Different types of fun, and is SC2 really doomed?

Melf_Himself quotes from an entertaining rant by reddit user Neodestiny on the subject of Starcraft 2. More specifically, why he thinks the game is doomed (bold font added by me).

“((Blizzard)) are continually proving themselves utterly incompetent when it comes to managing a game as a competitive sport backed by a casual community.

People, ESPECIALLY people in this community seem to fail to realize that a game’s competitive success lives or dies by its casual accessibility. Yeah, in a dream world we all want this ULTRA CUT-THROAT COMPETITIVE FUCK YOUR FACE game where OH MY FUCKING GOD SKILL CEILING SO HIGH NO MULTIPLE BILDING SIELECT FUK AUTO-MICRO OH MY GOD SO COMPETITIVEEE!1111…But in the real world, no one wants to play that game except competitive people.

Competitive games are not fun.

It’s not fun to play ranked matches that affect a ladder ranking. Why on earth would you play a game that gives you ladder anxiety? Why would you play a game where 11/11 or 6 pools or 4gates can kill you in under 4 minutes? Why would you play a game that punishes mistakes so cruelly?

The average, casual player wouldn’t.”

There are a lot of players for whom competitive games are very fun. So his statement that they aren’t seems a bit obscure. Yet, at the same time, anyone who has played a competitive game against people who take it very seriously, where a loss will seriously affect your ranking,  will probably find themselves nodding along. It might be fun, but it’s not Fun. Right?

It doesn’t take much thought to start wondering whether there are just lots of different types of fun. The fun of being in a new relationship is different from the fun of writing a story or playing music, or the fun of playing a particularly tough game of Scrabble. And there has been a fair amount of research into theories of fun. I thought it might be interesting to explore a few ideas and see how they might apply to MMOs and their players.

Nicole Lazzaro writes about 4 keys to fun:

  • Hard Fun (involves challenge and adversity)
  • Easy Fun
  • Serious Fun (meaningful accomplishments, real objectives)
  • People Fun (socialising)

These aren’t exclusive, she explains that people often shift between them in a single play session.  She also posits that the most successful, best selling games offer at least three of these ‘keys’ to players. This matches Bartle’s argument that virtual worlds need a mixture of different types of player (although his player types don’t tend to switch types several times in a play session.)

I like this model because of the Serious Fun category. The most compelling MMOs can feel meaningful in play, maybe because of the persistent elements. But meaningful play isn’t always fun because it can feel like work, it can feel like having to grind out something you don’t really want to do in order to get to the thing you do, it can feel like having to be on your best form always so as not to slip down the PvP ladder. It may be though that the sense of having to work is one of the things that helps make a game feel meaningful.

And very few players want to play a game that is purely Serious Fun, we have real life for that. Sometimes you want to let off steam, either by zoning out with some easy fun or chatting with guildies for some social fun. The other smart thing is that she’s separated Serious Fun from Hard Fun. So for example, in EVE you might have longterm goals which mean you need to mine. Making those plans and executing them might be part of your Serious Fun, but that doesn’t mean mining is Hard in the sense of top LoL matches.

So for your favourite game, do you think it engages at least three of these keys? I would argue that WoW offers all four keys, although  the Serious Fun aspect of the game felt stronger back in TBC, and you have to look for the Hard Fun via Challenge Modes, Arenas, and hard mode raids, or making up your own difficult achievements. EVE, in my brief explorations, lacks easy fun, so maybe one of the ways CCP could make the game more appealing is to make the basics of flying around and mining more fun to do. And it’s interesting to ponder whether even a single player game can offer social fun if you talk to your friends/community about your experiences and strategies for playing afterwards.

Marc LeBlanc describes 8 types of fun:

  • Sensation
  • Fantasy (RP, immersion, escapism, make-believe)
  • Narrative (story)
  • Challenge
  • Fellowship (social)
  • Discovery (exploring)
  • Expression
  • Submission (he describes this as ‘a mindless pastime’)

I’m not sure these work as well as Lazzaro’s categories for MMOs, but he does bring in the idea of stories being fun for some players and the escapism of being in a fantasy world as another source of fun. Sensation might also include games with great visuals, or the feel of flying or swimming in a virtual environment.

As for Starcraft 2, I couldn’t really say how it is doing, although the momentum of eSports is clearly with League of Legends now, a game I’ve never tried because I don’t much fancy the hard, challenging, social fun of being abused by the playerbase while trying to learn it. And that matters too, because it plays into Neodestiny’s argument that competitive games aren’t fun for average, casual players. I would say they could be fun for those players, but they might need to learn some skills first. If the process of learning those skills isn’t fun, then your average player never becomes one of your core competitive gamers and I suspect that this may be where SC2 misses the mark.

Does hearing about overachievers demotivate players?

I feel I’m getting way behind all the posts I intended to write this week, time mostly lost between RL and playing GW2 and WoW. As a gaming blogger, it’s not a bad idea per se to spend time in games but I think you’re supposed to pause occasionally (outside meals, work, sleep) to write things up.

I have also been following a course on Coursera on Gamification.  If you are interested in the subject I recommend checking it out, it’s all free. Gamification seems to be a mixture between game design, game criticism, marketing, psychology et al and the syllabus also looks as though it’s going to cover criticisms of gamification and uses for social good.

Anyhow, one of the comments made in a lecture was that players are only really motivated once they get 90% of the way to a goal.

This I suspect is true of a lot of games; it may not hold for a goal you really want  for personal reasons, or if you are just good at motivating yourself. But the idea is that people need to see their goal, see that it is achievable, see what they will need to do to get there, and feel as though they are almost there already. If those things are all in place, chances are you will play ‘just a bit more’. Both WoW and GW2 do a great job with this type of motivation, using stepped achievements and the game environment itself. GW2 is great at tempting the player to explore the expansive game world with the dynamic events, view points, resource nodes and travel points scattered across the landscape.

However, one thing you can guarantee in a new game or new expansion is that  you will quickly hear about players who have reached the level cap, geared themselves up, beaten any raids, and generally zipped through the content while you are still noodling around in the newbie area wondering how to get to that potato patch or access your bank. I wonder if has a demotivating effect by reminding new players that despite the game’s attempts to lead you through in terms of small steps and reachable goals, there are people who are quantum leaps ahead.

I don’t personally find it demotivating when random people I don’t know inform that they are already max level, maxed crafts,  fully kitted out in exotic gear and just working on their legendaries.  Or that they’ve made tons of gold already and exchanged a load for gems while I am still figuring out how to achieve that first gold piece. I made my peace long ago with the fact that I’m not hardcore, not much of an achiever in games, and probably not that good at them either**. But it doesn’t make me engage more with the game either. As well as highlighting all the goals that are far away, it’s tempting to compare yourself with other players in a way that isn’t encouraging.

This may be connected to the 90%, above,  because hearing about overachievers can make a goal feel less attainable rather than more, or the player feel “I am a bad player compared to X, Y and Z, maybe I shouldn’t bother with this game.” This is all in the mind. In the long run everyone who keeps playing will be max level and will probably have as much gold as they can be bothered to grind out. But emotions are powerful, and the feeling of disengaging from a game is powerful too.

Do you enjoy hearing about people who have zipped through a game, or only if they give some useful hints and tips for how you can do the same thing? What about guildies exercising bragging rights? Or have you ever been turned off a game because someone else made you feel that you were falling behind and would never reach your goals?

 

** I know there will be people who I make feel like that too ;/ These things are all relative.