Monday, April 30, 2012

On My Mind: Understanding Fun - Sometimes You Just Can't Win - The Mid-mortem Analysis

It's been roughly two weeks now since I shipped Sometimes You Just Can't Win, and I'm close to completion on my first update.  Initially, this update was meant to fix whatever bugs and issues I had, but it turns out after getting player feedback that I had to do a lot more.  The initial pass was going to be for quick usability test, some content balance, and a new mini game.  Then I stumbled upon a few feedback of:

"This isn't fun, it should be more fun"

Well then.

My knee-jerk reaction is: "Wait, are we playing the same thing?  Am I not getting the story through?"  There's a certain level of "this isn't meant to be fun" argument that I know I'd be losing, but it's there.  Yet, they're right: if you strip out the story, then it's a series of button presses, right?  But what are we left with for games? A series of user inputs; and visual/aural output.  What's the fun in that?

So, what is fun?

This may appear like some sort of philosophical bullshit question, like "what is life", but it really isn't.  In fact, there's a few established papers/talks that covers how "fun" can be defined.  The two that I think I've gravitated to is Marc LeBlanc's 8 Kinds of Fun and Jason VandenBerghe's 4 Types of... (yes, I'm aware of his talk at GDC 2012 on 5 Domains of Play, but I wasn't at GDC, and the slides feel like they need more context).  In both cases, they lay out the foundation of what people find as "fun" in games: they're not blueprints on how to make a fun game, but if you analyze a game where someone claims they find fun, you can directly correlate what they find fun onto that list.  I highly recommend reading them over if you're interested.

Why I point them out is that in both cases, it's pretty much agreed on that "fun" is not a constant: no two person will ever find the same game fun, and their definition of fun can wildly change depending on their mood, the ideals that they hold and the experience they want to obtain.  Someone who would enjoy Heavy Rain for it's storytelling (and finding that fun) may still find LA Noire's story fun, but not it's combat and exploration; Someone who enjoy Peggle's audio visual experience may find Bejeweled's number crunching to be annoying.

These themes and examples are interesting, because it points to that a certain type of "experience" that can define fun isn't necessary true for everyone, and in fact, it would be downright impossible to try to appeal to everyone's sense of fun without possibly alienating someone else.

So, back to my game...

I don't know how other people see it, but really, there's only two levels of enjoyment here: 1)The sense of challenge (in the method of completing the game, and in high score), and 2)A feeling of completion for the story.  That's about it.  The game and it's subject matter just won't lend itself to someone who wants to feel rewarded and feel good about themselves.  There is no happy ending, there is no exploration, there is no competition against someone else.  It's you versus the machine: echoing the theme of the game.


  1. I think perhaps the idea between 'fun' and 'entertained' should be looked at as well. Finding something fun means that you enjoy the activity that you are engaged in and find it engrossing and challenging and in the end enlightening. You gain happiness from, but it engages you as well to continue to interact.

    Entertainment on the other hand is ingested and experienced through more of a journey through to the other side of something. Think of entertaining applications, movies, tv shows, comedy routines, etc. it's something that fills time with distraction.

    Games that are 'fun' are things you continually go back to, repeat, try again, and engross yourself in. Saying the Oscars are fun is slightly awkward because you aren't taking part in the presentation or the acting or the redemption. However it is entertaining because you can empathize and root for someone, you can watch all the colour and hear all the sound making up something that you sit in awe of.

    Maybe I'm talking about the same thing, but you have to think of it this way... is the story entertaining the user? And is the button pressing/management fun enough to engage the user?

    Sometimes both can make up for the other. If something is entertaining and has a great storyline that you are absorbing then sometimes you can look past somewhat crappy controls. Shoot me for saying this, but what comes recently to mind is Mass Effect 3. I enjoy the story and characters and lore, I am entertained by the interactions I select...however I found myself grinding my teeth tripping over the 'not-so-much' Gears of War 3 controls. Is the gameplay that engaging? I dunno...I wouldn't go out of my way to play the multiplayer. Is the story entertaining? Absolutely and I will put up with hiccups here and there to get to the end to fulfill my entertained nerves.

    So in essence have you created something that is tedious and annoying to take care of, or have you encompassed the actual experience of what it's like to be a rushed coder who relies on crutches and such to get through that struggle. If the experience relates to the gameplay then it's a marriage. If either of them fight one another and you have either no time to enjoy the entertainment because of the controls, or the entertainment is marred by aggravated user frustration, it will harm the overall marriage.

    Bejewelled has a redemption sating operator in the gameplay. You search like a fiend, find that 3 colour possibility, and then once you flick the gem you get the delicious redemption sound, the point count up, and the scrape away(hoarding action) of the gems that plays on a humans desires.

    If there isn't instant gratifying redemption, then you really need to find a way to continue the growth, experience, erosion, etc. of the game to cause a user to give a shit about what is going on...otherwise it becomes a repetitive action, with hardly any payout, and no reason to hitting 1+1 on a calculator and hammering = over and over again until it hits EE. It's not fun, its laborious, and you got nothing at the end that really means much apart from,'ve made it to the end. Great.

    Know what I mean?

  2. I agree with most of what you've said, which I am well aware of. I think right at the start I was well aware that this wasn't meant to be "fun and replay-able", and more importantly, it's not about quick and simple gratification that popular mobile phone games would exhibit. Your Bejeweled story is a great example of it: people like the instant gratification of flashy lights and sounds, which is fine and dandy, but not valid for every game and context.

    I know it's going to sound pretentious and such, but eventually I settled on the fact that there's no real way to make this "fun" for someone who wants gratification without knocking out what I wanted to tell with the halfassed story. If I were to "reward the player" for every action, is the tension of fighting a losing battle there? Not really. It's like trying to retrofit Dark Souls/Demon Souls so that anyone who plays action games like God of War would be able to get into it: it's self defeating by trying to appease the immediate gratification of user input.

    In the end, I'm well aware of what it is right now, and where the motivation drop-off is for people, and I think I'm ok with that. I'm not, and can't build the next time-waster that you'd want to come back over and over to begin with. I just find it odd that I've gotten request for so.

  3. And now that I think about it, I'm sort of curious, and I'd open up the floors:

    What would you do to make this fun? Can you? I've been sitting on it for many months "trying to find the fun".

    Of course, it can be said that a game that isn't fun in the prototype stage is never going to be fun, but then again, what's would a prototype of menus be like? :P

  4. You need to have a hook for it.

    If Game Dev Story is Simcity then SometimesYouCantWin is The Sims!