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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