Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Which is More Important in Game Design - Player Wants or Player Needs?

After reading Monte's recent post on game design, he puts a heck of a lot of weight on the "wants" of players, then uses an example where game designers listen to the players and make a correction with a tweak.

The players in Monte's example did not get what they wanted (in this case, a faster reload time that would have been unbalancing and unrealistic) but got a tweak to the reload animation that did not change reload time. They got what they needed, not what they wanted.

Players want lots of stuff they don't need. They buy splat books with new classes, feats and the like because they want it. The splat books do serve a need - the need of WotC to bring in revenue. Which works until the game system gets crushed beneath the weight of the splats.

Which is why I'm very wary when game designers say they are designing games based upon what players "want". Designers need to look deeper, and find out what players really "need" in their games. I know the answer isn't as simple as it sounds, but it's the only way to make a game with lasting success in my opinion.


  1. story of my life, professionally.

    I was once asked by a coworker to create a piece of software to help her with some work. I didn't have the three weeks I expected such a tool to take, so I took ten minutes and showed her how to manage the same work with a piece of paper and a pencil.

    Need met, want totally unsatisfied....

  2. Holy shit, now that's fuckin' funny! ;)

  3. It is a lot like the story about the pen that would write without gravity the designed for space flight. Million dollars spent, or so the legend goes, by NASA. USSR, they used a pencil.

    Players want to have a fun time playing the game. For most people this means an immersion in the experience. What a lot of players think they want is more power more quickly.

    I am not saying that I know what every player thinks makes a fun game, but I do know what every player I've DM'd has wanted. They want to get involved in the adventure, they want to use their imagination, they want to feel the magic and get a sense that what they are doing is worthwhile. They don't want to be given rewards, they want to earn rewards. They don't want to be told a story, they want to be want to be the story.

    The more power more quickly you give the players the less they earn these rewards. The more mechanics the players need to keep track of, the less immersion.

    WotC is good at making D&D less about the imagination and more about power and game mechanics. From all that is being said by that great horse's ass Mearls, I don't expect anything different from the latest version of D&D with go faster stripes that players of all editions can enjoy.

  4. From a design perspective, a general rule of assumption is that players have no idea what they want.

    I know that sounds bad, and Monte's example is kind of awful for illustrating that point.

    Like JasonZavoda says, most players think they want more power more quickly. But that doesn't always make for more fun gameplay.

    The best designers know how to make the most fun gameplay (Diablo 2 anyone?), and when they gather player feedback, they don't listen to it directly. They interpret it to figure out what's really going on that the player doesn't have the skill to understand in most cases.

    Good game design is definitely a lot more than letting players get whatever they want. Design by super-committee is a pretty solid way to ensure you never get a good game.


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