Friday, January 07, 2011

"Most players are not like us"

One of the fascinations of game design is seeing how differently people play the same game. And that includes how differently people play games that I've played solo. I am by nature a minimaxer and a strategy gamer, which is different from most game players nowadays. In a sense game hobby playing is become more casual than it used to be. And in any case, any game designer has to recognize that he's "not typical".

The latest example of this is a very simple post-apocalyptic-setting card game that I've devised, derived from a card game that has turned out to be appropriate for a mass or at least broad market. (That's not the market I normally aim for, of course.) The game involves survival item cards that sometimes do something for players but are mostly there to give them opportunities to score points. When I played I scored as often as possible and had relatively few cards in front of the "players". In fact, I added a rule that if a player used up all the cards in front of him he got a new one for free. When four people played the game for the first time yesterday they tended to collect these cards rather than use them up when the opportunity arose, with the result that the deck of these cards was often exhausted. One player had nine cards in front of him at one point, much more than had happened in three solo games I'd played.

Now if they play more they may decide that using the cards up by scoring is the best thing to do, but only time will tell. Nonetheless, this is why we playtest games, to find out what people are going to do recognizing that most players are not like us.

Brett at has expounded at length on this experience, but implies that I was disappointed in the result. I was not disappointed, I was surprised. We playtest games to find out what "reality" is, and the reality is that some people play this way: as confirmed by more playtesting by an entirely different (though similarly aged) group. I think in the long run my method will be more efficient for those who want to win, but only time will tell.

Serendipitously, I ran across a bit in Wikipedia that applies: "Murphy's Law is really a design principle: if something can be done in more than one way (such as inserting a two-socket plug the wrong way around), somebody will eventually do it." As a design principle, then, game designers must recognize that if someone can play differently than you expect or intend, sooner or later they will.

Which reminds me also of Mike Gray's story of a game he showed to Hasbro's design group (Mike's job s finding games Hasbro might consider for publication). The game didn't really get going until a 50-50 chance came up positively. As Mike demonstrated the game, again and again the result was negative. But the time it did come up positive (something like the 13th time), the game was so skewed and screwed up that it had no chance of being accepted.

The designer should have taken this possibility into account in some way, even though it was very unlikely to occur.

1 comment:

Lewis Pulsipher said...

More than three years later, I've had the post-apocalyptic game played many times - it's a very flexible filler game - and I have yet to see people routinely save their cards rather than score. So the group I described seems to be "an outlier".