Quote of the Day: Diversity is Important in Game Design

Game design is a tricky thing, and you can ask any developer and I’m sure they will agree. Usually when talk about game design crops up, I find it on other gaming blogs, bigger news outlets or rants on social media. Typically games are dividers, in that when something with more diversity is created, they are fans that rejoice and there is almost always some pushback. Whether it comes up in the form of the age old PVE vs PVP debate in MMOs, or how there are powerful black women taking center stage of the newest FPS, we’re never going to all agree. Finding a balance of “what already works” and what can be done to “increase diversity” can be tricky, but game developers at least, seem to be starting to “get it.” I was perusing the Magic: The Gathering page the other day and came across this article about the importance of diversity in game design, and the writer, Mark Rosewater, touched on some great points. I encourage you to read the whole article, but wanted to highlight a few passages:

The trick to getting everyone to love something is to have some breadth in what you offer. For example, I often talk about how often when designing Magic I’m thinking about all the different kinds of players there are. There are drafters and Standard players and Commander players and Modern players and Vintage players and Pauper players and a whole host of other formats. There are players who focus on two-player play and others who focus on multiplayer play. There are Timmies and Tammies, Johnnies and Jennies, and Spikes. There are the Vorthoses who live for the flavor of the game and the Mels who thrive on the mechanical artistry. There are collectors and traders. There are cosplayers. There are people who experience the game and/or express their feelings for the game through podcasts and videos and blogs and articles. And every time we make a set, we must be aware that all of those different kinds of players exist. We help each of those different types of players fall in love with something by making sure we provide things catered to them

Sounds like the exact way MMO design has turned out. I guess you could say that MTG is sort of an MMO as well, with millions of players across paper and digital platforms, but clearly this is an apples to oranges argument. Next, from the “DESIGN THE COMPONENT FOR THE AUDIENCE IT’S INTENDED FOR” segment:

This lesson talks about the dangers of designing to please too many audiences. To do your best game design, you have to understand what audience each component is aimed for and then maximize that component for that audience. Also, included in this idea is that it’s okay if a different audience doesn’t like that component. It’s not being made for them. (A quick aside that if that component is actively insulting to another group, for example, showing them in a bad light, that is a problem. You shouldn’t make one group happy by actively denigrating another group.)

The reason this lesson is key for understanding the importance of diversity is that the people who belong to the group in power probably are used to having a high percentage of representation. Lowering their representation to allow you to have an opportunity to showcase others is sometimes met with criticism because you’re lessening their representation. They’re taking the status quo as a baseline. Lowering that baseline can sometimes be seen as an attack because you’re taking something away from them.

My counter to that is that your game needs to be reflexive to the needs of everyone playing and not just the most dominant group. For example, Commander as a format didn’t exist for many years. As such, we didn’t design with it in mind, but as we started to see interest in the format, we began incorporating it into our designs (even making a product specifically for the format). By doing so, we increased awareness of Commander which, in turn, led to more people playing the format.

I’m a fan of this sentiment. Think about when the devs of Wildstar catered to that core vocal group and didn’t care about anyone else playing the game? Remind me where they are now? It goes to show that by being more diverse, you can create better worlds, better stories and overall better games. I hope this is the sort of philosophy developers adopt in the future, and we’ll see some awesome stuff as a result.

Couch Podtatoes Episode 86: Consequences

CP4

Welcome back y’all! We had a supergroup episode planned for this week, where Eri and myself would not only be joined by Doone, but also Tacktix. Unfortunately Eri’s Internet has been out for a while, so she was unable to join us. As a result we changed the topic up a bit because the show we had planned was her brainchild. Still, we settled on talking about consequences in gaming, relating it to both in-game communities but also real life. There were some recent news stories that coincided well with the topic as well, so they were peppered among the discussion. We also had some issues with the recording software, which is nothing new for podcasters, so we ended up splicing a couple different takes together into one cohesive package. We tried out the Zencastr software which was rather reliable and may be what we use in the future, provided it continues to impress. Anyway, take a listen and as always thanks for your support!

 

Download this Episode Subscribe via RSS Download on iTunes Listen on Stitcher

Couch Podtatoes Epsiode 86: Consequences (runtime: 1:27:26)

What are we playing? (starts at 1:53)
Discussion: Consequences (starts at 13:29)

Host Contact information:

Izlain
Blog: Me vs. Myself and I
Twitter: @mevsmyselfandi

Doone
Blog: XP Chronicles
Twitter: @doone_buggy

Tacktix
Blog: Tough Love Critic
Twitter: @TaCktiX

Music Credits:
“Bit Rush” by Riot Games
“Starseed” by Mimosa (from the album Sancturary)
“Enchanted Rose” by Bury Your Dead (from the album Beauty and the Breakdown)

Couch Podtatoes is a podcast about gaming, though we might stray into other forms of media. Sometimes we use strong language, but we try to keep that to a minimum. All opinions expressed by us or our guests are our own and are in no way to be interpreted as official commentary from any companies we discuss. You can visit our official podcast page at Libsyn.com. Be sure to follow us on iTunes, and/or Stitcher Radio.

You can also find the show in video format at The Gaming And Entertainment Network YouTube page. Or, view it here:

Questions, comments and feedback are welcomed and encouraged!

My Problem with the Current State of MMOs

I’m sure you all will remember the post I wrote at the beginning of this month that riled up quite a few people. I was the self-proclaimed asshole who enjoys PvP, the occasional gank that could be construed as griefing, and could find the humor in things others could not. I’m not going to reopen that can of worms, as I have made my points known, and had further discussion on this blog and others where we could all come to a compromise of sorts, or at least agree to disagree.

There was a completely different post planned for today, but I couldn’t help but put that one on the back burner after having participated in some commentary on Eri’s blog; I have new things to talk about instead. First, a little history (which some of you probably already know about me, but just for clarity).

I played MMOs heavily from the early to late 2000s. Most of my time was spent in Norrath, where a different type of MMO player was born and a different culture was cultivated. The unwashed masses joined in on the MMO scene once World of Warcraft released, and a new type of culture developed — the entire industry changed due to the juggernaut that is WoW. We have to give credit where credit is due, but maybe not in the way that you think.

I can acknowledge that WoW became king due a variety of circumstances, but mostly because it brought MMOs to the mainstream. The polish and accessibility are both lauded as reasons for its success. I have played the game, despite saying I never would back in the early days of its existence, but I never played it for long. To me, it was too samey, and all MMOs that have released since 2004 have all been samey as well,  which we all know is due to the money grabbing that other companies have gone for, rather than trying to do new things. It seems that as of late, the only big-budget company that is still working towards something new that might revolutionize the industry again is SOE. On smaller levels (mostly with crowd-funded backing) some indie companies that have a bit of (developer) name recognition are trying new ideas, but any and all of those games that might come to fruition are still being worked on, so time will tell if they do something vastly different or not.

When I was playing EQ2, quite often I would come across a player who came from WoW, and said that EQ2 was the superior game, not only graphically, but in depth and play-style variety. They’d also talk about the toxicity of WoW’s playerbase, saying they were “all a bunch of kids,” and things of that nature. I washed my hands of the subject, vowing I wouldn’t play the game, as I felt my game of choice was superior. I’m sure everyone playing WoW felt the same about their game. It was a sign of the times. But people grow and change, and most of us have come to a point where we don’t raid, because we don’t have the time, or because we thought it would be great if there was something else to do (we’ve also become more migratory). Don’t get me wrong, I remember being a raider and wanting everyone to do things “right” and if they did things “wrong” we’d kick them from our groups. I’m sure you all have heard stories similar to these. That doesn’t make it the right way to go about doing things. Developers shouldn’t be pigeonholing everyone into doing that samey content all the time, where there is only one right way to do things, and only one end game. Unfortunately, the massive success that is WoW has forced the entire industry to conform to these ideals, and I’m pretty sick of it.

Being away from MMOs for a few years allowed me to remember why I love single player stories and gave me the time to cultivate a love for the MOBA genre. I still felt that itch for an MMO-sized experience though, and have made a few forays into different games this year. I started by going back to the tried and true (EQ2), tried the new hotness (Wildstar and ArcheAge betas), filtered through some titles I had missed in my absence from the genre (Rift, SWTOR, Tera) and even took a little tour of some of the new stuff in WoW (mostly to play with some fellow bloggers).  I picked up Guild Wars 2 somewhere along the line and decided to get more into that recently. Having tried so many in the past few months, I can honestly say that it’s not too difficult to get through part of the game and realize they are all the same. Nuances might be different; some try action-oriented combat, some don’t rely on the trinity, some allow you to grind out XP your way, but they all suffer from being the same type of experience when it comes down to it. Player choice is an illusion. There is optimal and sub optimal. This is the problem with the current crop of MMOs. There are no meaningful choices to make. I want a game where I can play the exact style I want to play in, and don’t have to conform to a preconceived notion that there is a “right” way to build my character, to progress through the game, to have fun. Yet there is a portion of any player base that will tell you exactly that: you’re doing it wrong.

In that post that I wrote, or perhaps it was during discussion on my podcast about PvP, or maybe even in the comments on blogs elsewhere, it was suggested that there are primarily PvE players that are just as much of assholes as the ganksters are in PvP. Equivalents, if you will. The reason why someone might not want to play a particular game, because they found it overwhelmingly populated by people who think their way of playing the game is the only way. Sadly enough, some development teams enforce these attitudes with their design choices. I believe Blizzard is one of those companies, and as such I am back in that camp I was in so long ago. I have no desire to play their game, to give them more money to develop with. As a matter of fact, I feel as if I am in that state of mind that I was when I quit the genre almost 4 years ago. There isn’t a game out right now that really compels me to play it. That puts its hooks into me like games of the past. That won’t let me let it go. I keep wanting to give the genre a chance, and I keep feeling let down, long before I ever reach the game’s cap. Even if I did manage to get to that cap, I probably would be bored of the same old bullshit they call an endgame. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, yet all I seem to read is how each person is playing whatever game, or dancing between games, and somehow finding doing the same, repetitive bullshit fun.

Yes, I know that sounds funny coming from a MOBA player, seeing as how each game of LoL could be seen as doing the same thing over and over, but the human confrontation that I have gone on and on about is what compels me to keep logging in. Each game feels different. Each victory is as sweet as the next, because I was playing against a whole new set of people, and matching my skills and wits against them. Oh what’s that? You beat heroic Garrosh whatever the fuck raid? Yeah, it will be exactly the same next time you do it too, and you still won’t get that item drop you really want. It might be different if you have different people not using the “correct” item and talent builds though, cause you might fail as those choices were suboptimal. That elitist attitude turns me off from a game more than anything. But this is just my opinion, and what do I know? Any and all points will be refuted by the fanboys of any game. Semantics I say.

Ok, I think I’ve gotten that off of my chest. Sorry for the rant folks, I had just commented on Eri’s post about what WoW character to play and was basically told that any and all of my opinions were incorrect, so I thought I would give a longer retort. In general, MMOs need to impress before I’m going to bother with them anymore, outside of very casual play (if at all). I’ll leave it at that.

#gamedesign #mmos #rant

Party-Based Systems and You

There are several types of games with a party-based system. Most of these fall under the role playing game umbrella, which would include several sub-genres. However, there are other genres that also utilize similar systems, all of which lead to certain levels of customization. This can also lead to min-maxing, which in itself can be a benefit and a detriment. Min-maxing is defined as:

…the practice of playing a role-playing game, wargame or video game with the intent of creating the “best” character by means of minimizing undesired or unimportant traits and maximizing desired ones. This is usually accomplished by improving one specific trait or ability by sacrificing ability in all other fields.

Generally speaking, there is always a way to make your party the best it can be, regardless of if you are the only character controlling the party (single-player RPG), or you are playing a single character in party filled with other players (MMORPG). What kinds of single player games come to mind when you think of party-based systems?

First to my mind are old school JRPGs (Final Fantasy series among others)  and Tactical RPGs (Shining Force, FFTactics)  which typically use predetermined characters to form your party, all with set skills and abilities. Your customization comes in when it comes to what gear you equip on the characters, and sometimes what skills/spells you may advance. Some newer games that fit this mold are the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, along with the game I’ve been playing, Might & Magic X. The characters are relatively set in their ways, though you can affect gear and skill choices. Min-maxing only occurs via gear/skills and party composition, which you cannot always control depending on happenings with the storyline.

On the flip side, if you’re playing a Massively Multiplayer Game, you can customize the hell out of your character, min-maxing every stat-line, but you cannot control the effectiveness and efficiency of your party-members. This of course, is why pickup groups are detested. Still, within the game’s parameters there is a “optimal” way to configure a party, and finding players in agreement with this view are easily found.

Other genres suffer from similar issues. Play a game of League of Legends, and try to mess up the games established “meta” in a ranked game. You will be reported. There is an established meta for a reason, and that is because the meta “works”. If you want to experiment with different group compositions, you had best do that on your own time, or at least that’s what the community expects of you (whether or not this is the best attitude for the community to possess is a whole other topic).

These types of attitudes are prevalent in every game I’ve played that has a multiplayer cooperative component. It doesn’t matter if you are cooperating against AI opponents or other players, you are expected to contribute to the best of your ability as if this is your second job.

It is human nature to want to be the best at something. To excel beyond the threshold which our peers have reached. Game designers have simply taken that desire and translated it into a facet of our lives, a place where we can all go and “be somebody”. This is why in games like Skyrim you are the perennial hero of the story, and you don’t need a party (though you can grab a follower who is more a storage container than anything). Stat lines give people something to brag about. Gear scores give people something to achieve, but also gives other people a reason to keep you out of their optimized group.

What inspired this post in the first place was M&MX. I posted my first foray into the game recently, and I found myself the very next day going back through the same exact portion of the game because I found out more about the mechanics, and thought that I had found a better overall party composition. So I re-rolled and played through the same content, and it turned out that this party didn’t do any better, actually a little bit worse through the first dungeon. This experience had me thinking about how customization via stats and classes is the wrong way of creating progression.

I’ve been guilty of enjoying and “voting with my wallet” for this type of progression since I was a child (although I was voting with someone else’s wallet back then). I played Shining Force and other JRPGs so many times with optimal set ups and then went back and played with sub-optimal groupings just to see if I could do it. I was all for gear+stat progression (or optimal party selection) through the Baldur’s Gates and Diablos and my first MMOs. It has come to a point where I think games like Ultima Online and Skyrim have the right idea in skill based progression, where skills level as you use them, and gear doesn’t have stats attached (outside of protection values or types of damage attached). Simplfy things to where the adventure matters, where your companions matter to you not for their gear or skills/class, but for their company and willingness to have your back.

We need a community of gamers who work together to solve mysteries or group together to survive. I like some of the ideas coming out of MMOs in development that have a more sandbox style. The concept of games like DayZ, Rust, and H1Z1 fascinate me, where people actually have to work together to survive and figure out if it’s a better idea to set up shop somewhere or wander around for a safer locale, with the threat of Zombies, the wild or other players who could potentially kill them, keeping them together. The original Everquest felt like this, but it was still rooted in a party-based system, where the optimal trinity was the standard.

Don’t get me wrong, I will always love a story-driven RPG like the classics have offered, where classes and gear and all that matter. But from a social aspect, I would prefer we got away from games like this that have a multiplayer component. I don’t see why there should have to be balance between classes. Why there should be classes at all? Why not start out with nothing, and as you do things you gain experience (literally, rather than a nominal amount) in that activity. Some people would naturally want to gather and build. Let them. People who prefer to hunt/fight can take up arms and protect the gatherers and builders. Leaders would naturally arise. Next thing you know cities are cropping up and wars are breaking out, all because everyone wants to be the king. Stay in a city and deal with the politics, or start a farm on the outskirts where you can raise a smaller group? You decide.

The technology is there. We are coming to a point where our social lives are on the internet. We are living our lives attached to keyboards/mice/gamepads. When we aren’t at home, our mobile devices. Most of our Facebook friends we never talk to, and our Twitter friends we’ve never met in person. So why not make our game worlds what we want them to be? Why not get this message out and continue to communicate with the developers via Twitter, Reddit, etc, so we can share our vision and they can create the worlds which we crave? Why not make a game that is one big social experiement? I think these issues are what gamers are trying to tackle, along with other social stigmas which others are much better at articulating than myself. This is why blogging and Tweeting and making your voice heard is so important.

Now I’ve gone and rattled on beyond my original point, but a storm is brewing. People are getting more and more involved in creating media. We ARE the media, and we are growing stronger by the day. Our voices are being heard, and we need to keep up the work! We might not win any world-peace medals, but in our own small way we are shaping the society of the future. Let’s keep it up.

#Community #Gamedesign #Gamingculture