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Strategic Play

First published on Chris Bateman’s blog, Only A Game on 1st December 2006

Strategic play relates to mastering complex game systems and problem solving, with a drive towards perfectionism. It is arguably the oldest play style in videogames, and its commercial importance peaked in the 1980s and 1990s. Now in decline, there nonetheless exist great numbers of hobbyist players whose play needs are best met by the Strategic play style.

Conversion from Other Models

Strategic play is presumed to correlate with Rational in Temperament Theory, which corresponds with NT (Intuitive and Thinking preferences) in Myers-Briggs typology. Additionally, the Type 2 Manager in DGD1 correlates strongly with Strategic play. Note, however, that the fiero theme of the Type 1 Conqueror is often present in Strategic play.


Different play styles are associated with different talents, which are expressed in those players who favour this approach to play.

Complex systems are the focus of most, but not all, Strategic play – with examples including the majority of simulation and turn-based strategy games, as well as many cRPG games. Players who favour this play style show greater than usual tolerance for complexity, and indeed will generally persevere with games while they feel that they do not yet understand, provided they believe their tenacity will eventually be rewarded. This allows them to tolerate far longer learning curves than players favouring other play styles – but note that every player can be frustrated by any game for a variety of reasons, and the Strategic play style only gives players the capacity to learn how to use complex game systems, it does not guarantee that they will persist with any given game.

Coupled with this tolerance of complexity comes an ability to perceive ways to optimise the complex systems in question. This gift for optimisation is expressed as a tendency to evaluate every situation in order to determine how to get the maximum benefit for minimum cost. So pronounced is this tendency to min-max game situations that it is even mentioned in Keirsey’s description of the Rational temperament, even though play is not a focus of his work. There is a relationship between complexity and min-maxing, since in simple systems there is limited scope for this kind of optimisation. The love of turn-based strategy games associated with Strategic play is partly related to the capacity for these games to afford multiple optimal routes, and thus to allow for both min-maxing and choice.

A third talent associated with the Strategic play style is problem solving, and the related ability to think ahead. In many respects, this is simply an extension of tolerance for complexity, since every problem represents a situation of incomplete information (which represents a more convoluted arrangement than the equivalent situation where the solution is known, but must be implemented by skill). Given the relationship between science and the Rational temperament, the gift for problem solving associated with Strategic play is unsurprising, and the games that leverage this talent are often solved by what might be considered a scientific approach - hypothesising possible solutions, exploring the outcome of those solutions, and using this data to produce new hypotheses until a solution has been found. All classic adventure games - text adventures, point and clicks and modern descendants based on this form - find their most loyal fans among people whose play needs lean towards the Strategic.

The driving force behind Strategic play is the Rational temperament’s desire for knowledge and mastery, and as a result Strategic play can seem more focussed on perfectionism than 'fun' - although it must be understood that by making perfection the goal, the player expressing this play style achieves fiero and personal satisfaction by achieving mastery. The greater trials they endure en route to this goal, the more it enhances the ultimate reward in fiero.

When this theme is expressed purely in Strategic terms, the focus of the perfectionism will tend to be a desire for complete game knowledge. An examination of the FAQs available online for complex games, for example the Pokémon games (Game Freak/Creatures Inc, 1996 onwards), shows the output of this drive for complete understanding. When this theme is tempered by Logistical skills, the focus will tend more towards complete acquisition - a drive to collect everything that can be found in the game space. Finally, when this theme is tempered by Tactical skills, the focus will tend more towards mastery of skills; the ability to finesse a situation, and not just to 'win'.

Keirsey does not often mention play in his Temperament description, so it is noteworthy that he includes the following comment in respect of Strategic skills:

[People who are strong in Strategic skills] play not so much to have fun but to exercise their ingenuity in acquiring game skills. Fun for [them] means figuring out how to get better at some skill, nor merely exercising the skills they already have, and so for [such people] the field of play is invariably a laboratory for increasing their proficiency... When [they] play sports, or even cards and board games, there must be continuous improvement, with no backsliding.

When playing with other people, those preferring the Strategic play style often seem to be highly competitive (which is mentioned in passing in Berens account of the Rational temperament). But for those players expressing this style who are introverted by nature, this competitiveness is the product of their personal drive towards a high degree of proficiency. The other players are simply part of the complex system they are trying to master. Such players often prefer to play alone.


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 Strategic play is limitation, specifically limitation of choice, and the consequent disempowerment this can lead to. The Rational temperament which drives this style of play is associated with a need for autonomy, and players who prefer the Strategic play style have a strong need to feel completely in control of their play - to have the freedom to make choices about how that play will proceed. When insufficient choices are provided, this creates a state of powerless limitation.

For example, a typical first person shooter game consists primarily of a linear sequence of fights. This structure is generally sufficient for players expressing other play needs, but for Strategic play it is unacceptably limited. The player faces no meaningful (Strategic) choices in this situation, and as such this limitation becomes a source of frustration if the game does not engage the player by other means.

Deus Ex (Ion Storm, 2000) is a good example of a game that sets out to minimise this source of friction for players favouring Strategic play, by adding choice at every level of the design. The player is afforded virtually unlimited choices for proceeding through the game space. But in the process of providing these choices, the game develops such a degree of complexity that only players favouring Strategic play can manage to enjoy it. This is the likely reason for the eventual commercial failure of this franchise, since Strategic players have become a minority among videogame players.

(This problem with limitation should not be confused with the Tactical play style’s issue with constraint - constraint in intended to refer to immediate barriers to action or movement, while limitation is intended to reflect a lack of meaningful options for affecting the game situation. A player favouring Strategic play may tolerate being temporarily constrained provided they have a sufficient choice of actions with which to figure out a way to remove the constraint, while a player favouring Tactical play will generally be frustrated by the constraint itself.).

A Brief History of Strategic Play

Because the Rational temperament is associated with programmers and game designers, early videogames were extremely influenced by Strategic play. Early mainframe games in the 1970s , such as Star Trek (Mike Mayfield, 1971), Adventure/Colossal Cave (Will Crowther, 1975) and Dungeon (Don Daglow, 1975) and its spiritual descendent Rogue (Toy, Wichman and Arnold, 1980). Many early games were influenced by the tabletop wargames (and role-playing games) of the 1970s, which were also great examples of Strategic play - providing complex play resulting from many different rules and options.

In the 1980s, new computers allowed Strategic play to flourish further. Elite (Braben and Bell,1984) appealed to a number of different play styles, but the apparent lack of limitations (go anywhere, do anything) had especial Strategic appeal. But the real focus of Strategic play in videogames from the 1980s were adventure games, typified by Zork (Infocom, circa 1980) and its many sequels, and at the latter end of the decade, graphical adventures such as The Pawn (Magnetic Scrolls, 1986) and Guild of Thieves (Magnetic Scrolls, 1987). These games seemed to provide few limitations, since the player could enter any command in plain text, although of course in practice this was a somewhat illusory state of affairs. Near the end of the decade, simulations drawing from Strategic play, such as SimCity (Maxis, 1989) started to emerge.

In the 1990s, turn-based strategy games raised Strategic play to a new level with games such as Civilization (Microprose, 1991), Master of Orion (Simtex, 1993) and the X-COM series (Mythos Games et al, 1994 onwards). Additionally, strategic role-playing games such as the Heroes of Might and Magic series (New World Computing et al, 1990 onwards), and point and click adventures such as The Secret of Monkey Island (LucasArts, 1990) made this decade the golden age of Strategic play for many people preferring this play style.

Sadly for players preferring Strategic play, the arrival of the PlayStation in the mid-90s marked a change in the focus of the videogame market. Until this point, players favouring Strategic play were (arguably) in the majority, and the bulk of the games being made appealed to these players in some way. But a new era was arriving in which effortless 3D graphics opened the door to a wider market. The Strategic player was about to go from being the key audience for videogames, to being a strong but diminished niche market.

This change was to mark the end of the commercial importance of adventure games, and a gradual narrowing of the importance of turn-based strategy games which today support very few viable franchises, and maximum audiences of no more than 2 million units (while other types of games were able to pull in maximum audiences of 8 million units during this time). Today, Strategic play in isolation is a commercial backwater, although many successful games support Strategic play along with other play styles.


Strategic play was the force behind adventure games, strategy games and simulations, as well as an influencing factor in the development of computer RPGs. Once the most important play style in the videogames industry, it has since been eclipsed by the more popular Tactical and Logistical play styles, and now represents something of a niche market.

With talents for dealing with complexity and problem solving, and an especial weakness for min-maxing, the Strategic player is something of an expert in figuring out games, avoids play that in their eyes is limited, and, armed with their strong drive for perfectionism, they generally master the games they adopt as their own. In many ways, they are the very model of the gamer hobbyist.

Logistical Play

First published on Chris Bateman’s blog, Only A Game on 2nd February 2007

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.

Tactical Play

First published on Chris Bateman’s blog, Only A Game on 9th February 2007

Tactical play relates to improvisation, and competence with all manner of tools. To other people, those preferring this style of play can appear to be both reckless and lucky. Second only to Logistical play in terms of its apparent distribution, it is a key commercial force in the modern games industry, and it may be an influencing factor in the success of the many games which focus their play upon the most popular tools in modern games - cars and guns.

Conversion from Other Models

Tactical play is presumed to correlate with Artisan in Temperament Theory, which corresponds with SP (Sensing and Perceiving preferences) in Myers-Briggs typology.

Additionally, the Type 3 Wanderer in DGD1 correlates with Tactical play (as, to a lesser extent, does the Type 2 Manager, although the profile of this play style is far closer to Strategic play).


Different play styles are associated with different talents, which are expressed in those players who favour this approach to play.

Whereas Logistical play is focussed on goals, and Strategic play on systems, the focus of Tactical play is improvisation. Every game grants the player a number of possible actions they can take, and the player gifted in Tactical play will naturally conceive of immediate and effective ways of combining these actions to have an effect. For any situation, they will naturally have ideas as to what they can do, and proceed rapidly to trying these ideas out. Sometimes, they will even chance upon novel and unexpected solutions to problems, which can be an especial source of satisfaction for such a player.

The effect produced may advance the game by meeting a goal, but it is the capacity to have an impact that is important to players favouring Tactical play, not the goal, per se. Indeed, such a player may have just as much fun making something happen that has nothing to do with advancing in the game - with a sufficiently interesting game world, such players can entertain themselves for some time just by exploring what they can make happen as a consequence of their own actions. (The playground worlds of the GTA games in particular lend themselves to this approach).

Another key talent associated with Tactical play is a natural proficiency with machines and tools. Players who prefer Tactical play seem to possess an immediate degree of competence with any tool or vehicle the game provides them - provided they are in control of it. A device which does everything without player input is not an interesting source of Tactical play; a device which allows the player to demonstrate their natural skill is what is desired. The most obvious example is with driving games of all kinds - these base their play around the player’s capacity to control a vehicle, and generally have immediate appeal to players who enjoy this play style. (Note that players preferring Logistical play may also enjoy a driving game, but in such instances competence is learned through repetition, rather than being immediately present).

What seems to be desired for Tactical play are tools (weapons etc.) with a degree of analogue control, such as the analogue control of a car through both its steering and acceleration, or the analogue control of a gun through a free aiming mechanism. Given the games industry’s obsession with the commercial appeal of guns and cars, these are by far the most common examples of analogue control found in modern videogames, although environmental negotiation abilities (jumping, climbing and so forth) occasionally afford opportunities for Tactical play - especially with secondary jumping abilities, such as a double jump or gliding ability.

Other examples can also be found. When The Legend of Zelda franchise moved into a 3D world with Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, 1998), it centred its play on a diverse collection of tools, most of which are essentially analogue in nature. (The roots of the toolset lie in earlier 2D games in the franchise, but these earlier tools were not analogue in nature).The slingshot, boomerang and bow are effectively variations on the gun theme but each still allows for skillful free aiming, while the hookshot (a type of grapple) has more of the nature of an analogue tool, cuccos (chickens) can be used for gliding, bombs have a variety of uses, and the ocarina of the game’s title provides all manner of additional abilities to the player. Although the Zelda games meet a variety of play needs, they are notable examples of the tool-focus associated with Tactical play.

Players who favour Tactical play sometimes seem to be naturally lucky. This is not to suggest any supernatural element, however - rather, this capacity for serendipity seems borne of simple psychological roots. Players who express this play style often show an exceptional tolerance for adapting to random variation - what might be considered compensating for noise (again, this may relate to a preference for analogue controls). Furthermore, Tactical play can be associated with openness to risk, sometimes expressed as impulsive recklessness. It is this combination of a willingness to take chances, and capacity to adapt quickly and effectively to random events which create the impression that players with strong Tactical skills are naturally lucky - the more chances one is willing to take, the more opportunities one has to fluke success. On analysis, then, this is simply a further expression of the spirit of improvisation that lies at the heart of Tactical play.


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 chief source of friction associated with Tactical play is constraint. The player favouring this style seeks to improvise and overcome, and anything that gets in the way of this approach is an annoyance. Tactical play thrives on the freedom of the player to act, and to have an impact in the game world, and thus anything which constrains the player’s freedom will frustrate a player preferring this play style. If a game prevents the player from using one of their tools in an arbitrary manner, this is an unacceptable constraint - ‘why can’t I use that here?’ is the natural question. If the Tactical player cannot act freely in a game, they would often prefer not to play at all - ‘I’m not putting up with that!’ is the natural response to excessive constraint.

(This should not be confused with the Strategic player’s problem with limitation, which is concerned with insufficient choice of actions - the Tactical player is annoyed by immediate constraints to action, rather than too narrow a set of choices. For instance, in a typical FPS the player often only has the capacity to move, and a choice of weapons - limited from a Strategic perspective, but more than sufficient for Tactical play. Conversely, if a game’s story imprisons the player and takes away their weapons and tools this can be an engaging puzzle from a Strategic perspective, but it is pure irritation for solely Tactical players).

Another source of friction associated with Tactical play is boredom. This may seem a strange suggestion - don’t all players have a problem with boredom? But players favouring Logistical play have tremendous tolerance for repetition provided they are progressing towards a goal, and players favouring Strategic play can be willing to spend considerable time trying to solve a tough puzzle or beat a difficult foe. Neither situation will suit a player whose preferences lie firmly in Tactical play; such a player will quickly lose interest if what they are doing becomes routine, or takes too long to achieve. The opportunity to have an impact must always be present, and when it is not boredom is the natural result. Often it will cause such a player to give up entirely and play something else instead, and players favouring this play style start many more games than they ever finish.

A Brief History of Tactical Play

The early arcade games of the 1970s were too abstract to have wide appeal for player’s favouring Tactical play, although such players probably did enjoy early videogames such as Space Invaders (Taito/Bally Midway, 1978), Pac-man (Namco/Midway, 1980) and so forth, for the novelty if for nothing else. The players who persisted at these games, however, were more likely to prefer Logistical play, as the capacity to have an impact was limited.

The 1980s moved arcade games into a more accessible place, and driving games such as Out Run (Sega, 1986) and Hard Drivin’ (Atari, 1989) could be found along shooting games such as Operation Wolf (Taito, 1987), all of which provided opportunities for solid Tactical play. Additionally, it is likely that fighting games such as Street Fighter (Capcom, 1987) attracted Tactical players. On the home computers and consoles, the most Tactical games were probably the early platform games, such as Manic Miner (Mathew Smith, 1983) or Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985), although inevitably these also supported Logistical play through their structures.

The move to polygonal 3D in the 1990s was to see an explosion of interest in Tactical play. Wolfenstein 3D (id Software, 1992) and Doom (id Software, 1993) laid down the first person shooter (FPS) template which has always been distinctly Tactical. Although the only tools provided are guns, the properties of the weapons are sufficiently different that Tactical play can emerge in the capacity to choose the right weapon for the right situation, as well as the spatial play elements key to FPS games, which also suit players favouring this play style.

The superior graphics of Quake (id Software, 1996) gave it notoriety in game fandom, but the title sold only a few million copies (Doom is estimated to have sold 4 million copies, and to have been downloaded and played by some 10 million players). The most commercially successful FPS’s of this decade were GoldenEye 007 (Rare, 1997) which combined solid game design with a hugely popular license, and Half-Life (Valve, 1998) which combined the technology of Quake with an inventive story implementation. Both sold 8 million units, the highest sales figures achieved by FPS games to date.

Driving games were similarly invigorated by the move to 3D, with games such as Virtua Racing (Sega, 1992), Ridge Racer (Namco, 1993) and the seminal kart racer, Mario Kart (Nintendo, 1992) all affording the Tactical play of driving (although most driving games also supported Logistical play, in that courses could be learned by repetition). Other racing games to provide opportunities for Tactical play included skiing games such as Alpine Racer (Namco, 1995) and the more successful genre of snowboarding games such as 1080 (Nintendo, 1998). However, cars remained the commercial centre of racing games, and Gran Turismo (Polyphony Digital, 1997) sold 10.5 million units on the PlayStation, with each of its sequels selling roughly the same numbers to total 44 million units across the franchise.

The next decade was to see cars and guns combined in the same titles, thus concentrating the Tactical focus of certain games. A notable title is Halo: Combat Evolved (Bungie, 2001), which featured a greater focus on the shooting element than the vehicular element, and which provided excellent opportunities for Tactical play - players enjoyed being able to make an impact with weaponry, explosives and vehicles. Commercially, the game enjoyed reasonable success, selling some 5 million units; sufficient to mark it as a hit, and certainly nothing else on the Microsoft Xbox console enjoyed greater commercial success.

But it was the advent of the playground world structure in games such as Grand Theft Auto III (DMA design, 2001) and its sequels that served to take Tactical play further. For a start, these games combined both driving and shooting elements (thus combining the most popular sources of Tactical play into one game), but additionally the capacity to wreak free-roaming mischief allowed players the opportunity to have an impact in a more direct way than ever before. (Although the playground world structure has earlier roots, it was only when it was used in 3D and in the context of cars and guns that it achieved the full measure of its success). Such games also included an effectively linear sequence of missions, and thus supported Logistical play as well; by strongly appealing to the two most significant play styles - and doing so with the added appeal of cars and guns - commercial success was all but guaranteed, and the games have sold up to 14 million units in their recent iterations.

Assuming the distributions of players preferring the Tactical play style correlate with the Artisan Temperament, we would expect some 25% of the population to greatly enjoy this style of play - second only to the Logistical play style in hypothetical popularity (50% of the population, if it correlates directly with the Guardian Temperament). As a result, games that meet the needs of both Logistical and Tactical play could appeal to as much as 75% of the population, and thus supporting both play styles is increasingly essential to mass market success.


Tactical play is a key factor behind the success of driving games, and shooting games - especially the ever-popular first person shooter - although it can be found to some degree in a wide variety of different game genres that focus on a single avatar, and provide the capacity to have an impact. Although not proven, it is hypothetically the case that Tactical play is second in commercial importance only to Logistical play, and comparisons of sales figures for the most popular games supports this claim.

With an irrepressible capacity for improvisation, and a reckless experimentation that can result in them seeming to be naturally lucky, the player favouring Tactical play seeks immediate freedom in their game worlds. Constraints are an especial annoyance, and such players can become bored easily when they lose the ability to have an impact. Naturally proficient with machines and tools with analogue controls, the Tactical player seems to have an immediate competence with almost any game that attracts their interest.

Diplomatic Play

First published (in full) on Chris Bateman’s blog, Only A Game on 16th February 2007

The landscape of personality that is mapped in Temperament Theory has a fourth region corresponding to the Idealist temperament, and we would thus expect to find a fourth play style: Diplomatic play. However, currently our research is not sufficiently developed to have any confidence as to what constitutes this play style, and more research is needed. It may be that Diplomatic play can be identified, but that it does not relate well to videogames, or it may be that there is no form of play which relates to the Diplomatic skill set (but this seems highly unlikely).

We can hypothesise as to what Diplomatic play might involve by looking at the skills that have been related to the Idealist temperament. Thus, we expect Diplomatic play to be involved in a process of unifying or harmonising through an abstractive process, and also to be rooted in communication and empathy. This relationship with communication (either the private communication of writing and art, or the public communication that takes place directly between people) suggests that Diplomatic play might be found more easily by examining multiplayer games, but it may also be difficult to separate from Extroverted play.

It is also possible, given the Idealist temperament’s relationship to narrative and metaphor, that certain forms of story play might be opportunities for Diplomatic play to be expressed. But since our current videogames are not especially good at supporting story play, this may be difficult to ascertain. An examination of tabletop role-play might be the best place to search for such a play style. We would expect a player expressing this play style in such a game to be enjoying resolving disputes and conflicts; given the general bias in most tabletop RPG play towards combat, an empirical study should easily show if there was a contrary form of play taking place in such games.

Kinaesthetic Mimicry

First published on Chris Bateman's blog, Only A Game on 11th January 2007

Mimicry, the play of simulation, can be expressed in many roles, but few have such wide appeal as kinaesthetic mimicry - that which involves the players’ sense of touch and motion. We see it in small children who play with toys that mimic adult tools - plastic mechanics tools or cooking utensils, or mock weapons such as wooden swords and toy guns. The experience of mimicry is enhanced by the use of such props.

The earliest instances of the use of kinaesthetic elements in videogames occur in arcade games and Atari (not to be confused with the modern publisher which has bought this name) were at the forefront in the arcade revolution of the 1970s. Qwak! (Atari, 1974) featured a satisfyingly sturdy shotgun peripheral that was integral to its cabinet, and extended the kinaesthetic mimicry of a carnival shooting gallery game (which predate videogames) to an electronic form. (The earliest light gun game, incidentally, is considered to be the Seeburg Ray-O-Lite, from 1936). In the same year, Gran Trak 10 (Atari 1974) used a steering wheel to add kinaesthetic mimicry to a simple top-down driving game. (This game was also the first to use ROM memory). However, the graphics of these early videogames were crude, and these early attempts were largely unsuccessful.

In the next decade, arcade games began to explore kinaesthetic elements further, and games like Out Run (Sega, 1986) had a cabinet featuring not only a steering wheel, but a gear stick as well. Hard Drivin’ (Atari, 1989) went one step further. Its steering wheel included forced feedback (a first for the arcade), and as well as a gear stick the cabinet featured an ignition key, which the player turned to start playing. Coupled with its early shaded polygonal graphics (which were a sensation at the time), Hard Drivin’ was a hit in arcades the world over. Similarly, gun play was catered for with new cabinets such as Operation Wolf (Taito, 1987) and its sequels.

By the 1990s, the arcade audience demographic had shifted considerably. For some time, the rise of the home consoles and the PC as a gaming machine had taken the gamer hobbyists out of the arcades and back into their dingy bedrooms. Arcade games were increasingly required to draw upon kinaesthetic mimicry to pull in a broader audience, and the games of the nineties illustrate this neatly. Namco build elaborate control devices into their Prop Cycle (Namco, 1996), Alpine Surfer (Namco, 1996) and Rapid River (Namco, 1997). Prop Cycle was the most successful of the three – its control mechanism was literally a bicycle, and had wide appeal (although players often lacked the stamina to play more than once a day!), while Alpine Surfer used a snowboard (coupled with a hand rail) for control, and Rapid River used a paddle to control its virtual dinghy.

Nor were Namco the only company pushing in this direction. Sega Bass Fishing (Sega, 1998) was not an enormous success in arcades, but was widely distributed around bars in the United States, while Dance Dance Revolution (Konami, 1999) was a run away success with its dance platform which allowed the player to literally move their whole body to control the game. All of these new games had one thing in common: they were good exercise as well as being good fun.

However, attempts to spread kinaesthetic mimicry into the home were less successful. In fact, until recently the only form to make it into the home was the light gun. The NES Zapper (Famicom Light Gun in Japan) was shipped with the system from 1984 (and similarly with the less successful XG-1 bundled with the Atari XEGS system). These first light guns enjoyed success because they were bundled with the consoles, but as light guns began to be packaged separately the problem with getting kinaesthetic mimicry into the home became more apparent: the cost of the peripherals were a barrier. Games were generally quite expensive; adding the cost of the light gun peripheral made them out of the reach of most families.

The Sega Dreamcast was the first console to really attempt to push other forms of kinaesthetic mimicry into the home, most significantly with the home version of Sega Bass Fishing (Sega, 1999), which captured the play of its arcade predecessor with its satisfyingly realistic fishing controller, and with the novel Samba De Amigo (Sega, 2000), which required special maraca controllers to play. But the same problem dogged these attempts: the cost of the game and controller together was prohibitive.

The first real success story of bringing this kind of play into the home was with Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution brand. Although retailers were reluctant to stock the dance pad peripherals, the arcade game was so popular that the Playstation and Playstation 2 versions of the game (from 1999-2006) experienced unprecedented success through online sales. Part of the reason for the success was that the games targeted an audience traditionally considered out-of-bounds for videogames (namely a female audience, although the games were enjoyed by people of both genders).

Sony’s EyeToy, released in Europe along with EyeToy Play (Sony, 2003) used visual and motion recognition technologies to allow the player to control games with their entire body - while simultaneously showing the player themselves on screen. Although a great commercial success, the general lack of sensitivity meant that it was not ideal as a control device, and was mostly only used for simple minigames.

The success of both dance mat controllers and the EyeToy paved the way for the boldest step forward in bringing kinaesthetic mimicry into the home. In 2006, Nintendo unveiled their latest home console, Wii. It’s unique remote controller contained a variety of sensors, including a pointing suite equivalent to a light gun, tilt sensors, and motion sensors. This device offered something that was previously an impossibility: it could be used in multiple different roles to mimic multiple different activities. The Wii removed the barrier that had previously hindered kinaesthetic mimicry from making into the home: the expense of a separate control device. The Wii remote came bundled with the console.

Furthermore, with Nintendo packaging Wii Sports (Nintendo, 2006) with the console, they had produced a home electronic package ideal for a wide audience - six different experiences of kinaesthetic mimicry, most of which were readily understandable by a new player (even one with low game literacy) since the actions of play were modelled upon the actions of the sports being simulated. The fact that the games are also great aerobic exercise only furthers their appeal.

However, the potential to bring experiences of kinaesthetic mimicry into the home still depended upon games that leveraged that potential. Although Wii Sports succeeded admirably, the fifty mini-games in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (Sega, 2006) show the problems of developing for Wii. Many of the control mechanisms for the mini-games are difficult to teach the player (since they do not copy real world motions), and consequently produce highly unsatisfying game experiences.

Nonetheless, the Wii represents the forefront of this form of mimicry, and will certainly succeed in bringing a wider audience of players into the videogames market with its potential for highly intuitive control, and the ability to mimic any number of different activities. It is likely, however, that this wider audience will not need to purchase many games for the Wii, hence the majority of the cashflow in the games industry will remain focussed on the gamer hobbyist (requiring new games every month and, in some cases, every week), and hence on the battle of the power gaming machines between Sony and Microsoft, both haemorrhaging money on their hardware in an attempt to secure the support of the key demographics. Meanwhile, Nintendo will be making sterling revenues on their console, selling it to a broader demographic and making a profit on every unit sold.

Although the chief activities emulated in videogames remain the same - guns, cars and sports - the advent of a generalised control solution for kinaesthetic mimicry finally breaks down the cost barrier of getting this form of play into the home. The chief question remaining is whether the success of the Wii is sufficient to spur Sony into continuing their copycat policy. Either way, the Wii represents a significant step forward in the kinaesthetic mimicry of videogames - and perhaps, an opportunity for unfit gamers to get some much needed exercise.

Between Stories and Games

First published on Chris Bateman’s blog, Only A Game in October 2005.

Where is the boundary between a game and a story? While it is true that it is possible to make a game without a story, there are actually very few games which do not contain at least an implicit story - a narrative situation. Indeed, these framing narratives serve to define the play of the game in many cases. What, then, is the relationship between game and story?

Let me begin by saying that I don't have an answer. Furthermore, this topic is so far from the testable that it is likely that there is no single answer to the question, and absolutely certain that the answers one will encounter will depend deeply upon the definitions of the terms 'game' and 'story'. For the sake of this discussion, I will use our standard definition of 'game' which is a tool for entertainment with some degree of performance (this may be something tangible like a victory or end condition, or something intangible, like the satisfaction of a table-top role-playing game session that just seems to flow perfectly). For 'story' I will cast the net wide and define it as any account of events affecting one or more characters (real or fictitious), and for 'narrative', as the specific delivery of a the details of a particular story instance.

What do people mean when they say "games don't need stories"? Because clearly, there are lots of games with narrative content, and many of them (arguably) perform better in the market place through the inclusion of a narrative, so it is not much of a commercial argument to claim that games don't need stories. I think, perhaps, they mean simply that the abstract, ludic content of a game can qualify as a game without a narrative of any kind. The clearest example is Tetris, which provides no narrative material at all in general terms.

It is true that abstract games can avoid narrative entirely, but this is not equivalent to saying that "games don't need stories", so much as it is saying that there are types of games which can avoid explicit narrative content. For instance, the "games don't need stories" point of view probably supports Quake in its absence of story. (Of course, Quake does have a story - a truly awful story, perhaps the worst ever written. But it hides it in the manual so that only a few of us have had a chance to share in its appalling cheese). But it is not that Quake is devoid of narrative - rather, the narrative situation that Quake presents is so inherently intuitive (kill all monsters) that it does not require any exposition. You could not remove this implicit narrative from Quake even if you wanted to.

Even highly abstract games have implicit narratives. Chess, for instance, is built from the implicit narrative situation of two kingdoms at war. Understanding this narrative framework makes the game of Chess easier to learn - because the idea that the game ends when the King is cornered follows from this scenario quite naturally, and the exchange of pieces can be understood as an abstracted battle. (Incidentally, I personally find Chess boring because the narrative is too codified for my tastes. For me, there's just not enough differences in the story of one Chess game and the story of another).

In the field of hobby games practically all games make use of an implicit narrative to provide the backdrop of the game - with the express benefit that understanding the actions and rules of the game becomes easier, because they have been given a context. Even a mass market boxed game like Jenga has something of a narrative to it - the aleatory narrative of who will cause the tower to collapse (the innocent version of Russian roulette). Perhaps, then, even Tetris has something of a narrative to it... after all, there is the potential of telling someone the story of what happened in a particular game.

One of the key values of a story in a game is that it simplifies the process of learning what to do in a game. When Resident Evil 4 sets the narrative framework that our bland action hero is looking for the president's daughter (the modern version of the classical Princess), we already know something of what is to be expected of us. It is not necessary to flash up explicit mission instructions, because our mission is derivable from the narrative context. Indeed, one thing that the Resident Evil series has done well is to draw from archetypal horror situations thus letting the implicit elements of its narrative silently guide the player's actions.

In terms of Caillois' four types of games, games of agon can eliminate all narrative elements - except the implicit story of two individuals vying for victory. Games of alea cannot eliminate the narrative implications of 'fate' - for this is the implicit meaning of chance in games (although culturally our attitude to fate has changed recently, and we are more likely to dismiss things as 'chance', even though 'fate' and 'chance' are concepts that differ only in their mythology). Mimicry and narrative are intimately intertwined. Only ilinx - games of vertigo - seem to escape a narrative content, but even here there is potentially a counter argument that can be made, just as we was made for Tetris. Although explicit narrative elements can be removed from all games, it is much harder to remove implicit elements of narrative.

Huizinga suggests that play creates culture, and I sympathise with this view. All human activities can be expressed as a kind of game (of varying degrees of seriousness to the individuals involved). Similarly, all human activities can be recorded as a story, and Frazer, Campbell and others have suggested there is an underlying framework in our minds which is adapted to accept and create stories. Is there a sense therefore that stories and games are counterparts to each other - that games create stories, and stories frame games?

At the moment, our technology creates games whose stories are severely limited - we do not have the technological complexity to support a game with implicit narrative as rich as a literary novel, for instance. And even if we did, we lack the widespread elegance of design to present such a game for a suitable audience. We could create a game with an explicit narrative with such complexity - but then we would not be telling the story of the game, but merely combining a complex narrative and a (presumably simpler) game together. Likely the complexities of the narrative would not sit well alongside the play of such a game, though, making such an exercise fruitless.

The art of making stories and games work together is to create each such that it is the complement of the other - another place I can use the analogy of the cast and the mould of a fossil. The play of the game should naturally lead the player through the story - the story of the game should naturally lead the player through the appropriate play. The more identifiably humanlike the avatar, the more explicit a narrative the game will support. Perhaps this is the reason games like Tetris seem markedly less narrative - it has no avatar, and therefore there is no character about whom to tell a story?

Since we currently cannot make games of sufficient (accessible) complexity to rival the heights of our best storytelling, we perhaps should focus on the other side of the equation. Games produce play and implicit narrative: we can look at ways of making those implicit narrative situations tie into an explicit narrative, thus deepening the sense of involvement (and the mimicry) of a game, and (crucially) of building dynamic explicit narratives which support whichever implicit narrative situations the player chooses to favour.

The footprint of a game's implicit narrative should therefore fit the foot of the game's story - or vice versa. We do not praise the skills required to achieve this, which we have called 'narrative-integration' (or design-integrated narrative), sufficiently within the games industry. We still judge game stories by similar terms to conventional narratives. There is nothing wrong with this - but we would perhaps benefit from identifying and praising those games which achieve an appropriate relationship between their play and their narrative.

Designing Rewards in Games

First published on Chris Bateman's blog, Only A Game in August 2005.

Assuming we have built a game with a core activity that the player enjoys, how do we keep them playing, and what makes them stop? It's all about the rewards the player experiences, and the manner in which those rewards are structured.

What sort of rewards can the player experience? Without attempting to define a taxonomy:

  • Currency rewards: the acquisition of a game resource that can be spent represents a fairly universal reward system... giving the player shops to spend currency rewards can be effective, provided there is plenty in the shops to choose from. (Note that the shop can be a 'meta-shop' - it need not be a literal shop in the game world).
  • Rank Rewards: like currency rewards, but ratcheted - the player gains benefits from acquiring points towards an eventual step up in rank. The classic example is level in a class and level RPG, although in video games, Elite's (entirely cosmetic) Rank system demonstrates that a Rank reward can motivate even without mechanical benefits. A draw for Type 1 Conqueror and Type 2 Manager players if expressed in verbal terms, but if the 'Rank up' is accompanied by sufficient fanfare its appeal can be more universal.
  • Mechanical Rewards: such as increases in stats that the player can feel the effect of. Highly motivating for many players - but the mechanical increases must maintain relevance to the play. Effective for Type 2 Manager and Type 1 Conqueror players in particular.
  • Narrative rewards: a little narrative exposition is effective for certain players as a reward. A cut scene can be a bigger reward than dialogue - when used well. But overlong or irrelevant cut scenes quickly become devalued. Effective for Type 3 Wanderer and Type 4 Participant players in particular.
  • Emotional rewards: related to the above, but applicable when the player feels they have done something for someone in the game. Animal Crossing's present giving, for instance. A draw for Type 4 Participant players.
  • New Toys: anything new that can be experimented with is a 'new toy'. Although primarily a mimicry reward, there may be mechanical benefits of well - a new weapon in an FPS is a new toy with mechanical rewards, for instance. Especially of value to Type 3 Wanderer players.
  • New Places: like new toys, new places are a mimicry reward for players driven to explore (a common drive!). Especially of value to Type 3 Wanderer and Type 1 Conqueror players.
  • Completeness: perhaps only a drive for the Type 1 Conqueror player (or the Rational player), achieving completeness (chasing 100% for instance) can be a reward in itself.
  • Victory: defeating a challenging foe (or a boss) is purely agonistic reward, especially appealing to Type 1 Conqueror players.

The other aspect of how we design rewards is the way the delivery of the reward is structured. Psychologists call these structures contingencies or schedules. I first learned about this from John Hopson's excellent (but nervously delivered) GDC talk Behavioural Game Design, which is also available as an article at Gamasutra. Briefly, psychologists have observed a number of different reward schedules in animals (humans included):

  • Fixed Ratio Schedules: these provide rewards after a fixed number of actions. They produce a high level of activity and are easy to understand, but after the reward is achieved, there is a pause. XP in CRPGs is an example - although the gearing of XP systems is exponential, the intent is that the player is constantly moving up to tougher foes, thus keeping a constant ratio of kills to level. Hugely addictive to Type 1 Conqueror players, they can work for any play style - if the rewards are right.
  • Variable Ratio Schedules: these provide rewards after a random number of actions - like a slot machine. You keep putting in coins, because at some point it will pay out. These also produce a high rate of activity and interest, but they tend to block exploration - as the player will stick with the reward schedule until it is exhausted, or until they burn out on it. Effective with all play styles - but burnout is always a risk. They are inherently aleatory, and may appeal less to Type 1 Conqueror and Type 4 Participant players.
  • Fixed Interval Schedule: that is, a reward is provided after a set amount of time. This provides better control over the rate of reward, and comes with the same post-reward pause as a fixed ratio schedule. Indeed, pauses are inherent to fixed schedules of all kinds. An example is the new items in the shop each day in Animal Crossing - the player comes back on future days to see what's new.
  • Variable Interval Schedule: like the variable ratio schedule, this produces a steady rate of activity with no pauses - but its not as intense as the variable ratio schedule, because players quickly learn that their actions are independent of the reward. Good for encouraging a player to come back to certain places in a game, however, if a reward appears in certain places 'at random'. Again, they are aleatory and hence may not appeal to all Type 1 or Type 4 players.

In general, ratio schedules produce high rates of activity - "the more you do, the more you get". Variable schedules produce constant activity - "everything has a chance of reward". When these combine, (variable ratio schedule), the player will eventually burn out. Conversely, fixed schedules create a pause - which needn't be a negative matter. To keep a player's interest in a CRPG, the 'pause' after gaining a level frees the player up from the treadmill of levelling up to go and carry out other housekeeping activities in the game. (If the player levelled up with a variable ratio schedule, they could rapidly get burned out).

These elements - types of reward, and the schedules upon which they are delivered - form a framework which maintains a player's interest in the game they are playing. The more complex the game, the more different rewards and schedules for the delivery of those rewards are required to keep the player involved. A simple game can be built upon a single schedule.

All of this comes to a head in how and why the player stops playing. Pauses allow and encourage quitting - players are constantly evaluating the very next thing they can do in a game, and if their level of interest drops below the draw for another activity, they stop. If this happens through burnout, they may not go back - the gamble with variable ratio contingencies - but if they stopped because of the pause after achieving a sufficiently large reward in a fixed schedule, they will likely come back. In this regard, one must be careful that the rewards themselves maintain at the very least a constant (and at most an escalating) level of reward.

Of course, the best case is that just playing the game is inherently enjoyable to the player - that the core play is its own reward (when the core play is a flow state for the player). Still, even when this is so, the player is likely to stop playing when 'they have seen everything'. This is when multiplayer elements can extend the play window of a game, of course, by providing new rewards - provided the player happens to be motivated by agon (like many Type 1 and Type 2 players).

If one creates a game which is inherently fun for the player, an exponentially structured fixed ratio schedule can be sufficient framework to keep playing - such as the monuments in The New Tetris (which are wholly cosmetic, and equivalent to Rank rewards). For some reason, this structure seems to work better than other schedules for a high level framework. Interval schedules lack the connection with player action, and variable schedules only work until the rewards are exhausted. But diehard players of The New Tetris routinely reset the monuments and start over again, with little loss of interest. Perhaps it is the exponential gearing which drives the appeal, pulling the player forward by gradually increasing the jump to the next reward.

If you have ever wondered why games with poor game mechanics can still entertain players, it is perhaps because many poorly designed games are at least easy to play - and if they provide rewards according to a reliable schedule, they will entertain. As long as they keep providing rewards. Good game mechanics can aid a game by eliminating rough edges and inconsistencies, and some players (those who fit the template of our H1 and H2 clusters in particular; those with access to the Rational temperament) are actively drawn to elegant game mechanics - but it is the delivery of rewards, and not the quality of the game mechanics, which maintains a player's interest.

A Model of Game Designers

First published on Chris Bateman's blog, Only A Game in September 2005.

Knowing a little about psychology and the games industry gives me an opportunity to hypothesise about the different types or flavours of game designer that might exist. What follows is a hypothetical model of game designers, which suggests that there are three or four recurrent patterns - which in turn reflect three different aspects of the game design process. As a hypothesis, the next step would be research to test its predictions - but I doubt this will happen. Instead, I invite game designers to share how this model fits or diverges with their own perspectives.

For context, I will be using primarily Myers-Briggs typology, Temperament theory and Interaction styles as my source material - and probably a few other psychological models that I don't have the names for. As ever, my perspective is rooted in Linda Berens work. Note that what I am in effect describing here are 'game designer archetypes' - individuals will be much more complex than the personality templates I am about to describe.

The Path of a Game

Broadly speaking, there are three phases of game development:

  1. Pre-dev: This is the period before the game goes into full production. Although the complete game design is not always generated in pre-dev, for the sake of this model we are going to consider the generation of the game design documentation as a pre-dev task.
  2. Implementation: from the first line of code, to the last piece of art, the creation of the game up to the Alpha milestone (when every element is in place - in at least a rough cut form) can be considered the implementation phase.
  3. Tweaking: the QA process, bughunts and everything else on the road to gold master can be considered the tweaking phase. We are particularly interested in the final adjustments to the game design - especially parametric changes and interface improvements.

The model I am about to propose suggests that there is a flavour of game designer who is best suited to each of the three phases of game development.

The Design Advisor

During the pre-dev phase of a project, design documentation is generated. Often, this paperwork is created before any aspect of the game is in production so a game designer who specialises in this portion of a project has to be able to think abstractly, theorise and plan ahead. I call this flavour of game designer the design advisor.

The design advisor could be in charge of the project, but more likely is an advisor to the person who leads the project (the game director in my preferred terminology). Their role is like a military advisor attached to a general of an army... they anticipate problems and issues, they solve problems before they become problems.

The Myers-Briggs patterns I associate with this role are the Conceptualiser-Director (INTJ: Rational/Chart the Course) and the Designer-Theoriser (INTP: Rational/Behind the Scenes). The INTJ is associated with strategising, envisioning and masterminding; defining goals, creating detailed plans and outlining contingencies. They drive themselves hard. The INTP is associated with designing and configuring. They define precisely and bring coherence to systems based on the patterns of organisation that are naturally there, and they notice inconsistencies. It does not take a great leap of faith to see why I am suggesting these two personality templates could be associated with game design.

These two patterns share a lot in common - a focus on the abstract (versus concrete details), a bias towards pragmatic decision making (versus affiliative decision making), and a tendency towards responding to situations (versus initiating actions). There is a key distinction between the two: INTJ's tend towards directing processes, whilst INTP tend towards informing them.

This creates two subclasses of designer director - the director-advisor (closer to INTJ pattern) who can be in charge of the design process, and the informer-advisor (closer to INTP pattern) who prefers to be behind the scenes. In practice, the roles are very similar, but they are highly complementary. The director-advisor (which I tend towards) rushes forward, pulling the game design behind them in their wake. Forward progress is therefore fast paced, but prone to having problems which need fixing. The informer-advisor would have the reverse approach - they want to delay proceeding until they are confident that problems that can be anticipated have been identified and eliminated.

An alliance between these two patterns can be hugely beneficial to a game, and it is worth nothing that either role could be in charge. When I worked with Gregg Barnett, he was in charge and fulfilled the informer-advisor role - I charged ahead with the game design, but nothing actually proceeded until Gregg was happy with it.

Game Planner

In Japan, game designers are generally called 'planners'. This is apposite - there's an awful lot of planning involved in designing a game. During the central phase of making a game - the implementation phase - the game needs someone who can keep the project on track, can relate the game design to the game (or the game to the game design) and ensure that the team are fully supported.

The game planner is an adjunct to the development team (although they are often in charge at some level). The overall shape of the game has already been determined when the game planner comes into their own - they look at where the game needs to be (from the design documentation, if it exists, or from the team meetings if it does not) and create the necessary plans of action.

I associate this role with the Planner-Inspector (ISTJ: Guardian/Chart the Course) pattern in Myers-Briggs typology. ISTJ's are associated with planning and monitoring, and are considered systematic and careful, seeing discrepancies, omissions and pitfalls, and eliminating them. They are considered dependable, realistic and sensible - just who you want on your side when you're trying to get your game up and running.

They share the same interaction style as the director-advisor (Chart the course), that is, they direct processes and respond to situations, but whereas the director-advisor is biased towards abstract thinking and pragmatism, the game planner would hypothetically be more focused on concrete details, and would tend towards an affiliative approach to decision making. This means the game planner is likely to be hugely loyal towards their team - always in their corner, looking out for them against anything that threatens production. They listen to what their team says, and they take the necessary actions.

Although not my strongest suit, I can fulfill the role of game planner when necessary. I would greatly prefer to know there was a dedicated game planner working with the team, making sure that everything remains on track.

Game Fixer

At the end of the game development process, it's usually a crunch. It shouldn't be, but the process up to that point is never perfect, milestone schedules always fail to some degree, and in the last few months of the project, someone has to make the game work. In this tweaking phase of development, the game fixer comes into their own.

They look at what the game currently does, and see what is wrong... They have strong instincts about what needs to be done to make it work properly. If they were given the resources, they could probably fix any game - but in practice, the work of the game fixer comes down to damage control. The game fixer cannot be in charge - unless the developer is happy to throw money at the project until it works (and some developers do use this macabre business model). Most game fixers are part of the QA team - but this can be a mistake . It's a waste to have such talent just running sweeps and methodically checking for bugs. Game fixers need to be working more closely with the game design team.

I associate this role with the Analyser-Operator (ISTP: Artisan/Chart the Course) pattern in Myers-Briggs typology. ISTP's are associated with action-driven problem solving, and are skilled at analysing and solving problems. They share the concrete bias of the game planner, but have the pragmatic bias of the design advisor. Once again, the interaction style is Chart the Course (directing-responding).

I need game fixers to back me up, because it's not my strength. I can take reports from game fixers and work out how to solve them in the parametric data for the game (which, according to this model at least, requires the abstract thinking of a design advisor), but I need talented fixers to be down in the trenches, playing the game and reporting back the problems. The game fixer has to be careful - they have to try to tell the difference between problems with the game that matter to them and problems with the game that will matter to the audience as a whole. Although, in an ideal game development process, the fixers should probably have a design advisor to theorise, and a game planner to keep the QA process on track.

In an Ideal Project...

I believe that the perfect game design team should contain representatives from all of these game designer archetypes. With a large enough project budget, I would want a director-advisor and an informer-advisor to form the core of the design team, backed up by at least one game planner for each of the teams working on the game. Finally, I would want at least three game fixers working on the game design and working with (and listening to) the QA teams to provide the information necessary to steer the project in the right direction.

In reality, the budget isn't usually there, so one has to make do with what one has. Ideally, I'd like at the very least to be backed up by an informer-advisor (to prevent me rushing too far ahead on the design, and to highlight problems at an early stage) and a game fixer like my good friend Neil, who sadly only works part time with me these days, but whom I rely upon for all sorts of every day problem solving situations.

This is a hypothetical model - it is built from theories and makes somewhat broad predictions about the behaviour of different flavours of game designer. It would be interesting to hear what other game designers make of the model. Do you recognise the patterns in yourself? In others you have worked with? And what would your ideal game design team consist of? If you have a spare moment, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Zen Game Design

First published Develop 27 (April 2003) as 'My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma'

Wise blind elephants

"Five wise, blind elephants were discussing what humans were like. Failing to agree, they decided to determine what humans were like by direct experience.

"The first wise, blind elephant felt the human, and declared, 'Humans are flat.'"

"The other wise, blind elephants, after similarly feeling the human, agreed."

What is Game Design?

It would be tempting to think that it is readily apparent what the process of game design involves, but anyone who has looked into it will have learned that if you ask one hundred people to define game design, you will get one hundred different answers.

Rather than attempt to force a consensus (an endless and fruitless task), for the purposes of Zen Game Design, we shall invent a definition:

Game Design is the process of co-ordinating the evolution of the design of a game

Sometimes, the game design work is complete long before the end of the development process. Mostly, however, it is an ongoing process which only ends when the game is on the shelves.

Game design components can come from a number of different participants, including the producers, the programmers and the artists, as well as the game designer themselves. The game designer's task is sometimes to create missing components, sometimes to integrate conflicting components and sometimes to ensure that all the components will combine to create the desired gameplay experience.

What is Zen Game Design?

Zen Buddhism is a branch of the Eastern religion in which the underlying message is implied, rather than stated. Indeed, one of the key concepts in Zen Buddhism is that enlightenment cannot be expressed in words, as one must make a leap beyond the literal - it must be experienced, not learned.

It also includes the idea that there is no objectively correct and definitive perspective on anything - all experience is relative.

It is this idea which forms the basis for Zen Game Design.

The Principles of Zen Game Design

Zen Game Design is built on two basic tenets, which can be summarised as:

  1. There is no single method to design
  2. Game design reflects needs

These are the short forms of the principles. There is also an implied 'zeroth' tenet:

  1. There are methods to game design

This caveat may seem trivial, but there are some people with no appreciation for the work of the game designer, or who believe that the distinction between a game designer and a programmer is irrelevant. It may be true than some programmers can carry out game design, but it is also true that some programmers can draw. That does not equate to there being no distinction between programmers and artists.

The First Tenet: There is No Single Method to Design

Depending on your perspective, this principle will either seem abundantly obvious, or blatantly incorrect. It is important to remember that although someone may hit upon a good method for game design, that does not mean that the method is applicable to all cases, that it will always be relevant or that it is equally useful with all types of games.

The long form of this principle is as follows:

The more methods you explore, the more options you have

This is the nub of the concept. If you use one game design method, you have only one way of looking at a problem. If you have explored a dozen different game design methods, you have 4,096 (that is, 2^12) different ways of looking at a problem! (This statement is supposed to be evocative, not to be taken literally).

The more different game design methods and philosophies you study, the closer to an infinite set of game design choices you will get.

Seven Varieties of Design Methods

There are more ways to approach game design that could be summarised, but the following represent seven common methods. For each, a grossly simplified expression of the method is given.

  • First Principles

    A game that is developed from first principles takes a long view of the design process. The steps could be described as:

    Goals -> Game World Abstraction -> Design -> Game

    Using this method, you start by determining what you want to do, then you determine the nature of your game world abstraction. Only when you know how your game world will be abstracted do you proceed to design, and then implementation. Any game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda, Mario) is likely to show evidence of this 'first principles' approach.

  • Clone & TweakThis is perhaps the most common design method in use. The steps could be described as:

    Existing Design -> Modified Design -> Game

    In essence, you pick an existing game (generally someone else's), adopt the pre-existing game world abstraction and then modify it to suit the needs of the 'new' game.

    It's quicker and easier than creating a whole new design concept, and for this reason is quite appropriate to many short time-budget games projects, and for sequels. Why start from scratch when you can learn from your previous abstractions and improve upon them?

    There is, however, little or no excuse for using this method on an original AAA product.

  • Meta-rulesSome Game Designers are attempting to produce a set of meta-rules, sometimes believing they are uncovering "the rules of game design", sometimes merely trying to provoke debate. The implied method is generally:

    Meta-rules -> Design -> Game

    Two very different examples of a Meta-rule approach are Noah Falstein's 'The 400 Project', and Ernest Adams 'Dogma 2001'.

    'The 400 Project' is involved in identifying 'rules of game design' and ascribing to them a hierarchy of precedence such that some rules trump other rules. The approach can produce some interesting discussions which can help inform design decisions, and this is probably the greatest value of this method. (Whether the formal 'trumping' structure is useful or an ever-growing encumbrance is open to considerable debate).

    'Dogma 2001', by contrast, was not intended as an all-encompassing design method, but rather as a mental (and perhaps pragmatic) exercise for game designers to provoke original thought and return the game design focus to the design, and away from technical issues.

    Any collection of meta-rules can be a useful method to employ, provided it is recognised that these "rules" are not universal laws, but rather formalised observations.

    It is also doubtful that any design process can proceed using only this method.

  • Expressing TechnologyIn developers without an in-house designer, design can often be more about finding roles for new software technology. Quake is an example of a game which demonstrates the use of this method. The method can be expressed simply as:

    Technology -> Game

    Often, this method is combined with a Clone & Tweak approach. It's not a very interesting method from a design point of view, but it can be useful - although your technology has to be top-notch if you are going to produce something worthwhile.
  • The Frankenstein ApproachWhen you have to give up on your first design and start from scratch when you've already produced a sizeable chunk of software or art, the Frankenstein approach comes into its own. Conkers Twelve Tales becoming Conkers Bad Fur Day is a good example by all accounts, and Half Life too seems to have made use of it. The method works principally:

    Materials -> Design -> Game

    Like many methods, it generally works in concert with other methods. A game designer may be involved in producing an entirely new game world abstraction, or it may be a simple case of a well chosen Clone & Tweak.

    Obviously this method is primarily used to rescue a project in trouble, but it can also be used to produce a new game from existing materials by bringing in a new game designer to reorganise and abstract a new design from the existing materials.

  • Story-driven DesignGames such as the classic text adventure The Hobbit, and more recent adventures like Broken Sword and Shenmue involve use of a method in which the story that will be told drives forward the design process. The method can be expressed as:

    Narrative -> Design -> Game

    Although this has been mostly used with adventures, any game with a plot can benefit from the use of this method.

    Note that the narrative can be generated by the employment of a variety of different methods. One of particular note is design-integrated narratives, a first principles approach which can be expressed as:

    Goals -> Game World Abstraction -> Design-integrated Narrative -> Game

    The idea here is that you identify both your game and narrative goals first, then you produce a game world abstraction that supports these goals, and from there develop the narrative and the game design in parallel.
  • Iterative Design ("Design by Committee")Under the right circumstances, iterative design can be a very powerful method, expressed briefly as follows:


    Meetings Design -> Game


    The idea is that you develop your design through the process of developing a design-version, holding team meetings to revise the design and repeat until you get everything right, or run out of time.

    It can produce excellent games. It can also cause projects to overrun time and cost budgets and get cancelled. Historically, there are many more projects in the latter category than the former. In short, be very cautious about using iterative design as your core design method.

When we talk about 'the design', what we are really referring to is the design documentation. This is roughly equivalent of an abstract specification in industrial software development, and offers the same advantages.

Even though the design documentation is almost certainly maintained by a single individual (usually the game designer), design isn't the sole prerogative of the game designer by any stretch of the imagination. It's just the game designer's role to co-ordinate the design process.

The Second Tenet: Game Design Reflect Needs

Why should it be that there is no single, ultimate solution to the game design dilemma? It is because every game is experienced by more than one person.

Perhaps if you were creating a game that only you will play, you could develop a single, perfect design method. Provided of course your tastes don't change...

The long form of this principle is:

Game design must be egoless, balancing the desires and needs of all participants.

The idea that the game designer must be egoless may come as a shock to some, especially since many game designers hide a secret belief that they are the greatest game designer in the world. (However, unless your credit cards read 'S. Miyamoto' this is unlikely to be the case).

To understand this principle, we need to look at who are the participants in a game project.

Participants & Advocates

The notion of a 'participant' describes anyone with an interest in the project - it could be the development team, someone with a financial stake in the project (such as the publisher) or it could be the audience. All these people participate in some portion of the game's life - both before and after release.

However, it is self-evident that it would be impossible for every participant in a game to be involved in the design process. Because of this, certain participants function as advocates for groups of participants. For example, the External Producer generally acts as the advocate for the Publisher.

By looking at different participants in a game project, and different advocates, we can gain a different perspective on the design process.

Seven Varieties of Participants

Who participates in a game project?

  • The AudienceThe audience's goal is to enjoy the game, and whatever else you do, you must satisfy this participant! Since we cannot truly know the audience's attitudes to a game before it is released, we need models to allow us make informed decisions.The most basic audience model in use is:

    "All games players think like me."

    It is entirely useless unless you are the only person who is going to play the game. More sophisticated models recognise demographic groups, and attempt to learn the tastes and needs of these groups, for example:
    Casual, Hardcore(Basic demographic split)
    Hardcore, Testosterone, Casual, Parental(ihobo demographics)
    New Hardcore, Lifers, M&M's, Generation Next, Social Gamers, Golden Gamers(Bennallack demographics)
    Focus groups can help provide feedback from the audience as well - but it must be mediated intelligently. The goal of a focus group is to assess audience response - not to yield control of the design to a dozen strangers!
  • Publisher (Advocate: External Producer) The publishers goal is to get the best return on their investment - and it is never too late for a publisher to pull the plug if they will not get a return on their investment. The usual advocate for the Publisher in the development process is the External Producer; their role is to represent the needs of the publisher in terms of reducing the cost of development and maximising the profit (since both these work towards a better return on the publishers investment).Some developers resent the publishers involvement (or interference) in the development process - but this is generally because the External Producer is trying to usurp control of the design process. When an External Producer acts wisely, as an advocate for the publisher's needs, there is not a problem.

    Just in case, developers are advised to follow the Steel Monkey's lead and have a clause in their contract allowing them to dismiss the External Producer if they are unsatisfied. Getting the right advocate for the Publishers needs makes the whole process go more smoothly.

  • Developer (Advocate: Producer) The internal producer mirrors the role of the External Producer, acting as an advocate for the developer as a whole. The developer's goals vary. They want to get money for salaries, certainly, and they may (but not necessarily) want to turn a profit as well. But for the most part, the developer's goal is to professionally produce a game, so meeting milestones, and satisfying the publisher are inherited goals. From the Producer's point of view then, the developers interest in the design is that it should be achievable, and as project status changes, changes in the design may be required. It is then the game designer's role to adapt to these changes.
  • Programmers The goal of the programming team is to implement the game, and as such they need the power to interact with the design and ensure that it is realistically implementable.In many cases, the programmers are also representatives of the audience, but like focus groups this does not mean that they should dominate the design process. Neither should their views be ignored.

    It is desirable for there to be an advocate for the programming team as a whole (the lead programmer, usually). Issues that the programming team need to report can then be advocated on their behalf, which is more efficient than each programmer trying to influence the design process individually, although this is less of an issue with smaller teams.

  • Artists The artists parallel the programmers, and also benefit from an advocate (a lead artist) to bring forward their issues.The producer should be able to turn to the artists for advice on art and animation issues in the same way they can turn to the programming or design team for advice on their specialities.
  • Marketing/PR Their goal is to sell the game to as many people as realistically possible. This may mean being an advocate for the audience, but more often it means ensuring that the game is a product that can be marketed.Like it or not, the marketing and PR teams are important participants in modern games development. With this in mind, it is desirable for them to have an advocate in the development process - rather than having them try to make changes to the game for marketing purposes when it is realistically too late to do so.

    Since few marketers are design-literate, the game designer or producer sometimes has to act as an advocate on behalf of them. The important point is that there be dialogue between marketing/PR and the development team at some level.

  • License Holder These days, more and more games have an extra participant: the license holder. Their goals are to ensure that their brand gains something from the game, and also (like the publisher) to make money from it.The situation is parallel to marketing - the license holder should be represented in some form, and the producer or game designer should be advocate for them when necessary. Once again, keeping dialogue open throughout development is preferable to showing the finished game to the license holder and then being forced to make changes when they are most expensive. It is always cheaper to fix problems at the design level, and therefore always preferable to resolve issues earlier rather than later.

Saying that the game designer's role should be egoless is in effect saying that the game designer doesn't reflect their personal needs in the design process, they act as an advocate for all participants to the best of their ability. They do this at the design level, whilst the producer does this at the production level. In this way the role of producer and game designer are closely related, but they are not identical.

To be a good game designer is therefore to listen to and comprehend the needs of the many different participants in the development process.

This doesn't mean that there is no creative role for games designers - on the contrary, finding design solutions that satisfy all participants is a highly creative process, and individual game designers can and do express their creativity in how they choose these solutions.

Example of Participants

An example will serve to clarify the concept of participants and advocates.

Let us consider a hypothetical game and the design issue of save games. Assuming a basic demographic split model, we can see the following model with respect to save games:

  • Casual audience: they want to be able to save anywhere, any time, because they are fitting game playing into their life and want to be able to pick it up and put it down.
  • Hardcore audience: they are willing to play for long periods of time, and their interest in save games is that the save mechanism does not destroy the challenge of the game.
  • Programmers: their chief concern is that the save mechanism be technically feasible. The relevant data to be saved depends on the game world abstraction, so it is worth considering how save games will work at a suitably early stage and acquiring the programming team's approval of the intended solution.
  • Developer/Publisher: with respect to save games, which are usually not a major drain on development resources, the developer and publisher act as advocates for the perceived audience for the game. They can do this crudely, by imitating what other companies have done, or they can do it in a sophisticated manner by studying the market.
  • Artists/Marketing/License Holder: with respect to this issue, these participants have no special role, and do not need to be advocated.

The game designer, having looked at the needs of the participants is thus better informed to make a decision on how the save game mechanism should be designed.

Return to the Wise, Blind Elephants

At the start, we told the parable of the five wise blind elephants who, wondering what humans were like, tried to learn by direct experience. The moral of this story is that an individual's perspective dramatically affects their opinions on all things.

You cannot learn objectively about anything - including design - you can only be aware of your limitations and be willing to talk to (and more importantly listen to) the other participants in the design process.

By learning many different methods, the game designer has a varied toolkit; by learning the needs of many different participants, the game designer has a balanced outlook. Somewhere in between the two lies Zen Game Design, and the goal of making better games for everyone.

International Hobo

The 40 Hour Millstone

First published in CTW (Computer Trade Weekly), issue 877 (1st February 2002)

Video games are widely criticised by their players, a common complaint being that a game is too short. Critics (both professional and amateur) judge value for money in relation to the number of hours that it took them to finish a game. There is the perception that a full-price game should last at least forty hours, to give full value for money. But where did such a figure of expectation come from? And is the need for tens of hours of gameplay slowly being eroded, as a new type of player begins to buy games?

Classic arcade games could not be completed. Space Invaders, Pac-Man and their ilk depended on challenge to lure players back, not the promise of some end sequence as a pat on the back. There was no plot or causal continuity to these single-stage games - when a screen was cleared, the game repeated, often with increased speed and difficulty. Phoenix, a multi-stage game, preserved this repetition and acceleration of game play, but the variety it presented through its levels lent an air of finality to the clearing of the 'final' screen. This introduction of variety into games, and the sense of finality that came with it, led to games necessarily acknowledging their defeat once all created material had been experienced by the player. And so video games became mortal, gaining a natural life-span just like the rest of us.

With the addition of varied stages, games also began to present stories. The addition of story material, primarily in the form of cut-scenes, gradually became a saleable aspect of video games. The narrative-based video game is now an accepted form, with franchises such as Capcom's Resident Evil series exploiting continuity of story through sequels. This narrative format imposes another restriction upon game length besides the finite nature of game material - that of story pacing. A story cannot be told satisfactorily unless timing is employed in its telling. Extending a story beyond its natural limits, for the sake of game length of for any other reason, can only weaken narrative.

Game length thus becomes a balance. Developers must currently attempt to eke as much play as they can from the pre-defined materials. At the same time, they must pace their games in a satisfying manner, and also make it clear to the player that an end is achievable. After all, modern game players (both casual and hard-core) expect to be able to finish their games.

This balancing act has proved to be a thorny problem. Longer games are often paced poorly, relying upon recycled materials within their structure (such as repeated combat sections which supply players with nothing but arbitrary in-game 'experience') or requiring the player to traverse their environments from end to end on ridiculous (but progress-blocking) lock/key puzzle errands. Even in non-narrative based games, these techniques can easily frustrate the player. Meanwhile, tighter games are marked down in reviews for being too short, despite being thoroughly enjoyable creations.

One demographic sorely hit by game-extending design fudges is the casual player. A 'casual player' may briefly be described as someone who enjoys video games, but in small doses. An epic-length game may take a casual player months of evenings to complete. This is fine if the player enjoys the process, and there is definitely room for grandly scaled games within the casual market. But more often, the player is alienated by the very factor that is supposed to deliver them their value for money. The majority of players would far prefer a game which they enjoy finishing and then wish for more of, than sprawling games that they are forced to abandon a quarter of the way through. And the advantage of this, in business terms, is that the player is then more likely to buy the sequel, or other games by the same creators.

The best of both worlds is possible. Games requiring control skills (extreme sports / stunt performing games such as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, or arcade-like experiences such as Jet Set Radio or Crazy Taxi) can present finite experiences with superior replay value. Similarly, creating bonus games from existing material (as seen in the majority of survival horror games) prolongs the life of the game for hardcore gamers, without denying the casual player a resolution. And, as Super Monkey Ball on GameCube shows, well designed multiplayer 'bonus' games can make much of an existing design, and prolong play indefinitely for players of all skill ranges.

A sense of value for money will always be an important criteria for customer satisfaction in any market, but when it comes to the pleasure delivered by video games, there can be no substitute for a game which stays true to its content. There is always a place for epic-length games, but it is to be hoped that players begin to see the value of such products in their own terms, rather than in terms of length alone. Developers must instigate this change of mindset, by allowing their games enough space to deliver their content in a manner that doesn't waste player time or project budget. As the casual games market grows, it seems likely that well-made games that are rich in content will prevail financially over products which attempt to obey arbitrary laws of 'value for money' in length, without focusing sufficiently upon core gameplay - the real draw of any video game.

Richard Boon
Head of Script Services
International Hobo Ltd