Game talkThe game without treadmills

 Posted by (Visited 39268 times)  Game talk
Apr 232007
 

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currentMonsters.hitPoints = X * iLevel;
currentMonsters.attackStrength = Y * iLevel;
currentMonsters.graphics = GetMonsterGraphics(iLevel);

currentTreasures.value = Z * iLevel;
}

The above came from a Slashdot thread about LOTRO, and was pointed out to me by John Szeder, who followed up with the question, “Why haven’t more people looked at making games without treadmills?”

Coincidentally, this comes at the same time as there’s a long and detailed discussions about human motivations, intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and similar topics over on the Mud-Dev2 mailing list. So it’s in the air.

Well, people have made games without treadmills, and usually they fall into two broad categories.

  • Games of skill. The treadmill is usually defined as playing a game that requires minimal skill, doing a fairly repetitive task over and over again in order to receive arbitrary rewards and climb higher up a ladder. Effectively, the treadmill is designed to reward devotion; you cannot really fail at it if you just persist in whatever you are doing. Games of skill, such as a player-vs-player game of any sort, are usually not classified this way, because there’s real odds of failure.
  • Gameless games, which are presented purely experientially; there’s no rewards, no ladders to climb, and so on.

Each these has its virtues, of course. The skill-based games are in many ways more involving. They offer up real challenge, and often as a result, the sense of real accomplishment upon beating the challenge is more substantial. There’s unpredictability from the human opponents, so as long as you don’t feel bored by the overall broad mechanic of the game, there’s an endless and continually surprising range of challenges offered.

The experiential games offer scope for emotions that we usually fail to tap into via other games. They are about journey, not reward. Players feel free to express themselves and to do things that the designers did not expect.

But there are also reasons why these two sorts of games aren’t the dominant sort in the market.

Skill-based games lock the door against most players, precisely because they demand real skill. Skill is something that is a rare commodity, and it takes time and patience and a willingness to fail to develop it. A lot of people simply do not have the time and patience. Right off the bat, for any given type of game, there’s going to be a lot of folks who simply will not get in the door because of the skill threshold demanded.

This gets worse when you’re dealing with a multi-player scenario. Picture a group of six people in a multiplayer game. One of them is 10% better than the others. He therefore wins. His win record is now 1-0, and everyone else’s is 0-1. He’ll continue to win most of the time — though not all — and his win-loss record will be tilted towards the wins side — say, 8-2. But most people in the group will have 0-10 records, and a couple might have 1-9. A small margin of skill is enough to make a cumulative record look devastating. In competitive arenas like this, most people lose most of the time.

I’ve described this before as “the average user is below average” — meaning, the median user lies below the mean on the win-loss curve, because the win-loss curve turns out to be a power-law distribution. And what happens to people whose average experience is humiliation, frustration, and defeat? Well, they quit.

For all the publicity noise around pro gaming and the like, the fact is that there’s a reason why most multiplayer games include a single-player campaign, and why most users never play multiplayer and when they do they mstly play on LANs or with friends only, and not in the wider Internet.

Experiential games feel directionless to a lot of people. The lack of goals they generally imply leaves many users feeling aimless and frustrated. They know there’s good stuff out there, but they don’t know how to get to it. The people who enjoy these sorts of games are the ones who are capable of developing intrinsic motivations to perform the actions the game permits. But games are by and large built on offering up feedback, and the commonest form of feedback is an extrinsic reward.

Since games are models, and specifically they are models that teach patterns, the type of extrinsic reward most commonly offered up is a new tool for understanding the model. It’s a new ability, a new stick with which to poke the beehive. In a Mario game, you learn to jump, and then when you  do, you discover that you can bop out stars. The stars are an extrinsic reward. Then you find you can bop some blocks repeatedly, and get stuff that changes your size, which opens a new means of interaction. You find you can land on things, kick things, and so on. Each successfully completed task opens up a new way to interact with the model.

An experiential game may have this to some degree — a good experiential game certainly will — but without a challenge presented by the model, it’s hard to get on this path. Unless Mario gave you enemies to land on, or blocks to bop, you might never know. Without the impetus to get to the other side that the game offers via the goal of rescuing the princess, you have little motivation to move in one direction versus another, or to defeat the enemies.

Treadmills exist because they address these issues to some degree. They are a hypertrophied version of basic incentives. The reasons why people hate them are also their strength:

  • Anyone can climb the ladder. This makes for an accessible experience
  • You always know what to do next, which also makes for greater accessibility.

The flip side is that they are frequently designed in such a way that they do not present variegated challenges nor truly new ways to interact with the model. This is why players get so annoyed at “Fireball VI”: that’s not a new stick to poke the beehive with, it’s just a bigger stick with exactly the same properties and responses. It doesn’t keep the user learning. Where the learning stops, the fun does.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a treadmill-style design with varied challenges or with new abilities unlocking. It’s just more work to make it happen. But it can be done. None of these game styles are inherently bad — there are just degrees of implementation.

  74 Responses to “The game without treadmills”

  1. [IMG Visit Raph’s Website » The game without treadmills] Raph’s Website » The game without treadmills http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/04/23/the-game-without-treadmills/ View Details

  2. I came across some interesting links in my meanderings on the ‘net recently… One of which talks about the endless treadmill one seems to be on in MMOs – the good and bad of it, I suppose. Here’s the link: http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/04/23/the-game-without-treadmills/

  3. why successful games invariably have treadmill mechanics

  4. just luck, the player can choose the demeanor of their victory. Winning might not even be a process of “winning” , but one of “losing gracefully” (e.g. a techincal win by bettering your historical counterpart). Contrast this with Raph’s discussion on treadmills in games. As Raph points out: They are a hypertrophied version of basic incentives… Anyone can climb the ladder… You always know what to do next… While chess and AH’s Caesar

  5. or just luck, the player can choose the demeanor of their victory. Winning might not even be a process of “winning” , but one of “losing gracefully” (e.g. a techincal win by bettering your historical counterpart). Contrast this with Raph’s discussion on treadmills in games. As Raph points out: They are a hypertrophied version of basic incentives… Anyone can climb the ladder… You always know what to do next… While chess and AH’s Caesar have well defined victory conditions (rules), the paths

  6. One thing I find very curious is that theres no discussion of “population goals” what I mean is what is the optimal population for any particular lets say “server”. And why cant design encompass a flexability paradyme. Wherin perhaps the focus on one server is community and socialization, and players are rewarded accordingly, another might be pvp, or exploration, or community building etc. (it could be weighted in the code base)

    Would the treadmill v skill construct matter as much?

    Could the worlds be tiered? Or perhaps involve the evolution of the player?

    I guess what Im asking is does a skill based world, where the focus is excelling in community building vs combat, need to be accessable to everyone? And does a treadmill based game scale downward? (or require a huge population to validate the design?)

    Im not sure it does, on either count. I also dont think that just because players expectations are not initially met they wont adapt, LOTRO is a good example. I know some hard core PVPers playing it and finding it 10x more interesting than WOW.

    I dont mean to derail, but the global issue of plugging in a design structure seems like it might involve more social engineering as a means of capturing users than what form the shiney takes. Players know the shiney, no matter how its wrapped, what they want is a new world with different types of challenges, not an old shiney, repainted.

    Its that old big fish small pond arguement I guess, but maybe what Im wondering is why cant the fish and the pond be various sizes, and why must the fish always look the same…..

  7. [...] Why are so many MMOs designed around leveling treadmills?  That’s why. [...]

  8. [...] The game without treadmills [...]

  9. The venture I mentioned at GDC is a skill-based game with RMT risk associated with each play. I’m well aware of the problems you mentioned, and unless the core game is very carefully designed, you’re going to have a pretty short half-life on the community due to newbie burn-out, and it becomes a bit like a pyramid scheme. The key is imperfect information – this may be a clever exception embodied in my game design or a principle of skill-based game design in general. If you’ve got an adequete balance of information then even the most skillful player will experience a negative feedback loop in their dispropensity. In my game design, this means even a really clever player can get back-stabbed short of the breach. You end up getting a sort of ladder of back-stabbing in the end-game, and while the mechanics that cause that ladder to self-organize are entirely deterministic (making it legal as a wagering platform) the experience is of a somewhat luck-based victory. My hope is that players will feel this negative feedback as an inherent fairness and come out with as small a net positive or negative as possible, while still feeling real agency on a game to game basis. Then, having a spare minority with 80% higher average net positives is a good thing, because it gives the hardcore a “fountain head” (to evoke objectivism) from which trickle-down prestige comes – thats really the engine of the whole community, the internal combustion chamber.

    Getting that leaderboard to turn over with adequete frequency then becomes a high-level pattern in the meta-game, rather than a recurrent pattern in the core game. You can community manage that.

  10. I don’t think the original question was about the treadmill-style design that you describe, but completely about the flip side introduced in second to last chapter. That’s what the players mean by treadmill, right?

    I’d really like to forbid experience and levels as a way of gating content so it doesn’t lead to masking more of the same old as new content after it has been run through the algorithm quoted above.

    You could keep the explicit rewards like getting new skills and looks. Very extended gear treadmill, where your old gear is constantly obsoleted, probably wouldn’t be positive either. If there were no levels to affect hit point, damage amount or attack formulas, first level characters could go face a dragon if they thought they could do it with a very restricted variety/set of (character) skills and possible little (player) experience/knowledge/skill. Or you could gate the content through reputations, attunements and such.

    I’ve been playing a lot of God of War lately, and that game is just superb at this. As Kratos progresses, he can access new moves and faces more varied situations. A completely new kind of enemy troop is introduced rarely but they’re all truly different, and regularly they get shinier looks _and simultaneously_ their attack repertoire is extended with something new. You also rarely have to repeat identical encounter twice and never thrice. Any puzzles that are only about figuring it out happen only once. A second time would be just a mechanical repetition for the player.

  11. In a multiplayer game, it often comes down to how much power a player has over another (and over the world). The traditional ways that power are allocated are:

    – Grind (time commitment)
    – Player skill (twitch, problem solving, social skill, etc.)
    – Luck (lottery)
    – Real money payments
    – Voting system (or this this social skill?)
    – Power sharing/rotation (It’s your turn to be king.)
    – Who is the largest risk taker (perma-death, or is this luck?)
    – Master of one’s own domain (property in SL)
    – Etc.

    I suspect that a world would be better off using a bit of each, as opposed to relying on only one technique.

    Notice that single-player CRPGs traditionally rely on “grind”. Single-player FPSs are on twitch (player skill) and problem solving (player skill). Traditional adventure games are about problem solving (player skill).

    I wrote something up about this on http://www.mXac.com.au/drt , but can’t seemt to find it.

  12. I believe there’s a fundamental reason behind all this:

    It’s all about killing. That is a binary state. Someone wins, other one dies.

    How about SimCity? Given two cities, which is better? One with more funds, less polution, better traffic, more sky-scrapers? What if one city is a small farmland town? Which is prettier? More pleasant to live in?

    Master of ‘X’ and Civilization series – which civilization was better? There was obviously a winner at the end, but sometimes it was a stalemate resolved with deus-ex-machina criteria. Those games had more of a “journey” than any MMOG to date.

    But mob killing games are binary. And everything else is secondary to that, it’s just a bonus/handicap system designed to minimize the player skill differences. Xp/loot/crafting/items/stats… Pointless in big picture, every combat encounter is rigged.

    What such games lack is non-linear, multi-dimensional classification. There are some past examples at games that dabbled in that, but none left an impact on others, if anything any such attempt was completely absent from current crop of MMOGs.

    But in a game of tic-tac-toe, there simply isn’t anything else that can be added to add more depth. But scale the same board, allow unlimited number of pieces, and the game becomes Go. While some consider it one of most complex games, it’s still played with same pieces, on same type of board.

    So if games are about learning, some of us have learned what MMOG combat is about. And after realizing that is all there is, and identical in every single game, moved on.

  13. treadmill games fix certain problems and in doing so create so many others.

  14. What about poker?

    Many people consider poker a game of skill, yet it has the exact characteristics that were described, yet it does seem to be just a little bit popular.

  15. [...] was sent over to chez Koster to read about treadmills, and that got me to thinking about retro gaming, and how to learn lessons from popular [...]

  16. Poker is a game of skill over the long run, but in the short term it is primarily a game of luck. The winner of a hand is generally determined by the cards, not the relative skill of the players. Over the long run a skilled player can win a few more hands, but more importantly he can get more out of the hands he wins, and lose less in the hands he loses.

    I encourage you to go watch low limit poker some time, the play for many players is very similar to a slot machine. People just keep calling and calling hoping to hit a hand and score that big win. Their success is determined not by their skill, but by their luck.

    Richard Garfield had an excellent article in the November 2006 issue of game developer where he discussed the role of luck in games at great length. Luck generally favors the underdog, and can be a very effective way to mitigate the skill barrier in some games. If a novice player can get lucky and win some minimum percentage of the time you can hold his interest long enough to allow him to build up the skill he needs to really compete with experienced players. The trick is that the minimum percentage of wins and the length of time you need to keep his interest vary dramatically from player to player.

    The other side of the coin is that experience players tend to resent the role that luck plays in their losses. If you end up in that low limit poker room I assure you, you will hear no end of complaints about “suck outs” and “donkeys.” Players become very frustrated when they feel that they are losing to inferior players because of bad luck, particularly if they are losing repeatedly.

    I thought very highly of Mr. Garfield’s article and I strongly recommend it if you’re seriously interested in the role of luck in game design.

  17. Casual vs Causal?

    Poker is a combination. Like PvE raiding. A shallow skill scale applied to a casual game.

    The problems mostly arise, I think, when people try to make a casual game hardcore. And if you look around, that has become the definition… substituting time for chance.

    When I was in school all my teachers forbade me and my friends to play video games. They would complain all of our key tapping could wreck those expensive keyboards. Until the day Sim City came out. Then all the teachers were too busy playing that game to notice us playing Space War, Mech Warrior, Dragon Strike etc.

    Sim gamers are a category unto their own, eh? Many many people will play the Sims but think Counterstrike is the most pointless thing ever. 16 million of em can’t be wrong, though.

  18. First thing jumping to my mind about Poker is that it is a social activity.

    Second that it is a game of chance, third that it involves gambling, fourth that it involves betting.

    Its quite technically a game, mainly Experiential but supported by a commonly valued risk and reward system which equalize all participants regardless of skill at the start of the game.

    With mmorpg’s its tricky to know in advance what will become a treadmill. If you take effort in removing treadmills you will waste a lot of energy in culling a natural phenomenon. People will create treadmills on their own through emergence if you dont support the mechanic in the less abstract systems. Its the same as emergent economy pretty much, if you don’t support a currency your players will go through some effort to develop one, which is a frustrating experience btw.

    The designer of WoW might not have thought of faction grinding as a treadmill but as “at least something to do with your time” but to make it doable it needs to be rewarded and then the players read it as canon and expect it to be part of the natural progression. If you for example remove levels from WoW you won’t remove the treadmill, just increase the frustration of the population when they try to develop their own incentive structures.

    The trick that has to be doable is to allow more orthogonal progression paths which truly are orthogonal. In WoW they are all connected towards the same major goal, including social progression which must be included to reap the rewards once beyond a casual joe point in the progression system.

  19. Another thing I remember about Sim City, and cities that are better than others… one of my rabidly anti-game teachers built a city that had no roads, only rails. She never had any traffic problems so to me that would mean her city was better than mine.

    A pet crusade of mine (i.e. Castle In The Sky), fast forward 15 years or so, is Personal Rapid Transit. Part of that would be simulating the system under more real circumstances, preferably with massive human participation. Something that wasn’t possible when Sim City was built. Bringing a whole new level of definition to the phrase “collision detection”.

  20. Skill-based games lock the door against most players, precisely because they demand real skill. Skill is something that is a rare commodity, and it takes time and patience and a willingness to fail to develop it.

    With many of the games we’ve seen to date, yes that’s true but I still disagree with this basic statement primarily because of how these games were designed. I mean compare multiplayer combat in Half-Life vs Quake 3. If you’re a newb in Quake 3, you’re dead before you can walk five feet from the spawn point and thus you’re going to get frustrated and leave real quick. In Half-Life, you can actually participate and have some enjoyment in a game, even when playing against highly skilled opponents because the game was designed with accessibility in mind (i.e. newb uses a rocket launcher with laser sight to take out veteran). In effect, an activity within a game should be easy to learn but difficult to master.

    Also skill can be defined in different ways. Most of the time people think of it as dexterity with hand/eye coordination, yet mental skills can be just as advantageous. I mean in EVE Online, you can start a new character’s and immediately start using the commerce system, no matter your character skill levels. If anything, it is resources (i.e. funds) that limit you. If someone handed you a million credits in the game though (something I enjoyed doing on occasion for fun), your abilities at buying and selling were dramatically increased. Thus the resources you obtained enhanced your skill. It’s no different in the Half-Life example I mentioned above, where the newb’s skill was enhanced with the laser guided rocket launcher (a weapon resource).

    I guess I’ve always been confused when people talk about hardcore vs casual gamers. There’s always this stigma that hardcore gamers are highly dexterous vs casual gamers. Yet while I consider myself a hardcore gamer (i.e. Quake, Half-Life, Counter-Strike, etc), I for the life of me am usually pathetic at casual games (i.e. Nintendo) because I suck at the hand/eye coordination required for them. I mean I’ve seen some kids play Nintendo and they have way better dexterity than I do.

    And finally I think the key issue here is the emphasis that some people being better at some things over others is a problem. Well, that’s life isn’t it (as everything takes some skill to perform)? But again shouldn’t we be taking advantage of that, especially in multiplayer or MMO games? For example, if a MMO is designed for diversity from the start, it can greatly take advantage of it so that both casual gamers and hardcore gamers can each contribute to a unified goal in their own different ways. For example, in EVE Online some people love mining asteroids while others love combat. It is this diversity which creates a strong corporation in the game and a strong community as well.

    PS. BTW just thought of something funny in comparing learning (a skill) and leveling. Character leveling is most definitely a treadmill because each character has to go through this grind to gain accessibility to areas within the game (even though you may fully knowledgeable with the area and gameplay dynamics of it). Learning a skill however differs greater because once you’ve learned the basics of a skill, it opens up accessibility for all of your characters since it’s your own skill and it’s immediately transferable to all of them.

  21. Nowadays when people say “Poker”, they are often talking about Texas Hold’em and related games (Omaha, etc).

    In Hold’em, each player makes a hand from their 2 hidden cards, and the 5 shared cards “on the board”. What makes it so interesting is that you know all but 2 of the cards each player might use to make a hand! There’s more information available to the players than in (lets say) 5-card stud. The tactical possibilities are interesting, and I’d say that even short-term outcomes are more skill-based than luck-based (though some luck is still involved of course).

    Regarding WoW, I’m sure their designers know that faction grinding is, well, grindy. I think they put it in because players demanded grindy content! WoW has plenty enough “casual” content for the more casual players. But even players with significant attachment to the game (like the ones who’ve been playing it for the last 2 years) still need stuff to do in-game. Grindy content is boring, but its (relatively) easy to create.

  22. POKER
    you play the person, not the cards..)

  23. This gets worse when you’re dealing with a multi-player scenario. Picture a group of six people in a multiplayer game. One of them is 10% better than the others. He therefore wins. His win record is now 1-0, and everyone else’s is 0-1. He’ll continue to win most of the time — though not all — and his win-loss record will be tilted towards the wins side — say, 8-2. But most people in the group will have 0-10 records, and a couple might have 1-9. A small margin of skill is enough to make a cumulative record look devastating. In competitive arenas like this, most people lose most of the time.

    You’re using specific numbers to try to argue a general case. What does it mean to be “10% better” than someone else? What measurement could come up with a figure like that? Do you mean that their gear is 10% better, or their reaction time is 10% faster, or something, thus guaranteeing them a victory? If so, surely they are 100% “better”? Or do you mean that they are 10% more likely to win against any particular opponent? In which case “most people in the group” would have 9 for 10 win records, with him on 10 for 10. Or, if it’s free-for-all zero sum he’d be on 55 for 100 and they’d be on 45 for 100.

    Need more work on measurement of competitive computer game players!

  24. Why can’t a MMORPG have a ‘difficulty level’ setting, like so many single play games have?

  25. [...] Reality of Repetition… Interesting observations here: Raph’s Website: The Game Without Treadmills (Via Virgin Worlds) In which I am reminded why Raph Koster has quite the guru status he does. The [...]

  26. [...] http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/04/23/the-game-without-treadmills/ Combat in MMOs is like special olympics…. or something… That’s the problem – the games are designed to completely eliminate skill – you are what you grind. Changing "difficulty" is irrelevant, since the outcome of the battle is never up to you. [...]

  27. See, look at all the ways you can play Poker. All the different views on it. That’s what makes it great. You play the person not the cards. Or you can play the cards and ignore the people. Or you can combine both. Or you can just hope to get lucky (spray & pray anyone?). What can you do in WoW? Level up. That’s all. Sorry.

  28. There is nothing at all wrong with treadmills. Even the most addictive and fun arcade games are nothing but treadmills (Pac-Man, Galaga, etc). The key is to do whatever you can to keep the player from staring at the treadmill. You have to hide it under the fun.

    WoW did this very well at the early levels… there is so much content in the quests, that the level grind nearly disappears, in fact people complain that they level too fast and don’t have time to finish the quests.

    WoW did this very poorly at the top end when they shoved in faction gated quests and content as people really lay into the grind eeking out a handful of faction points at a time when what they desire takes many thousands of points.

  29. My favorite mmorpg to date (I’ve played most major releases since EQ in ’99) was Dark Age of Camelot. It was a treadmill to 50 (level cap) and enjoyable in the predictable and social way that other treadmills can be said to be enjoyable. However, at 50 (or earlier if you wanted), you could set off on a skills-based PvP adventure defending your realm and invading others.

    I fall into the “below average average player”, I suppose. I wasn’t geared as well as more hardcore players. I’m not a bad twitch gamer, but I’m not the top 10% either. DAOC managed to design a PvP world that had compensating measures for the “top 10% pwnage” that I’ve experienced in other mmorpg PvP situations.

    First, on a realm level, there were three realms. If one realm became dominant, they were the target of two other realms. It was a much better balance than the two factions in WoW, for example, or two factions in EQ.

    Second, on the player level, there were a variety of ways to fight. The top 10% could fight in 8 person elite groups, or top players could solo, duo, trio etc. Lesser-skilled or lesser-geared players could run with bigger groups (derisively termed “the zerg”, but invaluable for encouraging continued participation in PvP against superior opponents), or they could defend key strategic locations (keeps, gates). I never felt like my limited play time, lesser gear or lesser skills prevented me from participating and making a difference, albeit not the heroic difference I’d prefer :)

    I’m really hoping that Mythic has retained a similar dynamic with Warhammer. DAOC was the most rewarding and exciting endgame I’ve experienced in an MMO, and I’d love to relive those types of epic battles in Warhammer.

  30. I wonder where something like Marc Miller’s Traveller RPG would be classified in the skill-based/experiential classification scheme.

    You’d roll up a character with a specific set of skills, and then you’d start playing. There was virtually no mechanism for improving skills through gameplay, so there was no leveling up, no grinding for XP, no treadmill — you went straight from character creation to gameplay. And because you didn’t spend months leveling your character, if he died the Big Permadeath you just rolled up another character and jumped right back into the action.

    But this never felt boring or undirected because the GM would always have a mission within a quest within an adventure ready for the group. The rewards were both intrinsic to the player (exploration of the detailed Traveller universe, the satisfaction of solving a puzzle or defeating a foe) and extrinsic to the character (social standing, more powerful starships, gradual improvement in gear).

    Traveller was an RPG (and still is, with the planned June release of Traveller5), so it wasn’t a pure player-skill game. OTOH, player skill counted when playing a scenario because character skills didn’t improve — you couldn’t just grind out lower-level scenarios in previous weeks in order to easily beat later challenges.

    So is this design primarily skill-based, or is it really more experiential?

    Traveller, which was designed with basically no character leveling, was pretty successful as a tabletop RPG. Is there any reason why an otherwise well-designed MMORPG without character leveling couldn’t also be successful?

    –Bart

  31. [...] this with Raph’s discussion on treadmills in games.  As Raph points out:They are a hypertrophied version of basic [...]

  32. [...] &middot Blog &middot MMOs &middot Links &middot Forum &middot Login &middot Register Raph’s Website – The game without treadmills http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/04/23/the-game-without-treadmills/ "The treadmill is usually [...]

  33. [...] THE BLOGOSPHERE the fact is that there’s a reason why most multiplayer games include a single-player campaign, an… Raph Koster on why gaming can often be a solitary [...]

  34. [...] interesting viewpoint about why games have treadmills etc…http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/04/23/the-g…out-treadmills/ —Q: What is a topologist? A: Someone who cannot distinguish between a doughnut and a coffee [...]

  35. I think you’re oversimplifying the issue. I happen to like online games like “Gears of War” and “Call of Duty 3″ (Xbox 360 games). They allow for social interaction, team tactics etc. But I also sometimes like to play the solo modes to either sharpen my skills or to see if there’s a better way of completing a task/challenge or just for pleasure. Just like in real life: I don’t always want to be in the middle of a noisy pub – sometimes I want to sit in the park and do a sudoku puzzle!

    BTW I am usually outclassed by the people who play 10 hours every day but it doesn’t bother me – I try to learn from them and to play a little better every time. Just like on the playground.

    Treadmill games are perfect for people who will drop into a game infrequently for 10 minutes before running off to do something else. They’re playing for such a short period of time that they can’t get bored – and there’s such a long period between episodes that they “forget” how repititive it is.

  36. [...] Warning lots of big words in here!http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/04/23…ut-treadmills/ __________________ Tinyging – Mercenary – Alerion Knight Lord GingyGinggi – Sorcerer – Alerion [...]

  37. Treadmills in MMORPGs…

    Raph Koster posted an interesting article about treadmills in games, explaining why treadmills are effective devices in MMORPGs. Do you feel like you are on a treadmill in the MMORPG you’re playing? When did you first start feeling that way, and how…

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  39. [...] THE BLOGOSPHERE the fact is that there’s a reason why most multiplayer games include a single player campaign, an… Raph Koster on why gaming can often be a solitary [...]

  40. A online game I play called subspace a.k.a continnuum, is much different from any other game I have played, mainly because even if you do suck, its still possible to get kills quite easily, and not being a good player doesn’t ruin the game for you. There is no leveling up. Everyone has a choice of 8 different ships. Each ship has a unique function and ability.
    In some ships all all you have to is aim vaugly in the direction of ships and shoot to get kills, some ships can cloak and can’t be seen by anyone.

    The gameplay is essentially similar to asteroids, but interestingly unlike many modern games, players either have natural talent or they don’t, much like real life. By playing more you can get better, but some people have played the game since the start and are still not noticably more skilled than some new players.

    The game is celebrating its 10th aniversary this year. And is free.

  41. BTW I am usually outclassed by the people who play 10 hours every day but it doesn’t bother me – I try to learn from them and to play a little better every time. Just like on the playground.

    Statistically, Jack, you’re weird. :) I mean that is the nicest possible way. Yes, of course there are people who don’t mind being outclassed and go in just for the learning, but they are not the norm. There’s plenty of stats on this, and it’s been a stable historical datapoint.

    You say that treadmill games are good for those with short time spans, but in fact most games with light time investment are very very heavily skill-driven (puzzle games, retro games, etc). They just happen to not be competitive, mostly. In practice, since treadmill games reward devotion, they tend to attract people with plenty of time.

  42. You’re using specific numbers to try to argue a general case. What does it mean to be “10% better” than someone else? What measurement could come up with a figure like that? Do you mean that their gear is 10% better, or their reaction time is 10% faster, or something, thus guaranteeing them a victory? If so, surely they are 100% “better”? Or do you mean that they are 10% more likely to win against any particular opponent? In which case “most people in the group” would have 9 for 10 win records, with him on 10 for 10. Or, if it’s free-for-all zero sum he’d be on 55 for 100 and they’d be on 45 for 100.

    I mean things like reaction times, etc. Win-loss records accumulated over time tend to display a power-law curve, with severe outliers at the top end. With power-accumulation game models (e.g. rich-get-richer scenarios, such as RPGs) the curve becomes even more exaggerated.

  43. A online game I play called subspace a.k.a continnuum, is much different from any other game I have played

    One of the guys who made that game is an occasional commenter on this blog. :)

  44. I can say this, I didn’t mind being behind other players in early UO due to my inability to powergame because of two reasons. One, I wasn’t that far behind (Power differencial was much lower than the current level grinds). Two, because I knew at some point I’d be at the top also, and thus be equal. Twitchness in these games is overrated, if that case is being made.

    And there was no “end game” in early UO. You continued to build. It seems to me that this only became a problem when they took away “losing”.

    All things can become a treadmill. Playing Poker competatively seems like a treadmill to me. Anything, when it’s the only thing you’re doing, gets to be a treadmill. Some people, few, like it though. These are the rabbid posters on the WoW boards, or any other game. But for most, the “silent majority”, it’s not what they want.

    Diversity is more fun. Being able to choose your poison is where it’s at. The “degrees of implementation” have been refined to high degrees of certain things. This leads to grind and boredom.

  45. The point of essence, that escaped some of you above, was that the seemingly boring treadmill-type game, actually tends to attract a much bigger crowd than the other two choices, which appear to be a lot more interesting.

    It is a FACT that most players hate losing and for the most part hate having to “sweat” for the win. They want it easy.

    I’ve been a gamer since the time I could get my hands on a controller (ZX Spectrum, Atari console, Amstrad, Amiga console, 286, 386, 486, to the PC behemoths of today). I consider myself one of those few willing to lose in order to learn, striving to improve, not liking it easy and wanting to sweat. What i see all around me in the faces of friends and acquaintances is that people want it easy.

    A typical example, was when a friend of mine was playing some game (I think it was half-Life, not sure) and when he finished it, he complained it was “too easy”. I asked him what difficulty he played it on and he said “easy”. I said, well duh, why notplay it on medium or hard and he complained those were too… difficult.

    So there you have it, he’s the mainstream gamer. Add to that, the players with the most hours to burn are those aged 12-18 and you will see why treadmill games are the way to go for big bucks.

    Why was WoW designed in this way? Well, they had to find a way to slow all those players down. And just keep in mind, when TBC came out, it took one perso (with the help of his guild) 28 real hours to level to 70. That is quite remarkable.

    Thus Blizzard, in order to deal with such guilds / players, cleverly designed WoW in ways so as to force you to spend a LOT of time before running out of things to do (to get the rep with all of them, to get the epics etc).

    At the same time, they’ve tailored it for casual gamers, while also introducing new features such as the arena which works the same way warcraft III and starcraft ladder did, providing for endless hours of PvP play.

    Is WoW the perfect game? No. But it get them 8 million subscribers!

    I got the perfect game in my mind, but then again so does everyone else.

  46. One other “turn off” of some online games that always seems to get missed is the glitching and cheating. I don’t mind being beaten by a player that has practiced legitimately to get their skill up but being beaten by some one who can only get a high score by cheating kills a game.

    As an example I play Battlefield 2 on Xbox. Its a great game in single player, it is also fun online but there are so many ways that players can artificially inflate their rank by exploiting what are basically programming errors or glitches in the game mechanics. For example you need medals to progress in rank. The more medals you have the higher rank you can get, provided your overall score and points per hour (PPH) are high enough. However it is possible to fool the game so you can get medals easily. For example the Medics medal requires you to heal a number of your team mates without getting killed. So what happens is two friends join a game, the guy who needs the medal selects medic and then finds his friend and shoots him (without killing him) until his health drops low enough and then heals him. This process is repeated until the medal is awarded. Where is the skill in that? And how difficult would it be for the code to check for that, if the guy healing is also the same guy who did the shooting then it doesn’t count. It shouldn’t be difficult to check for.

    Ok so fix that and they will find something else, even if it involves the two of them starting a game on opposing sides to get say the Engineers medal, there are so many issues like Quick Shot, Open Scoping, Worm/Snake, Wall Hacking, Glitching, Boosting, that any supposed “Skill” based game no longer relies on your playing skill but on your cheating skill. BF2MC isn’t the only game with these issues

    This is another big reason why both the treadmill of the MMORPG or the single player option are still so popular because the computer/server/MOB doesn’t cheat. MMORPGS also have the advantage that if there are problems with the game and the developer doesn’t fix them then they run the risk of losing income if players get fed up enough to quit the game and stop paying their monthly subscription.

    Skill based games don’t tend to have monthly fees you just have to buy the game and can then play online for free. This means that there is no incentive for the game manufacturers to fix problems with online play as you have already bought the game so they have already made their money.

    Just my 2 cents

  47. Genie, I honestly don’t think people want things to be “easy” all the time. Everyone enjoys a challenge, be it online or off (i.e. your job). They just rather avoid things that are extremely difficult (i.e. very very low chance of success) or tedious (i.e. boring grind).

    Bart, Traveller RPG was an excellent game! It personified “the experience is the reward” type of gameplay.

    Hmmm, I just remembered another great game that didn’t have any leveling in it. Microsoft Allegiance. It wasn’t an MMO but played more like a mini-MMO with very large scale battles in space. The beauty of it was that your resources (i.e. ships and loadouts) determined your current class, thus you could change your ship at a station to go scouting then come back and switch to a fighter or bomber when needed. In effect, your skills liberated you from the class focus and level grinding. Obviously some players specialized in some areas over others (i.e. stealth combat) and it even included a RTS-style top down view for the commander of your team (so he could pass orders to you). I sometimes wished EVE Online had been Allegiance evolved into a full MMO.

    Actually Allegiance became so popular that the fans of the game are now running and developing it on their own (now called Free Allegiance) after Microsoft decided to offer it up to them (because they loved the game so much). It probably one of the best team-based games I’ve ever played, alongside Warbirds.

  48. [...] game without treadmills #1 "the fact is that there’s a reason why most multiplayer games include a single player campaign,… Raph Koster on why gaming can often be a solitary pursuit Great Read, I dont agree with the [...]

  49. I think the easiest answer to the question is effort mixed liberally with large doses of money. The reward for treadmill gameplay and the system around it scales easily (mathematically, and we all know computers do math) and requires the least design effort.

    If you want to reward skill, or simply remove the treadmill, it looks unfair. So now, in order to apeal to the broadest base of consumer, you have to spend a great deal more effort defining the reward system. It becomes complicated. It may be impossible.

    FOr example, most people can drive a car, though the safety of the average driver is probably more dangerous than we would care to believe. Very few people can drive competitively and achieve success. Is that unfair? No, those people with greater skill succeed and are rewarded for it. Does it feel unfair? Yes, every single time you (I) lose.

    Of course, I may just be a sore loser. But that would be me and every one of your other paying, soon to be former, customers who lose more than they win.

    This, in game business terms is bad (the loss of custom bit, I mean).

    That means it must very hard right now to pitch an idea for a pay-for-play game that is based even mostly on skill. Which means, that it is more likely that these designs are not being developed in favor of what must apear to be more viable financial models.

    My $0.02 (which would be CDN, which places it’s value somewhat lower than that on the world market).

  50. If people stop playing when they lose, how did Las Vegas come to be?

  51. [...] This is a very interesting article – It has some good reasons for leaving a few XP farms in EotS [...]

  52. How about a bit of psychology in here…….people are here in the world for 1 of 4 essential reasons predominately…..
    To
    1. Help others in their world – about 38% of the population (Servers in the non computer sense!) – these are the traditionasl values in society, the teachers, the Sim players probably making a predictable world
    2. Improve their world – about 12% of the pop. – always wanting to do it better than last time – never satisfied with what is – looking for a better way – bankers, doctors, scientists……like a challenge in lifes game
    3. Do or play in their world – 38% of the pop approx….the natural gamers whatever the game (shootem up, racing on computers, and all outdoor games)etc – no learning required – always want to build the house, play the game, life’s sale’s people and life and soul of the party…
    4. Self in search of the self – 10-12% of the pop. – life’s philosophers, poets, spiritual seekers/teachers/guides/psychologists..the glue that empathises with everyone, sees the good in all…….

    And all groups then they are either introvert or extrovert – ie play on their own or play with others (50:50 here)

    so there are simply very different needs in people in games – all the above descriptions of types are real needs – the servers HAVE to serve to feel good about themselves, the improvers HAVE to improve for the same reason…….the doers HAVE to do otherwise they are very unhappy….

    So in my book games appeal and satisfy fundamental needs – just like all we are attracted to in life……..we are very predicatable, and yet also very different…….

  53. For all the publicity noise around pro gaming and the like, the fact is that there’s a reason why most multiplayer games include a single-player campaign, and why most users never play multiplayer and when they do they mstly play on LANs or with friends only, and not in the wider Internet.

    I have to agree, I’m one of those people. Why? I don’t have the time to play video games 10 hours a day, and as a result multi-player has never been a rewarding experience for me beyond playing with people I actually know. Single-Player allows me to succeed in a minimum amount of time, and since its all NPCs I can come back to it whenever (which is why I personally enjoy Oblivion as it is, though please fix the AI).

    Multi-player asks for constant attendance for it to be fun, and this is only after you spend the time needed to form alliances and rivalries. That isn’t to say that I’m not a hard-core gamer, or that I don’t think multi-player is fun. I am, and it can be. Its just that gaming isn’t a priority for me anymore, I’ll play until I beat the game and then I’ll be inactive again for a month or more. As a result I don’t have the connections, skill, or time to make most multi-player games actually worth-while.

  54. [...] blog on skill vs grind i was watching the fun last night but didnt join in because I knew it was doomed to be swamped [...]

  55. [...] Found this through the BBC website. Some interesting opinions on gaming and the use of treadmills, mostly aimed at MMO’s but with some relevance to single player games. http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/04/23/the-game-without-treadmills/#comment-121731 [...]

  56. [...] wouldn’t bother reading all of this article from Raph Koster’s blog, talking about games in which there exists a ‘treadmill’ of acquiring tools [...]

  57. [...] both Ultima Online and the original Star Wars Galaxies) makes some very useful observations on this leveling treadmill topic at his blog. It’s worth reading because it’s not a simple "leveling is evil" rant. [...]

  58. Multi-player asks for constant attendance for it to be fun…

    Actually one of the main reasons I played multiplayer first person shooters in the past (and my friends felt this way as well) is they didn’t require constant attendance. You basically could join a game whenever you felt like it for however long you wanted. So if I had a half an hour after work, I could join a quick game and play a battle on a single map.

    Now taking this to an MMO is another story though and again people might say this is where the commitment comes in, since you have to commit to a long battle to make it worthwhile. Again I disagree though. A well designed MMO can have many intermediate objectives within the larger war and thus you could join up and help out with that single objective (in a variety of different ways).

    Warbirds was like this in the sense that you could jump online, see there was a major effort underway to take over an enemy airfield (a step in winning the war) and you’d pitch in however you could to help out for the short time you were online (i.e. jump in a fighter for escort or as a bomber gunner for defense). So even though you were online for a short time, you may have helped to overtake an enemy airfield or helped in defending it. In effect, you were just doing a small part for a short period of time but it made a significant difference towards the larger goals.

    This is what I think is missing in many MMO’s today, this feeling of connectedness where many small independent actions collectively can make a big difference to the greater goal of the community you are within. Therefore, you may prefer playing solo but the mining of ore that you do can makes a substantial difference to the war effort your community / team / faction is a part of. Thus this allows you to be a part of something larger without the game forcing you into teamwork with others.

  59. [...] Koster, well established MMO guru, has an interesting bit of blogging going on concerning MMO treadmills, and why they are necessary. He takes the position that assuming [...]

  60. [...] they mstly play on LANs or with friends only, and not in the wider Internet.Still interested? Click HERE ——————– "640K ought to be enough for anybody." – Bill Gates, 1981"Our [...]

  61. [...] was reading this article on Raph’s website (link to full article) where he was talking about the question ‘why haven’t more people looked into making games without [...]

  62. [...] labels on a spectrum than concrete concepts. There’s Van Hemlock’s splendid post inspired by Raph’s equally splendid post itself inspired by a rather neat Slashdot comment. If only I’d posted that /. comment for a truly [...]

  63. [...] linked to a post from Raph about how some games are akin to a ‘treadmill’. Rather than post a World of [...]

  64. [...] apart what games are. Can there be, for example, a role playing game without the “treadmill” as Raph Koster puts it on his blog (who also sniffs it in the air), a board game without the board or an online game without the [...]

  65. [...] They’re not mutually exclusive. You need both. [...]

  66. [...] a good article on the topic here: http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/04/23/the-game-without-treadmills/ This particular bit for you programmers out [...]

  67. [...] play on LANs or with friends only, and not in the wider Internet.[/b] Still interested? Click HERE __________________ Who is General Failure & why is he reading My disk? nEuRoTiCs bUilD [...]

  68. [...] than concrete concepts. There’s Van Hemlock’s splendid post inspired by Raph’s equally splendid post itself inspired by a rather neat Slashdot comment. If only I’d posted that /. comment for a [...]

  69. [...] skill based makes it that much harder for the player who started late, or is less skilled.  Read: Raph Koster’s “The game without treadmills”.  So, how to solve this problem?  For one, hats are seen as some sort of status symbol in TF2 [...]

  70. [...] skill based makes it that much harder for the player who started late, or is less skilled.  Read: Raph Koster’s “The game without treadmills”.  So, how to solve this problem?  For one, hats are seen as some sort of status symbol in TF2 [...]

  71. […] face it. Anyone can get to the top levels in the MMO’s that we play simply by putting in the effort to get there. Even with very little time, anyone potentially can acquire, through purchase or play, the gear […]

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