The power of habit in gamedesign

I love to talk and I love games. So naturally I often talk about games with my friends. The debates often circle points about game design and one of the usual sticking points is my belief that habits, or possibly the security of the known, affect our play and our game design. My idea is that the things we are used to always seem like good things, things to be fought for if challenged. We’re always slightly against doing something other then what we’re used to because it doesn’t feel right, mostly because of nostalgia. This is a slightly odd notion but I’ve just noticed the supreme example of this behavior in game developers:

Hello Kitty Online. HK online is the social MMO based on the famous character and world of Hello Kitty. It’s awesomely cute and looks fun and easy. When I was invited to the beta I was excited and happy, albeit a bit ashamed about my own reaction.

I downloaded the huge client, wondered a bit about why such a game needs GB’s of data and booted it up.

Hello Kitty online is a World of Warcraft clone. Seriously.  It even has kill-collect quest grinding. It handles the same way, has the same systems… Why?

Yes, WoW is the most successful MMO of all time and making your systems at least as good as WoWs should be every MMO developers intent. But nothing in the Hello Kitty universe lends itself to the fiction the game play systems of WoW builds up, surely there are some systems we can copy and others we can leave out. For instance, killing in HK online seems a bit awkward. When did Hello Kitty become Dexter Morgan, hiding a serial killer under the cute & fluffy shell of a small rabbit.

I have no idea why the developers chose to copy WoW to this extent but I think most of them didn’t even realize they were doing it. They thought this is what an MMO is. No, it isn’t. That’s what World of Warcraft is. We can make almost anything into an MMO.

That’s how powerful habit is, we tend to stop thinking why? and instead think this is how it works. Designers need to watch out for this behavior, because it’s an artificial boundary that impeded game development. What if we could make HK online with game play systems that give exact same results for the players as the game play systems of WoW but don’t seem even moderately alike. We can do that, if we don’t fall pray to the power of habit.