Adding the Fun

I decided to start a new project that is closer to my heart than anything for the passed three years. A blog dedicated to explore gamification and game theory for products. Originally meant to be a short book I decided doing the research and most of the writing as a blog might help the project along. Who knows, it might actually be better for it.

You'll find it continuously updated over on Tumblr: Adding The Fun

Fearing hubris or fame

Every once in a while you get an idea that you feel will change the world because the idea is so great. Now, this might have worked in the time of ancient Greece or in early Rome. But today such an idea must be approached carefully.

Are you sure the idea really is that great? Have you tested it, through prototyping or discussion, against nay-sayers and won anyone over?

If not; shut up. The idea might not be that great...

If you have; That's great, now comes the real work.

Try to poke holes in your idea or theory until either: a-you succeed and the idea had some flaws, or b-you can't find any flaws and it really might change the world.
Just remember that most ideas that have changed the world (facebook, capitalism etc) have flaws, and many ideas that haven't changed the world don't have any real flaws.

The reason I'm getting into this is because I had an idea on the bus last week. An idea about what fun really is. A cognitive explanation to how fun works that is simple enough for designers to use as a road map in games development.

Now you understand my fear of hubris eh?

Over the next two weeks I will be fleshing out the idea and posting about it here, please, please, try to kill it. If we can't kill the idea together I'll just have to write a book about it.

The future of Co-op

Last week Tycho over at Penny Arcade had a write up about co-op and the amount of games out there that just have partially or completely broken co-op or none at all. Later Microsoft employee Ozymandias, working on foreseeing the future trends of gaming, responded to that with a Co-op Game Bill of Rights, the bill is now already in its second edition and features some core issues that games must implement to not appear broken or bad.
It also features a set of features that are harder to implement and less frequently used in current games but are highly requested by the community.

None of this strikes me as new ideas or even surprising. Let's get a few things straight:

Games are supposed to be fun. Fun is a hard concept to achieve, Raph Kosters excellent book A Theory of Fun can teach you more about what fun is but basically it is about using analogue systems of rewards that are somewhat challenging and that you have not grokked (fully mastered) yet.
Achieving this kind of fun in not hard in itself, children do it spontaneously every day. But braking that fun is really easy, that's why we need designers in the first place.
One of the simplest, if not the simplest, ways to increase fun without breaking gameplay is by making it social. Social games are games that encourages gamers to interact or at least communicate about the gameplay. Social grouping is a fundamentally fun feature in human evolution and a large reason to why we choose to group and evolve societies.

So FUN + SOCIAL = A LOT MORE FUN.

What Tycho and Ozymandias have stumbled upon is the lack of game design. This is what gameplay features used to look like in the 80's and early 90's. Yes it's a good idea to spotlight co-op because it is the most popular form of play in gaming today and developers unaware should become aware of this. But when people from within the industry don't realize they're kicking the dead design horse it scares me.
Is even our own industry unaware of what thought through design actually means for a game? Are we slowly receding into the dark ages of gaming again?

I like to hope not. In the meantime, check out the Bill of Rights and support a valiant effort!

Feedback and rewards in games

I’ve had a few comments asking about game design jargon. Namely what feedback and rewards are, in a recent blog I used Assassins Creed to prove a point about how important feedback is (what would Altair be without the accurate climbing animations?).
I only want to have to write this post once so I’m writing it in English.

Feedback is the single most important factor for creating FUN in a game. Really, it is. Don’t believe me? Let me explain:

When a player interacts with the game that interaction much be shown, if the player does not see or hear what they did they wont understand that they did anything at all and stop trying to do it. Simple eh? It means that anything you do must have an effect, and it must be a relevant effect. This applies to everything in a game, from jumping and shooting to solving the puzzles and completing the game. The word feedback is usually applied to mechanical events (rock hits ground, pistol fired, foot placed on floor etc). But this is a form of reward, actually the type of reward that matters most; When you defeat a boss or finish a level you expect there to be some kind of reward, if there is none you might feel cheated and not want to play another one. But if you lack feedback from your actions nothing in the game will feel worthwhile. If you press jump and the avatar does nothing, or something less then what you expect, you’ll most likely think the controller or the game is broken.

There are as many opinions about good design as there are designers, but so far I’ve yet to hear anyone propose that feedback is in any way less then essential. That’s why its called feedback and not reward, though it actually is the same thing.

Rewards do not have to be tangible (gold coins or a wolf pelt), in the real world most rewards are soft values. A smile or a handshake is often more rewarding then winning a few bucks. This applies to games as well, some designers just seem to forget or are unaware (read: incompetent). These soft values are how we create the feeling of the game. Making sure that jumping in Mario games or climbing in Assassins Creed feels right usually means making sure that the feedbacks, or rewards, are logical and in scale with the action (leap of faith must feel more rewarding and therefore give more feedback/reward then jumping).

Now you know how feedback and rewards are linked together I thought I’d end this short text with a real problem for modern games today:

Jumping in a cartonish game, for example Mario or Jak & Daxter, feels exhilarating because the reward, or feedback, is much more then humans anticipate. This is why its fun.
But in a realistic game, such as Assassins Creed or Gear of War, the feedback must be precisely what humans expect or the illusion of realistic human characters is broken.
So how do we make that as fun?… :)