Why We Play

Games are fun. That’s why we play them. But what makes a game fun? Is it having intricate game play mechanics that take great skill to master? Is it the element of chance and not knowing what is about to happen? What about being totally immersive in the game world? Or being simple and abstract enough to play with your kids?

If you have read any of my previous posts, you can probably guess where I am going with this: Today I want to talk about the subjectivity of gaming and how that relates to game design.

No game holds the title of “Best game of all time for everyone”. Some people absolutely love Monopoly. Others consider it absolutely trash and not even worth the card stock it is printed on. Others still respect it as a commentary on capitalism and nothing more. This isn’t because the game is different for each player, it’s because the players themselves find different things fun.

Here is a chart that I really like. I feel it does a good job of encompassing the many facets of gaming motivations. The guys over at quanticfoundry.com really know what they are talking about.

When it comes to designing a game, understanding these concepts is huge and it will lead you to one of two paths: You can try to cover as many of these motivations as possible, or you can focus on representing a few of them really well. Now sure, it’s not that black and white, all games are going to land on spectrum between those two extremes. You should, however, still be keeping this in mind.

So take a moment and look these over. Pick 3-5 that you look for the most in games. Try to get an idea of what your favorite games are and why you like them. I’ll use myself as an example:

Most important: Design, Strategy

Secondary: Challenge, Community, Competition, Fantasy

Now, to try to make a point here, let’s talk about a wildly renowned game and why people like it – Magic: The Gathering.

If you look at MTG, its lore, and all of its formats (both official and player created) you can see that every motivation outside of the action column is covered in one way or another. It should be no surprise, then, that MTG is massively popular and regarded very highly by many. Looking at my motivations, it should also be no surprise that my favorite formats are cube (specifically cube design) and EDH (specifically deck building). So with that in mind, I would like to tie this back into MTG cube design. (Not all of my posts here are going to be about cube, but it is certainly one of my favorite things to talk about.)

In MTG, people play a variety of decks for a variety of reasons. These reasons are going to be strongly tied to each person’s gaming motivations. When you design a cube, you are telling people what decks they can play. Knowing this, we go back to our game design spectrum.

On one hand, you can try to include a wide variety strategies that cater to these different motivations, and this is by far the most popular. This option is the best for those who do not know their player base and want to create a drafting environment that will always be playable and fun for everyone.

On the other hand, you can try to create a cube that is designed to entertain specific motivations. These are usually themed cubes to some degree, but not always. Just make sure you know your players. If your friends all really value power in their games, a pauper cube might be a huge flop. Those who really value design might not enjoy a cube where every card is obviously forced into one specific archetype, like a tribal heavy cube. Those who much prefer competition over community might not really enjoy playing a multiplayer cube.

This isn’t to say that themed cubes are bad. In fact, if you have the right theme for the right players, themed cubes can be some of the most fun magic anyone can play. You just need to make sure you know your players, and if you don’t, you need to understand that not everyone is going to love your cube.

So what are your gaming motivations? What is your favorite game? If you have one, what is your favorite themed cube? Leave a comment, and let me know.

4 thoughts on “Why We Play

      1. I am currently doing a bit of research (read talking to friends) to do a series of blogs entitled a games masters masterclass. I suspect I may reference to this post in terms of player motivation

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Cool! When I was in a small startup game design group, this was a pretty big topic. It helped us realize that we all really liked different kinds of games, rather than just thinking that everyone else’s ideas were bad. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

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