Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The fun curve

This month I had two negative experiences with games which made me stop playing those two games. One of these was Bastion, where somewhere in the middle of the game the difficulty got too high for me. I had to play the Jawson Bog three times before I was able to finish it, and when I again wiped in the level after I decided that the game wasn't worth the hassle any more. The other game was League of Legends, where even after trying the Dominion expansion which solved the "battles are too long" problem, but not the "combat is too twitchy" problem, I realized that I wasn't having fun playing this, and then promptly uninstalled LoL. What cheered me up immensely was reading the post of Tim from How to Murder Time on fun, with this brilliant list of facts on fun:
  • I like fun things, and dislike things which are not fun.

  • Only I know if I am having fun or not.

  • If I am asking myself if I am having fun, I am not having fun.

  • If I have lost a game, and did not have fun doing so, it is probably not a good game. It might not even be a game.

  • If someone else has to have less fun so I can have more fun, I have less fun.

  • If someone else that I like has fun, I have fun.

  • If someone else that I like is not having fun, I have less fun.

  • Sometimes people are fun.

  • If something is too easy, I have less fun.

  • If something is too difficult, I have less fun.

  • Only I know what too easy and too difficult are.

  • Doing a fun thing lots of times makes it less fun.

  • Doing a thing that isn’t fun for the first time makes it more fun.

  • If I have to do a lot of things that are not fun, to have fun at some later date, the net result is usually a deficit of fun over the total financial quarter.

  • Fun cannot be stored.

  • If a thing is described as character building, it is generally as an apology for it not being fun.

  • I try to avoid things that are not fun, especially in my spare time.

  • People sometimes pay me when I do things that are not fun.

  • I sometimes pay people so that I can do things that are fun.
I fully agree with that list. And it is especially pertinent for game design: If a game isn't fun from the start, it is a bad game. The concept of "you need to do something that is not fun for hundreds of hours to get to the fun part" is an abomination. It appears blindingly obvious to me that you could make a better game by cutting out the non-fun part and go directly to the fun part at the end.

Having said that, I do agree that there is some sort of fun curve describing the fun over time you have with a game, and the maximum of that curve is not directly at the start. You don't have the most fun with a game in the very first second, where you are still trying to figure out what the controls are and how the game works. There is an increase in fun while you learn how to play. But that is a period which should be measured in minutes, or at most a few hours. While you might hope to still somewhat increase your fun if the game is easy to learn but hard to master, and you have many hours of fun ahead of you while mastering the game, you can already make a good judgement on the game at the point where you have learned how to play without yet having total mastery. While summoner level 5 in League of Legends is not very much, I can say with certainty that if I hadn't have fun up to level 5, it isn't worth continuing to play. Hope that fun somehow miraculously materializes itself at level 10 or 20 or 30 would be misplaced.

It is also worth noting that regardless of what the game is, the fun over time curve always has a maximum and declines afterwards. Thus when judging a game I look at how much fun I had at the maximum, and how long the game provided a good level of fun. For example while I don't play World of Warcraft any more, that doesn't affect my judgement of the game: I had a lot of fun with it for over 6 years, and the game provided me with thousands of hours of fun at a very affordable cost of about $200 per year. That my fun curve has dipped below an acceptable level after 6,000 hours of play is only natural, and not to the discredit of the game. Hey, 6 years is already more than half of the median length of a marriage in the United States. It would be kind of unrealistic to demand much more of a game.

I have been playing video games long enough to have experienced a time where I had to play the games I had, because nothing else was available to me. Early computers and consoles didn't have all that many games, and my financial means were limited. I played what I had, because I couldn't afford another console or more games, or there weren't any more games available for the platform I had. But the number of both games and platforms on which to play games has grown exponentially in the last 30 years. And my financial means have grown well beyond the point where the price of a regular game poses a problem. Not to mention that these days lots of games can be at least tried for free. Under these circumstances ditching a game I don't have fun with or do no longer have sufficient fun with is just the best strategy, regardless of whether I have "finished" the game. And I'm not alone in that. Games are a disposable commodity product: Play until you don't have fun any more, then switch to the next one.

Kind of off topic, but it constantly infuriates me people who get sucked up into the weird tribalism of MMOs where if you quit one you have to hate it and any rivals to whatever ones you do like must be hated as well.

I mean, I can't claim complete ignorance, I'm certain at some point in the past I felt the same way. But it hurts to see in other people now. All the venom in me towards any game has basically evaporated and left me either not caring about a game or liking a game, and not really needing others to justify how it feels.

I am glad you are similar.

Do you think that we will ever see a shift in that being the norm? Or is it just human nature?
It is human nature, Sine Nomine. I also wouldn't judge people as harshly as you do. If I made a game and I could chose between people not caring and people hating me, I would chose hate every time.
Hate means people care. People care only about good games and thus only good games can be hated.
This is my favorite part.

The concept of "you need to do something that is not fun for hundreds of hours to get to the fun part at the end" is an abomination.

I bought Pokeman Pearl for my DS. All my friends were playing it and I thought by popularity it must be fun. I got 4 badges before I quit. I wasn't having fun. I was told that I had to defeat all the trainers, then go to another island, where I level up each pokeman to level 100.

So I have to grind through one area, to unlock another, to grind again, then I would have fun? No thank you.

As far as League of Legends goes, I've noticed that some Champions are more fun than others. I have a spreadsheet, where I rank the weekly rotations based on the fun I had with those champions.

Also some champions are suited for Summoner's Rift, but not at all suited for Dominion. The focus goes from minion play to Champion vs Champion. So a character like Sivir, who is a minion killer and Pusher, won't be quite as good at Dominion. Whereas an Assassin/Fighter or Mage with Lane blocking abilities like Veigar would be better at Dominion.

Ideally all Champions should be fun regardless of where they are, but reality is a different beast.
One point struck me as more important than the others: "Only I know if I am having fun or not."

Since fun is subjective, it makes game design extremely challenging because many people have a different idea of fun. Not only that, what was fun last week may not be fun anymore. I think interspersing boredom and challenge for the fun rewards later is no doubt part of effective design. Keep the carrot just at the right distance so people are motivated to chase it.
Sine: hating the game you quit is a defense mechanism against the addiction that was keeping you playing it. Alternately, the hatred was building all along, but the addiction was keeping it suppressed.
What about games with a long learning curve?

It could be said that you have to do less fun stuff now (learning the ropes) in order to do be able to do fun stuff later (play a complex strategy game for example).

In the ideal world of course the learning process would be so well designed that it is fun itself but that doesn't always happen particularly with complex games from smaller developers - Armageddon Empires and Dwarf Fortress come to mind.

Please note I see a fundamental difference between a genuine learning curve and an artificially enforced progression grind.
Can you clarify this once and for all?

"That my fun curve has dipped below an acceptable level after 6,000 hours of play is only natural, and not to the discredit of the game."

Based on what you have written, you quit because of Cata (as many have). If Cata was BC/WotLK, you would not have quit, right?
If Cata was BC/WotLK, you would not have quit, right?

I am not certain. It is hard to look into alternate universes where thing would have happened differently. I liked WotLK more than I liked Cata, but maybe that hypothetical "more fun if Cata had been WotLK" would only have made me play a month or two more.

I am currently at a point where any game I start and get asked to kill 10 rats is quickly abandoned. I'll try again with SWTOR, but there is a strong possibility that I'll only play that for a few months.

I do think that Raph Koster has a point in that the fun curve keeps pointing upwards as long as you are still learning things, mastering the game. If you then play a game in which there are a lot of things you don't need to master any more (e.g. how the tank/healer/dps trinity works), the fun curve dips faster. Which is why both expansions and new games "strongly inspired" by previous games have a shorter fun period.
That's a good clarification, and something for me to post about today.
I think that Tim's list could be pared down to one entry:

"Only I know if I am having fun or not."

I have fun doing many things that other people would not consider fun. I love washing up dishes for example. It's something I actively look forward to doing and I could easily write a 1000 words on why it's so much fun.

I have fun taking a swig of mouthwash on my way to the bus-stop each morning, and on doing the same on the way back from the bus stop in the evening. Again, this is something I actively look forward to doing and on the odd occasion where I am distracted by sopmething and forget, I am quite disappointed that I missed that day's opportunity for fun.

I could give you a hundred of these little fun things. A thousand. Most of them would not count as fun for most people, but they do for me.

I think Kill Ten Rats quests are fun. I love doing them, am always glad to receive another and never tire of them. Ditto FedEx quests. I think sorting my inventory is close to the most fun you can have in an MMO and is one of the main reasons I play MMOs in the first place. Again I could go on at length, with examples, and I could analyze why these things are fun for me, at considerable length.

The point is, fun is 100% subjective 100% of the time. That's why it's so hard to produce to order. None of the rest of those rules necessarily apply to anyone but that one applies to everyone.
If someone else has to have less fun so I can have more fun, I have less fun.

So I take it Tim doesn't like PvP. Or sports. Or competition of any kind.
Azuriel, in your opinion, is the purpose of PvP, or sports, or competition of any kind to cause someone else to have less fun? Personally I can well imagine competition in which everybody has more fun.

The point of competition is to beat another player or team, not ensure they have zero fun. Believe it or not you can in fact LOSE at game against someone else and still have fun.

That's why most sports have leagues, that's why most PvP games have ranking systems, the object is to place you against equally skilled opponents so that both teams have a chance to win and both teams can enjoy the game.

My most memorable, and enjoyable, sporting event is one I actually didn't win. I took 3rd place.
Great list, thanks for posting it Tobold. It was a similar realization that made me take a long hiatus from MMO's. The gameplay was boring (I don't know if I ever liked it) and I was only invested because I liked setting a goal and achieving it.

But it's more rewarding to set a real-life goal and achieve it, and it's more fun to play non-MMO games until they are boring, then move to the next one.
It's not tribalims Sine. It's the MMO model. It sucks you and then builds upon all your successes to attach you to your character. Then people hang on to that attachment far too long and for some people the only way to break the attachment is to mentally twist it into something that is broken.

It's just like a break up with a disfunctional ex. Suddenly without warning you are evil incarnate and never did anything right. It's not tribalism. It's just human beings having difficulty letting go rationally.
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