Right, Green Armadillo over at Player Versus Developer has some thoughts about how games need to be fun even, or especially, for the play to win crowd These thoughts are apparently triggered by the demise of the Tales of Tyria podcast, whose producers have decided that winning in GW2′s World vs World isn’t fun, when the most effective way to win (getting a big mass of players together and blasting through anything that stands in your way) isn’t fun. Three thoughts occur to me off the back of reading this:
One – what is or isn’t fun in a game is pretty damned subjective. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but one man’s zerging is another man’s exciting massed battles. Likewise, I’ve seen people praise arenas as the highest form of PvP (because the numbers are perfectly balanced so it’s all about the skill and teamwork) while others condemn them as the lowest, most debased form of dumbed-down PvP because it eliminates so much of the complexity you find in open world PvP. It’s right and proper for people to say that something isn’t fun for them, but it’s another to say that it’s not fun for anyone. The sheer size of the zerg groups in WvW (and the relaxed banter I hear in some of them) suggest strongly that there are quite a few people out there who DO find that sort of PvP to be fun.
Two – “fun” is a word that’s as hard to define, and perhaps as meaningless, as “fair”. I know Raph Koster has a theory of fun which states that what people find fun is learning and mastering games, but I see plenty of people describing as “fun” things that just don’t fall into that category. Some people define fun as getting phat loot – not the earning of it, simply the having of it. If they logged in and found purple epixx in their mailbox, that would be “fun”. For others, “fun” is winning – doesn’t matter how they win, or if it was a difficult fight or a walk-over, they just want to see their name at the top of a leaderboard. Others enjoy a hard-fought contest, and for some people “fun” is pretty much purely about socialising and the game just provides a framework for that by putting people together and giving them something to talk about. The phrase “this game isn’t fun” is meaningless unless I have some idea od what you DO think is fun, because your fun may not be my idea of fun.
Finally – “playing to win” may not always be compatible with “having fun”. The definition of a someone who “plays to win” is that his guiding touchstone is doing what it takes to win. Having fun, or anything else, is secondary to that. Playing to win involves ruthlessly optimising for efficiency, because the second you choose anything other than the thing that will make you win then you aren’t “playing to win”, you’re just playing. The guy who plays to win is pretty much doomed not to have fun at least some of the time – if his definition of “fun” is anything other than “I enjoy winning” then he’s going to find that sometimes the most fun way of doing things isn’t always the most efficient. On the flip side, if for him fun is defined as “I’m winning” then he’s going to be disappointed when he runs into opponents who are capable of beating him.
None of this takes away from the obligation on game designers to try and provide as enjoyable an experience for as many players as possible, for as much of the time as possible. But wanting to guarantee fun for everyone might be a tall order when “fun” is as nebulous and subjective a term as it is. Guaranteeing fun for a sub-set of players who will reject fun if it means giving themselves the slightest advantage may be an even taller order.