A Design Philosophy of Fun

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This has been a long-brooding topic and now broadly covered by a number of people, both professional and amateur. I of course fall into this latter category, but I want to attempt to draw all the lines of thought together. There are two guiding questions: First, "What is LOTRO's design philosophy?" Second, "Is it 'good' design?"

Let's start with a catalyst: From Dusk 'till Dawn posted a rant clearly tinged with frustration about the choice to make the turtle in Filikul immune to the Burgler's Enrage skill. The turtle, named Nornuan, will give the player its attacking a stacking DOT debuff, eventually overcoming the healer's abilities. One strategy is to let the first tank die and a second take over. The Minstrel (or Captain) will rez the first take, whose death canceled out the debuff. However, another strategy would be to take a Burgler along and use the Enrage skill, which will cause Nornuan to attack players randomly. Given the number of players within this raid, no one player will usually have more than one instance of the DOT debuff. The minstrel will have to focus on more than one person, but using Enrage is a viable method towards completing the raid. Well, until Book 8 when Nornuan becomes immune.

Sweet Cherrie, Dusk 'till Dawn's author, asserts this is unacceptable constriction of player behavior - and the developers are trying to force the player into only one strategy - the one they approve of. I agree with her thinking on this, and I judge it to be poor design. Why? Let's get into that by bringing up an article link posted in the forums. There's a nice discussion going on over there as well.

This article is an interview of Craig Morrison, Director of Age of Conan, conducted by MMOGamer.com. The second page, second comment by Morrison, is where the relevant information comes into play. What is good design? Morrison contends that good design first and foremost is creating fun. If it's not fun, it's not good design. He goes onto criticize many developers of spending "90% of [thier] time on the last 10% of any design, preventing players from doing stuff."

Here's what I see going on with the type of content development in Filikul - preventing players from doing stuff. And thereby limiting their fun. Poor design. Or perhaps misdirected design. Why is it necessary to curtail the creative use of the tools already designed for us? Good design is creating fun encounters. I cannot speak to Filikul being fun, because I've never experienced that content, but I know for certain that any content is more fun if there are multiple ways of completing it. It's replayability. If I can go through content mutlipile times without doing the same actions over and over again - without gettin bored, that content is fun. Morrison speaks to this in the interview as well.

The Enrage change in Filikul is ignoring part of your design to force your design ideals into the current work. Rather than embracing creativity, it's being constrained, and ultimately that curtails fun.

I would be remiss in this post to ignore our own developer's perspective on the issue so now I point to Orion's blog post on his myLOTRO page. Here Orion says he generally agrees with Morrison, but thinks that most MMO designers don't follow the 90/10 rule mentioned. He's more optimistic, if you will, and explictily states he does not believe LOTRO's designers to follow that philosophy.

On the whole, I agree with Orion. LOTRO has indeed been a bastion of flexibility, creativity, and good design. He has been personally further refining creativity and in essence creating more fun in the content revamps of the lower levels. I played through the new and old elven starter quests, and watched a LOTRO newbie play the new quests. The progression and storyline in that small part of the game has been improved. The design has been improved. The fun has been improved.

I think that in the post Moria exploit-ridden instances, we've perhaps seen an overzealous effort to constrict the playerbase in the Filikul raid. That's understandable, but an overcompensation. Using Enrage, by all accounts I've read, does not break nor exploit the raid. In some respects, it makes the raid harder as the healer must focus on more than one target. Like an overcompesation on the road may lead you to a ditch anyway, so too could the Book 8 changes to Filikul.

LOTRO's design philosophy is one with the primary goal of fun. Fun is freedom and growth within the rules. Fun is accessiblity, flexibility, creativity, and replayability. Too many rules and you lose those factors. Let's not lose sight of the fun factors in LOTRO.

7 Responses to "A Design Philosophy of Fun"

Yeebo Says:

Great post, agree 100%. The nerf will also make it damn hard for burgs to get a spot in that raid.

unwize Says:

I've had a Burglar main since launch, and I've experienced every up and down in the Burglar's history. Enrage has been my favourite skill since the moment I worked out exactly what it did (there was much doubt amongst Burglars in the early days).

The problem here is that Enrage is an extremely powerful skill, certainly too powerful in this instance, because it entirely negates the need for tanking. How can a raid boss that doesn't need to be tanked by justified? Sorry Guardians, your services aren't required!

Rather than nerf the skill, something that would cause at least as big an outcry as the In Harm's Way and Fervour nerfs, they instead chose to introduce the game's first ever Enrage immunity. Burglars should be thankful that the skill itself wasn't nerfed, something that I would certainly not be surprised to see in future.


Any raid that doesn't want single target DPS close to a Champion, +10-15% damage to the whole raid, +6% melee crit. chance for the whole raid, and an serious dent in the turtle's block, parry and evade rating, needs to think again.

Jaxom92 Says:

@unwize Seeing as how I haven't done the raid, I can't know for sure how it plays with or without Enrage. But, rather than eliminate Enrage totally, if it is too overpowered, give the turtle a boost to it's DOT debuff when it is Enraged. Make the healer work more to offset the lack of a tank. Some groups might find the tank method easier for them, others the Enrage method. Either one is just as much of a challenge, just as fun.

I think my point in all this is give us players options. Why do we need to have a raid that requires a tank? What set of rules describe that necessity? Can a raid only be a "real" raid if it needs the holy trinity classes: tank, healer, dps? Guardian, minstrel, and champ/hunter? Where does that leave the other 6?

There's better ways to overcome an overpowered skill than to nerf the skill OR nullify the skill. Either one of those eliminates options, creativity, fun. Always go for the design that increases these.

unwize Says:

I think special Enrage triggered skills from the turtle would be interesting. I hope this is the approach they take for future bosses where they want to discourage its use.

I think in a 12-person boss fight, every role should be necessary: tanking, healing, DPS, buffing, debuffing. CC should be necessary for raid instance trash mobs, and perhaps some bosses, but you can't really expect it to be needed in every boss fight.

For the Turtle, tanking is needed to mitigate damage, healing to keep the tanks up and deal with the raid-wide DoT, DPS to kill it quickly enough, and buffing/debuffing to further move the mitigation/healing/DPS balance in your favour, often crucially (My Kinship wiped twice the other night, brought in an LM in place of a Champion for the debuffs, and then sailed through).

With Enrage, you have situations where you can throw this balance out of the window. 1 Burglar and 11 Hunters/RKs? With Enrage, the Turtle will be dead in a couple of minutes without breaking a sweat. Without Enrage, that Turtle is going chew threw that group pretty quickly, as it should.

The rules for 6-person content should of course be more relaxed, and 3-person further still, but you can't completely negate tanking in a raid. It isn't fair on the tanks.

Yeebo Says:

@Unwize: Those are great points, and I thoroughly concur that Burgs will still be very useful for that fight.

However, it is my perception that PuGs currently seek out Burgs for that raid mainly for enrage. It is also my perception that most players haven't grouped with a ton of Burgs (you guys are a pretty rare and technical class after all), and don't realize all that you bring to the table (particularly in the hands of a skilled player). I was thinking more in terms of PuGs organized by John Q. than pre-mades organized by players that know the game well. Maybe I ought to give JQ more credit :-)

I also think the Jaksom's point still stands. Where is it written that every boss fight has to be tank and spank? I don't think enrage trivializes the fight at all.

Now that I think about it, having a Burg arguing that this change is fine and two guys that don't play Burgs whining about it might be one of the signs of the apocalypse.

unwize Says:


Yeah, well there's no accounting for John Q's ignorance :)

And sure, I don't just want tank and spank bosses, but Guardians (and other tank specs) need a role in a fight like this, otherwise they'll be the ones being turned down by John Q!

Heh, don't take my acquiescence as any indication of general Burglar feeling about this. I am seemingly one of the only people playing LotRO that tends to defend the devs when it comes to nerfs.

I like to think I can see past the concerns of a particular class to the overall game balance benefits underneath, but it's probably just because as an application developer myself, I empathise with the poor guys!

Jaxom92 Says:

@ unwize

A little belated response, but I wanted to think over the issue before commenting.

I agree that negating the tank role is just as bad as limiting the options within the raid. Every class should have a role within the content - and I think Turbine has been largely successful in this.

So perhaps the issue with the Turtle raid isn't so much this one immunity, but rather of a larger design problem that necessitates an either/or approach the class participation - and ultimately a designer enforced direction.