Tobold's Blog
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Board games philosophy

Once upon a time, a long time ago, people did not have multiplayer computer games, and the internet wasn't invented yet. Being sufficiently ancient to remember that time, I can tell you what multiplayer games we played back then: Board games. I still have fond memories of great classics, like Talisman, Titan, Railway Rivals, and others. As apparently I'm not the only one with memories, Rock, Paper, Shotgun started a board game column. Now I like neither the author's writing style, nor his prefered games, but the article discusses an important concept which has repercussions for MMORPGs: The Eurogames vs. Ameritrash difference in philosophy.

As RPS describes it, "Eurogames are the board games you can play in polite company" and "If you’ve ever rolled a dice to hit the guy sitting to your left with a poisoned lance, causing him to storm out of the door and march back to his mum’s house with tears in his eyes, you’ve played some prime Ameritrash."

I played both kinds at the time, and observed something: The guy who stormed out of the door and marched back to his mum's house with tears in his eyes might forgive you, but you can't get him to play that same game again. Having only a limited number of other kids around willing to play board games, Ameritrash games quite often ended up being a bad investment: You played them once or twice, and then you couldn't find people to play with you any more. Eurogames were a better investment, because even while losing the other player was still very much involved in the game, and having fun up to the last turn, and who got the most points in the end didn't matter all that much. So even the loser was eager to play again.

Fast forward 30 years, and while games look differently, human psychology hasn't changed a bit. Thus we have ganking games like APB either shutting down, or languishing at 20k subscribers like Darkfall. We have "successful" PvP games in which at closer look over 80% of the players don't PvP and stay in safe areas. And we have the most popular games offering mostly PvE, and the kind of "everybody wins" PvP which makes the losers not feel too bad about themselves. Maybe some developers of "impact PvP" games should go back and play some board games with kids before wasting another $100 million on a glorious Ameritrash PvP MMORPG.
If those labels ("Eurogames" and "Ameritrash") are applied because of the origin of each respective type of game, then it strikes me as irony on a grand scale that all the current "Ameritrash" PvP games you're talking about are European, whereas the successful "Eurogame" you refer to (I assume you mean WoW) is American :)
@Oscar: In that case we are talking about Eurotrash games and Amerigames....

@Tobold: If it wasn't for me listening to a podcast called Game On, I would never have known about Ameritrash/Eurogames, and would probably have felt really insulted to have a European referring to games as Ameritrash.

On the other hand, considering how much I detest Monopoly, I easily grasp the concept of what an Ameritrash game is about, and concur with the idea that perhaps PVP should not be the focus of any massively multiplayer game that allows for difference in power levels.

That being said, I think the concept of WoW's PVP "sport" (where teams are given max level toons with the intended armor and access to whatever gems/enchantments you want), allows for the best version of how an MMO PVP should be.

I think others who played Guild Wars, might say something about them, but since I never got "into" Guild Wars, I can't say for sure myself.
@Oscar: Agreed, I noticed that irony too.
I'm not sure if you see it, but the way this was written has a somewhat dismissive, Keen-and-Graev vibe to it that is very polarizing.

Just from the Ameritrash sentiment alone.
@iamstillwater: Thing is, even Americans who have experienced good European games, call it Ameritrash.

Compare Settlers of Catan to Monopoly.
Really not my fault, I'm only quoting the term from RPS, and they didn't invent it either.
I didn't know it was a long-established term. My apologies.

It's an odd term for me to read, I guess. :)
Like I said before, if it wasn't for the podcast, I would not of known about the terms either, and I also wouldn't have discovered a wealth of boardgames that are actually fun.

@Tobold: With this idea in mind, how would YOU do a cooperative/competitive PVE MMO?
Do you think its possible? If so, under what conditions?
how would YOU do a cooperative/competitive PVE MMO?

I don't think PvE is the problem. Most PvE MMORPGs appear to be doing fine, keeping up an illusion of competition, while hurting nobody.
How would you do a PvP MMO? Would you have it be more like a sport where the PvP activities are balanced, or something else, or would you just ignore PvP altogether?
Ameritrash games...

WOW... I mean WOW and I thought only Americans had Hot Sports Opions like that...

Pardon the Interuption(TM)

It's always nice to see the boys across the pond getting chippy... No offense but it happens so rarely that we wonder if y'all ever get excited about anything.

Ok just to stir the pot a teeny bit...

Would an example of Ameritrash be WOW and an example of Eurogames be ABP???

Just wondering :)
Tobold, what is your fascination with ripping apart PvP-centric games? I'm not really a huge fan of them either, but I do enjoy them from time to time and would be rather disappointed at not having the option to play them.

Just wondering, since it's been an ongoing theme here.
I'm ripping apart features of MMORPGs that don't work. The so-called "impact PvP" is just one example. The interest is to look at human psychology and deduct while certain features work or don't work in a MMORPG.

How would I do PvP in a MMORPG? I think there are several different ways. Either you make it positive sum, so that everybody wins, but small scale. Or if you want a kingdom vs. kingdom kind of PvP, you need at least 3 sides, and preferably make it so that winning makes you weaker, while losing makes you stronger. Sounds strange, I know, but that would be autobalancing. Anything else just leads to people either quitting, or rerolling on the winning side.
Fair enough, I see where you're coming from at least more importantly your direction. I just started reading your blog more often so I probably missed key posts about this.

I don't think I like the "everybody wins" concept, unless you mean everybody has a chance to win. And so far what I've experience with FFA pvp mmos is people resort to the lowest common denominator and gank newbs for materials/fun etc. This never bothered me one bit in games since I'm not attached to my pixels, but after awhile the loss of time got on my nerves after repeated ganks.
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Sorry for the deletes :/

@Angry Gamers: Only Americans would come and start spouting shit without reading ;)

It's a name that is from the BOARD GAME ERA and has no current relevance, especially in regards to the location of game studios. Also, I'd remind you that the beloved creator of Ultima Online, Mr Gariott, was European. So was Richard Bartle, but meh.

Pardon the education interruption, but one must endeavour to educate the colonists whenever one can.

On-topic: I think this is why FPSes are such a huge success. Apart from some small mathematical numbers (lolmathsisfurgeekslol) i.e. the kill:death ratio, there really is very little that can be done to you, and the plus side is you always progress towards that brand new gun with slightly different stats. A newbie is never at disadvantage apart from skill-wise, not gear-wise.

World of Tanks, however, decides to do away with all that goodness and create a terrible newbie experience, but hey. That's another story.
My solution for PVP MMO is to make it like Team Fortress 2. Getting in puts you on equal level with everyone else (Champions Online does this btw, bumping you up to the maximum level of your tier), and give everyone the same gear (CO does not do this part of it), or at least option of gears.

Right now, in WoW, most of the PVP is done before a match, gearing up etc.
For a game that is a bad investment Monopoly sure has been, and continues to be, a huge success and a game that pretty much everyone to ever play a board game has played. I don't think I've ever met a person who didn't enjoy Monopoly...
@Tobold Funny, the 2nd version of PvP you describe is almost exactly how DAOC worked.

3 realms, and Winning = more keeps/relics to defend = thinner-spread defense forces = weaker.

The only real problems they had was more to do with population and class imbalances between realms. Man, do I miss that game.
Would you say that Monopoly and Chess are PvP games though? I think that the boardgame era has historically been virtually only comprised of PvP games (I appreciate you are referring to particular gaming studios here though).

I recently played a "PvE" boardgame - Outbreak. You all have to work together to combat various diseases, it was quite fun.

I don't think it was made clear in Tobold's brief post, but "Eurogames" aren't necessarily anti-PvP, rather they're designed such that PvP is 1) strategic, rather than purely luck based and 2) incapable of crippling a player's ability to respond or recover. Many do have clear victory conditions and result in a "winner," even if winning doesn't involve "killing" opponents.

The key distinction is usually one of depth and subtlety, not merely the absence or presence of PvP. Eurogames tend to have more complex systems that players can utilize to achieve victory, whereas "Ameritrash" games tend to be shallow and highly luck based (e.g. Monopoly).

I actually think Tobold's analogy breaks down a bit due to this fact. As an example, EVE has a pretty astounding economy sim with many facets, which could easily be the basis for a German style competitive board game. Yet, as with any economy based game, that is still a PvP endeavor.

"the beloved creator of Ultima Online, Mr Gariott, was European"

He's not European. He's a Texan through and through.

He was born in Cambridge to American parents. He moved back to Texas as a baby where was raised. He still lives there.
Avalon Hill are American and I've always thought of them as the epitome of quality in war-themed board games.
I hadn't heard the term Ameritrash before, I can see how it's likely to distract people :)

re: Avalon Hill, he's not saying that all American games fall into this category. (Actually I bet Talisman would, and that's a British game.)

Also the majority of Eurogames I've played do in fact have a winner and you can play them very competitively if you want to. You can really screw with your opponents in Carcassonne if you want, frex. It's just that they tend to be good fun even if you are losing.
@Stabs - yes to AH; S&T/SPI and GDW were good but Avalon Hill was the class act. IIRC, AH published Diplomacy, a great game, which of course involves no dice or RNG at all.

@Song7 - For me at least, I think you can make good PvP games and good MMOs but the point is good non-consentual PVP MMOs is very problematic. The Idea of PvP is that player skill not the gear you bought and MMOs, unfortunately, are about grinding for better pixels. You try to tell the veteran MMO player that you are leveling the playing field slightly for newer players and you get much QQ about gb2wow or hello kitty.

BTW, if you think Monopoly or Poker or Backgammon is mostly luck, you are not a good player. I remember reading one of the many strategy books on Monopoly; a player owed $200 for landing on something and did not have it. He asked if he could pay the remainder from his wallet. The opponent said sure. So he opened his wallet and removed $200 in monopoly money he had for such an occasion. Good Monopoly games and players are about trades and deals and money management at least as much as luck.

I think the book may have been 1000 Ways to Win Monopoly Games by Walker and Lehman. The latter became president of Cornel University and the Walker became the billionaire founder of
thumbs up for titan! :)
I've never played any european board games because I generally fall asleep before I can even read through the titles.

Also, not to be a stickler, but the Call of Duty and Halo series are both primarily PvP games, and are both immensely popular.
"Most PvE MMORPGs appear to be doing fine"

Oh yes, DDO, LoTRO, EQ2, Alganon, etc are all doing really, really well as PvE games, while silly PvP EVE is still struggling to top 400k after 7 years (which it will in 2011, while some of the above might go poof).

But overall, the point would make sense if not for the fact that all the major genres of gaming are Ameritrash-style (FPS, RTS, Sports), while the tiny niche sections (puzzle, adventures) are Eurogames. Add in that even in WoW everyone competes via the AH or the shiny chase, and again, not seeing the 'everyone hug it out' style dominating.

What DOES dominate is casual Ameritrash games, vs (insert term) games like Darkfall. And like boardgames, at some point you either give them up entirely, or move on from Candyland to A&A.
Topic suggestion: game profitability and why people quote subscribers. In particular, what do you game insiders/cognoscenti use to estimate profitability. In particular, how many subscribers does it take to support a developer.

Personally, I think a game with 20k subscribers with a nice profit margin is doing better than if SWTOR gets 999k subscribers and loses money.

Specifically, the 350k subscribers quoted for EvE. That is about $60m/year of gross income. Take off direct costs like credit card fees, servers, bandwidth, customer support and you get a much smaller number. I am used to California programmers being considerably above $200k/year in fully burdened ( salary, benefits, overhead ) cost. And there were supposedly >300 people working on the Apocrapha release and a considerable number still.

And if 75% of the WoW players don't make it through the trial, I can only imagine the % at EVE. 350k subscribers staying 6-8 months on average means you need 1-2 thousand new subscribers every day. How many Google ads do you need to put up in order to get enough people to click through, sign up, and survive the daunting EVE new player experience?

I may be overestimating direct costs or
overestimating % developers vs lower paid people (SQA, tech pubs) or Iceland is much cheaper.

But I can't see how CCP / EVE is doing that well financially on EVE. What do people who know the industry far better than I estimate?
I'm not sure how you can take boardgames and extend the point to PvP in MMOs. Boardgames are about as pure a PvP instance as you can find, whether it's Risk or Candyland. I agree with your point about PvP though, which is making me think why we are okay with PvP in boardgames but not in MMOs.

Though it should be Eurobore and Ameritrash for equally opportunity slamming.
I am a Board Game Geek myself and we've been using these term for awhile but now Eurogames do not mean they are published by Euro Companies, it just the style of games are that of what was considered "Eurogames" back then. For instances Fantasy Flight Games just released a Eurogame called constintinapolis even though Fantasy Flight Games is an American Company. Same is true for Euro Companies (French company Asmodee) released an Ameritrash game (Tannhauser; which was bought by FFG later on).

Unlike what the name indicated Ameritrash games are not "trash" at all. They are just simply more battle oriented and confrontational (most of the time) while Eurogames are more strategic with economy/trade/auction themes generally.
Oh, and Board Games are not about PvP. There are a lot of Cooperative Board Games like Arkham Horror, Shadows over Camelot, Castle Ravenloft, Battlestar Galagtica and more. There are also indirect competition games that are not "pvp" per se like DungeonQuest, The Adventurerers and others.

I believe if MMO developers think INSIDE the box (Board Games) and play a few Board Games they would add a lot to MMO games. I love the "traitor" part of some of the games where you know there's a chance you have a traitor in your group that's hindering your progress or even sabotaging your quest but you have no idea who he is!
Explaining why the traitor would want to sabotage the group's progress is because if the group fails the traitor wins. That kind of mechanic is fun and fresh. This is just one of the genius Board Game designers have come up with.
Have to call on this one, hiding behind the "don't get mad at me I am just quoting the site" defense only works in the quote, and possibly once more to distinguish what the words mean. To take it to absurd proportions, I could link a site a quote it referring to among other things derogatory references to several ethnic backgrounds, and then continue to use terms, would I be right to hide behind "I am just quoting the site" or am I trying to foster similar thoughts and actions in my readers?

Other than that, it is an interesting concept
Just as a followup and to really drive the point home I am not suggesting parity between these actions in terms of the type of person would do each only that the situation is the same, if I quoted a site disparaging African Americans, and then continued to use those terms I would be spouting racist comments one way or another. I have to say that Rohan at blessing of kings did it well calling them first to goal and last man standing respectively
A Google search for "Ameritrash" gives you nearly 15,000 hits, many from respectable sites like Board Game Geeks. This is really the term people use when discussing this sort of game.

With all respect to Rohan, he can name them whatever he wants, but nobody else uses his terms, and so they are kind of useless to communicate with other board game fans who are used to the Ameritrash term.
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