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Just explain it harder…

July 18, 2008

i got a chance to remember something this morning: if players are consistently doing something other than what you want them to do, change your design, not the player.

While playing a game today, I consistently wanted to do something other than what the game wanted me to do. I asked a couple of other friends about their experience with the same game, and they had similar criticisms. “Yeah, I thought that was what you were supposed to do at first, too.” It was a set up, because in another part of the game, albeit with a different resource, you performed things one way. Having trained you to do that, it was non-intuitive to players to do it differently when presented with essentially the same mechanics but a different resource.

Anyway, instead of doing this, there was a good bit of example that the designer had received feedback exactly like the feedback we were providing. The rules were repeated and explained harder. The result is that a) the player feels confused at best or dumb and insulted at worst and b) probably still wants to do the intuitive thing.

I wonder how often I’ve pulled something like this in a video game… put up in-game messages to explain non-obvious functionality, made NPCs repeat stuff or give more direction because the original lead wasn’t strong enough, etc. I’ve done both of those.

The exercise with this other game was a good reminder for me that explaining it harder may work, but it never impresses, nor does it make the game better.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2008 9:32 pm

    That’s what I want to do with metrics: help developers figure out how people are using their game in the wild. Especially for an MMO, if you figure out that trading is the most popular thing about a game you thought was combat-oriented, perhaps you should divert funds from building systems around combat to building more systems around trade.

  2. July 21, 2008 3:23 pm

    Great post and I hope to see more like them. You’re absolutely right, designers must never ever force the player. All rules that don’t align themselves with the players intentions are actually punishing the player for “being wrong”.
    A feeling that noone would ever want, no matter how subtle it is.

    For this your on my RSS feed. 🙂

  3. July 24, 2008 11:23 am

    Generally I find that such problems arise when designers attempt to second guess and override player behavior, designing content based on their assumptions.

    Chances are, the designer will overlook a certain detail that players may discover and explore, leading to the inevitable “why can’t this be done?” or the “you are simply not allowed to execute such an action” sort of scenario.

    It boils down to having the humility to admit that a design decision has gone awry and having the flexibility to correct it.

  4. July 24, 2008 10:39 pm

    It’s like in the new Alone in the Dark how you can only combine objects in a certain order, which is pure brilliance when you’re being attacked by zombies and trying to make fire bullets at the same time. =/

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