Motivating with story, part 2

Just when you thought it was safe… let’s return to designer David Ghozland’s discussion of designing for motivation on Gamasutra. I wrote yesterday about how a well-developed story adds motivation that game design does not. However, I didn’t disagree with David’s basic thesis. Today, I’m going to disagree!

David posits that games create needs — through story, genre, and design — that they then fulfill. In so doing, he ignores the different players who bring their own needs and motivations to the table: the architects, the explorers, the socializers, etc. Not all gamers are min/maxers all the time. For example, in Civilization II, I loved earning wonders of the world, not because it added to my score, but because I loved the mini-movies and music that came with each one (except for one, which had really lame music). David would call these a parallel system of motivation which would be subject to the same simple formula: motivation = challenge x need x reward.

But of course, a typical game can’t be all things to all people. Inevitably, some type of player, say the explorer, is left out of game design in order to manage scope. In City of Heroes/Villains, explorers are rewarded with badges, but the level of difficulty (challenge) rarely varies, and the reward remains (as far as I know) essentially the same: a few XP and yet another badge. However, this simple system continues to motivate players up to level 50. Clearly, different player types don’t always draw their motivation from game design.

Story and writing likewise provides an excellent opportunity to motivate players above and beyond the motivation built into the game system. In Final Fantasy VII, which would be of more value to you, the Sword of Bad-Assness, or Sephiroth’s Sword of Bad-Assness? Giving items story relevance adds to their reward value without unbalancing game systems, following David’s formula. However, if the game design doesn’t support gameplay for certain types of players, like, for example, the estimated 25% of MMO players who read every line of text, writing and story offers a great way to reach them. Although writing is not just about text, it’s quite possibly the cheapest thing to add to an overburdened game system that quickly and easily addresses underserved, but motivated, gamer types.

Okay, now it’s safe. If you feel motivated, comment on times you’ve felt motivated to play when the game system didn’t address your particular gamer type.

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “Hmm… don’t have time to play with myself.” Check next week to find out what game it came from!

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Published in: on June 8, 2007 at 4:43 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. interesting.

  2. Hello,

    One of my friends gave me this blog link and I have to thank him about that.
    I find here very great posts and a writer community that want to focus on the interactive part of the narration.
    It seems that you guys understand that the story design in video games is in a middle of a mutation. As we all know, the story telling has to evolve to conquer the lands of the interactivity.

    Also I want to thank you about your interest on my article and for the very interesting critics that you made. The point of this article is also to start a debate on this specific problematic.
    I will answer to the points you bring, that are totally valid, but first of all I would like to take the opportunity clarify two points of my article.

    First, cabal writers said: “we believe that there is no magic formula that applies equally to every game”. I believe the same. Creativity, originality and talent stay (and I hope forever) the best formula to make a great game.
    Don’t misunderstand the PNRC system. This is not a magic formula, this is a tool to manage the motivation within the game mechanics.
    So let’s face it, in every creation we are using tools like paintbrush, chisel or rules (guidelines) of writing… etc. This is the same for the game design.

    Secondly, I started my article with the word “Fun”… Yes, because this is the purpose of a game. The ones that think differently are not talking about game; they are talking about something else. Unless you already worked for the industry, you will be surprised by the frightening number of designers that just forget (or don’t know?) about this simple truth.
    It is supposed to stand to reason that the players buy games to have fun, but it’s better to retell it in order to refresh designer’s minds.
    Also the fun factor is directly link to the motivation gauge: no fun = no motivation. The fun can come from the story, the visual or the game universe, but it also have to be generated, fed and preserved by the game systems; or we totally miss the point and the player will lose his motivation.
    So the question is how we can manage that in term of game mechanics? My answer is the PNRC system.

    Let’s go back to your posts.

    You said: It’s curious that he insists on this silent agreement. Many an RPG game has begun with dialog such as “You are destined for great things.”
    Please allow me to say: yes and no. The industry has now a past and a history. If you write “RPG” on a game box, it already means something without even start the game. But it’s true that this agreement will be supported by a dialog in the game. We can say that it has to be supported by dialog lines during the game, for a RPG.

    Now consider games such as Tetris or Bomber man or Civilisation. Where are the dialogs and the story? Actually there is a story but totally made by the player(s) and the thread of his(their) actions. There is no written story that drives the motivation.

    When you say “Ultimately, the story and game design work hand in hand to create motivation on many levels.” I totally agree. Even if the story alone cannot drive the motivation, in support of the game systems it pulls the motivation on a higher level. The game experience is amplified. This is a point that I plan to discuss in another article.

    In the second post you write: “In so doing, he ignores the different players who bring their own needs and motivations to the table: the architects, the explorers, the socializers, etc.”
    My answer is: no I don’t ignore them! They are PNRC targets.
    A game designer has to design according to his public. In your example, civilization is a game that also addresses the explorer/achiever profiles.
    When you run for the wonders
    what’s your needs? Exploration it seems (can be achievement or the bonus)
    What is the challenge? To be able to build them (and before and against the AI)
    What is the reward? The music (the system recognize you effort), the movie, the little wonder in your city (as a trophy that you can admire), the bonus (for the other profiles).
    Also a wonder can become really important according to your “player state”.
    It’s not a parallel system of motivation, this is the system.
    A parallel system is a system that is not directly link to the game play, like achievements on Xbox live.

    A perfect game will address all the player profiles with the best possible story and visuals. The cost is our limit. If you don’t manage the motivation for some types of players you will just not interest them. For example Quake and UT are talking to killers.

    To finish, you gave a very good example of how the game design and the story design can work together to push higher the motivation and the experience: “In Final Fantasy VII, which would be of more value to you, the Sword of Bad-Assness, or Sephiroth’s Sword of Bad-Assness? Giving items story relevance adds to their reward value without unbalancing game systems”.

    The PNRC system is not designed for min/maxers. It’s a tool to manage globally the motivation. A reward can be an item or a dialog line or anything else that makes sense within the game. The game mechanics are the bases for a good motivation management reinforced by other means like the story. But without a good motivation management coming from the game systems, you have a good chances to lose your players very fast.

    Did you ever played a game with amazing graphics, strong story and not fun to play?
    I am sure you did. So did you finish the game?

  3. First of all, if I could change anything in your future articles, it is your division of story from game design. By story I refer to games with story, not the story the player might experience playing a casual game, for example. You yourself agree and pointed out how story rewards can be incorporated into your motivation system. Story isn’t something that can be separated from game design. Story *is* game design, at least part of it.

    Like your leg is part of your body, story provides a strong foundation for great game design. If a game has a “strong” game story, it *is* fun to play, because a strong game story is inherently linked to its gameplay. If a game with story isn’t fun, then the story cannot be considered strong. Your saying story isn’t sufficient to motivate a player is like saying your combat system isn’t sufficient to motivate the player. It’s a needless segmentation of your overall game design.

    It’s commendable that you point out that games should be fun, but keep in mind, being motivated to do something is not necessarily the same thing as finding it fun. Many RPG games motivate players to keep on top of large inventories, but many RPG players find those tasks snooze-worthy, a necessary evil like taxes. Those players may continue to play, however, because they love the story or the person they’re playing with or any number of reasons. Clearly desires and preferences brought in by the player play a huge role in motivation and fun.

    Story and dialog offer the opportunity to motivate certain players above and beyond what designers may intend. For example, this post’s “Guess that Game dialog” sounds when the player is idle. For the story- or humor-motivated gamer, he may actually sit idle in order to hear it. Was the game designed to motivate players to sit idle? Doubtful. Is that gamer having fun? You bet.

    In the end, story and dialog are huge motivators for many players. You may not care about them, and if so, more power to you. Just do not ignore those gamers and developers, some of whom are our clients, who consider it important to include story in their game design rather than separate it out. A passing line of text might not be a huge enough reward to factor into your motivation formula, but it might mean the world to the story-motivated gamer.

  4. […] Our first controversial post: Motivating with story Motivating with story, part 2 […]

  5. […] to you! — you know that we firmly land on the side that story has its place in games as a motivator as well as a context for fun.  When story doesn’t work, it hasn’t been seamlessly […]

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