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Author Topic: What sells?  (Read 1555 times)
Jack Spencer Jr
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« on: May 19, 2003, 08:46:56 AM »

Over in Why Incoherent Games Sell Fang drifted the topic a bit and I realised that I would wind up drifting the topic completely so I started a new thread.

Now there are several questiond that come to mind:
What is success? What is entertaining?
Success has prove to be a bit of a moving target, but fang nailed it do to:
Quote from: Le Joueur
What I was getting at was the 'take it down and play it' type of success. I'd like to think this has more to do with 'repeat business' than meta-plots and fiction. I'm convinced that a game needs something to get people to come back again and again.

This puts the focus squarely on entertaining. What does that mean? What do we me when we said we were entertained? To be honest, I think it would be follie to believe that we could answer this question definately when other art/entertainment mediums struggle and throw millions of dollars out the window searching for this answer.

I think that Fang has a handle on this that echoes some little thing I've come up with. In the thread linked above, he talks a bit about feelings, the way the game makes one feel. I came up with a platitude or something like that. Some else probably said it already but, fuck Plato, I came up with this all on my own: "We judge people by how we feel around them."

Minor anecdote: The wife has been continuing to go to my friends game. Last week, one of the players announced they would not be playing for the next couple weeks in the kind of hystronics we've come to expect from this person. This week, everyone had a great time and everyone, including this person's significant other noticed (although nobody openly said) that it was because this person was not there. This person, for whatever reason, creates a great deal of tention and the relief was palletable.

So RPGs, probably like most things in life, elicit feelings from us and and some of these feelings bring us back for more. Now this is leading us into the rules of atraction, or some similar idea. A young man is attracted to a physically pleasing young woman, but later, after talking with her, find her tiresome and then goes elsewhere. Or he finds her tiresome, but the visually pleasing form is in conflict with the tiresome personality, so he continues to see her even though he really does not enjoy her company because the visual item of attraction keeps bringing him back.

It is not too difficult to imagine that many roleplayers are suck in a similar attraction loop. Something makes them go "Oh cool! I want to play this!" Put then when they play it, they walk away disappointed for some reason. Yet they try again and again. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.-- from the movie 28 Days.

I should point out a couple things before the "stupid audience" thing comes up.

First of all, this is understandable. RPGs are a very new art form and I imagine we've barely scrathed the surface of it's potential here at the Forge, so I doubt that the average person has any idea of the breadth of roleplaying and probably figures all RPGs are pretty much the same. If the average person looks at the right games when shopping around, they may appear to be right. There's also the McDonald's comparason I had made in Effects of "the D20 Push" on Indie Industry Convenient and apparant popularity can influence people, as well as misleading information. Too many think D&D is fantasy rather than a specific version of fantasy that came about from D&D play. What I'm trying to drive home with all of this is that it is understandable that the average person could select the wrong game for what they want and continue to play because knowledge in the marketplace and of the art in general is hardly common.

Second, it this repeat behavior, continuing to play games one does not enjoy, then I guess I'm stupid, too. I had been doing that for years.

So what might be helpful is to understand the principles of what is entertaining and to use this to guide us in making entertaining games. In this way, people will come back because they enjoy it, like how people watched Star Wars or Jaws multiple times compared to watching a dense, art foreign film multiple times to try and to understand the appeal. Why did everyone like this movie?
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Bankuei
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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2003, 09:03:40 AM »

Hi Jack,

There's 3 factors I'd like to say that go into what makes a game popular(over the long run, with repeats), in no particular order:

1) Gameplay Experience
This is pretty much what folks are aiming for with creative agenda and design.  "I want a game that plays like an action space opera!" says the designer, and he or she makes it, and has succeeded if folks say, "This game is the action space opera! Yeah!"  Whatever the nifty fun bit of a game is for someone, ranging from the joy of dressing up as an undead freak and socializing with scantily clad members of the opposite sex to "Hey!  I get to roll 20 dice! Rock!" to "Yes, super-double-triple-mega critical!  Let's look on the chart!", that's the gameplay experience.  When folks are enjoying it for whatever reason, that's a good game(IMHO).

2) Identity
This is where you get folks who go into "irrational" mode about either defending their favorite game or telling you why every other game sucks.  The game is no longer just a game, its what they identify with, just like sports fans.  I'm not a "roll-player", I'm a "Storyteller"!  etc.   This is where you get the most rabid and loyal customers/fans/players who will keep a game going even after its not popular anymore("AD&D 1E, forever!"). Ironically, these folks usually hop on board when a game becomes popular, and the use of stuff like "Living Campaigns" and organized LARPS across the country provide that sense of network, community and status for these people.

3) The promise, but not the play
This is the worst, but still a common experience.  These are the folks who see the promise, perhaps experience glimmers of #1, but suffer dysfunctional play or have a different GNS goal than what they're getting.  Seeing the glimpses keeps them coming back to games, that frankly, they don't enjoy.  They may tinker with mechanics, or drift from group to group, or stay with the same people, even people who they out and out dislike, hoping one day that things will magically change and work right.  This is the ultimate dysfunctional relationship of gaming that far too many people indulge in.

I'd like to think that good design will lead to #1, and good marketing will lead to #2, and as new games get out there, and people become more aware, less of #3 will occur.

Chris
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DaGreatJL
Member

Posts: 57


« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2003, 03:09:56 PM »

Forgive me if this doesn't really address the issue at all and just wastes your time, but it's something that strike me about this line of thought. Also, sorry if I missed the whole point of the discussion.
It seems to me that this discussion will lead into determining that games can indeed be popular when they're not that fun all the time, and conversely that some of the more popular games out there aren't actually all that fun to play. As I understand it, this is part of why the GNS idea came about to begin with. Which makes me wonder, why are we following an apparantly circular discussion?
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JL

I got the Power of Metal without cheating.
Gordon C. Landis
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Posts: 1024

I am Custom-Built Games


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« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2003, 03:12:35 PM »

When I get home tonight (which may be quite late), I'm going to start a thread here in Theory about the original Gamma World, quoting a bunch of its' introductory text.  I think it'll be a good poster-child for the claim I'm about to make.

That claim is this: the answer to Why Incoherent Games Sell is "It's all about the GM." (Note that I don't mean that literally - I think Jack and Chris make excellent points that are also part of the equation.  But I think this is a big one, and one we don't talk about much here).

We talk a lot about empowering players, and sometimes we mean that in the generic sense of "RPG participant," but often it's really more player-not-GM that we're talking about empowering.  Because the GM is already plenty empowered.

And for much of the history of RPGs - and in many cases still today -  GM's were/are primarily empowered by the simple fact that they take an incoherent game and make it coherent.  The players often have nothing to do with this part of the process - they can offer opinions to the GM, and a good GM knows his players, and once play starts a complex interaction occurs, and etc. etc. - but for the vast, VAST majority of groups I've known (save, interestingly enough, one of my first), at the bare minimum the GM was responsible for creating the *possibility* of a coherent game out of incoherent source materials.  Their skill and creativity were required - and pulling it off was their reward.

(Aside #1: A look at how one "branch" of RPGs grew out military games that included a (fairly boring) role for a "referee" reveals one possibility - that by exploting the incoherence of introducing N elements to a S (or G) situation - or maybe S elements to a G, or G to an S, whatever - the referee for the first time GAINED power.  And some of 'em have been loathe to let go of it ever since . . . )

A GM (generally) didn't/doesn't complain about balance of power issues and all those things that we try to supply player empowerment for, because their reward was built-in - they took the incoherent, and made it coherent.

(Aside #2:  For me, one of the most powerful things about Narrativism as discussed by Ron et al here is that it takes the GMs "reward" and puts it in more or less the same place as the players' reward - in play, as part of a story created at that time.  In my early shared-DM'ing D&D days, that's more of what it felt like - nowadays, I find it hard to GM.  I think that's at least in part because I really only want to GM in *very* Nar-focused games, while I can enjoy playing in a wider variety of games.)

Incoherence is an opportunity, especially for the GM - especially in terms of "empowerment" of the GM.  It gives the person in the GM role a clear set of things to do.  And GMs LIKE that.

At least, that's what I'm thinking on the subject right now,

Gordon
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2003, 11:32:38 PM »

THIS is a damned interesting point, Gordon. Damned interesting. This explains a lot about the traditional social contract in many RPG groups and the resistence some of the idea bouncing around on are facing. It is the GM's game.

I can see a bunch of kids sitting around going "whaddya wanna do?" "I dunno. Whaddya wanna do?" until one kind, most likely the "leader" of the group goes "Let's play stickball." Or kick the can or whatever.

I can also see a similar group and then finally the leader says "let's play D&D" and unlike most of the other activities, this leader chap finds they have even more power than normal within the context of the game. I am not entirely certain if this is typical or what this all means, but I can see this. It explains certain styles of play and certain groups, like GMs who try to make the PCs have sex with a horse (sorry, John) and other such things.

I'm still not sure of the ramifications of this situation, but as far as what sells, it appears it's the GM buying.
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Jack Aidley
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Posts: 488


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« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2003, 12:53:26 AM »

People play D&D because D&D provides something they want. D&D more than any other roleplaying game I've played is a game in the traditional sense. It has clear goal (level) and a clear way to acheive it (kill things, take their stuff). I believe the vast majority of roleplayers play D&D and play it in a way which is the total antithesis of the way I play.

These people don't play roles, they role dice and kill monsters, cast spells and gather treasure. D&D does this very well. That is why it succeeds.
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- Jack Aidley, Great Ork Gods, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy): Chanter
Bankuei
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« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2003, 07:11:47 AM »

Hi JL,

I think we all are in agreement that some games can be popular, and not serve some people's needs.  I think the line of inquiry Jack is asking about(and correct me if I'm wrong here), is "What is the appeal that draws people back to these games?"

I mean, its obvious that whatever is marketed well will reach a lot of people, and be tried out at least once.  One need only look at Vanilla Ice's record sales to see that something marketed properly will make great initial sales, even if it becomes despised years later.

What we're looking at here, is what brings people back for more, what is "entertaining", what is the hook, what is the draw?

Certainly on note of the GM, in a GM-powered game(Ballhoggin' under my terms), the GM is free to enforce and push their GNS goals, free to push their personal social desires(be that to entertain, get attention, dominate, whatever), etc.  This quite literally is where folks become, "System doesn't matter if you have a good GM."  

What is interesting is that here, folks keep coming back to play, either because they are genuinely having fun(see #1), need to feel part of a group or clique(#2, also the bad gaming with friends experience), or have had, or see the possibility of good fun, but just aren't having it now(#3).  But these 3 are based around the GM traditionally.

Chris
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C. Edwards
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Posts: 558

savage / sublime


« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2003, 08:51:32 AM »

Quote from: Gordan C. Landis
That claim is this: the answer to Why Incoherent Games Sell is "It's all about the GM." (Note that I don't mean that literally - I think Jack and Chris make excellent points that are also part of the equation. But I think this is a big one, and one we don't talk about much here).


I just made the reverse of this same point over in that other thread and it's something I think get's overlooked quite a bit. That being that the players are often not aware of any game incoherence to begin with because the GM smooths over any such trouble spots.

So, yeah, me too! :)

-Chris
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John Kim
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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2003, 08:57:47 AM »

Quote from: Bankuei
 I mean, its obvious that whatever is marketed well will reach a lot of people, and be tried out at least once.  One need only look at Vanilla Ice's record sales to see that something marketed properly will make great initial sales, even if it becomes despised years later.

What we're looking at here, is what brings people back for more, what is "entertaining", what is the hook, what is the draw?  

Well, speaking specifically about D&D, I would say that compared to its competitors it is extremely easy to GM.  The dungeon structure for adventure can be dull -- but it is actually very non-linear and player-driven.  I can pick up a dungeon module on the way to the game, and run it with very little thought.  Under the assumed social contract, I actually have very limited power in this case: I am expected to use the location keys as written, which makes me more of a referee.  

Other RPGs have tended to chafe at the limitations of dungeons.  However, mobile opponents, flexible locations, and so forth takes more skill to GM -- and also gives more power to the GM.  They also tend to have more linear structures to their modules.  [/b]
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- John
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