So back in the summer of 2008, before I was a fresh-faced first year at University of California Santa Barbara, I wrote this article on my video games blog. It was about the depth of games, what makes games fun, and how they hold our interest. I wanted to revisit the entry, for I thought it contained some pretty good nuggets of truth, as well as some predictions that I can re-examine and can follow up on to see how true they ended up being. I'm going to rewrite a lot of it. Please use the link to read the original.
Why do we strive for depth in our games? Maybe the obvious answer is because we like to have fun as long as possible before going to do something else. But different games go about "having fun" in different ways. "Fun" is a contentious term, but I want to define it as "you are enjoying the game for the sake of playing the game". What it means to "enjoy" a game vs be driven for rewards is a topic that should have a longer space to do it justice and should be discussed elsewhere. Returning to the topic , having fun isn't about just shooting people over and over and over. Sure that can be fun for a little while, which is why Geometry Wars can be fun. It is a certainly different experience to fly around shooting shapes as compared to an MMO or an FPS. Yet, that doesn't remain fun. The game eventually introduces different modes in the game, different guns and more shapes and more enemies. However, that game loses it fun rather quickly because it is largely always the same game. It's an arcade style console shooter. Without offering new and different experiences to the player, the player will eventually lose interest in the game and go find something else to do. However, what the player does is up for debate. He could play a different game, or he can play the same game in a different way. Smart game designers will design games to be played in different ways, if they want to retain a player base for longer than 2 or 3 hours.
This tendency of human beings is the same one that WoW capitalises on to get its fun. There is always more. More areas, more spells, more levels, more dungeons, more fights, more gear and more quests. What asked my readers back in 2008 was, "Is this truly fun, or is all this new stuff just renewed novelty? Is depth just renewed novelty? Just an effort to give us new stuff all the time?". Now, after going to college and reading some Baudrillard, Hegel, Hume, Locke, Joyce, and other theory and literary critics, I'd have to say, I don't think I can answer this question. This question is too sweeping, too generalizing and tries to cover too many topics. But I think what I can do, is try to at least look at World of Warcraft, and see how it uses "renewed novelty" to stay fun. I think I made an error in judgment when I wrote this article because I don't think I understood WoW as much back then. A lot of the lower level experience is to prepare the player for the end game. I didn't know how deep the game went until I went through college, because that's when I really delved into the the number crunching aspect of theory crafting. The whole game you have to play with mastery, expertise and hit rating add a whole other aspect to the game. The lower level experience introduces new skills for your characters so you can learn them one at a time, and develop habits for using them. It also adds boss mechanics so you can learn them one by one as well. What I did not understand is that the game changes as it progresses. But I also think this redesign is recent to World of Warcraft. After Cataclysm, the whole 1- 60 experience was redesigned to flow better and to make more sense, so I think that this carefully crafted curve is a result of years of quest design and research.
World of Warcraft does a very good job at keeping a player entertained. With Mists of Pandaria, it added several new things to do with the game. It is avoiding the pitfall of constantly recycling and representing game mechanics in order to try and trick the player into having fun. The game changes and morphs into a different experience as you level, as this keeps people playing. By allowing us to play differently, it is encouraging player to stay with the game and to keep playing. Here's a short, non exhaustive list, of ways they've introduced to keep us playing differently: Dungeon and Raid Finder, PvP for experience, pet battles, farming, Transmogrification, guild perks and experience, mounts at 20, Real ID grouping, and account wide achievements. These are all activities that were not traditional MMO affairs until WoW did them, and they are ways that Blizzard has come up with to keep us playing. They are allowing us to play how we want, and that is allowing them to remain relevant and it is the reason that people are still playing the game.