DGD2: Aphorisms
Something Akin to a Game Design Dictionary

Random Thoughts

  1. How are we ever to escape the problem of game designers subconsciously or otherwise making the games they want to play, not the games the audience would enjoy playing? (Accepting, of course, that there will always be a place for people making the games they want for themselves).
  2. If EA's turnover is 3 billion dollars per year, why can't they spare a million dollars each year to distribute to creative artists trying to make games? (Or do they, but I'm unaware of the scheme?)
  3. Does Oblivion achieve so little that is new or interesting because the developer had low goals, or because they were unable to fulfill the high goals they set themselves? (I'm sure the game delivers an existing form of play competently however).
  4. Is World of Warcraft impressive? In what sense? (I contend that at the design level it is rather unremarkable, but this is not the only judge of a game, of course).
  5. Is game design theory more valuable than philosophy of games? Does either discipline recognisably exist yet? (I began in science, I feel fated to end up in philosophy if I live long enough. Perhaps I am already camped on the border).


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My answer to random thought #5: I don't think one can be placed above the other. Of course it is important for a design theory to exist because those people that have the power to create vidogames must be able to question their "surroundings" if any progress or innovation can come. As for a philosophy of games, it is also imortant for the player to understand what they are playing. Not to say that you have to take all of the fun out of it and look at every game from a philosophical perspective, but the player can be equally as strong of a force in pushing the industry towards innovation. I'm graduating with a degree in Film Studies soon, and I have my own strong opinions in that field. One of them is that Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell would not have been allowed to make as many movies together as they have if the public was only a little more aware of what they were watching. Wedding Crashers is the film equivalent of TOMB RAIDER: INSERT RANDOM TITLE HERE SO PEOPLE THINK ITS A NEW GAME.

On point 1 - I'd hate to see game designers stop making the games they want to play. There's plenty of focus grouped gaming product being rolled out already, there's no need for more. I'd say the problem is that not enough make the games they want and too many build what they think we'd like.

#4 - I think World of Warcraft is quite impressive once you step back and really analyze what the design team accomplish for long-term, extended play.

The design decisions made in WoW are the kinds of decisions i imagine were very difficult to make - they required organization, foresight and imagination on a very massive scale. What are these decisions?

1). You can look at each of their different zones, see these bubbles of influence that embrace the content you as a player experience and the quest tendrils that lead you to your next bubble of influence. WoW is all about wonderfully executed, early game progression. No other MMO has pulled this off the way WoW has.

2) Quest text is displayed, rewards are shown and an accept button is pressed. You as a player do not have to concern yourself with the story to understand what needs to be accomplished and each of these quests enhances and is enhanced by the environment you do them in. You will not do something "out of character" for the environment - this further immerses you as a player as each zone becomes a chapter of a book that you interact with instead of read. This is a failing of almost every other MMO out there.

3). The progression is insanely gradual and slow - concepts are introduced to you in a very gentle fashion. If you have never played an MMO before, WoW will hold your hand and ease a large amount of the burden. You start in tinier zones, you advance to slightly larger ones and so on. Talents aren't introduced until you're 10, core abilities and gameplay shifts are presented at 10 level intervals and the creature design scales with you as well. The first creatures can be killed by hitting the auto-attack and leaving your computer. You are eventually forced to react to multiple creatures working together in a somewhat organized faction.

Each individual design choice is, I agree, unimpressive by itself. The way each decision influences another and carries forward through that game is very impressive. There are a number of things they did that I don't agree with, but their execution of flow and progression is, in my mind, something every game should learn from. Who is your audience, how will they play this game, is it fun and will it keep them engaged.

Could I also raise 6 as a reword of 1?

"How are we ever to escape the problem of game designers making the games they think will sell well, not the games the audience would enjoy playing?"

If we assume that logistical players make up the bulk of the audience, then logistical games will sell well - but at least some fraction of the audience will not enjoy playing them.

1. As others have pointed out, this shouldn't happen entirely, and it already has in some sense. For instace, when I first hit on the idea for Magic Circle (standing next to Santiago Siri and Ian Bogost while Santi demoed Utopia on a Laptop at GDC) I considered the primary verbs, the setting, then the primary audience, so I think the really progressive designers (ones trying to expand the audience for games with social challenge and new forms of play) have to take a Zen stance and consider play from the perspective of someone totally different than them, a thirteen year old girl for instance.

2. A better approach would be if their funding model supported 10 fairly experimental million dollar titles instead of one 10 million dollar derivative title.

3. Craig Perko has a great review of the game, how they failed to implement simple social cues, as well as more elaborate social simulation. Sure they can simulate daily routine, but thats the least interesting thing about society, am I right? I'd say they sought a genre refinement with very low goals, because, you know, its a 10 million dollar project.

4. Only in the sense of using a franchise with good content design that makes it accesible to noobz, as Jason points out. Its basically UO with less social structure, see the recent Escapist interview with Richard Garriot.

5. Thats kind of like asking if 69ing is more enjoyable than coitus. Its all about interaction, right? As I undertand it, a philosophy of games refers to work done by Callois, Lazzaro, Mcgonical ect. dealing with the sociological implications of play (I'd like to say the memetics of play, but I can't use that term to communicate with precision until I write my thesis later this year). Game Design theory deals with what the computer is thinking, in a sense, or how information is organized into a representative simulation, and comprises your work, that of Crawford, Perko, Rouse, Adams, Zimmerman ect. I think a philosophy of games serves to inform theories of design, for instance the notion of collaborative play was introduced to me recently by a paper I found linked through Roll The Bones. What a brilliant notion, one that seems to me more squarely lodged in philosophical questions of how people are motivated to play (be it competetively, co-operatively, or collaboratively) than in how the games people might play in those ways are designed. Most of the design lessons gleaned from game philosophy are a bit too vague (like the notion of collaborative play in general) or obvious ("interactions must be meaningful for everyone to be engaged in collaboration," like, yeah dude), but having that bit of philo under my belt, I can and will (probably not for a few years yet) apply that to some solid theory involving implementable techniques. Look for it in 2011.

What a great set of comments! Where to begin...

Don: it's fascinating to see what irks someone whose focus is in film, not games. :) I'm glad you suggest that one cannot be valued above another. I tend to agree with this motivation in all fields - indeed, I think there is a serious problem in the West that we teach science but do not teach philosophy of science. This is a disasterous state of affairs.

Alex: Just to reiterate the caveat from my original point: there will always be a place for people to make the games they want to play. But the games industry as a whole needs to grow out of this and work towards meeting the diverse play needs of all players. The focus group driven approach you allude to is misleading, as most games that have been developed this way inherit the same problem I am talking about. For instance, if the design team is focussed on challenge-oriented play (fiero), the focus groups will pull in people whose focus is challenge. The same problems result! I think this is too big an issue to dig into in just a comment. Perhaps I will return to it in a full post.

Jason: Thank you so much for this! I knew there was something impressive going on that was hidden to me as a non-player, and your summary shows me that the game structure, or content-organisation if you will (which is a design consideration - but not a mechanical or parametric consideration) is well executed. I imagine there are also impressive elements in the social substructure that you don't mention here. In other words, my complaints about the mechanical and parametric design are tangential to the strengths of the game. They just mean more to me because these are part of my core focus in game design. Thanks again!

Peter: the problem you allude to here does not originate with the game designers, in my experience. What you are talking about is the marketing focus of large corporations - a problem of Western society as a whole, not of the games industry. Trust you to go straight for the jugular! :) Perhaps the answer is indie game publishers like Manifesto. We'll have to see!

Patrick: trust you to respond on all five points. You could have just picked one, you know. :) So...
1. I did make it explicit that I'm not suggesting we need to eliminate people making the games they want for themselves! But there is a problem here that is empowering the mega-publishers and disempowering the development community. I think I will have to dig into this again in a full post.
3. I thought I was already subscribed to Craig's blog, but I haven't seen the piece you allude to... I need to check this.
5. I'm inclined to put Lazzaro in theory, not in philosophy: her work is clearly research driven. Caillois I'd put in philosophy. McGonical... tell me more! I think the hidden thought behind my apparent question is that theory and philosophy should work hand in hand. I guess what I was really thinking was that we have too many people focussing on theory and not enough on philosophy.

Thats a good point, about philosophy versus theory. You're probably right about Lazzaro, but I suspect lots of the theory available wouldn't have come about if it weren't for Callois and Huinzinga.

Jane McGonigal is interested in alternate realities and pervasive gaming, she keeps a blog called Avant Game and is writing a dissertation on the topic of pervasive gaming.

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