Monday, June 13, 2022
This post has it's origin in thoughts I had on video games (Roguebook, Diablo Immortal) and on a board game (Return to Dark Tower), so it touches different aspects and genres of gaming. It started with me watching a video from the BoardGameGeek channel, their GameNight series, in which usually 4 players play through a recent board game, explain the rules, and give their thoughts after playing it at the end. This video was about Return to Dark Tower. The game really appealed to me, and I ended up ordering it. But the game session had a somewhat unsatisfying end, because after doing well for the whole game, the players lost at the end in a very unsatisfying manner: They had summoned the final boss, but that boss spawned rather far away from them, and did something at the end of each turn that resulted in the players losing before even getting to him.
Return to Dark Tower is a game with some random elements, controlled by an app and an electro-mechanical device, the Dark Tower. It is not a very difficult game in the sense that the rules aren't overly difficult to understand and turns aren't overly difficult to execute. But the "difficulty" in terms of whether you win or lose at the end seems to be all over the place, with some games being easy pushover wins, and some games being losses you can't do much about. I had a similar experience when I was playing the game I reviewed in my last post, Roguebook, where the randomness of the cards also made me win some games and lose some games, with the outcome not being strictly determined by skill.
The big question is: Does that matter? Do I play to win? Or do I play because I enjoy the time playing that leads up to the final result, win or loss? For me, it is mostly the latter. That is why I ordered Return to Dark Tower, because it looked really fun to play, even if you'd suffer the occasional weak ending. And especially for a board game that I would like to play on my own board game night with friends, it is important that the game is fun during play. That is why we are currently still playing Clank! Legacy, which is fun during playing, and it is not so important who wins at the end.
Regarding Diablo Immortal, after having looked into some more detailed reviews from different sides of the love it - hate it divide, it looks as if it is a game that is very good fun to play until about level 30. Somewhere in the mid-30s it becomes less fun because of grind, with the promise of you spending money making it less grindy. But if you play to win in the PvP part, your success will be much influenced by how much you have spent compared to how much your opponent did spend. Thus the people calculating that it takes between $40k and $100k (often just cited as "$100k") to get a maximum equipped character. For somebody who plays to win, that number is relevant. For somebody who plays to have a fun experience, that number is not relevant.
In other words, in the discussion that has been ongoing over years about Pay2Win games, we have talked too much about the problems of "Pay", when probably the main problem is the "2Win" part. Whether you Pay2Win or Play2Win, if your enjoyment comes solely from the final moment of the game, it will make the process of getting there less pleasant. Which is why people usually have less problems with a Pay2Play model, even if like me they spent hundreds on a World of Warcraft subscription running for years. I don't even regret the thousands I spent in the decade or so that I played Magic the Gathering, because I didn't spend them to win, I spent them to play with all those cards.
The game industry appears currently to be focused very much on the people who want to win, because these people tend to be extremely passionate, and you can manipulate that passion into making them spend far more than the $60 of a pay-to-own game. However, that passion also easily generates a lot of hate, so that Diablo Immortal is currently both one of the most financially successful and one of the most hated games around. In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, there are charm spells that persuade somebody to do what they want, but after the spell wears off, that person realizes he has been manipulated and is more likely to react negatively towards you. Many current games work exactly like that: People spend a bundle of money on them, regret that later, and will be wary before touching the next game from that company. It used to be that a game being announced by Blizzard would automatically be looked forward to positively. But now Blizzard announced Overwatch 2, and some people already complain about it.
It seems to me that the previous model, where a company like Blizzard simply made a game that was enjoyable to play, and built up goodwill over many years with the player base, is the more sustainable one. Concentrating on making the players happy that enjoy playing seems to result in better games, and better long-term profitability for the game company.