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.

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24 thoughts on “Different types of fun, and is SC2 really doomed?

  1. I always wanted to try LoL. I have an account. I installed it. Yet I never played, because I had no friends in my timezone playing it, and I am not in a mood to deal with the verbal abuse that you apparently get from teammates if you fuck up.

    I would however play it if I could play it with friends. Just to see what it’s all about. Kinda like WoW Pugs for me, really.

  2. Not once in my life, until now, have I considered SC2 to be primarily an e-sport title. There’s so much of the game that isn’t that, in the same way that there’s so much of Diablo 3 that isn’t the RMAH and the associated gearing slog, or has so much more going on than raiding (even before MoP).

    I tend to look at these things in the same way I look at hard core raiders – inhabited by a very, very loud and very small group of people that maybe have too great an influence on how a game is perceived and developed.

    • I’d be interested to know the percentage of people who buy SC2 but never play (say) 20 1v1 games online. I had great fun for two years playing and watching 1v1 online.

      Yes there’s some abuse – but hardly any to be honest – unless you are arrogant or abusive yourself then it’s almost non-existant. Abuse when you win is more common, but much easier to deal with!

      There is, however, a “hump” of those early games where you basically lose every game because you have no idea what you are doing and are scared to leave your base. I guess a lot of people must quit during that period.

  3. LoL has a beginner matchmaking system that puts 5 people up against relatively easy AI enemies. It’s a great way to learn the mechanics without the pressure.

  4. Is that competitiveness what Blizz is shooting for with SC2? After all, they make most of their money from casual buyers, not the hard core players. However, if a Blizz game like SC2 gets a hardcore reputation, that could kill long term interest in the franchise.

  5. Some articles and blogs have already pointed out the aspects of League of Legends’ game design that feed into the verbal abuse. Matches that last 30-45 minutes, no option to play without accruing a win/loss history, and the extreme difficulty in reversing the tide once a few mistakes have been made.

    The problem I’m seeing is that you can’t play LoL without the Serious Fun except by matching vs. the computer. But vs. AI matches are too predictable, so they are less fun for it. I’ve stopped playing LoL twice now in two years, largely because of the community, and that’s with a summoner who never even hit level 20. It’s been close to six months since I logged in and I don’t know that I’ll be going back.

    Starcraft 2, on the other hand, has a lot more flexibility. You can play without worrying about match history. You can play 1v1. You can do custom maps. The Serious Fun is not compulsory.

  6. I’m not sure I understand these theories of fun very well, but at least to me, it seems the difference lies in the involvement of people. A game can be hard, and then finishing it can give you a feeling of having accomplished something, whether it be finger dexterity, wrapping your mind around how a game works, or something similar. Or a game can be hard because you fight against others, in which case you can obviously also feel like you accomplished something when you beat the others.

    The difference is that in the second case, you run the risk of unsportsmanlike behavior. And I think that is something a lot of people don’t like to deal with. There are some people that plain don’t like challenge in their games because they find it unrelaxing, but there are also many who like challenge, but can do without the external social pressure that is put onto them if they have to deal with random people.

    On an unrelated note, SC2 is sitting on my shelf collecting dust. Never really got into the game… and I’m not even talking about the multiplayer.

    • I can identify quite a bit with LeBlanc’s list of fun factors – he includes important aspects that often get omitted, or belittled still by players of ‘teh progressive hardcore’ mindset. this is especially true for the first 2-3 points, which for me are everything MMOs are about, BEFORE they are also about challenge or community. the whole package is important to me but it starts there and it is not superficial.

      To echo Flosch about the challenge factor; I think a big difference must be made indeed between those players looking for challenges ‘for themselves’ and a special type of achiever. I have a few acquaintances in my closer gaming circle, who are not just progression minded but part of their fun is literally to crush others. “it’s not enough to succeed – others must fail”. psychologically speaking the motivation behind such gameplay differs greatly, especially socially, from other challenge driven players. there are unflattering words to describe this – either way, it’s a type of company I do not personally enjoy in MMOs.

      and yes, those acquaintances of mine play Darkfall and EvE Online. one can make of that what one will.

      • One of the things I really like about his list is that he includes immersion. And for me that’s a big part of the appeal of MMOs. Not that I’m a hardcore RPer but I like that I play a character in another world.

        But you’re right, it’s interesting that the griefer mindset that needs to dominate others isn’t really addressed here. (Maybe they don’t like ‘bullying fun’).

  7. The e-sport portion gives them free publicity. In the western world, it’s hard to get that notion down as we only have MLG. They have dedicated TV channels in the east that only show e-sports. StarCraft and Diablo2 haven’t lived on for 10 years because western players keep them alive. They’re around because of the eastern impact and market potential. Divergent markets, same platform.

    As for the theories of fun, I guess I align more with Nicole’s view. A good game has a mix of them, a great game has a pace on them. I wrote something today that tries to break down the “fun” aspect into design choices and player choices. Depending on how you personally identify yourself, specific design elements fit you better.

    I do like how the concept of fun isn’t transferable. My idea of fun might be similar to another’s but they will never be the same. It’s interesting when a game company is able to attract enough like-minded people to stay afloat. It has to be generic enough to get plenty of people, but specific enough to not cost a bazillion to keep running.

  8. For a significant number of players, the motivation is “victory fun” – they want to win for the sake of being a winner (as opposed to wanting to win for the sake of overcoming the challenge of the opposition, which is hard fun). How they get winner status isn’t important – they’ll cheat, they’ll game matchmaking systems to get easier opponents, they’ll switch teams or servers if they can to ride on the coattails of others who are winning. The important thing is to be seen to be a winner, and they can get quite upset if they think someone threatens that by being a noob player on their team.

    These are the people who make competitive games “not fun” for others. Most people can hanlde a game being difficult, having a learning curve, and even come to terms with the fact that in a game that is based around playing against others you are going to mostly lose your first few matches while you learn the tricks and tactics of the game. However, life is too short to spend it being abused and insulted by some asshole on your team because your mere presence there poses a risk to his fragile self-esteem.

    • I think theres a great point here.

      Winning for the sake of winning …I always say that the fun is in the doing of things. Games walk all over, around, under, and flat out erase that line between doing and being. There are days when I just want to play a game on easy mode — my mind wants to relax and enjoy less thinking. There are days when I turn on SC2 and put it on Brutal, knowing I will lose but that the challenge will be engaging and therefore fun.

      Brain engagement. We dont often hear people mention this when talking about fun and I think this is at the heart of what it is.

      • I wonder how much is because people like winning, and how much is because they hate losing. I mean, MMO communities have a way of making people feel like ‘a loser’ if they are new, or learning, or fail at something.

      • You’d be very welcome in my corp but it’s null sec and a little harsh for a new person. I know some people say it’s ok to come immediately out to null sec when you start but that assumes a) you don’t mind dying a lot b) you don’t mind flying small ships, essentially being a zergling.

        Alternatively there are some very good teaching high sec alliances like Eve University and Red v Blue.

        I think though you need quite a strong desire to play Eve in order to grow to love it, it’s an acquired taste. But it’s ever such a good game once you get into it, so much so that most other games feel somewhat shallow.

    • I subscribe to EVE once a year and inevitably unsubscribe. It just takes too much time to build things up and its too easy to lose it. I just dont have the time for EVE, but most importantly I haven’t had a good corporation in years. Thats probably got more to do with my gaming schedule though than anything else.

  9. Isn’t the SC2 competitive e-sport crowd mostly located in South Korea? (which is a sizeable gaming market in itself).

    I can imagine Blizz having the “hardcore e-sport” mode in SC2 in the game primarily for this market, while the casual and story-modes are primarily enjoyed in other parts of the world.

  10. I think a few of the people quoted are somewhat off-base. First Neodestiny seems to be firmly of the “everyone likes what I like” persuasion. Human psychology doesn’t really change when one moves across media and humans have engrossed themselves in intensely competitive activities for thousands of years. Nothing you can do in SC2 matches the competitiveness of, say, boxing or poker.

    “She also posits that the most successful, best selling games offer at least three of these ‘keys’ to players”

    Aren’t two of the top sellers Patience and Farmville, which offer easy fun and not any of the others? (If you’ll allow that Farmville for most players is not social -the Friends requests go to people you’ve no intention of ever communicating with).

    Regarding the harshness of the community I’m sure that the rudeness and verbal aggression is the flipside of competitiveness and not easily separable from it. It’s very much the same in top flight football where players and managers constantly needle and psych each other. In fact my sister was a very good tennis player and dropped out because of how nasty the junior circuit was. When people really want to win they usually stop being nice.

    • I don’t think she has F2P facebook games in mind when she’s talking about best sellers. Although it might be that they do offer more than one type of fun which isn’t obvious to non players. eg. I think they do feel quite meaningful when you are caught up in them because they are persistant(ish) worlds.

  11. WoT – matches are fast: 5-15min.; no ladder; most players have ~49% winrate; random 15 vs 15 or premade vs premade.
    And even with 10k battles I still have what to learn (tactics, places on maps to go, places to shot,…). There is no limit.
    How categorize WoT?

    • I haven’t played it but WoT sounds quite casual friendly and is popular with people I know who do play casually. Does it have a hardcore arena team type format too?

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