The Laws of Player Justification

Today I wanted to talk about three laws that share a common theme in game design. This theme is why a player plays online games in particular. What do they want and what are they hoping to get out of their experience? None of these laws are very original in their naming convention, they are Baron’s Law, Rickey’s Law, and Elmqvist’s Law.

I’m going to buck my trend of trying to lead one into the other, instead I just want to dig into these laws and critque them for what they are without the lead-in.

Rickey’s Law
People don’t want ‘A story’. They want *their* story.

I think this particular law is interesting in that I am a very story driven gamer. I love story. Moreover, I love an MMO with a story. I don’t just want to run around the game and kind of play around, I want to actually be involved with something greater than myself, but yes I want to be involved so ultimately it must be my story as well.

I feel Koster takes this particular rule a little too literally looking at SWG & UO though. Both these games were almost completely devoid of story. I think it is largely because of by *their* story, he believes that this is the day-to-day lives of players. If you provide a player with the tools, they will do the hard work for you. And I don’t particularly disagree with this point. Some of my fondest times in MMORPGs were when dragons started attacking town because they ran out of food to eat (a system they took out) in UO. This is a player-driven story that actually worked really well in and of itselves. But then I compare stories of WoW and EQ2 and I can’t help but feel less than awestruck by them. They both had stories, and in fact I was quite surprised at how good the EQ2 story was at times, but they weren’t anything like the Asheron’s Call stories of old.

I think a more clarified version of this law might be that “People don’t want to ‘A story,’ they want to be part of “a story.” This to me seems to catch the spirit a lot better than what I think Koster took it to mean.

Elmqvist’s Law
In an online game, players find it rewarding to save the world. They find it
more rewarding to save the world together, with lots of other people.

Raiding is great, but if you could kill all that alone, would it be better?I almost completely disagree with this law. I do think there is a hint of truth to it. I don’t know if people actually find it MORE rewarding to save the world with lots of other people. I think it is fun to play with other people, and it is more rewarding to kill large opponents even if that requires lots of other people. But I think that it would be more rewarding to save the world alone, especially if there are other players who aren’t.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do think there is great reward in saving the world with a lot of your pals, I just think most would chose to do it by ourselves if we could. It is our nature. It is easier to do it by ourselves really because you don’t have all the organizing needed, the headbutting of egos, etc. I can give WoW & AC as examples where players chose solo over grouping when the solo is good enough to level in and of itself. It therefor has become the duty of developers to try to keep players playing together. If this law were true, this duty would not exist.

Baron’s Law
“Glory is the reason why people play online; shame is what keeps them from playing online. Neither is possible without other people being present.”

I have a harder time putting words into why I kind of disagree with this. I mean it is a very true rule, yet I think shame is a smaller deal than people think. I think people play games online in an attempt to escape from shame they may feel in the real life. My basic point is that the anonymity that an MMO grants lessens the amount of shame that there is. Yet, there is still shame in these games. Especially to newer players, and this is largely one of the main reasons why a new player may not be willing to take on the genre. That and time.

One Reply to “The Laws of Player Justification”

  1. My take:

    Rickey? Definitely. Rickey’s Law is one reason why I’d take a tabletop over a MMO any day; I want to be making an impact on the world, and I want that impact to be something that isn’t being mirrored by half the world. (See your answer to Elmqvist’s.)

    Elmqvist? Not so sure about that one. I agree with you that saving the world with large groups of people isn’t as fun as Elmqvist would imply; you get lost in the crowd pretty easily, and there are no heroes in a mob. But I wouldn’t want to save it alone, either; one of the reasons why I game is for what one of my professors referred to as asabiyah, or group-feeling. I want there to be people with whom I can say “Remember when we did this?” Since let’s face it, people who were there will have more fun talking to you about it than people who weren’t, who will in turn have more fun than people who don’t even understand the game. Give me a small group–three to five is optimal, but I could probably go higher.

    Baron? I agree with you; this one’s a hard one. It’s not shame that keeps me off the MMO; it’s other factors. And I don’t think glory alone would get me to play. But I can see where it’s applicable to other people.

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