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The Free Zone: It's About Having Fun

Columns By Richard Aihoshi on March 01, 2010

It's About Having Fun

Like probably the vast majority of my fellow Canadians, I spent a good amount of time during the past two weeks watching the Winter Olympics. The fact that they took place in Vancouver raised my interest level well above what it would have been had the event taken place elsewhere. And of course, I was glued to the TV yesterday afternoon for the men's hockey final between the home team and the USA.

Never having been a high-performance athlete, I can only imagine how much pressure the members of the Canadian team must have felt playing for the gold, at home, in our national sport, with an entire nation's expectation of victory riding on their shoulders. What's more, they were up against a team that had already beaten them once, with a hot goalie whose play earned him tournament MVP honors, and after narrowly escaping an ignominious collapse in their semi-final. So, it was interesting that on a few occasions when the camera showed the Canadian bench, some of the players could be seen smiling.

I'd like to think it was because they were having fun.

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What does this have to do with MMOGs? When I saw those hockey players smiling, it reminded me that there are times when people, myself included, lose sight of what's most important about games, which is having fun.

As players, it can be all too easy to forget that what's enjoyable isn't the same for everyone. This can lead to thinking of one's own perceptions and preferences as absolutes. "This is great fun for me" morphs into "This is great fun." The latter is different because it's unqualified. It applies to everyone. Or should - at least that's how we think, even if only for a few fleeting moments. And yes, I did say "we". I'm not fond of thinking this way and try not to, but I have done so and may well again despite my intentions to the contrary.

The thing is this. If I happen to dislike something, no matter how strongly, that other people regard as fun, as long as I'm not negatively impacted, so what? Live end let enjoy.

Game writers and publications can also neglect to focus sufficiently on fun. They're also prone, at times, to thinking in a similar manner, and thus to basing their evaluations upon only their own values. An obvious example is the degree of significance often placed on the use of advanced graphical technologies. I like pretty pictures as much as the next person, maybe more; I've even had a part-time fine art business for a number of years. However, visuals don't make a game fun. The most they can do is broaden and enhance the overall experience.

Quite a few F2Ps have already been live elsewhere for some time before they arrive in this market. They don't have the latest graphics. Indeed, some are even 2D. But they've typically managed to achieve at least some degree of success, attracting many thousands and even millions of players in other regions. What seems to get lost in the shuffle here is the fact that something appealed to them - that something in those games is fun for lots of people.

I think there are times when developers also forget to put enough emphasis on fun. For example, how much time do you spend just moving around from place to place in your favorite MMOG, whether by running, riding or some other means? And how much fun is it? If you could choose to arrive at your destination instantly by making use of a spell, teleportation scroll or whatever, would you? I can state with certainty that I would, and not just once in a while, but the vast majority of the time.


It's supposed to be about the fun of the game.

Recovery downtime happens to be one of my pet peeves. To be specific, it annoys me that as my character rises in levels, it takes longer and longer to regain full health and/or mana when they are nearly depleted. Is this supposed to be fun? It may be for others, but it's definitely not for me. In any case, it seems to be widely regarded as fine. I hope some developers out there are seriously questioning the status quo and considering alternatives, but I'd be pleasantly surprised if there are many doing so.

Yes, I'm aware less downtime of any type means more rapid consumption of the game content. So? Does that somehow make it okay that a portion of my in-game time isn't fun? I'll grant there has been significant improvement in this area since a decade ago when death penalties could be far more onerous. But "not nearly as bad" isn't synonymous with "fine" or "fixed".

There isn't a single solution out there. Indeed, some people are quite content with the status quo, or even pine for a return to the ways of the past. I hope they find games that give them what they want. I'll most likely be playing something else that I consider more fun. And maybe even smiling.

The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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