I had an interesting conversation with a couple of co-workers at lunch today. We were reminiscing about fond memories from older MMOs, and a number of examples were brought up. A newbie zone in WoW which was directly adjacent to a very high level zone, leading one co-worker to be very swiftly eaten by a very horrible spider. Another co-worker in WoW who tried jumping into the Ironforge, thinking that surely the game wouldn't let you do that, and then discovered that (a) yes, in fact, the game would let you do that and (b) the corpse was now unrecoverable. Zone sweeper mobs in EverQuest that would come out of nowhere and stomp you flat. Terrifying zones like Kithicor Forest that would guarantee your horrible death if you entered at night, but which were directly adjacent to starting zones full of clueless newbies. And so on.
One co-worker was quite certain that it was these hair-raising experiences and the abrupt deaths that actually made the games so memorable. Of all her early memories in these games, those moments now stood out the most strongly. And certainly all of us had similar strong memories we could refer to, and now thought fondly of, even though at the time they were most certainly frustrating or terrifying or both.
Coincidentally, I noticed that Laralyn posted a few similar thoughts on Twitter today:
- In FSW, when a soldier on a squad got shot, focus test players always reloaded. We added a new mission objective to take the wounded man to the CASEVAC, and it became a part of gameplay. It made the game feel more meaningful and dramatic, and less than 20% reloaded.
- I'm thinking through ways you could apply that to an RPG, so being defeated didn't mean automatic reload.
- Working through the same thing with lock-picking, Failure (jam, broken pick) = reload, but no failure = whittle until win, which is no fun.
- This discussion makes me think the perfect game is a series of close wins, where you never fail but you feel like you ALMOST failed.
We who are in the first group are the ones who love games and who are resilient enough to get past these setbacks, and even turn them (eventually) into fond memories. We are the ones who, because we love games, end up being the ones who go into game development and make more games. But have we ever stopped to try and measure the hard numbers? Is there any way we can get actual data that would give us an idea of how many people just quit the game at that point, compared to how many stick it out and end up with a fond memory? I've never seen any information of this type, although to be fair I haven't gone looking extensively.
We tend to assume that everyone is like us and will be able to handle, and even enjoy, the same types of challenges. But what if that assumption isn't true? (It probably isn't.)
If we don't have a way to measure this kind of data, will we ever know?
And if we keep assuming everyone is like us, will we ever bother finding ways to measure this kind of data?