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Google Businesses The Internet Entertainment Games

"Necessary Complexity" in Online Games 95

Massively is running a story about Google's short-lived virtual environment, Lively. The article examines why Lively shut down so quickly, and how its simplicity and its attempts at user-friendliness did more harm than good. Quoting: "The idea here is that any interactive system has a certain amount of complexity, usually involving the number and type of tasks which can be performed. Obviously, it is detrimental if the interaction interface is more complicated than it needs to be. That just makes things harder. What's a little less obvious is that reducing the complexity of the interaction interface too far makes things harder as well. Either it makes it hard to perform the tasks, or it reduces the number of tasks which can be performed. ... ideally the interaction interface needs to be of an order of complexity that is coupled to the order of complexity of the number and type of possible tasks. If it rises above that or falls below that, performing tasks becomes harder. Performing tasks with an oversimplified interaction-interface is like trying to make coffee with one hand tied behind your back. Overcomplicating it is like trying to instruct five people to build a shed, when none of you have any language in common."
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"Necessary Complexity" in Online Games

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  • The hey is Lively? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:51AM (#26310075)

    I think one of the problems is I, even as an avid google user and surfer of /. and several many other sites did not even know about "Lively".

    If they advertised this on google's main page, just think of the results? Maybe they had, but I never ever once saw an ad.

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:40AM (#26310291) Journal

    The KDE4 guys too, please...

    Also, kindly remind them that "different" isn't always "better", or "more intuitive", or "revolutionary". Sometimes it's just annoyingly unfamiliar, for no good reason.

  • by neokushan ( 932374 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:03AM (#26310381)

    I don't think "complexity" and "having shit to do that is worth doing" are necessarily the same thing. Simplicity is good, simplicity is why we write those shell scripts instead of typing them out each and every time, I think the problem with Lively was that it had no point, no goal, it was just...pointless. In something like WoW, you have tasks, quests, missions, whatever you want to call them. You have goals, objectives, you have character development. Yet, it's all quite user friendly, I wouldn't call it a "complex" game at all.

  • PlayStation Home (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tokerat ( 150341 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:28AM (#26310453) Journal
    Kinda reminds me of PlayStation Home, except PSH is a marketplace and a way to gather networked game sessions - What was the point of Lively, again?
  • by Klootzak ( 824076 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:55AM (#26310547)

    Of a very well built piece of software (after they fixed the lack of caching) that did nothing new or interesting, aside from let some University Conveners try and impress the female students in their subject.

    It looked to me like someone at Google wanted to create a 3D graphically-enhanced version of IRC, isn't that what IMVU [] already did?
    I mean jeez, WoW players were doing that (in addition to maintaining their virginity) WAY back...

  • by slugtastic ( 1437569 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @07:36AM (#26310719)
    Reminds me of this [] demotivator.
  • Yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:39AM (#26310937) Journal

    Well, actually while it's not a "complex" game, it does kind of illustrate their point.

    Think this: what if we took WoW and simplified it even _more_. Would it make it more fun, or, past a point, it actually turns it into a boring kiddie game? (At this point some guy who got bored of the endgame raids will want to butt in and say it was a boring game to start with. Bear with me for a bit, I'll get to that too.)

    The easiest low-hangin-fruit example is SWG. Sony or the SWG team seem to have had an "OMG, Blizzard is making more money with simplistic games for retards" and proceeded to do the ill advised NGE. That's what the NGE did: over-simplified it. In a major way. Pet classes were gone. The complex and flexible skill system was gone and replaced by a linear level skill that was actually more simplistc than Blizzards (no talents, minimal skills, etc.) The races were simplified into all having the same stats and just different looks. The interface was over-simplified into a bad FPS interface. Etc. The game became a bad FPS with levels and, oh, maybe 10 skills/spells total you'd get by level 80. They actually lost most customers there. While some hung around begging for Sony to undo the stupidity (yeah, right), the number of active players at any given time had sunk like a lead duck. Heck, like a depleted uranium duck.

    Or as an anecdote, there's this guy I know which plays a healer wherever he goes. That's the kind of character he likes to play. So he buys AOC at launch, and makes a healer. According to him, the fact that heals were PBAOE and he just needed to mash one button, actually made him cancel his subscription. He didn't even have to target a party member. Just mash the heal button. It got boring really fast.

    Or let's get even further. There have been games so simplified that you could have played it with a gamepad. Needless to say, none got too many players, even if they survived.

    Think of doing the same to WoW. Heck, I can't even imagine what 4 skills to map on a gamepad's buttons for any hybrid or pet class. If you're, say, a paladin, between healing, seals, auras, etc, you don't even have a button for each _type_ to cycle through them. Shaman? You'd have one button for each element, so no way you'd still have as many totems as today, and that doesn't even leave you with a button for attacking. Warlock or hunter? Lemme see, 1 button for sending in the pet, 1 button to heal the pet, that leaves you with 2 buttons for your spells. You don't even have enough for the "unholy trinity" of Corruption, Curse Of Agony, and Immolate, that warlocks use since the low levels. You don't have enough room as it is, never mind more complex strategies with spells like Fear, drains, or even to make soul shards.

    Would it make it better if we simplified it some more like that? Like heck it would. IMHO it would become a major bore.

    And to get back to WoW and people bored of endgame raids, what's the #1 complaint? That it gets boring. And it's not just the repetition, but also that each class is pushed into some narrow role where most of its skills become useless. There are classes which can get through a raid with 1-2 spells total, e.g., any healer. It's not very exciting in the long run.

    So to get this long rant anywhere near a conclusion: IMHO the secret of WoW isn't just "keep it simple", but that they hit a sweet spot between simplicity and still allowing lots of stuff to do. I.e., pretty much what the summary was saying.

  • Re:Screw that. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:56AM (#26310991)

    Better yet, online games need to stop being total grind fests. Why haven't more MMO's done that yet?

    Simple. Because it's insanely hard to create enough actual content to keep up with players' demands.

    Take a look at a typical first-person shooter. It has an considerable amount of content, but because the gameplay is designed to whisk the player through the environment once (maybe twice in parts), and fairly quickly at that, you end up at 6 to 14 hours as a pretty typical game length. Even then, you're still going to run into a lot of "repeater" content, such as the same types of enemies, similar looking environments, etc.

    If you took the grind out of a typical MMO, you'd still probably only be looking at 20 to 40 hours of original content. With a moderate amount of grind, such as you often find in single-player RPGs, you could stretch out gameplay to perhaps 100 hours or so. Obviously, that's not enough to keep players coming back for the long-term, since the MMO business model (subscriptions) must keep players involved for even longer periods than this. There's just no practical way to give players enough original content to satiate their demands, and hold their interest for long periods of time. So, advancement through the game is deliberately slowed.

    Hence, "grind".

  • by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:12PM (#26312701) Homepage
    Things that are too simple, or things that cannot sufficiently interact, cannot form complex things. Emergent behaviour does require a certain level of interaction. Imagine that boids weren't aware of their closest neighbours or the centerpoint of the swarm - how well would they flock then?
  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @03:59PM (#26313589) Journal

    While I understand what you're saying, it's not a new thing, and is exactly what I meant by the game getting oversimplified at the endgame end. At any rate, the exact complaint and situation existed even way back before the Burning Crusade. In fact, as soon as raid instances got put in the game.

    That's just how a tiered endgame grind works. That's what makes it tiered. To get into T2, your DPS/healing-per-sec/mitigation must be this high, and they won't be unless you farmed the T1 set. That's how the devs make sure you don't skip T1 entirely.

    And yes, the classes got pretty oversimplified at that point too. If you were a DPS-er, you had to do one single thing, DPS. You needed 2 buttons total for that. If you were a priest, you had to heal. Period. As a Holy spec priest you could get through a whole raid instance while using a single button. And as any other spec you just wouldn't get in.

    If anything, I find that the game offers slightly more options and flexibility these days. Mind you, that doesn't necessarily say much. Just that anything is more than zero ;)

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?