Greedy Goblin

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The ultimate test of "is it even a game" (and possible new game)

Before everything: I strongly recommend to read this article about how RMT destroyed games and how pay-to-win damages games by the guy who worked out the monetization scheme of World of Tanks. Yes, that World of Tanks. Sure, he misses (probably because ... World of Tanks) a crucial element: corruption (RMT is not stopped because devs are on the take), but still very valuable analysis.

As more and more "games" shift to storytelling the very definition of "game" became blurred. But it's not a complicated issue. It's simply: are there winners and losers. If yes, it's a game. Maybe a silly game, even a game of chance, but still a game. A piece of entertainment without winners and losers on the other hand is not a game, but an electronic community theater. A place where participants take a pre-set role of a hero and with other performers and NPCs play through a pre-written script front of a digital stagecraft.

No one would say that a high school Romeo and Juliet or a a historic battle reenactment is a game, despite both has swordfight scenes. But the performers know beforehand who will win. Sure sometimes mistakes happen, then everyone laughs (or get annoyed) and they repeat the scene. How is that different from a WoW quest where the script is unchangeable, you have to play trough unless you want to abandon that scene completely and if you somehow manage to die to the 10 rats or raidboss, nothing else happens than everyone waits for you to run back and try again. They might call you a firedancing n00b if it happened in a raid, just like a bad Juliet would be berated if she forgets her line again. But that doesn't mean that the final outcome is in doubt, you try again and finally you get the scene right and everyone is happy.

A game, even a basketball game with pals at a hoop in the yard or a tabletop with your kids has a winner and losers. Maybe there is no prize. Maybe some players lose on purpose to let kids win. But at the end, someone wins and will be proud of his performance, while others will be defeated and can only hope that they get better.

"Everyone is winner" is actually a clue that it's not a game but a theatrical event. A game must have a loser. Of course some games aren't harsh, meaning that the rewards of the winner and the punishment of the loser are tiny, like a "you buy the beers" or even a "good job, you won this round" applause. I'm not saying that every game should be a $1M prize to the winner front of a stadium audience.

After awful lot of unsuccessful searches I fall back to this condition on finding the next game: does it have losers? League of Legends has, as some players get "Defeat" scene and decrease of MMR. Sure, it's rigged as hell, but its's still a game. EVE also has, some players have kill reports, others are on kill reports. Some has null systems, others are mining in highsec. Sure, the bar is so low now that 1 day old newbs are recruited to nullsec, but it's still a game. (and it's also rigged as hell).

I'm drooling on a pre-released game, built on an awesome idea. But I won't write it until it's released and proves that it's a game at all, and not a theater where you pay for being an actor in an awesome setting without agency.

Finally, I've just found something that is in the MMO setting and is promised to be very competitive, I mean e-sport competitive. If it turns out to be real, and long-term viable, instead of just a spark and die, I might have my next game project. You wouldn't guess the title where it's implemented.


Anonymous said...

IMO, that is just your nostalgia talking about EVE. What about someone who played like you initially did; made lots of ISK and almost never was on either side of a kill report. Or a TEST member who pvps hard, has a slightly positive killboard is always poor and spends $15/month. The former thinks the latter is an idiot; the latter thinks the former is a coward. Who won? Who lost? For it to be a game, everyone needs to have the same victory conditions. And I doubt how The Mittani thinks a month went has anything to do with his personal killboard. Is Chirbba losing EVE due to a bad killboard.? If someone spends $15/month to have their best roleplay experience ever in CVA, who am I to judge what they do for entertainment. I do think if the CVA RPer is enjoying themselves and the bittervet combat pilot is usually unhappy/angry, the CVA person is spending their entertainment money wiser. If someone is fighting with friends, having a great time, and they eventually get evicted, but lose trivial-to-be-replaced ships so future play is not impacted and the other side is composed of people who have to be bribed/forced to be there and don't enjoy it, who won the engagement?

I see no rational way to call EVE a game.

Anonymous said...

Why do you need to wait for a tournament?

You can check just your realm leaderboards or see how you rate amongst the millions.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: maybe the win condition is personal, but the loss condition is universal: being pwned and stopped from your own winning. The highsec industrial who wants money can be ganked. The TESTie can be welped and made horrible killboard. CVA can be evicted and then they can roleplay in lowsec.

@Next anon: without tournaments or some other Blizz support most people just don't care. Currently being high on that third party list is no different than being high on the "who has the most mounts and pets" list.

Anonymous said...

How can you be in the top 5% of raiders if there are no losers - speed matters.

And eve has enough "totally worth dieing for" perspectives to to last until the sun explodes (you just redefine yourself to be the winner).

Anonymous said...

Did you read Greg Costikyan's "I have no words & I must design"? It's a short (~30 pages) essay attempting at defining what "Game" is. It's available as a free read on various sites, for example here:

The definition he arrives at is "(Game is) an interactive structure of
endogenous meaning that requires players to struggle toward a goal". So, without goals there is no game, and without struggle there is no goal(or rather, the goal becomes meaningless and worthless) And there can be no "struggle" without the possibility of failure.

Ðesolate said...

"without tournaments or some other Blizz support most people just don't care. Currently being high on that third party list is no different than being high on the "who has the most mounts and pets" list."
Blizzard supports best Mythic+ of the Week. It is just Guild-internal inGame but we usually had 3-4 Teams in our Guild mocking each other about their ratings. There used to be realm-wide Ratings but they've been removed iirc (what-reason-ever).
...aditionally you still have PvP (rated and unrated has winners / loosers)
Oh and on their Website:

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

The articles linked at the beginning are great.
I particularly liked his phrase "Player vs Victim" which is a perfect description of Eve "PvP".

I'm an enthusiastic player of World of Warships. The game is great - much better ruleset than WoT, no premium ammo, faster XP and better graphics. Overall, warships are just a better theme than tanks.
Their monetization model is very good, too. Premium ships are only marginally better (if at all) and most of them pay for their advantage with a handicap in another area (usually it's a slight boost of damage balanced by weaker armour). Most of them are simply more fun to play rather than stronger. For example, in the current ranked season, the worst Battleship and Cruiser are both premiums (they are still fun to play even if their win rate is slightly lower and are perfectly fine for non-ranked games).

maxim said...

I expected more out of the "definition of game" spiel. This was pretty disappointing.
It would be more straightforward and honest to just go ahead and say that "a game is something that is on my radar for a potential project, everything else can sod off".

If i was more charitable, i think that you want games to be a vehicle in determining the quality of the players, and every instance of game resulting in a player being confirmed to be better (by "winning") or worse (by "losing") against another player or some in-game standart.

Games, however, are more than just about winning and losing.
Even Sirlin, the most coherent play-to-win advocate i am aware of, wrote a piece on this at some point

Tithian said...

Your definition disqualifies single-player games from even being games. At this point you might as well point at sports, chess and cards and say that those are the only true games in existence.

For me a game needs:
a) recreational value of some sort, to at least one target audience
b) goals to achieve (beat the final boss, pvp, whatever)
c) any measure of difficulty or struggle to the end goal

Whether if offers shallow or deep gameplay, or if the difficulty curves are low/high, those are other points altogether.

Recreational constructs that lack (b) or (c) are either Toys (if they require input from your part), or simply other mediums of entertainment if they don't (i.e. movies, music, TV).

Eaten by a Grue said...

It seems you would dismiss every single player game as a "game." How is losing to a raidboss different than dying in Pac-Man? Are you saying the classic arcade games were not games? Is Tetris not a game?

Gevlon said...

@Tithian, Grue: no, because the Tetris and Pac-Man results could be compared, just like swimming times and the one with the higher score won. I remember how we competed in the computer lab full of AT386 "things" in Tetris.

@Tithian: practicing Romeo in the community theater is recreational, has the goal of getting ready for a family and friends "premiere" and not at all easy (lots of lines). So it's a game by your definition. So is painting a self-portrait that someone would recognize, sculpting a garden gnome or building a tree-house for that gnome.

Ron said...

So as I understand it, your definition of a game would not include any that may be positioned as a puzzle or challenge game.

There may not be the replay ability that your definition of a game would provide, but I think that Portal and its like are games. This definition would even encompass your examples of non-games. I think that they are more involved and require significantly more action then just consuming a story being presented.

Smokeman said...

I find your requirement that games must have "winners and losers" to be games to be wholly one dimensional. And that dimension is the fixation on beating someone that is worse than you at a game.

You have it backwards. Winning should be the "well, you were no competition. better luck next time" let down if this was a first encounter, and only a cause of celebration if you finally won after developing the skills to beat what was, previously, a better opponent. In that case, you were competing with a reflection of yourself as you were when you were last defeated.

In reality, the only opponent that matters is yourself.

If, for example, I'm playing Pac Man (And I mastered Pac Man. I had one at home, so that made it easier to put in the time.) The ONLY high score that matters to me is my own that I'm trying to beat. Once you get to that split screen... it's over. Having someone be the "first person" to get to the split screen is of interest only because suddenly, now you know of it's existence... but that shouldn't make you quit because "You cannot win now." It may make you try even harder to beat the game too, but you were never in competition with the person that did it first, only with your own inability to have been the first. You may have thought you were, but like Sun Tzu says, "The outcome of a battle is determined before it starts."

Bhagpuss said...

I've always been a lot more interested in "interactive theater" than in any kind of game. That's how I came to MMOs in the first place, via a tabletop RPG group that was almost all about the RP and almost not at all about the G. One of the fundamental drawbacks MMORPGs have had in reaching anything like genuine mass market acceptance has been that "G" on the end.

I'd be very pleased to see "Games" and "Virtual Worlds" separated once more. It's not helping either for them to be glued together as they have been for a decade and a half.

Gevlon said...

@Smokeman: and beating your own old record is how different than making a nicer garden gnome than the last one? Is garden gnome making a game?

maxim said...

Hold everything. Have you just said that all single-player games are not games?

Let's get extremely specific. Are you saying that Tetris is not a game, but rather interactive theater?

Gevlon said...

@maxim: Assuming it has a skill check and score to compare players, it's a game.
So tetris is a game. Fallout 4 on the other is not.

Anonymous said...

Gevlon, Have you ever read "Finite and Infinite Games"?

I read the first half of it years ago, and found it interesting. I didn't finish it. Just thought you might be interested.