent doesn't notice.

“Games become more mainstream. Games influence the real world and vice versa. The border between the two blurs.”
This is a very powerful thing and an old hat, isn't it?

“Game designers are perfectly qualified to shape the world”
Game design was always about how to design things that the humans brain considers fun. Fun is incredibly useful for increasing productivity. The similarities between a good game and a good job are overwhelming.
Fun is a major part of what drives humans. Understanding fun is understanding a lot about what it means to be human. I don't think this is news even to most readers of this blog, is it?

“Facebook & co. do community management and social engineering better than MMOs/social games”
Yes and no. I don't use social networks to play with other people and I know that most of my friends don't do this either. Maybe we are just old (~30), but real-life friends and facebook friends and MMO friends are really different groups of friends for me. This might be different for someone who makes his living with games, and maybe this will change eventually for me, too, but right now I don't see this happening.
I don't want to talk to my MMO friends when I am not logged in, and I predict that all the new services that allow this kind of thing will fail at attracting anybody but hardcore gamers. Just my humble opinion.

“Games are fundamentally social media and always have been.“
I disagree. Some games, called MMOs / social games are to a large extend social media. But games in general are not. Baldur's Gate is not social media. Talking about it (on forums / in the supermarket) is 'social'. But then, talking about *anything* is social. I think Raph focuses too much on the community aspect of games. This aspect is, of course, social media and often done better by platforms like Facebook.
However, Facebook is a social network for real life. It is not a social network for a virtual world game. Early social games were able to attract a lot of players due to Facebook advertising / spamming. But this was stopped, because it was not beneficial for Facebook. In many respects, social games and social platforms are drifting apart right now. Consumers demand it. Thankfully!
Maybe some hardcore gamers would use ICQ if you didn't add a global chat to your MMO. But, trust me, most gamers would not. At least not in today's big MMOs. Players might complain, though.

"Consoles are being replaced by social platforms."
Didn't think about this before. Very good point.


  1. You're looking at games as "computer games" only. When Raph speaks about "games always being social", he also means pre-computer games. Which are, indeed, for most non-trivial activities, inherently social - you cannot play Chess or Go without other human, you need other people to play Pen and Paper RPGs, or Poker, etc.

    Also Raph considers "single-player" games aberrations.
    Check for example. Googling on "single player game aberration" will give you most of debate. :)

  2. Yeah I think the meaning of his points probably didn't come across. I don't see any listed in your article that seem untrue.

    Incomplete information *can* add to game. We get incomplete information ALL THE TIME in games. This is what quests do, for example. You don't have all the data to to make a fully informed decision. That's what makes consequences meaningful and games do this all the time. What is it you think was meant by this?

    Facebook et al do a better job of *community management and social engineering* than MMOs. Why do you think MMOs are better at this (I definitely don't)? This has little to do with the group or audience. He is talking about community management. What is it you think that any given MMO does better than Facebook as community management and social engineering goes? That should lead us to an interesting conversation.