Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Entertainment Value of Decisions

Tobold proposes an interesting thought experiment in his latest post as a type of litmus test to determine the quality of decision making in a game.  To quote:

“If you slowed down the execution part of a game down by a factor of 10, would it still be fun?”

He is right, of course, that World of Warcraft would fail that test, but I don’t believe the test has much merit at all. There is a whole slew of very good games that would fail this test, usually a sign of a flawed test.

I like long and complicated decisions as much as the next guy and I can spend many hours with turn-based strategy games. When you compare individual decisions in World of Warcraft to ones in, say, Civilization 5 you will obviously find a huge disparity in interest in those two. Most individual decisions during WoW gameplay are trivial and boring.

This is about how far Tobold’s thought experiment goes. What it does not include is the fact that time pressure can make a decision a lot more interesting indeed. Taking an example from sports, it is easy to play armchair quarterback when you have unlimited time and access to a recording of the game. Making the same decisions in real time as a player or even a trainer is much harder though. You simply can’t consider all the possibilities within the timeframe given and need to make metal shortcuts to arrive at a somewhat acceptable end result.

Genius moves rarely come from long deliberation but from split-second decisions of an individual. Be it in sports, games, or history – the most important and interesting decisions were often those that were made with limited information in a limited timeframe.

I’d therefore propose that the entertainment value of an in-game decision has to be derived from the absolute entertainment value of the decision in question divided by the time it takes  to make the decision. By that definition, slowing down the execution part of a game by a factor of 10 (as Tobold suggests) would make the decisions made ten times less interesting than they actually are.

This is obviously not a formula you can apply to a game and expect to get a numerical entertainment value out of it. I merely mean to say that it is entertainment value per time that we need to be looking at, not just absolute entertainment value. This also means that speeding up might be a decent solution to an otherwise boring game. Maybe that’s why the industry has moved away from turn-based games in the first place. Hell, even portal puts the player under time pressure from time to time to make trivial tasks more interesting.

  • Does this mean that, theoretically, a game of near-zero fun, sped up enough, would become fun?

  • Assuming that there is decision making involved, theoretically, yes. Though I’m afraid that there might be limiting factors at play. (Such as the maximum speed at which we can make decisions and communicate them to the computer.)
    scrusi´s last blog post ..Entertainment Value of Decisions

  • I think the basic problem in the test is that there are lots of different ways to be entertained. The kind of enjoyment you get out of executing intricate long-time plans is a lot different from the adrenaline rush you get in action games.
    And still both styles are very entertaining (when done well ofc).

    I’d imagine a grand strategy or 4X game wouldn’t probably be much fun if they were sped up either.

  • I’m not sure if that isn’t where we got real-time strategy from in the first place.
    There’s a lot to be said about speed-chess for example. Now I can’t claim that speed chess is more fun than regular chess for every chess player, it is so for many of them and definitely for the audience.

    Sure, your ability to make well thought-through decisions is hampered by the time pressure and some might claim that that dumbs down the game, but really the trade-off is worth it to many players.
    scrusi´s last blog post ..Entertainment Value of Decisions

  • I never considered RTS and grand strat games being related since RTS tends to have more emphasis on combat instead of economics and politics…
    Are there RTS games where combat is kept in the background?

    Also, speed-chess is nothing, chess boxing is where it’s at.

  • Admittedly, RTS have more in common with turn-based tactic games than grand strategy. That said, economics are at the heart of most RTS (vastly simplified to be able to be processed by humans at high speeds, of course.) Politics not so much. (But, to be frank, I don’t think I’ve played a 4x game yet in which politics actually worked.)

    Chess boxing… I didn’t even know that existed. That is one weird sport 😉
    scrusi´s last blog post ..Entertainment Value of Decisions