Monday, January 13, 2020

A New Thing

As many of you know I had a triple bypass operation with an aortic rebuild in early October. In December I had 5+ liters of fluid on the left lung which necessitated another (six-day) hospital stay. I still have a little fluid on the lung and I’m not 100% in general. But I’ve been able to keep up with my YouTube channel and my Enworld column. The effort I used to put into this blog, often now goes into my weekly Game Design channel on YouTube.

So this is a new thing, kind of like the Triptych but with much more than three topics per.

Gameplay depth (there are other kinds of depth, such as puzzle depth) is a rarity nowadays because the audience has grown broader. Hobby games are much closer to party games than to hobby games of the past, on average, these days.

Hobby games are now often designed to reveal all there is to them in the first play. That's because many players expect this (it's especially common in video games); because many players play a game only 1-3 times before moving on; and because it's a lot easier to design that kind of game! The result: Shallowness rules!


Games are fundamentally about constraints. Every rule/mechanic is a constraint in one way or another. E.g. Manna (lands) is a constraint in MtG. The most skilled game players tend to be those who work well within constraints, just as, in general, creativity is encouraged by constraints, not by absolute freedom. Contemporary gamers, for various reasons, such as the influence of you-cannot-lose single-player video games and reward-based (rather than consequence-based) F2P games, especially dislike constraints in games. They really want playgrounds, not games. Though they'll accept puzzles, because there's no human involved to change things and "get in the way."

Games are not about mechanics.  Mechanics are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. I'm not interested in games that are mere collections of mechanics.

When I post on a blog or YouTube I'm not trying to encourage anyone in particular, I'm trying to explain what IS, as I see it, in game design. Some people don't like having their dreams challenged, but that's not relevant to what I'm trying to do.

If having strong opinions (that I can back up) and a willingness to tell people they're blowing smoke/don't have a clue, is arrogant, then yes, I'm arrogant.

The notion that everyone's "opinion" is equally good, and equally deserving of respect, drives a stake through the heart of the idea that truth matters.

One reason why people don't want to play long games any more is that variety has replaced gameplay depth as the major attraction of games.  And variety can only maintain interest so long, before the player wants to go on to "the next thing".  Gameplay depth can maintain interest, in those who are willing to think (a rarity in any Age).

It's the Age of Comfort, now much more than ever.  Many game players are passive, don't want to be challenged by their entertainment.

I think RPG fandom is one of those gaming segments where there is a lot more playing than buying. Compare with board/card where games seem to be made to last 1-3 plays before players (and buyers) move on to something else.

The game segments of "geek cons" are dominated by tabletop RPGs, not other kinds of tabletop. Even video gives way to it.

One of many reasons why there are SO many games published nowadays: abstract games (often with a so-called "theme" tacked on) are easier to design to the 80% stage (and to 100%, but many games never get there) than games that are models (of history or fiction).

Tile-laying, worker placement, deck-building, you're not constrained by having to model something. Moreover, you don't have to build player interaction into the game, because so many Euro-games are parallel competitions, puzzles, with little to no player interaction. Interaction makes for harder design.

January 13, 2020


hamza Khalid said...

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looking more form your side.

Nagora said...

That was an interesting list of observations. I wonder if you have anything to say about the rise of player-cooperation in relation to the number of games where there is little player interaction?

Player interaction is hard to design for, for all sorts of reasons, but can be off-putting for many players who want to feel like its a shared experience. Co-op seems to be a trick for getting player interaction back in but not having to design much for it - the players have to make that aspect work themselves.

The current boom in game publishing reminds me of stories of the Grand Banks fishing grounds which went through a boom before collapsing. I don't believe the current rate is at all sustainable in the long run (10+ years). There's just too many games chasing too little time.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

I don't think player interaction is hard to design UNLESS you avoid all acts of hindrance. Which means you have to make a co-op game, where there are many possible helpful acts that are interaction.

In general, people no longer want to play against other people (I pretty much gave it up more than 40 years ago). D&D is my ideal, RPGs being the most co-operative games we have (because the quality of opposition - the GM - is highest). So if you want interactive games, you're left with co-ops. My co-ops are still wargames (most co-ops are not), it's just that you only harm the non-player badguys, not other players.

It is interesting to see the wargamers who make painful faces when they hear the word "co-operative".

There ARE so many games published that it's becoming hard for the bigger publishers to make a living. Sales numbers for individual games are heavily down. That leaves us with self-publishers, and that means weaker ("uncurated", unedited) games. The players aren't going to have a problem since they tend to play a game only 1-3 times anyway, but the publishers are and will. (It also means it's harder for designers to make a living, as theymust have so many games published to make up for the lack of individual title sales.)