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August 31st, 2011, 18:26
In his talk at GDC Europe Josh Sawyer discussed the "challenges that the RPG industry has faced in adapting from its pen and paper roots".
Five Hard Lessons

Sawyer outlined five hard lessons that he's learned over the years:

Mechanical chaos is frustrating. RPGs often rely on random number generators, "in part because that is the only way to simulate things in a tabletop environment." However, he said, "In some cases, where you can reload, mechanical chaos is pointless." It also can be frustrating either way.

What you can perceive is the most important thing. Games "often focus on statistics, but we often can't perceive the effects in games." Small stat upgrades don't mean anything to players at all when they can't see the effect.

Conversely, he said he's "implemented broken things in games but players don't notice it," because there's no external statistic reflection.

Strategic failures are the biggest disappointing failures for players. When building a character or a party, "you're making long-term decisions," said Sawyer, "but many RPGs effectively punish you for making bad choices."

The idea of player vs. character is a false dichotomy. Developers with a traditional tabletop background expect players to be roleplaying when they play games. However, he said, "it will be the player doing the action… ultimately games are about the players trying to accomplish a goal." There is a definite question of "how much are we asking the player, and how much are we asking the character."

Good gameplay is better than whatever your ideas or whatever the player's expectations are. Simple and understandable: don't follow genre conventions simply because they exist. Beyond that, "attempting to execute something because you think it's a good idea or players insist it's a good idea doesn't always result in something good."
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August 31st, 2011, 18:26
While I believe I love every single of Josh's games, I can't believe how much I disagree with all of his new "lessons". I sure hope his further games won't reflect this folly.

- Mechanical chaos makes things interesting. Predictability on this level might suit a game with limited rule sets like chess or one where the challenge is less strategic but rather a test of reflexes. In an RPG I like to make choices where I don't fully control the results. Taking chances is exciting, and removing that just removes an excellent opportunity to put excitement in a game.
If a player wants to reload, let her. She will do so (just once, though) even if you remove random rolls, if the outcome proves to be not to her liking. That's every (single player game) player's prerogative, much as cheating and modding.
Alternatively, put the game online and remove the save option entirely. Or keep track of all random rolls in a game. If they are spread unevenly between success and failure due to reloading, tamper them to make success less likely until rolls are evened out again. That should show those reloaders.
BTW, I for one used to love rolling and re-rolling my character stats for hours before I started the game. Consider the drama and excitement of your eyes noticing the perfect stat set the exact same moment that your finger twitched to press re-roll for the umpteenth time…

- Stat upgrades in RPGs should be subtle and continuous, as they are in real life. I don't want to have to progress from peasant to superhero in every game. It's simply absurd if you double your strength or whatever in a couple of levels.

- Bad choices are good choices. Players shouldn't know what to expect from the start. I'd find it interesting if players are "punished" (that is: challenged!) for their character being TOO strong, wise, skilled, whatever. Have your barbarian stick out from the crowd for being too big and thrown into jail. Roleplayers as a rule don't play to "win". There will always be powergaming, this doesn't require being catered for.

- This is rather a weakness of the party-less RPG. IF you can only play a single character, you will tend to default on your usual alter ego. This limits their experience, and designers would be wise to - while not force them to roleplay someone they don't want to - make embracing that dichotomy an appealing option. Character origins, unusual classes and races might successfully point the way for something different.

- There is no such thing as good gameplay. You can just focus on getting an even, well-adjusted mix of gameplay elements, and that's a purely technical question. Get your gameplay smooth, find some "flow", by all means, but this is just one consideration. As such, I see no reason to place it above artistic (your ideas) or business (players' expectations) consideration. Making successful games, I think, will always be a mix of all three.
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