Here is the text of the slides (there's more to the video than that, of course):
Confusions of Game Design Series: Dominant Strategies are OK? (Only in puzzles, not games)
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
“Game Design” channel on YouTube
Part of a Series
This is a series that will likely run for years
It’s about some ways game designers can get confused
As such, sometimes it will be semantical as well as practical
Primarily it’s about games with human opposition, or a strong semblance
Hence, most of the examples will be from tabletop games, though much of the discussion will apply to video games as well
What’s a Dominant Strategy?
This is a way of playing a game - a strategy - that is so good, you must play that way to succeed/win
In a puzzle, that’s what’s expected, an “always-correct solution”: what you do to solve the puzzle
Many “games,” e.g. single-player video games, are far more puzzles than games, and have such solutions
There may be more than one solution in a VG, but once you figure it out, it’ll always work
So in puzzles, DS is OK
Players expect a puzzle will have one or a few solutions
They don’t want randomness to mess it up
(They don’t want other players to mess it up!)
One way to tell:
You can only do a “speed run” when there’s a solution to a game
(“Speed run” – go through a single-player video game in 5 or 10 minutes, when it takes many hours to play the first time – you’ve already figured out the solution)
Many games with stories built in are linear, that is, players must follow a particular path to complete the story
Sounds much like a puzzle, doesn’t it?
In this kind of story (which isn’t the only kind in games), dominant strategy/always-correct solution is OK, if not expected
Story-in-video-game tends to be linear because it’s a lot cheaper to make!
In tabletop games, especially “Euro” style, we often see games for 3-4 (or more) players that are essentially puzzles
There are a few “paths to victory” that are in fact solutions
These are usually transparent games, where these paths are quickly seen
Players have little or no influence (within the game) on one another, hence the “solitaire” part
At most, you may be able to block one player’s path, but then you’re not following a path
In Games, DS is a BAD IDEA!
First, it’s boring
What real games – good ones, anyway - offer is a variety of ways to play that can succeed in certain circumstances
This derives from the game, but also from having more than one player
Players provide uncertainty, difficult predictability, Yomi, invention, that a programmed opponent cannot
If a game has a dominant strategy, it’s BROKEN!
Conventionally, we talk about many actual puzzles as games
It’s built into the video game industry (which would better be called interactive software entertainment industry)
The word “game” has come to have a very broad meaning, encompassing all kinds of entertainment software (Wii Fit, Wii Music, Katamari Damacy)
But you design puzzles differently than actual games
We also talk about contests as games
Contests like hot-dog eating competitions, Olympic swimming races, anything you can time or otherwise measure objectively where players cannot use the rules to affect one another (psychology is another thing)
Are you designing something that has always-correct solutions?
Are you content to design a puzzle or linear story-game, or do you want to design a game?
It’s a lot easier to design a game if you have human opposition
Some designers like one or the other type (I despise puzzles), and some players lean strongly one way or the other