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Community Spotlight: Means-Based Game Design

Posted by MikeB Thursday March 18 2010 at 3:14PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Means-Based Game Design” by SirBenedict. The post is SirBenedict’s first post, so he has certainly gotten off to a good start! While it’s still early, and there are not many responses at the moment, I found the content of the original post to be quite thought provoking and I’d like to highlight it this week.

In the thread, SirBenedict wonders why we don’t see more “means based” game design, I.E. design based around enjoying the ride, instead of rushing to the destination:

“What if there were a game about means rather than ends, the experience rather than the completion. It appears to me that "leveling up" "beating the game" or "killing the monster" are not the inherently rewarding components of a game. Take sports as an example. People don't play sports just because they want to win. Rather, they play sports because the mere experience of engaging in them is rewarding on a level far below the abstractions of status and hierarchy. Sipping hot chocolate or smelling a frangrant flower are engaged in because the experiences themselves are rewarding, not because once you've drunk the cocoa you get "cocoa xp" or because you "leveled up your flower-smelling ability." In short, I think that the whole concept of designing games around "success" or "end" should be exchanged for games which focus on the experience of the game or means to its "end".”

Kaiser3282 is definitely feeling what SirBenedict is saying, and relates by stating he currently gets this feeling while playing certain FPS games:

“Would be great if games were designed more along those lines, but instead 99% of the market insists on trying to clone WoW and giving us more and more of this repetetive boring ass gameplay that consists of tab targeting and pressing your most useful hotkeys. I definitely get more of the feeling youre describing when playing FPS games vs othe rplayers because the fight itself is actually exciting, wether you win or lose. Same goes for single player RPGs where theres some real depth to the game and the story and more innovation behind the combat systems to make them unique instead of the same tired crap weve been using on MMOs for like 10 years and theyve all become about getting to end game and being the highest level with the best gear, not about actual fun & skilled combat.”

GreenChaos really loves to prolong things, as he knows once he hits the end game, well, it’s a bit more of a literal end game for him:

“It really depends on the person not the game. I played City of heroes for 5 years and never reached endgame, because I like the process of getter there and creating new characters. But many people rushed to end game, said there was nothing there and quit.

So it really depends more on the player not the game.

What what you really want to talk about is means base game playing not game design. I played WoW for 2 years and never got to end game. When I do hit end game I stop playing the game. For me end game is END GAME.”

SirBenedict’s words strike a particular chord with me, as I’ve been pretty much saying the same things to friends for many years now. I could never get into many MMOGs because it did not matter what metagame options the game offered, as I often felt the journey itself was uninteresting. This is why I too, was into Age of Conan initially. SirBenedict brought up the combat, which is one area I particularly agree with him on. Combat has always been one of those issues for me with MMOGs, and it was impossible for me to “enjoy the journey” when the combat gameplay of most MMOGs tended to be pretty damn archaic, falling way behind the standards players could expect in their traditional game counterparts. Conan, however, offered a more interactive and visceral combat system, which is why I was, admittedly, such a fanboy early on with the game. Of course, the game launched and we all know the story there, it’s not important to go over that. I don’t agree that Conan was about the journey, but I am not sure that SirBenedict was making that point. I think what he was really getting at is that the combat gameplay itself was engaging, which for the most part it was.

I think SirBenedict will have a lot of fans in sandbox gamers as well, as sandbox games tend to inherently be about the journey, after all, there isn’t really an endgame so to speak, other than one you create for yourself. I mention Star Wars Galaxies a lot in my blogs, and while Star Wars Galaxies didn’t have the most exciting or intuitive combat in the world, it offered many gameplay options, including interesting combat options, and this really prolonged my interest in the game.  

How about you? Are you the rush to the end type or the enjoy the journey type? Let us know in the comments below!

japo writes:

I've been playing MMORPG's since the release of Original EQ.  I've played EQ, Asheron's Call, WoW, EQ2, Vanguard, AoC, Fallen Earth, and many many more....and have NEVER reached max level with a character.

I spend so much time enjoying a journey and I have yet to find the end of one.


Thu Mar 18 2010 6:07PM Report
Aristides writes:

I could not agree more.

As a developer, I continue to find that the design of many MMOs focuses very heavily on the Achiever Bartle type.  Given that Achievers represented the largest proportion of the apparent MMO market, at least last time I did any research, designers make this choice with open eyes.  Features that support the needs of the Achiever are no-brainers, and apparently my colleagues also find them easy to design and implement.   Killers are easily supported with increasingly intricate  PvP systems, Socializers are supported with chat and guild systems, and Explorers are the most difficult of the four to support decently.

The Achiever mentality, the climb-the-ladder approach, pretty much mandates design of gameplay that marches players down increasingly convenient paths, makes the themepark easy to create, and I feel has naturally contributed to the overall rarity of the sandbox MMO.

Personally, I'm not an Achiever.  I turned out to be a Social Killer with Explorer tendencies, when I took the Bartle test many years ago.  I play games for the sake of playing, for interacting with others, and contributing to whatever processes are taking place in the environment.  It makes it difficult, even painful at times, to work in an industry where my tastes so strongly conflict with the requirements of my projects.


Thu Mar 18 2010 6:14PM Report
kb4blu writes:

I am not being cyncial but being 64 years old does give you a perspective on things.  When I was growing up my parents told me that the goal in life was to find a job so you could have enough money to always have a place to live and enough food to eat.  My parents came up during the depression and sometimes there was not enough food around to eat 3 times a day. 

Seems like the current generation is hearing that you must be a lawyer or doctor or the boss in a company and fight for the almighty dollar.

So it appears to me that we have a generation that is being raised to try to be the top dog in everything and unless you are at the top you have failed.

I think this is reflected in the gameplay in MMOs today.

Thu Mar 18 2010 8:32PM Report
otomage writes:

Absolutely agree with the idea that the Endgame is The End. Doing the whole experience over is just not fun for me. WoW's endgame never kept me going, and once you've gotten three characters to 80, then you pretty much have done it all in my mind. The dungeon crawl just wasn't for me.

Planetside and UO were the two MMOs that had my sub for more then two years. The content was much more means based, and once you got to the top BR, you hadn't done it all, because all that really ment was that you had more options on how to do the same thing-kill as many people as you could and advance your faction. And it was fun. UO didn't have an endgame, it had an experience that you were offered and you had tons of fun once you had figured it out and accepted.

The true problem with todays games is that they're designed around the same principles that we've played over and over. Thankfully, games are breaking out of that mold. We're seeing upcoming games like Love, APB, Dawn of Fantasy and Undead Lab's upcoming zombie MMO. The future is in these offshoots of the traditional MMO-Cross platform games are coming out, and not just those "MMOFPS's" which are only disguised lobby shooters. We're seeing real progress to games that are changing the market forever.

Thu Mar 18 2010 9:40PM Report
Roman291 writes:

I think SirBenedict is right. I think it isn't which mmo is the best (the mmorpg that everyone congregates to), its the mmorpg that fits the personality/game style of  a player.

For me I like I customization, I like to try new things. That's why I fell in love with pre-New Game Enhancements Star Wars Galaxies. It gave me almost complete control of what I could do to my character could be. I could be a ranger/bounty hunter, a combat medic/commando, or  whatever.

After NGE, I went on to World of Warcraft because it was the new fad. I never really liked World of Warcraft because it restricted customization. Especially the way it restricted classes. I felt caged. I played a couple of games with more customization, like City of Heroes, but they just didn't have the magic Star Wars Galaxies had to keep me hooked.


Thu Mar 18 2010 10:09PM Report
wootin writes:

Your Bartle classification has the answer to why we are still stuck with lame "here's your cookie" games. I'm an ESAK myself, Explorer, Socializer, Achiever, Killer - and that means that I can enjoy just doing stuff in game that doesn't advance me personally. The rewards are nice and a good way to mark your journey, but endgame? Why the hell would I want to end a game I'm having fun with?

However, there are a LOT of people with Achiever up front and the rest all behind. Those are the people who can be predicted. "If we put Carrot A here, Player B will pay us for as long as it takes to get to it." That's something that game companies can put into a spreadsheet, and THAT makes the financial people all happy in their starched tighty-whiteys, which in  turn makes them easier to get money from.

The sad part is, those are never the long-term players. They will play for exactly as long as it takes to get the carrots. Then they will go elsewhere for more carrots. It's everyone ELSE that stays for the game, not the rewards. But we don't show as a distinct spot on an MMO company's radar, therefore we don't get games that just let us play.

Sadly, sandbox games are excellent for us. Unfortunately, they're tied to PvP play, and those are the worst kind of Bartle profile to team with anyone else. Their behavior is exactly like Achievers, only their carrot is their killscore, and they're also the smallest group of the 4. Since people like me are in game for a different reason, when we get tired of them ruining our game, we leave, then they leave and the game dies for lack of population.

Bottom line, MMO companies need to stop trying to please everyone with every game and start targeting players by their gameplay profiles.

Thu Mar 18 2010 10:17PM Report
chronbodi writes:

Hmm. Interesting points but I can't say I wholeheartedly agree. As far as MMOs are concerned I typically find them much more entertaining once I've reached max level. For WoW anyway. For City of Heroes I enjoyed the character creation process more than anything, primarily because I found the gameplay horribly repetitive at every level. As far as SirBenedict's statements, well... I'm not sure who he is playing sports with to be honest. I understand the sentiment but the sports analogy doesn't cut it for me. Once I got past little league baseball the motto was "Win at all costs." Followed later by "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." That's why fights break out between players at slow pitch softball games. I'm not a super competitive gamer, not a huge fan of PvP in games really; but when I play football, or rugby, or even golf the competition is fierce and cutthroat. *shrug* To each their own I suppose.

Fri Mar 19 2010 12:49AM Report
BadSpock writes:

I definitely like winning and "getting stuff" so I'd put myself fairly high on the achiever score, and I'm competitive enough to where I do get a good thrill out of PvP and like being in a top-guild and being "one of the best" for PvE.

But at the same time... after 5 years on and off of "chasing the carrot" in WoW I really am looking for something more.

I started back in UO and then moved to Earth and Beyond for a short stint before SWG came out.

Looking back I do miss the freedom and the customization, but playing EvE recently has shown me that I also cannot simply accept a lack of developer content, and I don't like FFA PvP because in a RPG-stat based MMO there will always be "noobs" who are slaughtered by "vets."

My hopes right now rest on Final Fantasy XIV. Hopefully, Square Enix can deliver a game that truly breaks the mold - offering ample exploration, personalization, and freedom while still allowing a good mix of solo and group content, all while offering great story and exciting developer content.

Fri Mar 19 2010 9:07AM Report
UnsungToo writes:

I dunno, it's so much more than all that... Some stories are so good I want to get to the end to see what happens, and then some stories are so good I don't want them to end. Like "Lost" I love the story and want to see what happens but I don't want it to end. After I've defeated the black smoke monster I want to enjoy my paradise, and deal with whatever troubles arise from there on out.

But for me it is mostly about enjoying the game for what it is at the moment,"The Journey", tinkering, exploration, I love to explore.

If I could have it my way I'd like to be able to get through the story slowly then keep playing my own story. Or maybe there wouldn't be an end to the story, maybe I could just keep going about my own way enjoying it for what it is, where I've been, what I've done, where I might go, what I'm doing now, what I have to do and just keep going.

Fri Mar 19 2010 9:57AM Report
ZoeMcCloskey writes:

Agree so very much.

The only endgames that didn't end the game for me was also in pre-nge SWG, I absolutely loved crafting there.  The other game that I played in the endgame a ton was DaoC up until Atlantis.  I'm just not into raiding.  I am also almost entirely unmotivated by gear(fluff and appearance based items do interest me).  I wonder why with as often as pre-nge SWG is brought up that not one single gaming studio out there has taken the HINT!

Fri Mar 19 2010 10:40AM Report
McGamer writes:

 It would be nice to see more means-based games for sure. I feel the all too common supply of ends-based games is having a bad effect on the modern gamer personas. More often than not gamers are becoming more greedy, self-centered, and uncaring about other gamers because they are focused solely on their own character's "end-game" accomplishments.

LFG used to have a more community-based feeling but now those LFG are shunned and ignored in most mmo's today. Not to mention the majority of any mmo community also shun people using advice channels to ask questions...they are instead told to shut-up and go to some wikia website...completely ignoring the purpose of a advice channel...

Communities used to be a lot more friendly but not anymore. 

Fri Mar 19 2010 12:41PM Report
Blazz writes:

@chronbodi: WoW's design is top heavy, probably because they knew that most players will hit the level cap, and then they designed lots, and lots, and lots, of difficult, and often quite interesting and epic content there for you to chew on while waiting for the next expansion.

The reason that you enjoy the endgame content there is because the rest of the game was designed as a short walk through the park, so to speak. The designed it specifically to not be cared about, except perhaps for the artwork.

Almost every quest leading up to level 60 is "kill this, get reward" or "take this from here to there, get reward" where the reward is an item or gold, and some experience, helping to push you just that little bit further towards endgame content.

Now that you can join a group for a dungeon in minutes, and usually finish a full dungeon from finding a group to completion in about an hour, the whole process is designed to keep players at the top happy, just getting the gear to be good enough for ICC so they can get the ICC gear (and, in my case, kill Arthas, the prick) and then get the next expansion and kill the next few levels doing meaningless quests until they're 85 and then they can do the new raids and dungeons and get gear and kill the new bosses and...


Just a few thoughts on why you might be enjoying the endgame of WoW more than the journey - the journey was created five years ago with the thoughts "this'll get them to endgame!" which is where they put all their creativity and thought.


As for me, I like having fun. EVE isn't quite cutting it there, either... I need a better corporation, so that I have a clear purpose (other than getting ISK to get skills to train them up to get ISK faster to get skills/items to train them up to get ISK faster to...)

Fri Mar 19 2010 10:36PM Report writes:
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