Friday, September 3, 2010

The Fun Fallacy

Yesterday I had a short discussion with Tobold, from Tobold’s MMORPG Blog. Eventually he decided to use this argument:

It is YOU who doesn't WANT to run around anymore. There is nothing in WoW which would prevent you from doing it.

As you can guess the subject were teleports.
This kind of argument is what I call the fun fallacy. It is the result of a pseudo-scientific approach to games. In general in goes like this:

1) The developers want to find out if activity X is fun.
2) Therefore they conduct an experiment: They allow the players to skip activity X, with a click on a button.
3) If a vast majority of players skip the activity, it cannot have been fun. qed.

Let me reduce this argument ad absurdum.
1) Blizzard wants to find out, whether raiding ICC is fun.
2) Therefore they introduce a new NPC in the ICC lobby. You can click on him and buy the complete T10 heroic set for 1G.
3) A vast majority of players clicks on the button. Within two weeks raiding in ICC drops by 90%. Therefore raiding ICC cannot have been fun.

Next, we introduce a button at the start of the game: “Gimme level 80 epic char”, and the next month we introduce a “Gimme gold cap” button. Eventually we introduce god mode. Suddenly, the only people who play WoW are those who use it as an expensive chat room.

What is wrong with this kind of argument is the idea that fun is an inherent property of an isolated activity: It is not.

Imagine eating one sweet cookie every day before you go to bed. Now imagine eating 500 sweet cookies all at once. Fun does not multiply. The isolated activity of eating a single sweet cookie might stay the same, but the circumstances matter.

Some months ago I was exploring the mountains around Jebel Toubkal in Northern Africa with a few friends. It was very hot and very dry. At one day I found out that I had not taken enough water with me on the trip. It was quite terrible. However, a few hours later we arrived at the top of one of the smaller mountains and to our surprise there was a guy who sold coke. Just like in a movie. Now, usually I don’t drink coke, as it is too sweet for my taste: But this one coke was easily one of the best drinks in my life. Having returned home, I retested coke and found that it still is much too sweet and not enjoyable at all. Circumstances matter.

Imagine this one cool dungeon in your new MMORPG. You just love it. The dungeon has a great atmosphere, good story and although it certainly is not easy to beat, you managed to do so the last few times. Now imagine somebody telling you that the loot in this dungeon sucks and there is another dungeon that drops much, much better. Moreover that dungeon is quite easy to beat and people generally consider it the norm to run this dungeon, instead of the other. They call you stupid to do the wrong dungeon. How much fun will you have the next time you run your favorite dungeon?
Some stuborn people might want to insist that they would feel the same. Well, a lot of players would not. Circumstances matter.

But there is more to it. Games consist of
- equipment,
- players,
- goals and rules.

The reason for the rules is to constrain the players from reaching the goals. And to do so in a fun way.

Think of chess: There is the board and its pieces, the players, the rules that tell you how to move the pieces and the goal of the game: Drop the opposing king. Dropping the king could be easy in chess: Just use your thumb. But playing chess this way is not much fun. It is the rules that constrain you that make the game fun.

But good rules are hard to come by. There are trillions of ways to play “The Settlers of Catan”, but only a tiny proportion of them is fun. When we buy a modern game, we also pay for the rules. In fact, the rules and goals are often the most valuable part of the game, as they are the only thing that cannot be bought with money.

It is important to understand that rules constrain players. That is their very nature. Developers should be wary of players that wish to be less constrained. These players usually do not look at the matter from a developer PoV, but a pure player PoV. They ask whether they could have their queen move like a knight, too.

In classic WoW I had to ride to every single dungeon I wanted to visit with friends. I usually tried to get to the dungeon ASAP. Had you given me a teleport button, I had used it. But that does not mean that introducing that button had increased my long term fun.

With the Dungeon Finder and its teleport to every dungeon, I do not see the world anymore and I miss that. I miss the rule that disallowed teleport. To tell me that I do not have to teleport does not help. Fact of the matter is that I can and circumstances matter.


  1. As an aside, every time someone says "there's nothing stopping you from doing [whatever][the unpopular way]", I think they forget that we're not playing a single-player game.

    Fact is, if you don't use the readily available teleport you will get kicked from the group by the other players. So no, you can't actually ride to the dungeon.

  2. Correct. Imagine some guy who joins a dungeon, teleports out again and then /tells in the chat: "Need to ride over to the dungon on my server. ETA 10min".

    He would not even be kicked. But the dungeon were empty the minute he arrived ;)

  3. This was a very thoughtful post that I hadn't seen before you mentioned it in your comment. I'm glad I found it. It's stuff worth pondering about. The brewfest boss pulls this to an extreme. I'm actually embarrased about that event - on behalf of Blizzard. Looks like they've just given up on the rule thing.

  4. Thanks Larísa. I do not update my blog on a regular schedule, but rather link to specific posts when it makes sense. Lately I have the feeling as if I had to link to this post 50% of the time. To look at fun as an inherent property of isolated activities is very common in the blogosphere.

    You can also paraprahse this into "A game is (much) more than the sum of its (funny) parts."

  5. I had the same epiphany a few months back when Raph Koster was speaking up on behalf of Facebook games. He said that the progression in games like Farmville has already been tried in MMOs, in fact it's almost exactly the same as the harvesters mechanic in Star Wars Galaxies.

    I went away and thought quite hard. I realised that where watching cows multiply in a game where there are nothing but cows is dull I really enjoyed watching my supply of Plumbum Iron grow in a game where that Iron would allow me to craft amazingly good armour, the envy of a server, which in turn would allow the person wearing it to do improbable game-breaking things like killing PC Jedi or soloing a Krayt. I realised it is the inter-connectedness of things that make for the best MMO experiences (for me).

    I would love a game where killing a raid boss moved the entire game world into a different phase (eg you defeat the goblin invasion and move into a war against the orcs). Where killing a raid boss allowed you to craft Thunderfury type weapons that everyone on the server feels awed by.

    I realise what I want is what virtual worlds could have become had they pursued the path of an amazing collective experience over an amazing individual experience. I'd rather be a cart-driver in an amazing army than a hero that's just the same as everyone else.

    Hope someone produces such a game soon. Individualistic games will inevitably follow the past of least complexity.

  6. I don't have anything to add to that Stabs. I agree.

  7. Sadly the vast majority of players will never understand why dumbing down a game is making it less fun for them. Eve sadder is many don't even know what a non-dumbed down game is like.

    Games like WoW used to have a feeling of epic size and scope to them, and you felt a thrill at overcoming the challenges. Now it's all easy mode and while the world may be physically bigger after three expansions, it feels a damn sight smaller.

    It's sad. I wish there was just one modern fantasy MMO that preserved that epic feeling and didn't cave to foolish player demands every single time. For god's sake devs - grow a spine!

  8. Thanks, Wizardling.

    I agree wholeheartly. I wonder what epic content is actually left in a game like WoW?
    Big battles, major achievments that do not feel gimicky, immersion into an adventures world? ...

    It seems that in the short run the developers do not listen to the players at all and in the long run listening to them is all they do.

    It has to be the other way round!

  9. Are you sure it's this?

    As I'd measure it, you don't have a choice about strolling to the dungeon. Everyone else has probably teleported to it (perhaps even if they'd like to travel there) and if you traveled there you'd keep them waiting. Keeping up with social graces means your going to teleport as well.

    What if there were solo dungeons? Would you always teleport to them, given that you have the choice of taking your own time to get there?

  10. Callan, yes, I'd probably port to solo dungeons most of the time - and hate it in the big scheme of things.

    Part of any game I play is throwing all I got into optimization. I'd also try to go the shortest route, even if it is more dangerous (it should be!)

    I wish to be constrained by the rules, I don't want to do it myself.

    I tried some months ago to level a few characters with special limitations, like only white gear and stuff. It is fun for a while, but hamstringing yourself to create an interesting experience is not fun in the long.

    Creating that experience is what I pay the game developer for.

    Of course, you are right: In the case of the LFD in WoW, you don't even have a choice about it.

  11. Ooops, I think you acknowledged that in the first comments already :o I should have read more before posting!

    It's interesting how the social requirements were invisible to Topher. When he can't see the chains, he imagines himself and others as free.

  12. Ooops, and now I cross posted with you!

    The thing is about traveling to the dungeon, as I read you, there really isn't any challenge to it. Are you sure you miss any challenge in traveling around the world? Or do you miss seeing the sights - which isn't a challenge related activity?

  13. Callan, I don't miss no 'challenge' in traveling around the world. I mean, would be nice if there were some, but even 'unchallenging travel' can be nice, because it makes you feel like playing a char in a fantasy world and not like just-playing-another-game.

    It is the simulation-like character that I miss when I can teleport without proper in-game explanation.

  14. Hi Nils,

    I think simulation and optimisation have mutually exclusive goals - they aren't compatable with each other. It's a bit like wanting to squirt someone with a water pistol Vs drinking the water from the pistol like it was a drink container - you can only do one or the other (at a time).

    That said an idea occured to me that you could have an LFG option where the whole group has to travel to the dungeon by foot. In exchange they get some reward above and beyond the one you'd get for just teleporting.

    You might say that not many people will go for it - but the thing is, if they don't, then the game isn't really about that. It's about teleports, like burger king is about burgers, not salads.

    Simulation PLUS optimisation - it's a kind of specialised taste, given how they conflict with each other. The more specialised your taste, the fewer people who share that taste with you.

    Or atleast that's what your up against, I think. I might be entirely wrong and as another person on the internet, I retain full rights to stuffing up! :)

  15. Wall of text incomming,

    Let me start out by saying i don't usually comment on blogs.

    I have to agree with Nils here, to me it feels blizzard has dumbed the game down immensely. And most of it in favour of streamlining the content / solo experience. The LFD options is just one of many implementations. And i hate it. Not because of the long queue's because i get in nearly instantly being a healer. Mainly because of the asocial behaviour in those groups.

    When i started wow the game had just had TBC come out. I levelled my character up in the surge of players who went for new alts during that expansion. I loved running around in the world, but i hated the ease of it. I came from the old mud style gaming where you could "mess up" a questline. And had done some MMO's where you select your stat upgrades at every level. And picking the wrong combination was a death penelty, in that game i got one char to nearly end level only to find out i messed up hit rating and could not perform. There was no respec all you had was a reset character, wich would put it back at lvl 1. So i did that. I didn't like the grind at all, but what it did provide me with was the "awsomeness / brag rights / but mainly sense of achievement" when you finally got there, having the "perfect" end game character. And the reward for having that WAS being in nearly god mode. Since thats not my kind of play i left the game at that stage, i got my character, explored all the content, and left because hanging around showing of my "Leet SKillz" isn't me.

    Wow came on me as a surprise, no irrepairable damage to you when you mess up. Gear could be repaired, and DIDNT even lose permanent durability ! ( over there it did, every repair 5% total durability loss till it permanently broke ) Basically leveling up was easy.

    I know a lot of vets think the vanilla / bc questing as grindy, trust me its not. There was a story line, different landscapes, new skills and spells, and a blessed repair your character option in the fact that if you decided you wanted something else, you could have it.

    I didn't like the stats based on gear because to me it felt every single player could easily achieve being the best around, but at least, the best gear dropped from content that was hard enough to block a part of the community from accessing it. So there was still the sense of achievement.

    And there were hundreds of mechanics that you needed to be aware off to do good in the game. Remember the mana dancing priests had to do, downscaling healing etc. Then wrath came out, and stuff got easier, a lot easier, The quests were boring, there weren't as many immerseve questlines anymore, mechanics changed, stats were slowly removed over time to accomodate the players that to me didn't deserve that. The game became easier and easier, Talents would replace vital stats needed for players ( defence cap from talents for tanks ) and healing took a whole new path, less manamanagment, more spam. You just needed to gear up enough to accomodate for spamming.

  16. part 2

    Then ulduar came out, and that was a slap in the face, Doing heroics in Naxx 25 gear was easymode allready but having ulduar blues would make you a god. Speedruns became the norm, tactics were gone no effort to avoid damage since you could burn down bosses before the damage became unbearable, and worse, the thing i was focussing on, achievements were void. The hardmodes became worthless as anyone who even had a single good player in their group would be carried through them. Remember the guild selling the titles and achievements for the dragon raid? I was saddened by the way the content level was diminished, not only was it made a lot easier due to higher gear levels, but also the mechanics became easier, the bosses lost health and dps they were just nerfed to the ground. And all the players got the titles so they became meaningless. Once again my sense of achievement was gone. Then we hit TOC. And that was just a slap in the face, 5 man heroics that were easier then naxx, gave gear rewards far superior. And everyone could do them, since they were largely gimmicks, you got all the tools to complete them inside the dungeon. Just as ulduar had begun. Worst of all it wasn't even a dungeon. Just a harder version of the "ring of blood" quests in Nagrand and that wotlk place. So at this stage, all achievements were void since everyone had them, all my collected gear was void since a 5 man dropped better gear, Ulduar was skipped as a raid since the gear level from those dungeons was high enough to bypass it and go straight to ICC. wich came only a few months later. And patchnotes came out. Changing talents, telling us of the removal of spellpower, changing mana regen. It was a dark future ahead. I didn't feel like i was a good player anymore, the shiny epics were worthless, the achievements were worthless, basically any player who had time on his hands would be sporting everything i had. The only thing to aim for were hardmode top end raid achievements, and they were unatainable for me. I could get them in the top guilds, my playing level basically guaranteed an invite anytime i joined one of their semi pug raids. But i preferred playing with my friends. And we couldn't get our own raids together. For one reason only, players would gear up in our guild, get the stuff they needed and then migrate to top guilds. I ran dozens of raids with those top guilds, most of them consisting of a lot of players i had geared up previousely. So my guild died a slow death. The frustration about the game getting so easy that it didn't feel rewarding, and the change in mentality it forced on players sent me off to leave. And it was the game design that did it. Every player wants to feel epic, and the way the game was set up to be, you could not get there unless you did the very latest end tier content / hardmodes. Anything else was quickly nerfed down to a point they didn't matter anymore the moment a new raid came out. If they had just left them at their difficulty it would have been fine.

  17. Part 3

    I came back to wow when cata was released. For the first levels the streamlined experience was nice to level an alt. I was enjoying playing with my girfriend leveling her up. But it quickly grew boring. Content is so easy in the new system anything can be solo-ed. She leveled herself up mainly and we started some characters to purely play together. Her larges complaint, i havent seen anything of this world. She just levels too fast, even solo. The quests take you where you need to go, by vehicles mostly there is no decision making anymore. You are just dumped from quest hub to quest hub, perform their demands and hop on the train / caravan / rocket to get to the next.

    And she doesn't even know where dungeons are. LFD anyone? The things i enjoy, exploring, questing, downing raidbosses, doing hardmodes, they are all deminished. Mainly to cater to those that want to get to top gear / level as fast as possible. And for those that don't realise that its not worth anything thats just fine. They still have their sense of achievement. For all the "bitter veterans" its a bad taste in our mouths.

    I don't think blizzard will die, in fact this is the best decision they could make, but i do feel saddened having the things i enjoy being taken away. In a manner of speaking, blizzard has made leveling up redundant. The only good things are the difficulty of cata instances, and the fact that at least for some of those you're forced to discover them again. Then there are the gearscore limits, i love those, they force you to at least achieve something prior to getting in there again. I would love them to bring back reputation grinding even more ( albeit in a different form ) so getting in to dungeons is an achievement in itself. Make it hard and feel rewarding again blizzard. Don't just hand out the titles and achievements. In the end i think everyone likes to feel special. And by making things too easy, handing it out for free, speeding up the leveling so much they are ignoring that.


    Giving players a button "epic lvl 80" does not mean i still have the option to do it myself, it won't show in the game, and i just feel frustrated that someone else got it with that button. You must set us rules to stop us from becomming gods. If you make us suffer to become a Demi god, we'll just apreciate it more !

  18. Thanks for your efforts, Fex! I think you describe very well and in detail the effects that the designers' decisions had on you.

    Now, this post was mainly about the answer you often get if you ask for more meaning/challenge: "You can still do it the old way."

    This attitude, that is sometimes even promoted by Blizzard employees, shows a serious lack of knowledge regarding game design. The Fun Fallacy, as I call it, can be met in every other comment or forum post. You see, some options are choices, but some are not.

    Extra Credits got it right, I think, when they say that choice is 'internal conflict'. The dumbing down in WoW often presented me with a conflict I didn't want: I had to decide between an effective, but 'unfun' way, and an ineffective, but probably more fun one. That is an option, but not a choince.

    Deciding what is fun and what is not is the task of the game designer; he must not make me decide, because I am bad at it; is is every player.

    Good rules constrain players and thus make games fun.

  19. Very good article.Happy to find it now :P Sometime ago I have made a post on the original forums complaining about the speed of leveling.

    LINK :

    the answers I got was as you described "Lock your XP", "do grey quests" e.t.c.I wish I would know this article to answer to these guys cause my english is also bad and I cannot express what I think easily though I can understand what I read.

  20. "Good rules constrain players and thus make games fun."

    It's not that simple. Games by nature are about a set of rules and player choice. Both have to work, but the "player choice" bit is a huge variable by player.

    Constraints and rules alone don't provide fun, they merely make the framework for it. Players still have to take an active part... which means they must be allowed choices. yeah, fun is subjective.

  21. Thanks for stoppng by, Tesh. I agree with your comment. Which is why it is highly important to put players into the right 'mood' before they enter a game (the first time). The attitude, the player mentality plays a very important role.

  22. It's not just traveling to the dungeon, it's also that the dungeons are meaningless these days. Therefore traveling there would be meaningless too.

    Instant teleportation to meaningless, stupid, AE zergs is an improvement. The mistake Blizzard made was not in allowing teleportation to the dungeon. The mistake they made was to replace dungeons (UBRS, BRD, Strat) with "loot tunnels".

    While running a dungeon like BRD you did not only fight but also explore and socialize. Back in vanilla a dungeon covered the whole Bartle spectrum. There isn't that much to explore in Grim Batol. You even die before landing on the lower level if you try to jump down. For no immersive reason. And I think I don't have to mention the state of the socializing in todays dungeon.