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Default Spiderweb Games - Make Your Game Easy. Then Make It Easier.

November 21st, 2009, 18:34
Jeff Vogel has updated his blog. This time he talks about game difficulty. Here is a snippet from the blog:
I used to succinctly describe my views about game difficulty thus:
People will forgive a game for being too hard. They will never forgive it for being too easy.
No. This is, in fact, completely, 100% opposite from the truth. A better summary of reality would be:
People will happily forgive a game for being too easy, because it makes them feel badass. If a game is too hard, they will get angry, ragequit, hold a grudge, and never buy your games again.
I spotted this update over at Rampant Games. You can read Jay Barnson's opinion on the subject here.
More information.
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November 21st, 2009, 18:34
People will forgive a game for being too hard. They will never forgive it for being too easy.
This is absolutely true.

People will happily forgive a game for being too easy, because it makes them feel badass. If a game is too hard, they will get angry, ragequit, hold a grudge, and never buy your games again.
This is absolutely true.

Now let me try some:
People like Thai food.
Is that true?

Or is it:
People don't like Thai food.
Well which is it? Because it must be one or the other, right? Right?

He's writing about what "people" like, as if people are a single of homogeneous preferences. To the extent that you can generalize at all, you have to start off by defining who the hell you're even talking about. In this case, do you mean the masses who you might want to try and tempt into buying your games? Or, on the completely other hand, do you mean the rare and endangered species of RPG nerd that actually plays your games? And even then, some will get off on a punishing game and some would rather see more content with less reloading.

There's no point in saying "People want X", unless you're talking about boobies. Everybody loves those. Gay, straight, girls, babies…
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November 21st, 2009, 18:40
Try reading the rest of the blog. Here is the paragraph above.

My worst instinct has to do with game difficulty. I'm a hardcore nerd of the old school, and I'm not truly satisfied unless a game is really difficult. Other people, also known as "regular humans," do not, in fact, want this.
I believe he is talking about people in general AND people who buy his games. After all he does have a little bit of experience in the biz.

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November 21st, 2009, 20:41
Oh I read it. It's short. He fails to even acknowledge the obvious and enormous gap between "regular humans" and people who are heading into 2010 and still enjoying 2-D isometric voice-over-less party RPGs that takes dozens and dozens of hours to play. These aren't the same people who made the Wii such a big hit.

I guess my point is that there is a "people" out there that represents the most lucrative demographic: and we call it "most people". Most people are of middling intelligence, most people consume food, movies, and games without the slightest regard to what critics think, and most people don't have the patience or the desire to play a single game Spiderweb has published. Now those people, I agree, are likely more forgiving of too easy than too hard. But I assume JV isn't talking about them.

Then it becomes a process of winnowing down to find what level of exclusion we're at when we're talking about "people". Gamers? PC Gamers? CRPG Gamers? OldeSkool CRPG Gamers? Hardc0re OldeSkool CRPG Gamers? Spiderweb customers? I think that at each level, there's a shift in how true a statement like "people will forgive a game for X" is. And I think by the time you get to the hardcore, people might indeed be more willing to forgive hard than to forgive easy.

But without a more careful enunciation of about whom it is we's a-talkin', I don't see how anything worthwhile can be said.

I tend to like hard games. I am perfectly happy if any given title has 3 or 4 fights that requires 3 or 4 tries each to beat.
Of course, is this is the definition of hard, then I might just be the crappiest gamer in the world.
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November 21st, 2009, 21:43
I don't like hard games. It makes me … feel frustrated. I never finish games I perceive as too hard.

However, I don't like it too easy either.

But here comes the problem : Who defines that ? What kind of standard ?

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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November 21st, 2009, 22:43
I know I felt like a very stupid person when I couldn't beat a certain Dragon (Abazigail?) and his Mother in BG2 without looking at a walkthrough and using the console to cheat! my way through these tough and hard and (yes, cheating) fights.

This really, really frustrated me. I must have tried at least 50 times - for both of them. If that's being a old school hardcore game, count me out. [And who thought it was good idea to include a shapeshifting dragon in DA: Origins anyway…?!?] And I even turned down the difficulty, didn't help much, though.

A fight should be as hard as necessary, but as easy as possible. Meaning that you have to find a balance between 'hey, I can find this after maybe 5-10 tries' and 'nope, not gonna try to win this after 2-5 tries'.

Chances are, if people are experiencing that they're getting frustraed that they never will finish the game - at all. Especially early on in the game - at least these days. People today do have an expectation that they can just load up the game and start playing…learning the game while they play…

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November 21st, 2009, 23:16
Originally Posted by Yeesh View Post
He's writing about what "people" like, as if people are a single of homogeneous preferences.
He's talking about people who buy games. Just add a "most" in front of "people", then perhaps you will get what he means: If you make your game too hard, you will scare a lot more people away than if you made it too easy.
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November 22nd, 2009, 01:50
I loved this article. I disagree with his idea of what the default setting should be:

When a player is on the default difficult level, has built his or her characters poorly, and is playing straight through the main storyline with mediocre tactics, that player should almost never be killed.
That would make "Normal" too easy. At least he would need to describe the difficulty level explicitly, rather than just label it Normal. For instance, "Casual."

Psychological research shows that people enjoy a task/game most when it hits a midpoint between too easy and too challenging. So it has to be in that zone, not so easy that it's boring.

But I love his overall sentiment, the reasonableness of it, and the courage required to say it, knowing he's going to take flak from the hardcore guys.

As for the issue of generalizing about "people," read this article, which discusses the same subject. He makes a point of how a lot of gamers/developers lack empathy for the other types of people who play (or might play) games:
http://www.pixelpoppers.com/2009/11/…arrier-to.html
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November 22nd, 2009, 02:41
I like Dragon Age, because people talk about how hard it is, but I actually think it's pretty easy. Might be that I've got a good party setup (Myself - DPS/CC; Wynne - buffing/healing; Alistair - tanking/DPS; Zevran - DPS/unlocking/disarming) or that I have a headstart on tactics from having played a lot of WoW, but I find it quite easy on normal. There have been one or two boss fights that I've had to attempt twice, the first attempt I just wade in and see what happens, sometimes wipe, sometimes struggle through by figuring out how to win the fight mid-way through. Then I figure out how I will kill the boss, and do it. Never had to spend more than a couple of minutes devising tactics, though, or lost on a second attempt. My party isn't fully optimisied, either, I have seveal spells that have turned out to be useless, or close to it.

The thing is though, it wouldn't be frustrating if some of the boss fights were harder. I would enjoy it if I had to think more carefully about my tatics. But I'll save that for a second playthough, I am enjoying progressing through the game at a good pace. Next time around, I think I'll turn the difficulty up to hard, but just for the boss fights. Trash fights would be trivial regardless.
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November 22nd, 2009, 03:59
For me, DA's combat was more uninteresting than challenging. I do like some of the tactical elements but most of the time (except in bossfights) it just gets frustrating (interface and me just won't click, though I can recognize it's well-designed, but little stuff like lack of weapon reach, occasional delays in orders, and the typical RTwP "align to fight" mess can get to me after a few hours) and tedious before it gets challenging.

Regardless, this is not a DA thread, as for Vogel's remarks: good on him. Keeping an inflated artificial difficulty can be an easy trap to fall into for those recapturing the old "hardcore" feeling, but it is often unnecessary. That said, I don't really feel any of Vogel's titles were "too hard".

But his statement that people "will happily forgive a game for being too easy, because it makes them feel badass" bugs me. I assume he's just being facetious to some extent, because honestly thinking games can not be too easy is a bit silly. The whole enjoyment of games is precipitated on the challenge it offers. And yes, how much challenge we're looking for does vary much from person to person, but if we're looking for a "it can't be too easy, I just want to feel like a badass"-crowd, then we're looking more to the "can't fail"-games, like, I dunno, BioShock, or Oblivion. Certainly not my cup of tea.
Is Vogel right that most gamers these days fall into the "too easy, please" category? The fact that BW had to patch the "easy" setting on DA to be even easier seems to indicate that yes, he's probably right. Is he right that this is also true for a good chunk of his audience? Oooof. So yeah, what Yeesh said, the statement is too contextless to make sense.
Last edited by Brother None; November 22nd, 2009 at 04:13.
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November 22nd, 2009, 04:39
There are a couple of games I was REALLY enjoying that I abandoned because I hit something I could not get past. If I can't get past after 5-10 tries that's it.

Not all games have an "easy" difficulty level, either. Many are just Normal and Hard.

Being able to switch difficulty levels in the middle of a game is a good way to avoid issues like this.
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November 22nd, 2009, 11:00
I don't care about having a challenge and usually play on easy because of that. The only time I pay attention to the challenge a game offers is when it is too challenging and I can't get through something within the first few tries. Other then that I don't care if the game is challenging or not but I do like the battles and don't want to have the ability to kill everything in the area in one very wide area spell. (like I was doing when I decided to quit cheating when I was playing Morrowind)

PS. I guess I am an anomaly when it comes to gaming since challenge doesn't interest me and I play a game for the gameplay and story.
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November 22nd, 2009, 12:17
When reading this article I couldn't help but think of what Vince D.Weller once said: "We strongly believe that the hardcore player doesn't want to be loved, but wants to be kicked in the balls and then kneed in the face."

I laughed for about a minute when I read that off of a user's signature at Iron Tower. If Vince actually said that then I don't think Vince would agree with Jeff

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November 22nd, 2009, 12:27
Originally Posted by BillSeurer View Post
There are a couple of games I was REALLY enjoying that I abandoned because I hit something I could not get past. If I can't get past after 5-10 tries that's it.
Same here.

The worst example I know of is the (rather humourous) strategy game of "Z".
Much later the devs admitted that they played it from *their* perspective - and they KNEW it ! Every bit !

To the customers, however, this game was almost unbeatable in the later levels (still don't know how I've made it, after several tries).

I still consider it as a good game, but its difficulty made the sales suffer *a lot*.

Much later they developed an add-on which actually included the possibility to chose the difficulty. It was fused with the full game to a re-release.
The original version of this add-on was made for DOS, like the original game was, but GT Interactive requested a Win95 version of it, which was then released.

I fear they made a similar mistake with the second game, "Z : Steel Soldiers".
I never could play this game through the initial stages.

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November 22nd, 2009, 13:27
Originally Posted by skavenhorde View Post
I laughed for about a minute when I read that off of a user's signature at Iron Tower. If Vince actually said that then I don't think Vince would agree with Jeff
Vince talks about the "hardcore" player. Jeff wants to sell his games to a wider variety of players, thus he is saying: Make your games easier, and add an extra difficulty level for the hardcore player if you want.

So why should Vince not agree with Jeff?
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November 22nd, 2009, 14:16
Originally Posted by Hindukönig View Post
So why should Vince not agree with Jeff?
Don't you find these two statements to be the exact opposite to each other? "We strongly believe that the hardcore player doesn't want to be loved, but wants to be kicked in the balls and then kneed in the face." compared to "Make your game easy. Then make it easier."

Adding a difficulty level for hardcore players isn't the same as making a game for hardcore players.

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November 22nd, 2009, 15:15
Originally Posted by Hindukönig View Post
So why should Vince not agree with Jeff?
He doesn't.

Also, I agree that in modern game design difficulty sliders that can be adjusted whenever in the game are a bit of a must. But it's viewed too much as a fix-all, which it isn't, when we talk of difficulty we also speak of depth of tactics, challenge in quest design, how much help the player gets, and you can only put in so many sliders for that.
The fact that currently difficulty sliders just represent "more or less stats for enemy NPCs" rather than "different game experiences with different amounts of enemies, equipment and enemy AI" is another reason difficulty sliders are overrated.
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November 22nd, 2009, 15:40
I thought the article was great, and makes sense - folks who disagree should really take a look and realize that they are anachronisms and outliers, even in our small genre.

Balance is tough, and having been on the last Spiderweb beta it was something Jeff really agonized over. That doesn't mean that his games are suddenly becoming 'MySims RPG' or something … there were many fights on 'normal' where I had to try multiple times, and the same goes for pretty much every boss battle. But that is actually an expectation.

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November 22nd, 2009, 16:20
As for the article, yes it does make sense. Most people don't want to reload every five seconds. Here is the kicker though, Knights of the Chalice is a great game. It's also very difficult. You are forced to use tactics other than the usual run at the enemy and hit them as hard as you can many times You will die more than once in that game. You will most likely die within the first half hour of playing and you will keep dying many times until you figure out a way to overcome your current obstacle. He doesn't make it impossible, just difficult. Yet, it seems to be at least somewhat popular. I don't have any numbers on the actual sales, but since there is already talk of KOTC 2 then I would say it is at the very least a moderate hit.

I also don't agree with Jeff's closing statement from the article:

If your game is actually fun, killing the player won't make it more fun. But nothing sucks all of the fun out of a good game faster than repeated failure.

The only time that is true for me is when I'm not really interested in the game. Any other time I will try out different things that I might not have thought of otherwise. I'll use KOTC as an example again. That game knocked me around and I came back for more every time. Not because I like reloading, but because it challenged me. Made me think outside the box, try different tactics. In other words it actually made me use my brain

With that said, I still love Jeff's games I've never had a problem with any of them that I've played and had fun playing them. I think his difficulty within the game has always been just about right. I just don't think the difficulty slider is the cure to make hardcore gamers happy while appeasing the more casual gamer, like Brother none said.

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Last edited by skavenhorde; November 22nd, 2009 at 16:35.
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November 22nd, 2009, 16:33
i would like to see more awards ingame for playing on other difficult settings.

whats the deal on playing very hard?

just to beat the game on this mode?
nothing more?
thats kinda disapointing.

i want more XP,more items, more achivements, more stuff for my harder work!
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