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.