Saturday, September 18, 2010

Board games philosophy

Once upon a time, a long time ago, people did not have multiplayer computer games, and the internet wasn't invented yet. Being sufficiently ancient to remember that time, I can tell you what multiplayer games we played back then: Board games. I still have fond memories of great classics, like Talisman, Titan, Railway Rivals, and others. As apparently I'm not the only one with memories, Rock, Paper, Shotgun started a board game column. Now I like neither the author's writing style, nor his prefered games, but the article discusses an important concept which has repercussions for MMORPGs: The Eurogames vs. Ameritrash difference in philosophy.

As RPS describes it, "Eurogames are the board games you can play in polite company" and "If you’ve ever rolled a dice to hit the guy sitting to your left with a poisoned lance, causing him to storm out of the door and march back to his mum’s house with tears in his eyes, you’ve played some prime Ameritrash."

I played both kinds at the time, and observed something: The guy who stormed out of the door and marched back to his mum's house with tears in his eyes might forgive you, but you can't get him to play that same game again. Having only a limited number of other kids around willing to play board games, Ameritrash games quite often ended up being a bad investment: You played them once or twice, and then you couldn't find people to play with you any more. Eurogames were a better investment, because even while losing the other player was still very much involved in the game, and having fun up to the last turn, and who got the most points in the end didn't matter all that much. So even the loser was eager to play again.

Fast forward 30 years, and while games look differently, human psychology hasn't changed a bit. Thus we have ganking games like APB either shutting down, or languishing at 20k subscribers like Darkfall. We have "successful" PvP games in which at closer look over 80% of the players don't PvP and stay in safe areas. And we have the most popular games offering mostly PvE, and the kind of "everybody wins" PvP which makes the losers not feel too bad about themselves. Maybe some developers of "impact PvP" games should go back and play some board games with kids before wasting another $100 million on a glorious Ameritrash PvP MMORPG.

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