In a way that I alluded to in the article on Challenge players can often have a tendency to limit their own enjoyment of a game unintentionally. I talked a bit about the concept of grinding in an RPG, a fundamentally intrinsically unenjoyable activity. However, by presenting players with a challenge, you are asking them to use the tools available to overcome it, and grinding is guaranteed to work (i.e a perfect strategy!). As designers, we need to encourage them to play in the way that we predict will be the most enjoyable (and in fact, this may be the primary role of a game designer).
Another classic example of this phenomenon is the prevalence of obviously sub-optimal decks/cards/strategies in CCGs (collectible card games). Sometimes the argument is made that players would have more fun if they didn’t stick to “meta” deck, card or strategic choices. There is a fundamental tension here between what the game is asking you to do (win) and what will result in the most enjoyment (having unique play experiences and learning).
Hearthstone statistics might tell me to play mid-range shaman. Is it the most fun way to play? Is playing the same deck over and over the most fun way to play?
Wherever possible, we should acknowledge that this disconnect between pursuing the goal of the game and pursuing value from the game is undesirable. We should attempt to create harmony between these two aspects of a game by trying to maximize the extent to which the most fun way to play is also the most strategic.
(The Kickstarter for SkyBoats is live right now, and we just passed 50% funding! We’d love it if you’d check it out and consider backing! We would also love your support on Greenlight)
I think its been said before that the best way to play a game (strategically) should also be the most fun. I’m not sure who first came up with that, but I think they are mostly right. When most players sit down to play a game they would like to get into the world of the game and make choices they feel fit the game. I am sure there are some players who just think about the strategy, and don’t care about the world the game is set it, but likely most of us want to make choices that seem “cool” or fun.
It often seems that the most memorable gaming experiences are when you played a game and you did something that created a cool story. Some games do a lot to enable this sort of experience by creating extremely thematic worlds, so that almost any way the game is played it comes out as a cool story. For example, War of the Ring is dripping with theme, and it is hard to make a choice that doesn’t feel perfect for Middle-Earth. This becomes more difficult when you are playing a game that is less theme-focused.
There are also times where a certain strategy is very effective, but is also very boring. DotA 2 has this issue some of the time in high-level matches. The best play is often to sit back and farm, growing your advantage, but many players find this strategy boring and so they run into fights and end up losing an otherwise winnable game. Ideally, the most fun way to play a game would also be the best strategic choice. This is ideal because it would mean players are constantly encouraged to have fun.
In SkyBoats we thought about this when we were designing the game. SkyBoats is exciting and gives you a great feeling of adventure as you fly around the map, and we’ve done our best to try and tie strategic choices to fun choices. One of the main mechanisms we used to do this was to reward players for making the plays we found the most fun. In early development we realized it was exciting to pick up goods in a far corner of the board, and find a way to sail them across the sky to a city demanding that good. Even better if it was the last points you needed on the last round! The game now rewards players for sailing along winds, and for taking goods long distances! I will discuss our wind mechanics in more depth in my next post!
I would love to hear what you think about how fun and strategy tie together in games!