Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Critical Systems and Fairness

In this article, educator Molly Thunderbreeze gives her thoughts on critical systems and how they impact the player's view of fairness in the game.

The introduction of a critical system into the gameplay aspects of a game has both quantitative and qualitative disadvantages in both the PVP and PVE areas of any game. Fairness should be strictly monitored and maintained in order that not only the PVE but PVP remains fair for all players through quantitative analysis of any proposed changes. At first glance, a critical system is quite exhilarating (i.e., fun!) resulting in shorter boss fights, or shorter PVP matches. However, eventually everyone will be on the receiving end, and this has long term affects on a user's attitudes towards the game.

You do not want your players screaming, “THAT'S NOT FAIR!” ripping them out of their immersion experience. A primary concern for game makers should be creating a sense of fairness in their game. A game does not have to be 'fair,' but it must have the appearance of being fair most of the time.

Typically, the implementation of these critical systems could never quantitatively maintain fairness (killing a player on the first or second round in a turn based game, or within the first three minutes in a real time strategy game will never be considered fair or fun for very long), and for this reason serious consideration of these overpowering critical systems should be abandoned.

Critical systems are an interesting concept, but are often implemented without reviewing overall ramifications. Many game makers create updates on a 'release and see' basis, testing only non-crashability of the game. Prepublication beta testing is where likability is typically tested, and then further testing in this area is abandoned with later updates, a sort of "well they are hooked so why bother?" mentality. I believe that the issue regarding balance (in both PVE and PVP) outweigh all other 'advantages' to adding a critical system. Once a critical system has been introduced, the issue of player expectancy comes into play (e.g., disappointments over not getting the critical boosting in either a PVP or PVE setting, the critical system used against the user themselves, etc.), and should be considered before incorporating any critical system into a game. Most critical systems overpower the user in both the PVP and PVE settings

For a PVE environment, we have frustration over a slower game experience when it is not 'working' for the user, and/or frustration if the monsters are successful in critical hits against the user. In the PVP environment, if any part of the arena is luck-based (turn-based games are notorious for this issue), then the addition of a critical system just stretches credulity for the arena being 'fair' in most users' minds.

SIDE NOTE: If a critical was not a 'doubling' but rather a smaller percentage boosting of the hit, it might be a viable addition to a game. However, mathematical analysis for fairness would need to be done on the overall system to see if such a system was feasible. Simply increasing all players by a flat percentage with each leveling will almost ensure skewing fairness for all users of the game at some upper level, and it gets more uncontrollable with a critical system in place. Quantitative analysis must be done with each level change to ensure a 'fair game' is experienced by all.

Wizard101 Example: Wizard101 made the mistake of doing two things with their Celestia update: adding a critical system, and doubling the stats for all users from level 50 to level 60. It resulted in users being overpowered for not only PVE, but especially PVP. The arena matching system that was broken became even more of a problem (a simple level 60 = 2*level 50 would not have sufficed as a fix). To add to the problem, there was the issues of employee turnover rates (not enough employees in the command chain that knew the game), too many short term consultants, and no prior quantitative analysis on the proposed changes. While bumping stats by 50% is a good starting point for beta testing a new level, it is not something that should have gone live without testing and analysis. The leveling of users was not a gradual consistent climb and thus, any arena matching routine that considered only level would be useless.

Molly Thunderbreeze taught both mathematics and education at the university level. Her educational background is in applied mathematics and education.  She is currently attempting to create a game that is both fun and educational in the area of mathematics in an MMO game environment.


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