Back in the game!
No matter how long its been since I jumped into a game, I can always seem to jump back in and figure it out after a little bit. Doesn’t seem to matter how long it’s been, either. The muscles, the mind, they remember these things, and how to do them, even if the skills have been sitting dormant for a few months, or even a few years.
I sometimes like to think of life as a big arcade. Every game is new, and you certainly have some preferences, but all of the machines are there, ready for you to try them out.
Of course, every machine has a cost to start up – some of the classics are easier, just a quarter. Others may be a little more – fifty cents. The new ones, now those cost the most. Sometimes two, three, or even five dollars to try something truly cutting-edge. And there you stand, in the middle, looking at all the cabinets, and having the sights and sounds wash over you in a cacophony of digital input.
Inadvertently, you often start with your old favorites. You find a cabinet you’re familiar with, and rest your hands on the cabinet, the button positions instantly familiar to you, and the joystick settling comfortably in your palm. You toss in a quarter, and off you go. Sure, you may fail a couple of times, but you quickly figure it out, getting back into the saddle, impressed with what you remember.
Throughout the arcade, though, are other experiences. Some look more difficult and you don’t know if you’re up to it, some look unfamiliar, and you’re unsure if you’d even enjoy it, though it looks as if those who are playing those cabinets are certainly enjoying themselves.
Problem is, you don’t want to look like an idiot. You don’t want to put two dollars into the machine just to fail quickly and then have someone else make fun of you for it.
So, you just stick with the machines you know. You wait until that cabinet is clear, and no one else is watching, and then you give it a shot. You try it, you fail. You try again, and you fail. You try, and then succeed! You start doing well!
You notice that a couple people are watching you play out of the corner of your eye, and it starts to be a little distracting. You suddenly fail.
Up comes the screen “Continue? Insert Coin.”
If you want to try again, it’s going to cost you, and now, there are people watching. Are you going to put up the cost and try again?
- – – – -
Of course, the metaphor is a little strained, but here’s the point – How often do we talk ourselves out of trying something because it’s difficult? Because it’s unfamiliar? Because we might get ridiculed, or we’ve never tried it before? Or maybe because the cost to start was a little more than we were ready to give?
Fact is, the arcade of life doesn’t care whether you play or not. Someone will, because others are always playing. There’s always another quarter right there on the screen, with someone else ready to play when you fail, and they’re chomping at the bit to get in on the game.
To stand in the middle of the arcade and just watch others play – That’s the worst. You may only have a few quarters, but there are games that you can play. Get out there and try.
There’s always going to be games you don’t get a shot at. Experiences that you’re going to miss out on, but you’ve got to make a choice. You’ve got to take a step towards one of the machines, and drop a quarter.
Gotta insert the coin, and press start.
Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of basketball. Mostly pickup games at the gym. Now, I’m not the most spectacular player by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m often reminded by my teammates that I’d probably fit in better on a football field than a basketball court, but I’m still learning.
The nature of the pickup game, though, is such that there usually isn’t a referee. Most often, there’s nobody whose job it is to make the calls, enforce the rules, and make sure that everyone’s playing fair. Because of this, it’s really left up to the individual players to call our own fouls, track our own out of bounds, and watch for travelling, keep track of the score, and decide what is and isn’t “fair play.”
It’s a raw version of Huizinga’s magic circle, especially considering that, regardless of the individual players’ full, half, or even just partial understanding of the rules is generally just submitted to whomever the players believe best understands them.
Put another way, I often have a hard time with the intricacies of basketball rules: Three in the key, hand is part of the ball, proper screening, hand on the back when you’re defending, boxing-out techniques, foul rules on rebounds… There are just so many things that I don’t completely understand the specifics of, and so I generally try to take what more-experienced players on the court tell me as truth.
All players, upon entering the court’s magic circle, agree to abide by the group’s consensus of calls on the court, for most anything, except for one rather specific instance.
Fouls. Everyone is expected to call their own fouls. When you foul someone, you’re expected to say something, so that the offended player/team can get the ball back and everyone can start playing again.
Now, of course, because it’s a bunch of human beings playing, as opposed to robots, this opens up the system to abuse, as players are allowed to self-determine what is and is not a foul. The system’s effectiveness is determined by honesty, which can sometimes be difficult to ascertain when both individuals in a situation are in conflict, each with a stake in the outcome of a decision.
So, we appeal to sportsmanship, and the desire for fair play, in the hopes that our own common decency will allow us to look a little past our personal gain towards the greater goal of everyone getting back to the game and playing again.
Granted, the stake and the repercussions may not be all that high in a pickup basketball game, and so generally things go relatively smoothly. But not always.
On Facebook, forums, and message boards, or even in random conversations in real-life, I feel like we similarly enter into a “magic circle” when we offer an opinion. We agree to allow for others to look over something that we’ve stated, and respond to it.
Much like a game of pickup basketball, we tend to pick teams quickly, deciding for or against a given opinion, with those who don’t care choosing not to enter the circle. What is interesting, though, is how quickly we end up in a foul situation, with two or more individuals battling over a “call” that was made.
The desire is not to get back to the game, instead, the game is transformed into “winning the call,” and we pride ourselves on our own moral victories over another individual simply because we were “right” and they were “wrong.” We delude ourselves into believing that the “call” is what’s important, when the reality is that even when you have a referee, sometimes the wrong call is made. Sometimes it doesn’t come out in your favor, but you’ve got to keep on going, and keep on playing anyway.
But so often, we don’t do that. Instead, we focus on the call, we let it boil inside of us. We get angry, bitter, or spiteful that someone would dare make the call against us. Or, on the flip side, we instead make the call pre-emptively, assuming a foul before the play has even occurred. We call foul when, in fact, the play was clean to begin with.
Now, of course, the metaphor is starting to get away from me here, but I’d just like to leave it at this – We, each of us, are either playing the game, or we’re standing on the sidelines watching. Each time that we engage someone else, each time that we decide to share our thoughts with others, we consciously decide to take a shot.
From that point in, you’re in the magic circle, you’re on the court, and you don’t always get to decide who’s going to be playing with you. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t show a little good sportsmanship. Play the game.
Because unlike basketball, there’s not always a clear winner. But if we don’t learn to call our own fouls, you can be sure there will be plenty of losers.
I had an interesting discussion with a colleague the other day, after we were discussing the free-to-play game design models at length. After tossing around the obligatory annoyance for the differences in monetization, we started talking about what it really was that bothered us about F2P games in general. Was it the fact that not everything was included in a game? Was it having to pay for things multiple times? Maybe just that gamers are, by and large, cheapskates? Or is it the lack of meaningful compensation for the player’s money much of the time?
Our ideas went all over the place, and though it wasn’t a discussion with any particular goal or agenda, we did start discussing something interesting that I wanted to write about.
Every time the annoyance at F2P gaming comes up, someone will, inevitably, bring up League of Legends. Now, that’s not without merit – League is easily one of the most high-profile and profitable free-to-play games in the world, and they’ve not only survived, but thrived on F2P, generating revenues rumored to be upwards of $100 Million per year.1
This is even more staggering when you consider that the game has largely avoided the derision that has seemingly attached itself permanently to the F2P moniker, eliciting groans from gamers when they hear the term. Instead, League has proven to be very popular, and I’m consistently curious why that is, but that’s a discussion that’s being had all over the place, and not really what I wanted to bring up.
(Though, I will say, the next point was brought up in conjunction with an aside comparison between Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2 which, owing to their perspective top-down and FPS views, may have had some influence in the conversation.)
I came to a realization last night as I was talking with my friend, and realized that, if you pull back to a high level, the Champions in League of Legends are no different than choosing a different “gun” in Call of Duty/Battlefield/Planetside 2, etc. Fundamentally, the “playstyle” of the weapon may change, but the “purpose” of the weapon is essentially the same, in that the player is contributing his/her skills to the completion of the overall goal.
The value difference between a LoL champion and gun, however, is notable. When you purchase a champion, you’re gaining an entirely new way to play the game. Four new skills, a new strategy, a new playstyle, and an individual narrative backstory and character round out your purchase, resulting in something that’s well-worth your initial investment.
By comparison, a gun, well, shoots stuff. Maybe reloads faster, or has a faster fire rate, more damage. But that’s it.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately over different games, and how others might better utilize the free-to-play space in ways that don’t feel cheap or lacking value for the player, and it feels like there’s something here. When a purchase is meaningful, it offers something unique to the player. Unique enough to change the way that the game is played, but still familiar enough that the entirety of the game that they’ve been enjoying is not different just because they made the purchase. (Borderlands 2 has done tremendously well with this strategy. Not in a F2P model, of course, but in their DLC. Topic for another day.)
So here’s the thought that I wanted to share today – How can we make the purchase of a gun, or really, anything in a free-to-play experience, have the value that a champion in League of Legends does? If we can figure that out in our own games, I think the benefits will follow.
“The world is made up of two classes – the hunters and the huntees.”
― Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game
Predators seek out prey, looking for the places where they can either strike in the most damaging location to a strategy, or disrupt things beyond recognition so all plans go out the window. To a Killer, the rest of the playerbase is naught but a herd, where the weak can be culled, and pulled away from the safety of others to be exploited, dominated, and defeated. A Killer is truly, without question, an agent of chaos.
Thriving on fear, cunning, control, and manipulation, the Killer is a fascinating individual who actually tends to enjoy being studied, if only to counter your preconceptions and “analysis” and cause you even more trouble. They are smart, looking for weaknesses, and have no qualms with attacking and devaluing a foe who is disproportionately less-skilled than they. The Killer is not looking for a “challenge,” but instead is looking for “prey,” which is a key difference.
Now, that’s not to say that everything about a Killer’s personality is expressly dedicated to hurting others. Though the personality may seem that simple, there is actually more to their motivations. Instead, a Killer looks for opportunities to affect other people. They search for ways to have their will be inflicted upon others, both for bad or, if given opportunities, for good. A Killer is just as likely to hurt a stranger as they are to help a friend, but it is the ability to act upon another which attracts them. A Killer can stalk his chosen prey, seeking to cause anger, frustration, and disrupt a “plan.” Just as well, a Killer can leap into the fray against another Killer, acting as a savior to another in an attempt to block the other Killer’s actions. Both are valid “Killer” motivations.
Unlike Achievers, Killers are keen to act, but not for the sake of accomplishment. In fact, a Killer is completely satisfied in not being recognized for their efforts – They are very aware of their own personal accomplishments and capabilities. To them, the challenge and “battle” itself is what is important, not necessarily showing off their accomplishments to others. That is, unless the act of showing off creates envy in the eyes of another, at which point they will happily parade their superiority before the masses. Every opportunity to act upon and gain reaction from another person is a pleasant experience to a Killer.
This can quite easily be seen in the game of football, as offensive players are usually a group of “Achiever” personalities, looking to work together for a common goal, whereas the defense’s primary goal is disruption, causing the planned strategy to break down. While a receiver or running back is extremely excited by achieving a touchdown, a tackle is just as excited by sacking the quarterback for a significant loss, killing the play, despite not receiving the same adulation of the crowd.
This Achiever/Killer comparison is also continued throughout sports culture in general, as high-scoring players in any competition overshadow those players that stop achievers from reaching their goals. Still, though, the Killer is usually not bothered by this – the personal causation of change to another is much more important than the accolades of “fans.”
Killers are usually lone wolves, acting on their own, but will sometimes roam in packs with like-minded individuals. These “Killer Packs” are often short-lived, though, because Killers will tend to “troll” even one another, devolving into dueling matches and inter-pack competition if there is no steady resource of other individuals to prey upon.
Mischief is the Killer’s trade, even among his/her friends. The Killer will joke, poke, prod and jab their teammates, and are almost always pranksters and jokesters. Killers are prone to be comedic, and will even often view their failures through laughter and lack of seriousness. Killer humor, though, is typically off-color, and can quickly become macabre. They live to offend, even just a little, and so break preconceptions in everything, even in their sense of humor.
Killers are quite often viewed as just bullies, but generally do what they do, not for the sake of being mean, but for the sake of causing an effect. They look for a response, and as such, are completely shut down by a lack of response to their actions. Killers are bored easily, and can find themselves restless, anxious, or fidgety when forced to endure an event where patience does not provide a clear path to a return.
As such, they may seek out the advice of Explorers, who are masters of their domain. Killers use this information, however, not to simply gain knowledge, but to improve their own efficiency in perfecting their own craft. They look for loopholes, for tips, tricks, and creative combinations to make themselves even more able to create chaos for their prey. A Killer is the own determiner of his/her own challenges, and unlike the Achiever, is not beholden to the standards of another.
Socializers… Socializers are the Killer’s ideal prey, especially if the Socializer is particularly bothered by the Killer’s actions. This is where the “bullying” image comes from. What’s most interesting here is that the Killer can be just as satisfied in his/her search for challenge by improving that same Socializer, instead of demeaning them. But the default is always to “kill first,” which can be difficult to overcome.
Killers, just like the other playertypes, can be found throughout any environment, but should be kept a watchful eye for. Solitary by nature, Killers have a tendency to stay inside their own heads, and if left to their own devices can truly start to distort their view of the world around them. They can start to see others as only prey, which is unhealthy.
To provide meaningful experiences for the Killer, give them tools to affect change. Whether destruction or creation, the Killer is empowered by the ability to change. They are just as capable at building, often, as they are at destroying, but they simply find destruction much more fun and immediate.
As dour as they might seem to be around, Killers are actually rather fun personalities in a group, if a little rambunctious and prone to chaos. On a team, these are your shakers, your shifters, the individuals who will create new perspectives for you. Be good to them, and show that you are better off for their efforts, and they’ll be ready to do more for you than you’d expect. But just be careful not to turn them into an enemy, because just as they can be staunchly loyal, they can just as easily be obsessively focused on methodic deconstruction.
Overall, Killers benefit most from being given a direction and being told to accomplish something in their own way. Just make sure that that accomplishment is to your benefit, and you’ll (probably) be pleased with the results.
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
― T. S. Eliot
Want to know absolutely anything about something? Ask an Explorer, because they know everything and then some. And we’re not just talking about general knowledge, either. An Explorer knows the exact stats for the weapon that you’re carrying, what level you had to be to use it, the mana consumption or rounds in the clip, and the exact distance at which it starts to become less-efficient. The Explorer knows what kinds of monsters drop that item, what the chances are of getting it out of a grind, and how often you can go back to try again after the monster respawns, as well as the best and quickest shortcuts to get there.
A typical conversation with an Explorer revolves around the quickest ways to level up, the most efficient gear for a given situation, and the fastest ways to get somewhere. They painstakingly compare things within a game so that they understand what every little thing in the game is for, and the logic behind the decisions. They know where the game’s breaking points are, how to push the system beyond its limits, and even how to “break” the game. They do this, not to necessarily “cheat,” but instead to simply understand, to poke and prod at the game’s systems, in order to better “see” the full picture. They test all the boundaries of the game just because they want to know.
Explorers are the stat people. They are tinkerers, tweaking things and trying things, often against the “logic” of players around them. To them, it’s not enough to simply know about something, their drive to understand the world that they are immersing themselves in is so strong, that they need to understand how this thing works in minute details.
Many see this behavior as eccentric, often associating it with individuals who are obsessive about something. A comic book Explorer could tell you the exact moment and issue when Superman bested He-Man, and how it was accomplished, and a breakdown of each combatants individual power levels, skills, abilities, and counters. A film Explorer could explain to you, in detail, the history of Scorsese’s film achievements, what awards he’s won, and what for, his contributions to cinema, as well as what he’s working on right now. A basketball Explorer knows LeBron’s shooting averages in the paint, his free-throw percentages, and may even know his shoe size, as well as how his career has affected the game of basketball as a while.
Explorers sometimes develop a superiority complex when it comes to their favorite topics, especially because they seem to know more about things than anyone else. They differ from Achievers, however, in a specific way. Achievers learn these things in order to use them to win at all costs. Pure Explorers are looking to know more than anyone else just for the sake of knowing, but honestly would do what they do even if no one else was watching. Theirs is a drive simply to understand for the sake of knowledge itself, and not to explain to others that they understand.
While an Achiever is searching for accolades and outward recognition of his/her accomplishments, a pure Explorer is satisfied with the knowledge itself as his/her currency. Explorers interact with the world, while Achievers are looking to act upon the world.
Achievers and Killers both can learn a great deal from Explorers, specifically because they tend to know more than anyone about the specific topics that the first two are looking for.
From an Explorer, and Achiever can learn what the most effective strategies and gear are, how to get the best items, and how to creatively combine unexpected strategies to achieve success. Achievers, however, find very little satisfaction in “besting” an Explorer, because the drive to win is not the Explorer’s goal anyway.
A Killer, on the other hand, can learn lesser-known shortcuts, devious counters, and the best places for ambush, all in an effort to cause havoc among others, but similar to the Achiever, finds very little satisfaction in bothering the Explorer – Explorer’s will pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and go about what they were doing in the first place, because they generally find such actions as something to be analyzed, but won’t provide the player feedback that a Killer feeds off of.
Socializers… Explorers will generally just ignore these types of individuals completely, and in fact, the two often find that they don’t get along very well, simply because their motivations are completely separate from one another. Explorers only interact with others for the purpose of learning and discussing about the topic they have in common, and have little patience for “small talk,” whereas that is something that drives a Socializer.
Don’t get the idea that an Explorer doesn’t care about other people, now. An Explorer often enjoys company, but they tend to keep those around them that have a similar thirst for knowledge, and disregard anyone else as unimportant unless an individual can help them to achieve their goals. They often see people as resources, and their analytic nature can be off-putting.
The classic Explorers were truly that – explorers of the unknown. You’ll often find these impassioned individuals on the frontiers of their fields, looking for the new and undiscovered. You’ll also find these personalities in almost any topic of depth, from science fiction to exercise, from computer science to car racing. Explorers are masters of efficiency, but usually don’t take the time to put masterful plans into action unless compelled to by another.
To cater to an Explorer, provide them with things to discover. Add complexity to allow for multiple “ideal outcomes,” and allow them the freedom to seek them out and test them against one another. Give them projects and tasks which allow for more than simply mundane approaches, and let them figure out for you where your systems are going wrong.
And never be afraid to ask them questions. Because they know the answers to everything.
And they would be more than willing to explain it to you.
“Champions are made and not born. Champion’s feats are acquired and not inherited, earned and not transferred, attained and not deposited.”
― Ikechukwu Joseph
Achievers are probably the most common player types in gaming, and for good reason – Games are meant to be won, in a quantitative and (usually) undisputeable way. Games, which revolve around challenges, goals, and the completion of those goals, are practically a beacon for these players. Everything in the actual “system” of a game can usually be whittled down to a “score,” and a higher score is what an Achiever lives for.
In a multi-user game, Achievers often define their success by characteristics such as their level, their rank, or their stats. They brag about their kill to death (KDR) ratios, their successful raids, or their unbelievable score counts. Achievers attempt to beat, no, to master the system, whatever it is. If there is a challenge to be completed, this is the type of player who will have it done, regardless of the difficulty, the obscurity, or the length of time it takes to complete it.
Achievers are natural-born succeeders, looking to accomplish and even surpass every challenge that they come across, regardless of the difficulty.
Now, of course, in real life, the Achiever is usually pretty easy to recognize. Some will instantly think of the sports superstar, others may see a wealthy businessman. But the key to understanding the Achiever personality is not simply in wealth, though that can certainly be a factor. It can also be in what that wealth is used for – The best car, the best suit & tie, the best shoes, the best watch or jewelry, the best house. Achievers strive not only to succeed, but to succeed beyond anyone else.
And while drive, ambition, and the will to succeed are all worthwhile goals, there is definitely a flip side: Achievers hunt for the thrill of not only doing well, but in doing better than someone else. To an extreme Achiever, it’s not enough simply to succeed – They require a quantifiable and tangible display of their superiority.
The suit, the tie, the car, the house, the boat, the prominent photo of the pristine family… Achievers are all about pride, and they utilize these symbols as ways of showing that they are better at the game than anyone else, (in this case, the game of real life).
This can manifest itself in ways outside of monetary wealth however – social capital is just as potent to an Achiever as gold, sometimes even more so. As such, you’ll see those who seek to have more “Likes” on Facebook posts, more followers on Twitter or Pinterest, or have more comments on an article or blog post. (The irony of that sentence does not escape me, I assure you. <grin>)
While there are other player types who are more social-centered, (ie – The Socializer), Achievers look at game, at life, and at everything as a competition to be beaten, to be bested, and to be won. They want to win, and more importantly, they want others to know that they’ve won.
When designing a multi-user game, these players are catered to by finding the best gear, completing the biggest challenges, and being able to carry trophies of their achievements. (You may notice the subtle insertion of both the PlayStation and Xbox token monikers in there.) Achievers wear their glory on their sleeves, often quite literally, and to them, level, rank, and prestige are extremely important.
Now, don’t think that this “eye towards success” means that Achievers are completely selfish. Quite the opposite – Achievers are often very willing to explain to you how they’ve accomplished something. They get a lot of joy in helping others to succeed as well, often because it increases their own social standing. They may not even have that as their conscious goal, but they hope, in some part of their mind, to “bring others up to their level.”
They love to have discussions about how to be more efficient, to get more out of a tool or resource, or find unique ways to combine elements to create an improved solution.
As such, they often make really good teachers, coaches, and advisers, albeit ones who are sometimes a little too critical, too harsh, or too demanding, simply because to them, success is everything, and lack of success is not improvement, it’s failure. However, they are very well-motivated, and can help those who seek to to improve tremendously.
To cater to an Achiever, give them tangible goals, things to, literally, “achieve.” They will seek out challenges, and defining them in a tangible way helps them to focus their efforts. That’s not to say they are not creative – quite the opposite, actually. Second only really to the Explorer, they often know more about a system than anyone else does.
At the end of the day, if you want to win, then make friends with Achievers. They will carry you to victory on their shoulders, and as long as you keep shooting praise their way, they’ll push hard for you to the end of the earth.
To them, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
As long as you win the game.
[Note: In each of these descriptions, I'm going to detail the most extreme elements in order to best differentiate one from another. Every player is different, and is likely a combination of each of these. Just something to keep in mind. - K]