Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Watching games played

A surprising number of people, including Wesley Crusher Wil Wheaton are playing games on YouTube. Lots of video games, board games, and even some roleplaying games. I was watching some of these board game videos, because watching a game played easily beats a review in providing the information whether you would or wouldn't like a game. But I also couldn't help but notice that there are a lot of computer games where watching them played provides nearly the same entertainment value than playing them yourself.

The input of a player to a game is two-fold: Making decisions, and executing them. Often at least one of these parts is trivial: Deciding which chess piece to move where is hard, moving it isn't. Deciding what to do in a linear, scripted shooter like Call of Duty is trivial, but hitting your target without getting hit yourself is hard. And more and more games just have both parts being trivial: A typical quest in a typical MMORPG requires neither decision-taking nor any excellence in execution. And if your input to a game is just trivial, you might as well just watch it.

Often you do those trivial executions of trivial decisions to get some sort of reward. But if the gameplay isn't the part which interests you in a game, you'll be tempted to try to get that reward in easier ways. Thus item shops, the real-money auction house in Diablo III, gold sellers and power-leveling services in MMORPGs, and so on. A vicious circle in which you buy the reward because the game was too trivial for you, and then the reward makes your character stronger and the game even more trivial. I wonder where this will all end.

"I wonder where this will all end"

The games seemed designed to give people a sense of "winning". In some cases the games needs to "let them win" by letting them skip the boring or tedious parts. If they don't they will quit. Games with cheat codes, warps and cash shops are designed to make sure you don't quit when you get stuck, or feel there is no end in sight to the grind.

I see three ends to the cycle of winning:
- You stop winning. All you see is losing. You are stuck and there is no way out. You quit.
- Winning stops mattering. Another boss kill doesn't excite you. Another max level alt means nothing. Another million gold is worthless. Been there, done that.
- Winning is all that matters, until it transforms into the second end and it stops mattering. This often happens when you are addicted to shortcuts. The shortcuts are no longer used to get past roadblocks, but to speed towards winning.

The last one seems to upset people the most. Yet its the one which people have the most control over. Where the games tend to fail is pushing people towards "nothing but win" state too readily. Like putting a god mode button on the screen instead of behind an obscure cheat code, waiting for you to push it and destroy your motivation.

Games like Diablo III are in a tough spot. They add anti-RMT mechanics which also speed people to winning. Perhaps in D3, it would have been better if the AH introduction was delayed until there was an urgent need.

The final WoW expansion raid nerfs are phased in. To give more and more people a chance at winning. In Super Mario Bros. Wii if you fail too much at a level they offer a video walk-through with a proposed solution. Give you a chance, than give you some help.
I have gotten into this practice for video games. I find a good Let's Play on the game and watch for 2-3 hours. If after that time I am itching to play the game myself, then I know it will be a good purchase for me.

So much better than a game review. A lot of game reviews do have videos, but it's all cut and edited. I want to see the raw footage.

There's also games like Heavy Rain where the whole point is the story. I ended up just watching the Let's Play and not buying the game.
I spend more time watching "Let's Play..." than playing myself. Meanwhile, my steam library just keep growing just in case I might want to play this game that is for offer now, one day...
I loved to watch games long before I knew of a thing called "the internet" or youtube. While growing up, my sister and I would play console games (NES, super Nintendo, and N64). My parents had this rule that we had to switch players every hour or so if we both wanted to play (we mostly had RPGs). It wasn't unusual for me to let my sister keep playing because I enjoyed watching her play more than I actually wanted to play. I also may have been more into whatever craft I was doing at the time. We solved the puzzles together, but she was holding the controller.

I'm not sure that people watching videos of game play today is much different. Watching games can be just as fun as playing them at times, and can be more relaxing, while being more interesting/thought provoking than a lot of the TV programming on today. I don't feel like it is because games are any less fun than there were when I watched my my sister play Ocorina of Time.
I think an interesting example of this is Starcraft2 (and the original) which are both tremendously fun to play but also very enjoyable to watch others play at high levels.

I think this is the nature of e-sports and something that I hope continues to grow.

With regards to MMO's and the like where the quest/reward is trivial I believe that is why there is such a large focus on competitive Player versus Player comes in, as this is where you can have quite highly skilled players broadcasting to the masses as entertainment too.

Can I play a game like one of the masters, probably not but if I can appreciate the skill then I can find it entertaining.
It's interesting that this isn't something I've thought about more.

My brother hated playing Half-Life 2 (he's bad at FPS games), but he loved the story and the aesthetic and was eager to watch me play through it.

I had an ex who used to get me to play games for her so she could watch them. We did the Halo series together, Deadspace, Mass Effect, Dragon Age.

When I was at university, living in a college dorm, the guys would come over and want to know if I was going to be playing Counter-Strike so they could watch. They liked to play as well, but I was pretty good, so they got a lot of enjoyment out of the spectator sport.

I think the thing about all of these examples is that when you play for an audience, your playstyle should change.

My natural OCD forces me to trek back to the furthest health-pack away, when progressing through HL2, in case I need to use closer ones later. That's not fun to watch, so I didn't do it. The HL2 'Ravenholm' level is designed for scares and a foreboding atmosphere, so I crept around and allowed myself to be ambushed when I knew enemies were there, just for my brother's scare factor.

And when playing counter-strike in front of the guys at college, I didn't just pick up an AWP, find a good camping spot and just one-shot til the cows came home when people passed predictable points. I hammed it up. I'd run in, guns blazing, playing cat-and-mouse games in buildings. Sometimes I'd make attempts at witty one-liners before pulling off stunts, such as, "Here's a little thing I learned in Nam!" before knifing my way through a vent above two Tangos. The boys would roam campus quoting it, later.

One particular moment stands out as an example of it as a live sport, though.

Counter-Strike: Last man standing, I expended all the ammunition in every weapon I carried against the remaining 5x CTs. I ended up dropping my weapon after each kill, then picking up my victim's weapon and using it on the next guy.

All five kills happened in a matter of seconds in one room as they penned me in and poured in from different directions, sending me whipping about to confront each new threat. It was fairly spectacular and the guys behind me were cheering louder than I've heard any sports fans watching their team on TV - each increasingly improbable kill had them roaring with disbelief til I won the match with 5 health left. They were clapping and back-slapping each other at the end of it.


I'm not sure what to draw from that. The participatory nature of actually being there in the room, instead of watching a youtube video of someone pwning? The fact that the viewer can have an impact? (GF telling me which options to choose in Heavy Rain. Well. More like me crying, "What do I do? I can't do it! Can I? Should I?" and her crying, "I DON'T KNOW!") I read a gamasutra interview with on of the Heavy Rain leads. Apparently he got a lot of feedback from a lot of people who played Heavy Rain with a significant Other nearby, consulting.

This 'gaming as a spectactor sport' might be a lot more prevalant than a bunch of die-hards watching SC2 matches.
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