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"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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  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:06AM (#26310837) Homepage

    What are the goals and objectives in Second Life then?

  • by firmamentalfalcon ( 1187583 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:56AM (#26310993)

    The argument's flawed. Lively had a simple interface and it failed, so let's blame it on the simple interface!

    Given _a_ program, there is a direct relationship between the simplicity of the interface and quality. In the set of all programs that allows for the same set of interactions, the program with the simplest interface wins.

    The problem with Lively is that its set of interactions was not large enough. Its problem was not the interface that delivers these interactions. It's like saying the monitor isn't working when your program doesn't compile.

  • by Lordfly ( 590616 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @11:20AM (#26311665) Homepage Journal that it's been reduced to such a simple game that there's nothing to do. It's a simulation game without any simulation.

    Any game that touts a "simulation" of an entire galaxy that doesn't even let carnivores and herbivores interact on planet surfaces has gotten nearly everything wrong.

    Maxis's previous game SimLife had more complex systems interacting than Spore does. And Sim Life came out in 1993.

    The most interesting games, to me, are the ones that have multiple systems that interact with each other with simple, but easily combine-able mechanics. Simcity's a good example... traffic effects land value which effects what goes on the land which effects your tax revenue, and so on. Those kinds of games offer tons of replayibility, because you're constantly changing systems that affect other systems.

    Anyways, just my two cents. Spore might be popular, but it was my biggest gaming disappointment in half a decade.

  • Re:Yes and no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @12:18PM (#26311971)

    It's not even the class X vs. class Y "ZOMGWTF, nerf X" rants. Right now, there's an insanely huge thread about damagemeter (an addon that lets you see who dishes out how much damage), and that you don't get taken along if you can't deal at least X damage. Independent of class (actually, there is no "nerf class X" request that I'm aware of in the whole 20 page thread). It's all about "you gotta have equipment X", and that you need the drops of instance X to be taken along for instance X.

    Now, tell me, how are you supposed to get the equipment that drops in an instance if you need that equipment to be taken along?

    Yes, there are more DDs than anything. Yell "tank+healer LFG/LFM" into the channel and watch the spam. But when you reduce the ability of a class that is damage dealer, crowd controller and buffer to its damage output, you know that something's seriously lacking in the difficulty department.

  • Re:Yes and no (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AntiNazi ( 844331 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @01:47PM (#26312551) Homepage

    But it also shows something else. That people create challenges when they cease to exist. The new challenge is to perfect your "rotation", i.e. finding out what skill to use when to maximize your output. Not as much a challenge as keeping aggro management and CC in mind, but still, it's a new challenge.

    That's the new challenge? Every DPS worth their salt has been trying to maintain the perfect rotation since Molten Core. The sole objective of a DPS class is to do the maximum amount of damage possible in any given fight. Obviously this may require interrupting your rotation to stay alive as you do 0 DPS when you are dead. I don't know which forum you are reading or who you play with (if you play) that just learned about rotations. Hell the death knight beta threads were full of Blizzard posters discussing ability costs to allow players to use a continuous rotation without having to stop and wait for a certain rune to refresh rather than use the ones that are left. In vanilla I had to teach some new raiders about rotations as they apparently were just pressing buttons (yes, random buttons are fun!!!). Their dps more than doubled in many cases.

    Aggro management is pretty overrated. In wow, 99% of the time aggro management means doing nothing. That's not very fun. A fair number of classes have no way to reduce threat (other than death) and several that do it's on a long enough cooldown or terrible enough that you still have to resort to stopping playing in aggro management fights. Additionally, aggro management fights seem to end up as "aggro doesn't matter, dps doesn't matter, we can do this all night, just keep the tank alive" fights. Not fun for anyone, see Onyxia's lair.

    As a player who has tanked in every expansion, I can assure you that the current expansion is by far the most fun for tanks in my opinion, and the opinion of every tank I have talked to. You can actually do some damage, and therefore threat so the dps can actually do dps instead of waiting around for you to gain aggro. Tanking now is about doing the most dps and therefore tps while staying alive. Similar to a dps class except the boss is hitting you. Note this has been wildly successful among players compared to previous expansions. See: people only wanting to do 5 man dungeons if a paladin was tanking in BC as paladins were the only class with the current tanking strategy last expansion.

    In conclusion, there has been no change in dps using rotations since the first dungeon, other than "stop and wait" is no longer in the rotation, aggro management sucks in the first place, and as for crowd control, meh.

  • Re:Yes and no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:16PM (#26312723)

    It's not the new challenge. It's the only challenge left. With CC being pointless and aggro management a problem of the past, the only thing that DDs have to take care about anymore is to fire their skills in the right rotation. Something that a halfway decent script could do, and probably better due to millisecond precision.

    The reason people wanted Pallies to tank is that they could do the AoE aggro routine everyone enjoys now, thus keeping the DDs from having to stop shooting, thus making the whole thing easier. Of course people don't want to make a game artificially hard (even though I remember my tank saying "we're just four, go find a hunter, the ini is too easy anyway"). That doesn't mean that easy mode is what people like either.

    Imagine you gave people an I-Win button. Would they press it? Of course they would. Would it make them happy? At first, yes. In the long run, it cheapens the whole experience. Why bother playing if you know you already won?

  • Re:Yes and no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @03:53PM (#26313543) Homepage
    I'd beg to differ, slightly. "DPS Rotation" is a term that has very little meaning today in terms of "do X twice then Y three times". It's a flowchart now due to all the procs - for instance the prot warrior threat 'rotation' is:
    * If you can shield slam, shield slam
    * If you can't shield slam then revenge
    * If you cant use revenge then devastate
    * If you can't use devastate then thunderclap (move this to pt 2 if you have 2+ mobs on you)

    DPS is more complicated if you want to actually min-max it instead of going for "good enough". They've tried to replace "do X then Y" rotations with more "if X then Y" but in effect, it doesn't make DPS more fun, it just makes it more attention-sapping. It used to be that DPSing was a nice break from tanking/healing, now it's just as stressful (and the 'bad dps' are just as bad for your group as the 'bad healers' and 'bad tanks')... hence the plethora of tanks and healers these days. :P Which of course is kudos to Blizzard, because traditionally it's been like pulling teeth to find people who will play these roles given the downsides.
  • by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @03:59PM (#26313595) Homepage
    I messed around with Lively for a bit, and can easily say that it was a turd. It felt like an extremely limited version of Active Worlds, offering really nothing to do other than change your clothes and walk around a room.

    Maybe if it had features (i.e. stuff you can do) it would have gone somewhere. Blaming its failure on a lack of complexity is like blaming a box of tissues for failing as a refrigerator because it only has one little slot to put things in. What it called an open beta, I'd call a pre-alpha tech demo. There was simply nothing there.

    Oh, and it was about as user-friendly as the power button on the dome-shaped iMacs (a white button with a white icon on it, perfectly flush with the white surface of the unit, on the back of the unit... without a user manual -- I was at a friend's -- it literally took me hours to find).
  • by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @07:35PM (#26315179)
    Lively is not intended to be a game, but it was intended to be used by humans. Which I don't think Google anticipated.

    Why games of any kind fun is because fundamentally humans enjoy learning. If you remove the complexity from a game or quasi-game in terms of the interface, tasks and challenges presented you a simple removing things that are enjoyable.

    In the case of complexity alone, you are removing depth. But from what I found with lively it was so stripped bare it had NOTHING.

    I'm all for making things accessible to people who are not so quick to figure things out, or perhaps just have a low tolerance for wasting time fighting a confusing interface. Dumbing down is what you do in lieu of designing the interface properly in the first place and in this case Lively was just plain Dumb(tm) right off the bat. Lets making a carefull distinction here: dumbing down implies there was once a smart idea at all.

    Come on Google, do something like lively, with interesting physics sandbox and it's google earth and twitter and gtalk all mashed up and linked to my GPS and webcam so my avatar can walk around the world in real time as I do. I'll send you my job application.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser