What makes a game successful

Just a quick comment on this New York Times article about World of Warcraft.

“It’s the difference between an immersive experience and a mechanical diversion,” Mr. Metzen said. “You might spend hundreds of hours playing a game like this, and why would you keep coming back? Is it just for the next magic helmet? Is it just to kill the next dragon?

“It has to be the story. We want you to care about these places and things so that, in addition to the adrenaline and the rewards of addictive gameplay, you have an emotional investment in the world. And that’s what makes a great game.”

This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Absolutely wrong. I’m astonished that a representative of a game company as successful as Blizzard could even say something like this. The thing that keeps people coming back to a game like that is the other people. Period. The only killer app in the history of computer technology is human communication. I was an early player of MUDs, way back when. The games themselves were utterly primitive, text based adventures with simple combat rules. But they were addictive and enthralling because I was interacting with people all over the country. I wasn’t a sixteen year old twerp; I was Kamikaze the mighty thief. I earned respect based on my actions in the game, not on who I was in real life.

And, from everything I’ve heard about the current generation of MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games), social interaction is still the main attraction. Friends use it for hanging out together. Others use the game as a way of establishing an in-game reputation that they could never achieve in real life. It’s not about the story that the game creators write. It’s about the story that the players are creating together, the community that they are building. And any game creator that doesn’t understand that will get frustrated by why the players aren’t doing their uber cool puzzle area. Things never change; wizards on the MUD I used to play on would complain endlessly about the stupid players who wouldn’t explore their areas. They didn’t get it. It’s about delivering to your players what they want. And they want opportunities to create their own story, not play yours.

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