Playing as intended

The most common justification for nerfs, balance changes, new features, and changes to old rulesets is that “the players aren’t playing as intended.”

I think “playing as intended” is overvalued–except insofar as it means that players play longer or get more enjoyment out of the game or do not ruin the enjoyment of others.

The first one has obvious basis for commercial ventures, and the latter is likewise obvious. The middle one–a good example is Motor City Online. Because of how the game is designed, there’s more advantage to running the oval tracks over and over again for points and cash than there is from actually playing the full range of offerings the game has. This makes the game less fun for everyone, IMHO. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to rectify that, and even applaud the effort, even if it is definable as “fixing it so they play as intended.”

I guess my key point is this:

Players will do things that are not fun, because we the designers reward them for doing it. And then they bitch mightily. But if we reward them enough, they keep doing it. Even when we tell them to stop and go *have fun* they won’t, by and large.

So if people aren’t playing as intended, it’s because your game mechanics are broken. You’ll just have to assess whether the way they are playing is more or less fun than what you had hoped. Often, it’s MORE, in which case you should embrace it. I think that The Sims is practically a poster child for this.

The initial design for the Sims arose out of several different impulses in Will Wright’s mind. He was interested in architecture, which led him to the dollhouse. Then he got interested in the AI behind the Sims themselves. But go figure: what the players made of the Sims was a storytelling tool, which he didn’t really envision at all. Very intelligently, rather than ignore or stomp out this behavior, he embraced it.