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  • Gameplay "Profit & Loss"

    Figured it might be good to re-post this where others might be able to find it since it was such a length write-up:

    There are so many nuances to ARPG design that I could probably write a book about it and there are many factors that I think contribute to the success of Diablo 2.

    On the subject of replayability though, there is one sort of high-level factor that I think is a key predictor in determining how much time a given person will likely spend playing and replaying a game. I call it the "profit & loss" ratio and Diablo II has one of the best P&L ratios I've ever experienced.

    Basically, the idea goes something like this...

    Profit is all the things that are pleasing or enjoyable about playing a game. There are two main categories of profit: fun and reward.

    Fun is the immediate, second-to-second feeling of excitement and enjoyment that you have while you're playing. You feel fun right when it is happening but fun is a fleeting feeling that doesn't really stick around once you stop doing whatever was fun. I've seen many instances where people seem to have a ton of fun doing something or playing a game and then after they just never think to go back and play again. You'd think since fun feels so great when its happening that we'd want to keep repeating it but it seems the brain is more interested in reminding us about rewards. Fun is important to keep us playing long enough so that we can experience reward. If people are having fun, they'll sit down for a longer session of gaming but it is the feeling of reward that lingers with us, that our brain wants more of, that keeps us coming back to play again.

    A few types of things that generate profit:

    Stimulating combat
    Exploration / seeing cool things for the first time
    Advancing our character
    Collecting items and gold
    Thinking about creating new / better character builds
    Socializing with friends in-game / meeting new people
    Beating difficult enemies / difficulty modes
    Etc, etc, etc...

    Working contrary to all this is loss. Loss is basically tedium, unrewarded effort, frustration and so on. The funny thing about loss in gaming is that it can often come from the smallest things. That extra click to open a UI panel, load times, tedious actions that we must repeat. The worst type of loss is that which is incurred before you encounter profit - everything you need to do before you can start playing. Anyone ever been bored and considered firing up an old game but then thought about the nuisance of reinstalling it or just how long it takes to load up and decided to go do something else?

    Over time, eventually profits start to diminish and loss tends gets worse. That really cool thing you saw the first time through is always a little less cool each time you see it. That long load time to get in-game and all those extra, pointless clicks on the UI get more tedious each time. Even some things that may have added to the enjoyment initially can become tedious quickly.

    For me, one thing that can become extremely tedious is going back through quests that have lots of small steps. It might be great the first time, hearing each NPC's back-story and perspective, following along and going through the steps to unlock the next part of the story, but once you've done it, if there is no alternative way to play, you already know what is going to happen. Having to run back and forth to hear different NPCs repeat the same lines you've already heard just so you can be assigned a quest that you already know about before you can unlock the gate to move forward becomes quite monotonous.

    D2 has a great P&L ratio because it launches quickly, you can be in-game within seconds and once you enter the world, you can just teleport right out into the action without a lot of preparation. You can go from clicking on the executable to killing in like 10 seconds. It is one of the few RPGs where you feel like you can accomplish something meaningful by playing 15mins or less. The combat is fast paced, fun and you can even play semi-effectively while slouched in your chair drunk with only one hand on the mouse should you choose to. The game is a constant stream of slot-machine style reward. There is always another item to get and always another loot chest or enemy at the edge of the screen that might drop something good. You get to make tangible and lasting decisions about the advancement of your character through the allocation of skill and attribute points. You get numerical proof of your increasing power and there is always something you can work at making just a little bit better. Even as you're playing one character, this continual thinking about new builds and gear you discover that would be great for a class other than what you're playing basically lays the foundation for your next replay.

    Where D2 is really great is in the way it reduces many of the most common sources of tedium. You generally don't have to talk to NPCs, you can finish Act1 without ever talking to anyone. You can stumble upon and complete quests while out adventuring in the world without having to first talk to NPCs to receive them. Even the towns are small and efficiently designed so there is minimal running around. When you're on your 4937459327523957 play-through of D2, even just the small distance from the portal to the merchant or up to resurrect your mercenary can feel long but think how much shorter it is than most games. A lot of studios seem to want to create these giant towns, which are often initially impressive but can become a source of tedium over time if the few places you routinely need to visit are spaced out by a bunch of useless filler (of course, this isn't necessarily the case in games where gameplay takes place within the towns). Finally, my nemesis, scripted scenes that you're forced to sit through... All these things, when done well, can make for a great initial experience but they tend to reduce replayability over time. Depends what you want in the end, the best initial experience with limited replay value or maximum replayability to keep you coming back time and again.

    Anyway, you get the idea. To me, the greatest success of D2 is the profit to loss ratio. There always seems to be more reason to go back and play than not to.

    EDIT - Added this post in that was a response to a question below:

    The challenge and the frustration that might occur in dying to a boss is not really what I meant by "loss". At least, so long as you understood why you died and knew what you could do to improve.

    In this context, frustration can be part of a larger cycle of reward that actually enhances the feeling of reward when it happens. In fact, I remember reading an article that discussed how the supposed purpose of anger was to heighten our focus and motivation to overcome obstacles. So, I think unless you become hopelessly frustrated to the point that you just flip a table over and walk away, this type of frustration can actually motivate us to play more / play more intensely.

    The type of loss I'm talking about has no long-term positive effect. For example, in one game I played a while back, it had gold auto-pickup but it was really touchy and you had to get right over the gold and sometimes pause for a second before it would pick up. It was incredibly annoying because picking up gold isn't something you expect to be challenging and the auto-pickup "convenience feature" actually made it worse than having to click on it due to it's inconsistency. When performing mundane tasks in games is more difficult than doing them in real life, there is a problem.

    You expect boss fights to be difficult though and if they're done right, when you die, even though you may feel frustration and direct it at the game, inside you're really frustrated with yourself and want to do better.

    The Andariel fight in D2 is one of my favorite. It always felt very challenging and intense when you got their early, with a lower-level character because she could kill you pretty quickly if you weren't careful.

  • #2
    Very interesting.

    Interesting on how you are trying to outline how you are trying not to get people bored while playing Grim Dawn.
    Now playing:

    PC: Mount and Blade : Napoleonic Wars, League of Legends, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.

    PS3: ---

    Waiting for: Grim Dawn, Warcraft 4.

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    • #3
      I enjoyed reading this when you first posted it but it got a bit drowned out.

      There's a lot I agree with, and I think the 'time between launching the game and killing things' is more important than most realise or admit.
      Another thing I feel can be an issue is the entry barrier of having to 'get into' the game and it's mechanics before you can enjoy it again. As an example, I want to play League of Legends right now, I have it installed, it doesn't take that long to launch and get into a match, but what's keeping me out is that I can't quite remember how to play (skill synergies, builds/items, map control metagame, etc), and it will take me a good few rounds to get back into it.

      For rpg's this is mostly an issue on loading up an old character, where you have no idea how your build worked, lost track of your items and quest, and have no sense of direction or immediate goals apart from looking at your quest journal and going "this one, I guess..." without any sense of accomplishment beyond clearing it out from your log.


      What you say about screen space and mob spacing is really interesting as well, and something I've honestly never considered yet I can see it being completely deliberate and by design, and playing a significant role in the feel and pacing of the game.


      The whole Fun vs. Rewarding thing I feel is a bit of blight on gaming these days. I was really into arena shooters before, Unreal Tournament and Quake and such, but that seems like a dead (or niche at the very best) genre these days as most people won't play a shooter (or games in general) unless it has a 'reward' system like perks, unlocks, and levels. I suppose that's also the archetypical MMO in a nutshell - it's not designed to be fun, only rewarding. You're not meant to enjoy it - only to play it over time.

      I'm all for rewarding gameplay of course, and it's even one of the primary reasons I enjoy arpg's, but if there's no fun in there it starts feeling like an insidious plot that's designed to scam me into playing, rather than an invitation to enjoy a good game.

      Oops, I ranted.
      Praise the sun!

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      • #4
        very interesting reading there and I agree fully with what you said
        Legendary key holder since 20/12/2010

        Co-op Digital Deluxe Bundle supporter I hope GD is a success

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        • #5
          I would consider loss as: Any time the player spends inactive (not playing the ‘active game’).

          Profit is just as you described it – actions or rewards that directly affect the player.

          Tedium increases loss and only adversely affects a player’s overall desire to play the game.

          I do consider 'small breaks' where the player looks at the gear they acquired as a benefit though, its part of the reward.

          With your definition it’s more beneficial to reduce quest gating where the player is inactive or unable to skip bloated text dialogues and cut-scenes. Sure those devices are cool the first time around but we eventually just want to play the game.
          _______
          Legendary Fan & KickStart Supporter

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          • #6
            How does a game dev tread the fine line with loot drops? Too frequent and rare/uber loot items lose their wow factor. Too rare and they might as well not exist? This applies to both WYSIWYG and with random loot dropping. In the ARPG, it would count as a dramatic loss if I failed to get respectable gear in a particular time frame. As a secondary question, what defines a suitable timeframe. Does being built around chance create a series of nightmares?

            I remember with my first playthrough of Diablo II (even before I knew of the players 8 command) I had no idea for instance that gold unique drops were present. All I ever received during the playthrough, on normal, right up through Act V was magical, unique and set item drops. Even the yellow unique items were exceedingly rare. Keep in mind that as a first time, on normal, boss farming wasn't high on my priority list.

            The second great loss with Diablo was the map design. Sure enough, the towns were great. Small brief escapes from the action with minimal walking required to get from Point A to Point B. Well, except the third town in the jungle. And I'll expand upon that and say the third act in terms of map design was clearly the weakest. Too much emphasis on rivers to cordon off areas set into arbitary chokepoints over bridges. Except that a ranged player had a dramatic advantage over a melee focused character. Then there were the expansive dungeons which meant various paths in the initial exploration could lead to long convuluted paths to nowhere. Thirdly with the third act was the little pygmy type guys. Can I say that when playing melee (Paladin or Barb) vs AoE (eg: multi shot Amazon or Frozen Orb Sorc) the difference in effectiveness at taking them down was overtly apparent. The melee required a lot more effort to progress while the AoE breezed along. It created a dyssynchrony when playing online where the melee characters felt completely useless. Oh, and the wormhole in Act II sucked significantly.

            While it is true that killing in Diablo II was quick to get to, it would also be hamstrung by what may end up as poor selection of skills. Heck, there were plenty of skills in that game that were not worth putting points into at all.

            Of course, based on Medierra's post, I do expect one thing in particular. If the company logo is going to flash up on screen, at the very least let me skip past it immediately upon pressing a key on the keyboard, or mouseclick. Failing that, don't hide the videos in a jumble of folders that require digging through so I can delete them and skip the unrequired loading. This also applies to unskippable video during the game. Primary reason why Assasins Creed (the first) sits in the pile of games partially played and never returned to. The story sucks, just give me the action.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by medierra View Post
              Where D2 is really great is in the way it reduces many of the most common sources of tedium. You generally don't have to talk to NPCs, you can finish Act1 without ever talking to anyone. You can stumble upon and complete quests while out adventuring in the world without having to first talk to NPCs to receive them. Even the towns are small and efficiently designed so there is minimal running around. When you're on your 4937459327523957 play-through of D2, even just the small distance from the portal to the merchant or up to resurrect your mercenary can feel long but think how much shorter it is than most games. A lot of studios seem to want to create these giant towns, which are often initially impressive but can become a source of tedium over time if the few places you routinely need to visit are spaced out by a bunch of useless filler (of course, this isn't necessarily the case in games where gameplay takes place within the towns). Finally, my nemesis, scripted scenes that you're forced to sit through... All these things, when done well, can make for a great initial experience but they tend to reduce replayability over time. Depends what you want in the end, the best initial experience with limited replay value or maximum replayability to keep you coming back time and again.

              Anyway, you get the idea. To me, the greatest success of D2 is the profit to loss ratio. There always seems to be more reason to go back and play than not to.
              I read this articles a few days ago which explains how Diablo 3 tries to tell the story without interrupting the flow of the game which you might find interesting medierra. http://hypercriticism.net/2012/diabl...hould-be-told/

              A way to do it which you can have the story evolve without hindering the fun after multiple times could be some quest givers to escort you to the objectives while narrating their story, or the background story of the game. I don't know if followers in Diablo do this, dont have beta, but it sounds viable to me since it doesn't interrupt you from playing. Or something along those lines, I'm just throwing some rough ideas i have here.

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              • #8
                /Facepalm

                Not sure I had the same experience. I found the forced quest steps to be somewhat disruptive.
                Last edited by medierra; 03-26-2012, 02:19 AM. Reason: sanitized to avoid fanboy-rage

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                • #9
                  After a long wait, I finally got a chance to play the Beta, one thing I like is the ability to skip over most of the dialog and choose your start point in a quest.

                  You could start from the beginning each time, but it makes more sense to start just before a major boss.

                  We'll have to see how this plays out once the game goes live, so far I've found that I'm always killing something unless I stop and listen to someone intentionally.
                  _______
                  Legendary Fan & KickStart Supporter

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Thorns View Post
                    A way to do it which you can have the story evolve without hindering the fun after multiple times could be some quest givers to escort you to the objectives while narrating their story, or the background story of the game.
                    Please no. Being forced to listen to some blathering blatherskite while making your way to a quest location is not terribly fun, for me at least. Not to mention it raises serious questions.

                    1. Can the NPC's dialog be skipped/can he be muted? It better be. Little things lower my ability to replay games. Unskippable quest dialog, even if it doesn't hinder my progress, annoys the crap out of me beyond the second run. Yes, I'm easily annoyed.

                    2. Is the player forced to move at the NPC's pace? Boring and frustrating for people who want action. Becomes exponentially more boring with each playthrough.

                    3. Is the quest giver invulnerable or somehow invisible to enemies? Breaks immersion, diminishes the weight of the player's struggle. In essence, "Why don't you do it?"

                    4. Do you have to defend the quest giver? ....

                    Escort missions...ugh. Talk about frustrating. In my experience, the player is generally forced to listen to some idiot NPC with terrible pathfinding and a scripted lack of common sense scream and cry about how you aren't protecting them from every bruise and scrape while you are fighting off an implausible number of foes that seem to ignore you in pursuit of the squishy. And if he isn't so squishy, it falls into #3 above.


                    My favorite quests are some in Skyrim. No time pressure and you might already have the item they are looking for. The ability to go explore an area freely, go back to town, and find that you already have completed some major quests without intending to is kinda neat.
                    Last edited by Urban Scorpion; 04-13-2012, 02:47 PM.

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                    • #11
                      I'm pretty much in agreement with you Urban Scorpion.

                      In the D3 beta when the NPCs escort you to quest objectives, it is through areas with no enemies. So, really, you might as well be forced to stand there listening to their long, drawn out tale, it is the same thing, just disguised by running.

                      Some people don't mind that sort of thing but, like you, I find it annoying and increasingly so with each play-through.

                      On the other hand, when you first meet the templar sidekick, he has pieces of dialog he says while you're fighting. I don't mind that since you can just keep fighting and don't have to follow him or lead him anywhere. I think it is also optional whether you invite him to join you or not, whereas in the story quests, you have no choice.

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                      • #12
                        I agree with Urban and Medierra, quests with escort portions with far too slow NPCs are simply frustrating. If fighting is involved (and quickly) then I can handle that...but even in Skyrim, as much as I love the game...I want to shoot it when I have to follow that NPC that walks at 1mph from point A to point B a mile away. Doesn't happen often thankfully but when it does it's my least enjoyable part of the game... Hell I don't even mind WoW's collect X items quests compared to that (not that I play anymore).

                        As much as some decisions they made with D3 turns me off (mainly always online requirement, bleck), I'll most likely give it a try still...but I'm honestly looking forward to Grim Dawn more than D3 or PoE (although still enjoyable).

                        Soul
                        GD Defiler test version has been released!
                        This is NOT yet compatible with Build 18+ character files!
                        http://www.grimdawn.com/forums/showthread.php?t=9343

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by medierra View Post
                          In the D3 beta when the NPCs escort you to quest objectives, it is through areas with no enemies. So, really, you might as well be forced to stand there listening to their long, drawn out tale, it is the same thing, just disguised by running.
                          That's just evil. It's a way of tying the player to their chair if they wish to play the game, long before they are allowed to play the game.

                          Even the tram opening of the original Half-Life wasn't that bad (I could go make a sandwich). But it still kept me from playing the game a second time for a long while. This was before the graphics were considered to be dated.
                          Last edited by Urban Scorpion; 04-13-2012, 03:59 PM. Reason: Half-Life was played multiple times, just took a while.

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                          • #14
                            Fascinating stuff. I have to agree that an interactive medium quickly becomes frustrating when it's forced into the mold of a non-interactive one. The last thing I want is for my entertainment to approximate real-life tedium.

                            TECHNOmancer
                            "We already know Crate has talented people as well...do we need to pretend Blizzard has a bunch of monkeys sitting around slapping keyboards to appreciate what Crate is doing with Grim Dawn?" -- Renevent

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Urban Scorpion View Post
                              That's just evil. It's a way of tying the player to their chair if they wish to play the game, long before they are allowed to play the game.

                              Even the tram opening of the original Half-Life wasn't that bad (I could go make a sandwich). But it still kept me from playing the game a second time for a long while. This was before the graphics were considered to be dated.
                              Not sure what version of the D3 beta he played, but currently there are 3 cases where you have to go with NPCs, and none of them feel like an escort quest.

                              1) NPC follows you at your speed, helps you fight enemies. Very short duration.
                              2) NPC leads you through town to a basement, at your speed, but you're free to follow at your leasure. Inside the basement, NPC follows at your speed. Very short duration.
                              3) NPC follows you at your speed, helps you fight enemies. This one lasts some time, until you're given the choice to continue with them as a companion (if playing singleplayer).

                              None feature unskippable dialog that you have to sit through (excluding two very brief in-engine events), and having played through the 2-2.5 hour beta 4-5 times within a week, none of the NPC interactions bothered me as annoying. Some of the voice actors / acting, on the other hand... There are only 3 games where the voice acting bothers me, and the D3 beta is one of them.

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