You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I’ve been reading up a lot on Google of late. There have been many things of note that I have really taken from them as a company and some of the theories that they work off of. In particular, I have found it astonishing to see how well it seems that what Google does carries so well into Game Design theory and game development. Because of that, It hought it would be a good opportunity to bring in a new law of Raph Koster’s and take some of what I’ve learned from Google into the MMORPG realm.

Now this realization of MMO & Google love leaves us with an obvious rule of Koster’s. And that is the law that essentially says that waiting in lines is a good thing:

Socialization requires downtime
Whatever the rewarded activity in your game is, it has to give people time to breathe if you want them to socialize.

This is an argument that I have made a few times in the past on this blog. I realize why having a downtime is annoying to many players. For one, you are paying for the service and certainly you don’t want to pay for the right to wait in a long line. This is especially true for people who have jobs and/or real lives. You may enjoy the game but you don’t want to spend half of your time getting around or waiting to do something. And this is the general reason why no one likes this general concept.

However despite this general dislike, the theory holds true. You don’t have to like something for it to be true after all. I’m not the only one who agrees with this theory either (and I’m not even talking about Raph here). Google fully believes in this theory too, so much so that they actually make sure that they make sure that lines in their various cafeterias are timed so that they aren’t extremely long but long enough that engineers have time to converse and think up new ideas while waiting for their yummy food. Check out this video at about 6 minutes in.

It is called Queuing Theory and yes it is actually that some people study. The reason that people is because corporations need to study it because in shopping markets if they don’t make people wait, the corporation has to spend too more money and that just won’t do. Google has different motives, they want people getting together and this should be the same motive that MMO developers should be following. We want the player to wait so that they meet people new. Even more, we want people to meet  in unusual circumstances and become friends fas.

Granted because of this, waiting in line at a dock for the ship to come or waiting your turn for a quest item is not the ideal solution. The ideal solution is to have these meeting times and down times in the midst of something that is actually happening. For instance, raids upon a city in which two strangers are charged with the task of protecting the town. During the fight they won’t get to know each other but between waves there is plenty of time. Or people coming to town to sell to their finds to the local merchants. These are actually good ways to meet. Even caravans traveling from one town to another is acceptable because people will talk while traveling. This is what is needed.

All this really does lead me to a new rule. A rule I am actually quite surprised that Raph never included in his original list because I’ve actually heard several developers over the years comment on the basic concept:

Emmert’s Theorem
The developer needs to listen to the player, but it is up to the developer to figure out what the player is actually asking for. The player almost never knows what they actually wants.

This theorem is named after Jack Emmert of City of Heroes and Champions Online fame. I don’t think he was the first dev to really consider this thought, but for some reason he sticks out in my mind. Essentially, the problem with the players voicing what they want is that they want everything given to them and then once they get it, they realize they never wanted that and leave. If developers gave players what they wanted, every MMORPG would be a game where every class had awesome heals, buffs and the ability to one-hit any monster in the game. Monsters would all drop hundreds of plats on every encounter and the best loot in the game, and wouldn’t be able to hit the player. People would be able to instantly travel wherever they wanted and instantly finish every quest without work.

The problem is they wouldn’t play. This leads me to a corollary argument that would go with this law.

The Death Paradox
Dieing isn’t fun, but neither is not dieing.

This paradox isn’t only around for death, you can see it in a lot of types of play, it is just emphasized by death more than any other. The problem is that more and more games are giving up on having death penalties because it isn’t “fun” to lose things when you die. Some of these lessoning punishments are good, some have turned out to be bad. The problem though is that it ends up not being fun.

One of my larger of my many complaints of World of Warcraft was that I just didn’t care that I died. I ran around fighting monsters naked and just died and died and died.  I would purposely go in and fight stuff much higher in level than me because it didn’t matter if  I lost and got better equipment and xp that way.  This led me to getting bored far quicker than I probably should have and I just couldn’t stomach the game.

I think this is a fairly common dilemma for this type of game, yet players will always ask for less and less death penalties regardless of how this affects the game, similar to how they request less downtime. They key to everything written in this particular post isn’t that players are stupid. On the contrary, players are very intelligent, they just don’t see the forest for the trees.


2 Replies to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

  1. Gosh, I am pretty sure what you called Emmert’s Theorem is a much older industrial design principle. 🙂 I would be very surprised if it doesn’t predate game design as a business.

    1. Without a doubt it predates him, he’s just the one I had in mind when I decided that it really should be an MMO law for some reason. Maybe because he is one of the last lead designers in MMORPGs who still talks to the fan base, most leads do that anymore.

      At any rate, I do think most of the MMORPG laws tend to pre-date game design. However, I think the value of the laws isn’t that they are specific to MMORPGs, more that they are very important to MMORPGs… like Queuing Theory = Socialization Requires Downtime.

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