The guys at islaythedragon have an interesting idea, they’ve asked a handful of questions in the hopes of starting a conversation between players and designers on that topic. I like talking to people who play and design games, if I didn’t then it’d be indicative of having made some shockingly bad choices in my life. Let’s give it a whirl.
“1. Would you rather design a game that gets played more frequently or is more highly regarded but played less? Would you be proud to know that someone is keeping your game in their collection despite not playing it often? Is how someone feels about your game regardless of how much they play it important?”
I’d like to start by revoking Andrew’s license to enumerate things, those are clearly questions one through three. Teal (of Nothing Sacred Games) commented that:
“From a designer perspective, high regards are all well and good, but if you want them more than people actually playing your game, you’re designing for yourself more than for your players.”
I’m not sure that I’d agree. I think that it depends upon whose regards we’re talking about here. I don’t think I’d get much out of being critically regarded while most gamers wouldn’t want to play, on the other hand I think I’d take “I played your game once and it changed my life” over “We play any week that we’ve got nothing better to do.” I’d rather someone really enjoy what I’ve created for a couple of hours over finding it a passable time killer for a longer period.
Would I be proud to know that someone is keeping my game despite not playing it often? I think I would, depending on why they’re keeping it and what my intentions were with the design. If I created something to fill a specific niche and it’s kept around for the rare times that niche came up that’s a job well done. If I created something to be an eight hour epic and that experience justifies keeping a coffin box around for the rare occasions that there’s time for it then that’s a job well done. If I created something to be a gateway game and it only gets brought out when they want to introduce someone new to gaming, but they always keep it around for those occasions, then that’s a job well done.
Ultimately if someone is keeping something then it’s probably adding value to their lives and (hopefully) the value that it’s adding is what I intended for it to add when I created it, so that’s worth feeling good about. I can imagine edge cases, for instance I’m contributing to someone’s crippling hoarding problem, but I think in most scenarios if someone’s keeping it that’s a good thing.
Is how someone feels about my game, regardless of how it’s played important? Well, as I wrote above there are lots of reasons to not play a game very often, I don’t think that frequency of play is more important than how the play is experienced when it happens. I also reckon that in most cases how a person feels about a game is broadly related to how inclined they are to play it, the scenarios in which the two are divorced generally aren’t anything that anyone should hope for.
“2. Is it disappointing when some trades or sells your game? Should it be a goal for your game to stick in people’s collections (assuming it’s a good fit for that person)? Should designers try to create games that will “stand the test of time” or are simply enjoyable experiences?”
Well my first games are on a boat and I’m not expecting them to hit the market for another couple of weeks, so I’ve not had the experience yet, but I suspect I’ll feel alright about people selling or trading my games. I know a lot of people who play games a couple of times and then trade them on, they don’t have much money and want to try lots of things. Besides, not every game is a match for every player. If I can send the same game to different reviewers and have one say “GOTY 2015” and another say “Didn’t want to play to the end” that’s a fairly stark demonstration that the same game can have vastly different impacts on different people. I’d like to think that I’d be glad that they passed the game to someone who might love it, over letting it moulder or throwing it away.
Though it does make me sad everytime someone doesn’t like one of my games. That’s stupid, because not everyone will like everything and different players have different needs – but I still feel bad about it. I got into this (essentially) to create great experiences for people, so everytime someone has a bad time with one of my games I feel like I’ve done the opposite and that’s my fault. I need to grow a thicker skin.
I don’t think it’s the goal of a designer to have their game stick in a players collection anymore than it’s the goal of a chef to have their food enter the sanitation system, but it’ll often be a side effect of doing the job well. I think the goal of a designer is to create experiences that people are glad that they had, generally fun, but there are other options. More plays generally means more great experiences and so designing a game that’s great and doesn’t lose anything on replays leads to it sticking around in peoples collections – but that’s a side effect – not the goal itself.
My answer to whether I’d like my games to “stand the test of time” is along similar lines. I want to create great experiences and more great experiences is better than fewer great experiences. As a psuedoequation I’d express it something like this:
Success = Number(players) x Quality(experience) x Quantity(plays)
You need a bit of everything to make a game truly successful, but there’s scope for making up for a deficiency in one area by expanding another. I think I’ve got an emotional bias against prioritising the number of people who play the game – I’d rather give one person a genuinely transcendent experience than have a thousand people merely enjoy the thing – but I recognise that as irrational and try not to let it steer my thinking.
At the end of the day I try to apply a philosophy to life, I don’t always succeed and things don’t always work out as intended, but broadly I want everything to be organised in pursuit of one of three goals:
1. Enjoy myself
2. Help others around me to enjoy themselves.
3. Don’t screw things up such that other people passing this way later can’t enjoy themselves.
There isn’t enough joy in the world and the only people who’ll fix that is us. The attitudes towards game design that I express above are just specific examples of this. They’re also ideals to strive for, which isn’t the same as saying they’re what is reliably achieved in practice – but then it would be deeply unambitious only to hold to ideals that are already reality.
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