Addictive Games

As anyone who is close to me knows, I play a game called “EverQuest”. EverQuest (or “EQ”) is an addictive role-playing game — sufficiently addictive that there is at least one “EverQuest Widows” group run by people whose partners, loved ones, and so forth have lost interest in them and switched to playing a rather silly, tedious game.

OK, so I call it a “silly, tedious game” and yet I play it? Well most games are silly, that’s the point. If you’ve ever seen a perfectly happy couple or group of friends arguing over a hand of Bridge you’ll know what I mean. But tedium in a voluntary past-time seems to me to be strange.

It seems to me that the creators of EverQuest have stumbled onto a “magic balance” of entertainment, challenge, tedium, and repetition that sucks people in. I’m not sure that if the game were, say, more entertaining, less challenging, less tedious, and less repetitious it would be more successful or less. I’d like to think it would be more successful but I’m not sure.

One of the critical factors of EverQuest’s success is the camaraderie of players. One of the reasons for this camaraderie is the brutally annoying, repetitious, opaque nature of the game. For example, all of the “cities” in the game are laid out insanely, have no sign-posts, and are split into “zones” which are tedious to cross (and one can stumble into accidentally). Consequently, most players’ first experience of the game is becoming helplessly lost in their home city with nothing but an almost sadistically worthless map and nothing to do. To deal with this one needs help. One tends to become friends with people one helps or is helped by. This is your entry into the EverQuest “online community”.

Next, everything in the game takes time. A lot of time. So, for example, you might want some rags to wear and a slightly better weapon. This will take you hours if not days. For example, to make one piece of leather armor (of which you may want ten pieces) you need a skin from an animal. Not every animal has a skin, apparently, so you’ll need to kill a LOT of animals. It’s dangerous killing the animals. This will take you a LOT of time and the assistance of your friends. So by the time you’re done you’ve probably played for tens of hours with a small circle of friends, set up consistent times to get online and hook up, and are starting to feel obligations to show up, return favours, and so forth. You’re hooked.

In order to create a game a typical player will play for 20-40h, most game designers put in a LOT of content. For the 20-40h you play their game there will probably be at least 10h of original, seen-for-the-first-time, content. To create this content, a group of writers and artists will have slaved away for six to eighteen months.

Now, to give your small circle of friends their 20-40h of entertainment, collecting pelts, making armor, recovering their corpses, and so forth, the content developers of EverQuest have had to do what appears to me to be very little work. On the down-side you’ve probably only seen 5 minutes (if time is a sensible measure) of original content.

Is it good that EQ is able to “entertain” so much for so little effort. Where is the “entertainment” coming from? Is it entertainment when it starts to seem boring, repetitive, and stupid?

It seems to me that most of EQ’s entertainment comes from the players, but that their contributions aren’t being leveraged at all, while the contributions of the designers of the game (5 minutes worth of original content entertains people for 20-40h) is leveraged hugely.

I think that the game that displaces EQ from the top of the online heap will be the first game that figures out how to better leverage the creativity of players without spiraling out of control.

I look forward to playing it.

Resolution Systems: Sweet Spots

Ideal resolution systems for RPGs ought to have a large “sweet spot”. What’s a sweet spot?

Well, if you use 3d6 (the way GURPS and Hero System do) then your “sweet spot” is the range of “difficulties” represented by having to roll 8 or less to 13 or less… The probability curve is very narrow, which means that in GURPS the range of human capability ends up being pretty narrowly defined (a character with an ability score of 9 is pathetic, while 15 is awesome). In Hero System almost anything you want to do is trivial or impossible.

The ideal system would be exponential in generating probable outcomes, something along the following lines: if score A opposes score B and they are equal, A has a 50% chance of prevailing. For every point by which A exceeds B, the chance of failure is reduced by 5%. For every point by which B exceeds A, the chance of success is reduced by 5%.

Well that’s RuneQuest opposed resolution, right? NO! RuneQuest success chance goes 50%, 55%, 60%, etc. I’m talking about 100 – 0.5 * 0.95^n where n is A-B. In other words, if A exceeds B by 100, going to 101 reduces the chance of failure by a further 5%.

Of course this is a pain in the neck for dice-based games, but it works jim dandy for computers šŸ™‚

What Iā€™m Up To

I’m currently working on enhancements to One Two Red Blue’s “Manager | Builder | Stage” toolset. This is a multimedia presentation system used by most of our clients. It’s written using a lethal combination of Macromedia Director, Flash, and RealBasic.

I’m also working on a new game with Andrew Barry (http://www.barrysoftware.com/) creator of RealBasic and Spotlight Debugger (among other things) and co-creator [with yours truly] of Prince of Destruction and the MARS engine that powered it.

Some people occasionally ask me what if anything I’ve done with ForeSight lately. The answer is *not much*. If I update it, I will probably make it a “D20 System” — I think it would be nice to have a D20 game with a resolution system that works properly…