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.