21 Aug 2011

Is It Fun?

I was recently reminded about something that happened during a recent-ish beta. I’ll spare the blushes of the game involved by not mentioning names, but I’ll share this little episode. There was a bit of a conversation on the beta forums that went a little bit like this: one group of people didn’t like the game at all while the other group felt that it was perfect.

I chimed in with my own thoughts. I felt that the graphics engine had been poorly built, making me feel that my finely tuned computer was rendering a powerpoint slideshow of my relatives recent trip to France. I felt that the network code was abysmal, with players and NPCs popping around the place like dancers in a nightclub with a slow strobe light.

Technical issues aside, I felt that the interface was so clumsy it was like juggling fish while riding a unicycle on an oil slick and trying to spell that Welsh train station. I felt that I had enough time to compose an epic opera to the God of Sewer Rats while waiting for creatures to respawn. There were key concepts in the game that weren’t explained in the in-game help or the forums, turning city travel into some twisted point-and-click adventure.

But nay, my critics would respond. This is what MMO games should be like. They should make you grind for aeons to gain a single XP point. You should be left bewildered and perplexed to encourage you to work things out! You tykes from the Warcraft generation should get used to what a true MMO feels like! Besides, it’s faithful to the franchise. Feel the nostalgia!

At which point I realised I was fighting a losing battle and gave up on the beta. At a fundamental level it was simply not fun to play.

The game came out, tanked and ended up as another footnote in MMO history. Now I could sit here in my smug chair behind my smug keyboard and drinking my smug coffee and say “I told you so”. But I don’t. Why? Because I don’t blame the developer for making the game they were asked to make. Besides, I’d feel like a donkey for doing it.

What was my point? Oh yes.

We’re on the cusp of another round of MMO betas. A few will get invites while the rest of us are scouring all known internets for any information that seeps out. Some of the folks in the beta will be providing plenty of feedback, while others will just see it as a playable demo to help them decide if they want to play the game.

Don’t spend your time trying to work out if the game is faithful to the source material, or if it lives up to how you expect MMOs to be. One player’s nostalgia is another’s new experience, and if that experience isn’t a great one they’re not going to be playing for long. Don’t try and analyse everything to the nth degree. Instead ask yourself a simple question: is it fun?

Meanwhile, I’m going to try and work out a way of distilling pure extract of geek nostalgia. I’m not sure whether to bottle it and sell it, or weaponise it and let it lose on an unsuspecting world. Either way I’m sure to make a fortune…

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