A Game Design Tangent

I was reading a post over at Broken Toys… here… and the topic is interesting, but something in one of the comments caught in my brain, and its been knocking around all day, so I decided to poor it out.

Wanderer said:
A lot of people play golf.

Yes, alot of people play golf. And it stands to reason that someone who has played golf for three years is going to be better at it than someone who just picked up his clubs (barring natural talent and people who never learn). MMOs with level disparities can’t be compared to golf unless you segregate golf courses so that only people with certain handicaps, lifetime averages, or particular sets of clubs can play on them. If that were true, then a guy who just bought clubs won’t be able to play on the same courses his new friends who’ve been playing for three years can play on.

Golf isn’t like an MMO because it is inherantly designed on different fundamentals, and in most (if not all) MMOs, there are time consuming or otherwise daunting barriers between people who have invested time and people who have not. Even “casual” MMO players will eventually achieve a position where the barriers between them and new players is too big for them to comfortably ignore (I don’t care how nice and giving a person you are, if you are level 60, sitting around “helping” a level 10 eventually gets mind numbingly boring). Unfortunately, most (if not all) of these barriers are the rewards of playing the game… so the game is designed to divide players. Sure, it may encourage them to work together in small groups (anywhere from 2 to 200), but overall the rewards of them game serve to divide those that succeed from those who fail or have not yet tried.

Back to golf… yes, a lot of people play golf. But on the flipside, a lot more people don’t play golf. The rules of golf do not change to try to lure in more players (club regulations maybe, but I haven’t seen a golf course set all its holes to par 15s just to make people feel better about their golf game). Game designers need to take that approach. You are designing a game for a certain group of people, the people who enjoy the kind of game you design. That group might be huge, or it might be tiny. The goal of funding a game is to only spend money in proportion to the size of your intended audience. You don’t spend $300 million to build a game that 5,000 people are going to play, and if you manage to spend $4 million and 6 million people show up… well… you win. But more important than the money is to define your audience, design for them, and release a game.

Once the game is out there, you have to observe what people do with the game you made. Some of them are going to silently enjoy the game. Some will loudly complain that it sucks. Some will find ways to “break” the game. Some will loudly praise it as the second coming. Overall though, to some degree, you have to ignore the people who are angry and playing your game wrong, but don’t ignore the people who are having fun and playing your game wrong because even if its not what you intended, they like what you did and it may be time to learn from them instead of trying to tell them how to play. But above all else, don’t try to make everyone happy. You will fail. Just accept the fact that some people will play your game, and some people will play golf.

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