Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Player and the Hater

or, the person who is enjoying a game versus the person who is not

     I  have touched earlier on a theory that the most important factor driving a player's experience is their expectations, and setting their expectation is the key to game design. The idea is that a player who is enjoying a game will expect to continue enjoying it, and their mind will reaffirm that belief as they continue playing, even through periods where the game stops producing gratifying experiences.

     However, what happens when a player stops enjoying the game? Can we do anything about it? I have a theory that the most intuitive amount of time to complete a goal in a game is based on the time it takes to compete one stage to that goal. For example:
- experience levels should increase at a rate related to the average duration of a fight.
- Health should drain and recover at rates related to the speed of swings.
- The space between each enemy should be determined by the run speed.

     A game designer may be able to set a pace (perhaps a period spent per each unique environment, or maybe the time required to get through dialog and cutscenes) and from that extract "ideal" rates for each goal. The relationship could be an algebraic formula using the time of the goal, the time of one step to that goal, the intended pace of the game, and a constant. Maybe something like:
step / goal = 1 / (pace^const)
But really I shouldn't just guess at it, the point is that people draw long-term expectations based on their immediate input.

     Now here's how that idea relates to player who are enjoying or hating the game.

     If a happy player will probably continue to be happy, then a player who expects to hate a game will probably find reasons to support that belief. In a way this would produce the same result via Stevie's Constant- for a game with a slow pace, both players would be looking ahead at a long drawn-out experience. One player would be excited and the other player would be dreading it.

     If Stevie's Constant holds any water and we can know this about the players, then we can work to mitigate the effect. Perhaps during our long drawn out gameplay we'll actually have a secondary gameplay control that accelerates- keeps bringing faster inputs to engage that unhappy player, with perhaps an aesthetic hint at the overall pace of the game. It can be non-critical and optional, so our satisfied player can keep playing the nice slow game he likes, while the unhappy player has an "exit" to distract them while they absorb the broader game experience.

     So to answer our question: Yes, we can do something to help unhappy or biased players see our game for what it is- in theory. It depends upon two ideas, namely that players will have a tendency to reaffirm their expectations while playing a game. The other notion is that the immediate controls and mechanic cycles represent the complete game in the mind of a player. Using these ideas together we can try to gather our audience into a certain frame of mind and ready them to experience the game the way we intended- in a way that strengthens the art form as a medium for self-expression.

Thanks for reading.