There’s been a few posts on the topic of fun around the blogosphere in the last few days, mainly over at Nils and O. I thought that I would add my own comments to this topic seeing as my pronouncements are of such weighty validity.
To me, fun boils down to spontaneity versus planning. I’m sure you’ve all had the experience where you bump into someone that you know on the street, you go to a bar for a drink, someone else joins you and before you know it you’re all having the time of your lives, ending with you vomiting into a dumpster at 3am. If you try and plan or engineer that same situation, by calling up the same people beforehand and steering all of you to the very same bar, it just won’t be the same. Even if you tell everyone that they are going to have a really good time, they won’t. At least, not as much as the spontaneous version.
The reason for this is that the spontaneous version is an adventure. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. So with the curiosity of what could eventuate, you stick around, go with the flow, and end up having an awesome time. That is until the dumpster incident. And because every single person there has their curiosity enabled, collectively you are all able to come up with an amazing time. It’s not enough for one person to be feeling this way; everyone needs to have the same adventurous urge.
Which is why the blatant use of game companies telling their customers that they WILL HAVE FUN NOW WHEN THEY DO THIS THING BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN, is absolutely doomed to failure. You might just possibly succeed once. But that will be it. If you place players on a railroad where they have no real chance to enable their own sense of curiosity and adventure as they see fit then you are merely giving them a bunch of flashy lights on a magical carpet ride over which they have no real fundamental control. They are a passenger.
Which is why many of us gravitated to MMOs’ in the first place. It was the opportunity to decide things for ourselves as opposed to playing on a scripted journey which had been the hallmark to date for any number of single player RPG video games. While early WoW was not a complete freedom-fest, it did manage to strike a nice balance between having to follow a certain path but being free to experiment within it. And just like bumping into someone in the street and going for a drink you could do the same thing in WoW and end up on an unplanned adventure that would lead you on a journey that was rich in its own type of rewards. Which is fun. Pressing the LFG button and waiting for your group to form and then going and running the dungeon is the same as calling up your friends and trying to have that same experience that you had in the bar again. It won’t work because it’s not as fun. You might still have some fun, but your curiosity won’t be enabled and you will find that one person will make an excuse and leave and the group will quickly dwindle as everyone cites their responsibilities that they must follow or they will be behind or in trouble or whatever. People tend not to make excuses when they are having fun, when their curiosity is enabled.
If a game designer of a single player RPG is focusing on fun then they are probably on the right track, because you only play those games once. If the designer of an MMO is focusing on fun then they have surely lost their way.