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The Inherent Moderation of Boardgames

Gavan Brown
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I am a videogamer. I've played more videogames in my life than any person probably ought to. Recently I played and finished Torchlight II. Being a multiplayer gamer, I rarely finish a single player videogame, so I was actually oddly proud of myself. Playing Torchlight is very convenient. First you download it, which took me about 20 minutes. Then I double click the icon and start playing.

One thing that others note is a flaw with boardgames is how "inconvenient" they are. You have to set them up, clean them up, go to someone's house, learn rules. So you are really limited in how often you can play them.

While I think videogames are overall very healthy for a person to participate in, they do come with their own set of baggage. With recent pushes for boardgames to be available in some kind of digital implementation, the future demands that games be more convenient, but convenience has it's own set of negative side effects.

1) Convenience & depth can lead to true player addiction.
I've played participated heavily in ranked ladder systems in Company of Heroes, Starcraft, Heroes of Newearth, Red Alert 2, Command and Conquer Generals, Battle For Middle Earth II, among others. Playing these games was addictive to me, because I was quite good at them. There was a point when I would spend at least 5 hours per night playing Company of Heroes. Playing 5 hours of an RTS per night is not like playing 12 hours of World of Warcraft... it's FAR more taxing on a person. You are constantly in a state of high intensity and constantly faced with important split second decisions. After these sessions my head would be pounding and I'd either be relieved that I had won the majority of my matches, or be extremely angry and disappointed when I didn't perform to the level I needed to advance.

I'd discovered all I could about the game, so why was I still playing? I then realized that I no longer really enjoyed CoH, but rather, I was just addicted to winning. Because the game was so convenient (I simply double clicked the icon on the desktop), I couldn't stop myself. Eventually it started taking a toll on my social life. I was grumpy a lot more if I played poorly, and I took it out on my parents and my GF.

2) Player addiction can destroy the product sustainability of a game
Or, the more addictive a game system is, the more likely people will grow to disdain it if it is convenient, because it is negatively effecting their lives. Players effected by this may not only quit playing, but also tell others to stay away from it. If you talk to an ex-wow player, or an ex-farmville player, they generally do not say "It was a very rewarding experience". Rather, they generally talk about how stupid the game is and how glad they are to be rid of it. They also may talk about how they "don't play videogames anymore". Crack might be fun, but people don't go around recommending it for a reason.

But even if the game is not on the same addiction level as World of Warcraft, games are generally interesting only until the player has learned all they can about it. The more convenient a game is, the faster the learning will be exhausted, and therefore the faster the player will lose interest in it and stop promoting it.

3) Convenience results in player skill developing at a much faster rate, destroying capability of real life social play, thereby promoting isolationism.
When I heard that Yucata.de was implementing A Few Acres of Snow, I was beside myself in excitement. I started playing it incessantly for a few weeks, doing little else. I became so good at the game that no one I know can beat me (even if I play the French). The game is now less interesting, UNLESS I play online, because my opponent's are not challenging. This means I PREFER playing online, against faceless opponents that I have so little connection with, they may as well be AI players. So now I prefer playing AFAoS in solitary isolation. Is that a good thing?


I play more board games than I do videogames, for a few reasons. First, I realized that the true innovations in gameplay were occuring in the boardgame world. Second, boardgames condemn isolationism. Finally, I have realized that because of boardgaming's inherent moderation, it is a healthier and more sustainable hobby.

When you feel unsatisfied with the number of games of Dominion you were able to get in, this is a GOOD THING. It means you are still going to enjoy Dominion when you sit down to play it again. And, while we might WANT to play 100 games of Dominion in a row (Just like we might want to eat an entire bucket of ice cream), it's not necessarily good for us. The "inconvience" of board games forces players to enjoy the hobby of gaming in moderation.

Just like not everyone who drinks alcohol is addicted to it, many people can enjoy videogames in moderation. The point is that videogames provide pleasure, and pleasure on-tap can be destructive force. Now excuse me while I go play Le Havre on my iPhone.
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Thu Oct 4, 2012 6:36 pm
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Permanence VS Impermanence in Persistent Systems

Gavan Brown
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Why did the designers of Risk Legacy make the decisions permanent? The obvious devil's advocate theories are a) permanent stickers are easier/cheaper to produce b) if you don't like how your game turned out, you'll have to go out and buy a new game.

These potentially devious initiatives aside, there are gameplay ramifications of permanence in a persistent world. In Diablo II for example, when you apply your character's stats, they are irreversible. In contrast World of Warcraft and Diablo III both allow people to respec their characters. Which one is better? Well if you ask my good friend Matt Tolman(who happens to be an extremely seasoned Diablo player) he would tell you that Diablo II's permanent system is FAR superior, because the decision is so much more important, which means you have to really really think about and preplan how you want to build this character. The result: when your plan worked out, it feels like your character has more perceived value to you. By contrast, when you mess up your character, it feels extra crappy.

On the other hand, in games like World of Warcraft or Diablo III, you don't need to plan how you want to build your character at all... made a mistake? Respec! The best way of building a character then becomes a simple trial and error approach (respec until you get the highest possible DPS). To many people, the frustration of making a mistake may not be worth the positive feeling of having having a plan work out. Those people will prefer the Diablo III approach.

Permanence
Pro: Increased importance of decisions, because they are irreversible.
Con: Increased frustration and regret when you feel you made the wrong decision.
Preferred by: Hardcore Gamers

Impermanence
Pro: If you screw up, simply change it.
Con: Because the decisions are not permanent, intensity and importance is essentially nil.
Preferred by: Casual Gamers

Some prefer Diablo III, others prefer Diablo II... neither is going to appeal to all people, but they are both valid paths of persistent worlds. The inability to have it both ways represents one of the many paradoxes in the art of game design.

Whether you love it or hate it, the amount of discussion Risk Legacy's permanence has sparked can only be regarded as a success. It must have been an extremely difficult and agonizing decision for the designers to make alterations permanent in this game; a decision that was in and of itself, a permanent one. I respect the hell out of them for staying true to their design vision, as it was a major risk that will leave a legacy.
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Wed Sep 19, 2012 2:46 am
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Randomness in Games

Gavan Brown
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All games must have unpredictability.

I boil it down to one term: Chaos. Which comes in 2 forms:

Player Driven Chaos: Puerto Rico is a good example. Your performance hinges on your ability to accurately determine what other players actions will be. Because you cannot guarantee this 100%, the game is outside your control, and therefore has an element of randomness / chaos / unpredictability. Even Chess or Go have this element, because you cannot predict with 100% assurity what your opponent's moves will be (unless of course you believe in mind reading). The purest form of this is Rock Paper Scissors.

Engine Driven Chaos: Dominion. While you can effect your deck to improve your performance, you cannot guarantee 100% that you will get a good draw. This means that the game has an element of randomness / chaos / unpredictability.

Both of these types of chaos have the same effect, the only fundamental difference is where they originate from. Player Driven Chaos is spawned from conscious thought (within the mind of the player), while Engine Driven Chaos comes from the universe (physics).

Too much chaos can be bad. Not enough chaos can be bad. It really depends on your market. Recently I have observed that popular / accessible games tend to have a lot of chaos. Well respected games tend to have less chaos.
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Fri Mar 9, 2012 3:58 pm
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