Logistical play relates to following rules and pursuing acquisition, with a drive towards completing stated goals and hoarding. It may be the most basic, and hence most widely distributed, play style, and most games have some Logistical element in their structure. It underlies several of the most successful game structures, arguably provides the most addictive responses in the gaming audience, and its commercial importance may not yet have reached its peak.
Conversion from Other Models
Logistical play is presumed to correlate with Guardian in Temperament Theory, which corresponds with SJ (Sensing and Judging preferences) in Myers-Briggs typology. Additionally, there are strong correlations with the Type 1 Conqueror, and weak correlations with the Type 4 Participant, in the DGD1 model, but these play styles as defined are focussed on the emotion of fiero (in the former case) and extroverted play (in the latter case).
Different play styles are associated with different talents, which are expressed in those players who favour this approach to play.
Goals are the primary focus of all Logistical play, and players preferring this play style are considerably more goal-oriented than those who do not. Play for the sake of play is all very well, but there must be a goal to focus upon. Rewards are valued, but to some extent the completion of the goal can be a prize in its own right - success is its own reward. There appears to be an accompanying assumption of ‘fairness’ - which is to say, that the difficulty of a goal will be matched by the degree of reward to be gained. However, since players preferring this style of play are generally content with linear stories punctuated with goals that must be completed for the story to continue, the most basic game story structure (effectively an animated film interspersed with play which purports to relate to the next narrative step) is sufficient justification for play - provided the story itself is appealing.
Players who express this play style show great tolerance for repetition, and hence a natural talent for persistence. Such players will persevere with almost any game task provided both the goal and the rules governing play are clear. Their tenacious desire to avoid failure (that is, to complete any goal that has been set) creates an effective split depending upon the individual’s attitude towards the emotion fiero. Those fiero-seekers who thrive on more challenging play will throw themselves repeatedly at difficult tasks, failing over and over again in some cases before eventually completing the task and therefore receiving the reward in fiero (the eventual reward heightened by the frustrations endured on the way). Players who are less fiero-motivated but still engaged by Logistical play instead seek game actions where gain can be acquired through repeating the same tasks. Both tendencies are well served by the repetitive task structure of computer role-playing games, especially those built upon a linear structure such as the Final Fantasy series (Square, 1987 onwards).
A common recurring theme of Logistical play is the process of acquisition. Whether it is the simulation of an economic model and hence the acquisition of wealth, finding and collecting tokens in order to pursue goals - as in the classic 3D platform game structure, established by Super Mario 64 (Nintendo, 1996) - or the scavenger hunt play of a "stamp collection", the theme of acquiring is as intimately associated with Logistical play as rules and goals.
The focus on acquiring can be seen clearly in almost all real time strategy (RTS) games, such as Command & Conquer (Westwood, 1994), which centre upon the Logistical play of developing a resource-producing infrastructure, and ironically support very little Strategic play.
Furthermore, the nature of most Logistical play tends to be both thorough and cautious. There is a tendency towards meticulousness - collect everything, search everywhere is a motto that many players favouring this approach dutifully execute. For this reason, it is possible to create additional opportunities for Logistical play quite easily in most games - stamp collections of all kinds can become motivating, as exemplified by the museum in Animal Crossing (Nintendo, 2001) where the player is encouraged to collect all the insects, fish and fossils in the game simply by virtue of the implicit goals of these collections. Even where this kind of play is not intended by the developer, some players who express Logistical play (often when expressed alongside a tendency for Strategic play) may pursue this implicit goal anyway, proceeding to collect all things of a kind in a game, and lists of collectibles from all manner of games can be found in great numbers on the internet.
Players favouring specific play styles are also prone to different frustrations. Different elements of play cause varying degrees of friction for players, according to their preferred way to play.
The principle source of friction associated with Logistical play is bewilderment, especially the perplexity of insufficient instructions. The goal-orientation associated with Logistical play thrives on clear instructions: goals should be spelled out, and completing one goal should lead to the next goal without any uncertainty as to what is expected. Imagine that the relationship between player and game is that of master and servant (or general and captain): the player may be in charge of their avatar, but their assignments are being provided by the game. When these tasks are not specified, it is as if the player has been abandoned, and it is this which causes the stress.
An ironic alternative cause of bewilderment is an over-abundance of rules. When there are two many rules, the problem is simple confusion: "but what am I supposed to do?" the player in this predicament asks. Again, the game is expected to provide clear directions, and when the complexity of play is too great the player becomes lost. There is no clear goal, and in the absence of a goal, the player feels perplexed and abandoned.
With players who also favour Strategic play, both these problems can be significantly mitigated, since players expressing both forms of play are usually willing to apply their problem solving skills to the issue of working out what is expected of them. However, when this additional skill is absent, players expressing Logistical play need to have their instructions clearly stated, and generally will not tolerate ambiguous or incomplete directions. Similarly, Strategic play offsets the problem of excessive rules, since a high tolerance for complexity is associated with Strategic play.
Another source of friction that must be considered in connection with Logistical play is fixation. The fiendishly addictive properties of certain games to certain players almost always relate to the goals of play (implicit or explicit), and when Logistical play is expressed, tasks can be pursued compulsively. The player who is involved in Logistical play may become obsessive about overcoming a specific challenge. Every failure increases the motivation to return and tackle the same problem again. The tolerance to repetition associated with Logistical play sustains this process - the player will keep going until either they achieve victory (in which case the emotional reward of fiero usually drowns out the memories of frustration), or until they are so agitated they angrily stop playing - or, not uncommonly, throw the game controller across the room in frustration.
Another aspect of this fixation is a willingness to carry out repetitive tasks in order to drive forward a Logistical acquisition process. The clearest example of this kind of play is found in computer role-playing games, which provide the player rewards (in terms of improved avatar power or abilities) in return for overall progress through a repetitive progress structure. The exponential level structure typical to cRPGs provides a powerful motivating force for the acquisition of the central resource, namely experience points.
Here, frustration is not usually the issue - rather, the player becomes so absorbed in the repetition of play, so fixated upon the improvements they are earning for their character, that stopping play is difficult, and even when the player does break, they will likely return to play at the earliest available opportunity. Note that in this case, the fixation is only a source of friction if the player finds conflict between their desire to play the game, and the demands of their every day life.
It is this pattern of behaviour, allegedly associated with Logistical play, which is probably the underlying reason that many people say (when interviewed) that they do not like videogames because they are "too addictive".
A Brief History of Logistical Play
In board games, Logistical play has always been a significant factor - one cannot help but notice that Monopoly (Parker Brothers, 1933) bears key marks of this flavour of play - specifically its repetitive goal-oriented structure, and the focus on acquisition. However, it did not take long for Logistical play to find its way into videogames.
As early as the 1970s, we see Logistical play making an appearance in early computer role-playing games such as Dungeon (Don Daglow, 1975). The form did not achieve popularity, however, until the 1980s with the hugely influential Ultima series (Origin Systems, 1980 onwards). Another side of Logistical play that emerges in the 1980s is the platform game (itself an advance of earlier collection games), as epitomised by the most successful game of all time Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1987) which sold a staggering 40 million units (albeit as a result of being bundled with the NES). However, it is worth remembering that platform games and cRPGs also meet the requirements of other play styles - without exception, successful games support the play needs of many different people.
In terms of sales, the cRPG finally reached the mass market with Final Fantasy VII (Square, 1997) which sold 8.6 million units. Undoubtedly, the popularity of the new PlayStation console, and the shortage of other interesting titles in 1997, contributed to the success of the game, but it also featured a design which favoured Logistical play over Strategic play (which was present, but less significant) thus appealing to a wider audience. The same decade saw the arrival of the world’s most popular cRPG franchise, Pokémon with Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow (Gamefreak/Creatures Inc, 1996) ultimately selling some 30 million units on the back of the same mix of primarily Logistical play supplemented with some Strategic play.
In the same decade, developers were experimenting with applying the usual cRPG structure (that is, progress by exponential acquisition) to other game genres. The most notable franchise is perhaps Gran Turismo (Polyphony Digital, 1997 onwards). These games meet many different play styles, but stand out from other car games by their underlying structure of acquisition: earn money to buy new cars in order to progress. The first game in the series sold some 10 million units, and although the largest part of its success was undoubtedly a result of its illusion of realism, its success may have been enhanced by building some Logistical play into the structure.
The nineties also advanced the platform game, with Nintendo once again leading the charge with its seminal Super Mario 64 (Nintendo, 1996), which specified the form and structure of almost all commercially significant 3D platform games until their eventual near-demise in the 2000s. These games served a number of play needs as well as Logistical, but their overall structure of collection and acquisition was unmistakably in this style. The collapse of the commercial importance of this genre can perhaps be traced to the decision by key players Naughty Dog and Insomniac (who shared a common engine technology) to push away from the established 3D platform structure and towards run and gun games with Ratchet and Clank (Insomniac, 2002), and Jak II (Naughty Dog, 2003), thus leaving the genre with no major players except Nintendo.
Another key development in the history of Logistical play was also focussed in the nineties namely the advent of the infrastructure-focussed real time strategy genre, which can be traced to Dune II (Westwood, 1992). This led directly to two significant franchises Warcraft (Blizzard, 1994 onwards) and Command & Conquer (Westwood, 1995 onwards). Despite the name, these games have very little to do with Strategic play, and in fact are a model of acquisition-focussed Logistical play. Success in almost all such games is about building an infrastructure that acquires the resources that are available faster than the opposition, thus allowing a larger army to be built, which then overwhelms the enemy. It is the logistics of building and maintaining the player’s economy which is the focus of play, and these games might better be termed real time logistical games.
But arguably the most significant development in the history of Logistical play was the release of The Sims (Maxis, 2000), which went on to sell 16 million units of its basic game, and a staggering 54 million units across the franchise. For the first time, the Logistical cRPG structure was divorced from its traditional fantasy and science fiction context and instead attached to an apparently mundane domestic context. The result was a virtual dollhouse game whose play was expressly Logistical - much of the play is guiding the characters through repetitive tasks in order to earn rewards such as promotions – and which enjoyed unprecedented success with female players (between 60 and 70% of its audience). That the game was set in the familiar and ordinary world of people’s homes only added to its appeal with a non-traditional game audience.
In the same decade, the success of the MMORPG at acquiring loyal players with its extremely well established Logistical structure (unmistakably the same as in most cRPGs) is also notable. This genre has hit its current peak with World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004) which enjoys some 8 million subscribers globally. While this is considerably smaller than the maximum sales figures that can be achieved by single player games, the subscription model at its heart means that in commercial terms it is at least as significant as the most successful game sold through a traditional retail model, if not more so.
These games, including World of Warcraft, offer only one thing in addition to the traditional Logistical play of the cRPG: the capacity to play with other people. Since Logistical play is presumed to correlate with the Guardian Temperament, and a core need of this pattern is membership, the ability to engage in Logistical play as part of a group (a guild, for instance, or a party on a smaller scale) provides an intoxicatingly powerful combination for players favouring this play style. Furthermore, since Guardian correlates with some 50% of the population as their primary Temperament, it is perhaps to be expected that the commercial importance of this form of play will necessarily dominate the mass market.
Logistical play is present to some degree in almost all games, but especially in those games with a focus on acquisition such as most platform games and almost all computer RPGs and RTS games. Indeed, the conventional cRPG structure (acquire some resource in exponential increments to progress) finds its way into many different genres, bringing with it elements of Logistical play. Although not proven, it may be that Logistical play is the most commercially important play style, since it correlates with the Guardian Temperament, which is dominant in about 50% of people.
With a natural goal-orientation, talents for persistence and meticulousness, and a taste for unfettered acquisition, the Logistical player will tackle their chosen challenges tenaciously, even to the point of becoming fixated upon victory. Such players generally desire clear instructions to avoid bewilderment, but provided they are given comprehensible goals and straightforward rules they will patiently work their way along the spine of any game, collecting what they can, and generally enjoying what other players might dismiss as a grind.