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Why You Shouldn't Design Games Through Analytics 134

An anonymous reader writes "Game designer Tadhg Kelly writes at TechCrunch about a trend many gamers have noticed over the past decade: designers increasingly relying on statistics — and only statistics — to inform their design decisions. You know the type; the ones who'll change the background color if they think it'll eke out a few more players, or the ones who'll scrap interesting game mechanics in favor of making the game more easily understandable to a broader market. Naturally, this leads to homogenization and boring games. Kelly says, 'Obsessed with measuring everything and therefore defining all of their problems in numerical terms, social game makers have come to believe that those numbers are all there is, and this is why they cannot permit themselves to invent. Like TV people, they are effectively in search of that one number that will explain fun to them. There must, they reason, be some combination of LTV and ARPU and DAU and so on that captures fun, like hunting for the Higgs boson. It must be out there somewhere. ... Unlike every other major game revolution (arcade, console, PC, casual, MMO, etc.), social game developers have proved consistently unable to understand that fun is dynamic in this way. ... They are hunting for the fun boson, but it does not exist.'"
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Why You Shouldn't Design Games Through Analytics

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 13, 2013 @06:30AM (#42573397)

    The goal is money: get more people to buy the game and get more people to buy in-game purchase items.

  • Minecraft (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @06:35AM (#42573419) Homepage Journal

    I would be interested to see if Notch has any interest in Analytics at all.

  • Missing the point. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @06:49AM (#42573455)

    Social games aren't supposed to be *fun*. The objective is to keep people playing. Fun is one way to do that, but there are other methods that can be just as capable or even more so. Social games depend on a few effective psychological hooks:

    - Time sinks. Once you have gotten the player to invest enough hours, they become reluctant to leave and throw away the invested time.
    - Social interdependance. Allow players to assist each other. That way if someone does want to stop playing, they'll have to abandon friends who need their help.
    - Constant progress. Players need to feel like they are constantly getting further and further, so an effective social game makes sure there is always a new milestone just ahead - and that there is a way to show off this success.
    - Ease of promition: Make sure your players can tell everyone else they play via facebook.

    Social games aren't about fun. They are about operant conditioning. Zynga has a psychologist on staff to advise their designers on how to make a game people will feel compelled to play, and the approach works.

    None of these actually require the game be fun. Or have we forgotten Cow Clicker, the parody of social gaming deliberatly designed to be as dull and un-fun as possible, yet which still achieved a moderate level of success purely by following the rules of social manipulation.

  • Re:Reality Check (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ireallyhateslashdot ( 2297290 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @08:20AM (#42573655)

    You have to admit though, it's a horribly bad analogy. It's bad in multiple ways.

    Just because you don't like it doesn't make it bad.

  • by ildon ( 413912 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @08:23AM (#42573665)

    Exactly. Social games designers don't give a shit about "fun." They care about revenue. And these numbers *do* appear to increase revenue. They're closer to slot machine designers than game designers.

  • misconception (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @08:46AM (#42573729) Homepage Journal

    While the point is largely true, the submitter is missing the most important point:

    So-called "social games" aren't about fun. And they aren't games. The game is just the packaging. These things are basically drugs. Read up on the corporate background of Zynga and what kind of people they employ. They create designer-drugs that are scientifically designed for maximumg addiction potential.

    The "fun" and "game" part are just the coating that gets you to try it. Much like a drug that you take for the first time because it promises a good trip or great sex or whatever, but that's just for the first few times. After that, it's the addiction that makes you take it, not the high, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise.

    Social games aren't meant to be fun, they are meant to keep you playing (and spending, or creating ad-impressions).
    The reason we (I'm a game designer) talk about things like "gamification" in the work environment is not that it is fun, but because we've found ways to make people repeatedly do things that they have no intrinsic reason to do and that are not rewarding in themselves.

  • by Jayde Stargunner ( 207280 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @08:50AM (#42573741)

    This article only makes sense if you assume that "social game" or F2P game developers actually care about those metrics because they are trying to find "fun."

    They aren't. They care about those metrics because they are trying to maximize revenue for the current title. After experimentation, they then take the combination of factors that had the maximum revenue for the previous title and then repackage it into a rebranded version of the same game with that combination as the starting point. It's more like casino design than game design.

    By and large F2P games are not really about creating a "fun" experience. They are about creating an addictive experience loop which yields them income through impulse micro-transaction purchases. While "fun" is a factor (the game has to be interesting, after all) it certainly is not the primary goal of this part of the industry. Although some games buck this trend, the top-grossing ones are certainly not games which would typically be considered wholly "fun" compared to standard console/PC game titles.

    None of these acronyms have found their way into mainstream console or PC title development. They are all monetization terms which are primarily applicable to "games" which have the sole purpose of monetization. This should not be surprising.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @10:43AM (#42574219)

    I really hope people (that matter) read that last paragraph. Allow me to quote it and stress it: Poll those players that have quit. Asking the players that are around for their opinion is pointless, they are already here and they are already staying. It's like looking at the bombers that make it back from the enemy raid and reinforce the parts that have holes in them. They don't need reinforcement, those bombers made it back, you should reinforce the OTHER parts of your bombers because those are the parts where those were hit that did NOT get back.

    What's worse is actually that every maker of MMOs out there tries to copy WoW, ignoring the fact that those that want to play WoW are already playing WoW, and those that are not are looking for something that is NOT WoW. Now, how should making a clone of a game I don't want to play convince me that I want to play yours?

"I think trash is the most important manifestation of culture we have in my lifetime." - Johnny Legend