Fun vs features

 Posted by (Visited 13818 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Jan 252012

You have a system. Let’s say it’s a system where you can throw darts. And you have to open your bar in one week.

Throwing darts might have a bad interface. The dartboard might be too small or too big or poorly lit. Darts may be a perfectly nice idea, but the implementation of it needs tuning.

At this point, you have a feature, but not fun. It’s gonna take you four days to make it fun.

You can refine darts, get it fun. Make the UI good, have a great physics model and control, great graphics, and in general, you can get it to where you have a fun feature.

The exercise here is going to be threefold: making sure the inputs afforded to the user map well to their view of the “black box” that is the darts system; making sure the darts system itself offers interesting repeatable challenges; and making sure that the feedback from the black box Is both juicy and educational, so that the user can get better at darts. All this is hard.

Then you face a choice. Three days left, if you made darts fun. You can either go implement a pool table, or you can add content to darts. Content would be new kinds of darts, more kinds of dart games, etc. They don’t call for a new system, just other kinds of data. Not much new code (and new code runs the risk of introducing bugs). You can make the best darn darts game in the country if you spent the three days on that.

The pool table, you could get that in instead. But what if it’s not fun on the first try, just like darts weren’t? Then you’d have a decent darts game and a crappy pool table.

Which is better, having the best darts game available, or having a middling darts game and a bad game of pool?

Adding features offers the potential for fun, but fun comes from tuning and balancing. It isn’t magically there just because you got a pool table.

In order, I would have to tackle the black box, then the inputs, and finally the feedback. I can’t make a bad system much better with great affordances and while I can make it juicy, it usually won’t hold players.

I would choose to polish up darts, and promise to get a pool table in there as soon as I can. And when I do put in the pool table, it’ll be as good a game of pool as we can make rather than being rushed to fit in before the bar opens.

This isn’t the answer I would always have chosen in my career. I have done plenty of kitchen sink design. I have also settled for poor affordances and feedback far too often. I have even had perfectly wonderful systems be unusable because we could not figure out a way to make the feedback comprehensible.

I’ve always leaned towards elegant systems, meaning ones with few variables and few rules to them. When you populate a game with many of these, they very frequently end up leading to emergent behavior, which can be quite fun. But when you lean on the creation of simple systems, the temptation is even greater to have lots of them in your game. And that can and will lead to most or all of them feeling unpolished and unfinished.

I’ve gotten good enough at coming up with simple rule solutions that gosh, almost 10% of them work on the first try! (Yes, read that as sarcasm aimed at myself). But these days, I tend to assume that it will take me ten times longer to polish up and tune that rule system than it will to come up with the rules in the first place.

  12 Responses to “Fun vs features”

  1. Maybe idealism (resting on specific ideas) is foremost not the pressing issue with a game designer.

    With any idea, I believe I would have to take into consideration that the “idea” will lead to exploitation, abuse, cheating, or otherwise have the player bring about unforseen consequences.

    The second most important issue imo, would be to realize that some ideas ought to be cherished as being repeatable to the extreme, and as such it should be possible to identify and evaluate extreme implications with any simple idea.

    I imagine that a poor walking animation or poor sound effects might very well be something that gets on peoples nerves right from the start, and anyone ignoring this irritation for some time might turn out to be quite antipathetic to the game as a whole. Bringing about a sentiment that can hardly be corrected with implementing other fun things.

    Sorry for not commenting on your text directly, I eh wanted to get this out because I think it is important.

  2. The additional challenge is to also make sure your messaging and marketing match up with what you’re delivering. If people are expecting a dart game, you’re safe. If people are expecting a “bar game” with darts, much more vague, there’s a strong chance of “All you can do is play darts. It’s really good darts, but I was expecting pool, beer pong, and quarters too.” And if a bullet point on an obscure* promo slide from nine months ago is “Shoot some pool!” then god help you. 😛

    *-nothing- is obscure on the internet.

  3. -An- additional challenge, I should have said. Certainly not the only one!

  4. “Which is better, having the best darts game available, or having a middling darts game and a bad game of pool?”

    Doesn’t this depend somewhat upon what your competitors have. If you don’t already have the best damn foosball game in your market and all of your competition has both a darts game and a pool table, the decision is more difficult. On the one hand, feature parity when marginal feature count difference is high may be more important that having a single best in class fun feature.

    Many find guilds in ToR horribly lacking when juxtaposed against WoW, EQ2, LotRO and other games. There’s an argument that says that new content in the 1.1 patch will only go so far while other glaring “feature holes” are not plugged. Afterall, having the best combat system on the planet is nothing without a quest system, a trade system and a few of the other essential subsystems to a MMO.

    You’re answer to this question is always relative to your competition and the bar that they set by being first or second movers into the market, though eventually you need both a fun pool game and a fun darts game to even stay alive.

  5. Well, now you’re talking about facing the choice of not opening the bar in one week, basically. And indeed, that would be the logical decision to make in that case. There is no point in hitting a deadline to release a product that is not market-viable, it just results in wasted money and time.

  6. Isn’t there that whole design path of ship now, fix later? I’m assuming of course we’re talking about Bar Fun Online, where you can actually fix and improve things during live.

    There’s also something to be said for making the player believe that the potentially actionable set is greater than it actually is. The trick is to fill in behind the green curtain faster than players can build their little black boxes and realize its broken or empty.

    Granted, this would be a mediocre to horrible design at ship but two years down the road, Bar Fun Online has a better chance of doing better than Dart Online. Improvements are acceptable. Large-scale uprooting or ‘reimaging’ of the game breaks your community and guarantees failure and that’s what you get when you add in pool tables later and rebalance the game.

  7. I’m growing weary of well-polished games shipping with 2-4 weeks worth of content… even if it’s really good content.

    Faced with the choice of perfecting darts or adding pool, the best course of action is to bring more people on board and develop both minigames in parallel.

    If that’s not practical, you should have an aggressive update strategy that gets substantial amounts of engaging content in the hands of players in a timely manner. Engaging content is not a new shade of sparkle pony for the cash shop. It’s new things to do.

    And if you can’t commit to that, at least give players to the tools to create their own adventures, items, creatures, terrain, games and systems in a separate sandbox. With a little judicious gatekeeping and good legal boilerplate, you can skim the cream from their efforts, refine it and integrate it into the primary game “canon”.

  8. @Ted,

    You’re not thinking contemporary enough! Bar Fun Online – Alpha Kickstarter Edition! “Come see our awesome environments and detailed online dart sim, and with your help we’ll add more high-quality games as we move to release!”

    Isn’t it cool we can do stuff like this now? 🙂

  9. I wonder how many designers have an understanding of how to create systems the lead to interesting emergent behavior, and how many “throw some clay at the wall and see what sticks”?

    I think almost everything I know about creating good emergent behavior is in the part of my brain that hasn’t analyzed stuff enough to put things into words. Maybe I should be working on that soon. One thing I definitely learned about computer game designers in the 80s, is back then almost everyone was just throwing clay at the wall. I’m sure things are better these days, but I’m not sure exactly how much better.

  10. Sure: we’re making educated clay-tosses now. 😉

  11. […] up and tune that rule system than it will to come up with the rules in the first place.(Source:raphkoster) 分享到: QQ空间 新浪微博 开心网 […]

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