Monday, January 02, 2006

Is Play its own Reward?

Heya,

Ah finally, back to questions. Almost thinking I had forgotten what this blog was supposed to be about, didn't ya? heh heh.

Anyay, this may be one of the hardest questions for a newbie designer who is also a long-time gamer to deal with. I mean, there’s not hardly a gamer out there who can’t point to at least one time he got together with his friends, donned the hat of an adventurer, and had a great time rolling dice and shooting the breeze with his buds. That’s very rewarding and very enjoyable play. So much so that they want to do it again. But is “play itself a reward?” That requires a bit more thought.

First, let’s examine what the term “Reward” means for this article. Unfortunately, the term itself isn’t defined in the Forge’s Provisional Glossary (it uses Reward System which to me is slightly different), so we’re going to use My Own definition for it. Why? Cause this is my blog (heh heh). I’m going to tag Reward as this: “Any part of System (usually a specific rules mechanic) that encourages and sustains a particular kind of behavior from the players and/or GM.” Basically, that’s all fancy talk for “what you get for doin’ what you do in the game.”

I find that examples are always helpful, so I’ll give a few. Designers out there, if I get it wrong for your game, please correct me here. In D&D the reward is XP. You kill monsters you get XP. Gold pieces could also be considered a reward (but for reasons I’m not going into right now, they don’t do all that much in-game for D&D). In Dogs in the Vineyard, the reward is Fallout. You raise the stakes in a conflict and suffer the consequences (good and bad) to get more proficient in those conflicts. In the Shadows of Yesterday the reward is XP. In Universalis, the rewards players earn are Coins.

Okay, so now that we hopefully have an equal footing on what a “Reward” is, let’s talk about play itself. When someone asks, “Is play itself a Reward?” they are really asking, “Does play encourage further play?” If the person asking is a designer, what he wants to know is if he designs a game that’s just fun to “be there” with, does he really need to add in things like XP, Drama Points, Fallout, and all their kin to further encourage the players to play and have fun? My response is this: if you design a game that is fun to play without using any mechanics to reinforce the behaviors that make it fun to play, then yes play is its own reward. BUT!!! Your game will still be lacking. Why? you may ask. Well, here we go.

I’m going to quote something from Ron Edwards oooooooold school but still brilliant essay “System Does Matter”:

--I have heard a certain notion about role-playing games repeated for almost 20 years. Here it is: "It doesn't really matter what system is used. A game is only as good as the people who play it, and any system can work given the right GM and players." My point? I flatly, entirely disagree.

"Whoa," you might say, "my GM Herbie can run anything. The game can suck, but he can toss out what he doesn't like and then it rocks." OK, fine. Herbie is talented. However, imagine how good he'd be if he didn't have to spend all that time culling the mechanics. (Recall here I'm talking about system, not source or story content material.) I'm suggesting a system is better insofar as, among other things, it doesn't waste Herbie's time. --
Alright, this quote is talking about system as a whole, but it applies to Rewards which are part of System. Yeah, your game is fun to play, and play will tend to perpetuate more play, but think of how much MORE fun and how much MORE play you can encourage by consciously and explicitly rewarding the key facets of your game that players will like. The players don’t have to work as hard figuring out what they might like about your game, they will instead be directed right to it. Not only will they be directed to it, but they will be given the tools to participate and improve at having fun play in your game. Make sense? I’ll explain some more.

Going out and whacking orcs with a big ole’ bastard sword is fun. I mean really. Violence is something we all find entertaining and exciting (well, most gamers do anyway). But what heightens that kind of fun in D&D is the fact you get XP and loot so you can whack even MORE orcs in even MORE fun, new, and exciting ways. Look at the reward systems in Sorcerer, Dogs in the Vineyard, and The Shadows of Yesterday and you’ll see that they all deepen the experience of the players with the game. They all create greater meaning and raise the stakes. They all directly target the parts of the game that are fun as hell and intensify them. And all those games are better for having Rewards. Ask the designers themselves if they believe they would have sold nearly as many copies as they have if the Rewards absent from the game. I promise they’d say no.

I’ll let you in on one last secret before I close: almost all games are fun to play and that fun-ness does and will encourage further play. By making the “play” your key reward system, you’re game will have an immensely hard time standing out and an even harder time attracting people to it. It doesn’t do anything the other games don’t already AND those other games have a double dose of fun because they Reward the right behaviors. For me and the advice I give, having Rewards of some kind (other than just play itself) in your RPG is as necessary as having characters. Your game will be severely lacking without them.

If you are working on designing your game, find which parts of your game are the most fun. Then find ways to make the players and their characters better at them or able to do them in more numerous, different, and exciting ways. Or better yet, find a way to reward the right behaviors in a way none of us have come up with yet. That would be really awesome.

Peace,

-Troy

11 comments:

Ben said...

Hrm.

I would say that, yes, play is it's own reward, and that when we talk about "rewards" on the Forge we are talking about jazzing up the player's experience of play.

yrs--
--Ben

Christopher Peterson said...

I agree play should be its own reward, but the game system must support this. As a reluctant D&D DM, I've grown frustrated with D&D's wargame-like rules that seem to counter what my players want to play. Why shouldn't I let them do something really cool, even if p.XYZ of the Player's Handbook says they can't? We're supposed to be having FUN. When I discovered the "say yes or roll dice" GM advice on The Forge, I was relieved at this new GM perspective! :)

Troy_Costisick said...

Heya,

Ben I'm with ya 100%. Play in and of itself is fun and can perpetuate itself. However, our goal is to accentuate the aspects of play that are most fun and make them better.

Chris, the "Say yes or roll dice" thing has liberated me too. By the way, have you tried other games besides D&D to get what you want? I'm curious to know how you came to choose D&D even though it's not exactly suited to what you, as the DM, want to accomplish.

Peace,

-Troy

Darcy said...

Troy --

What's currently interesting to me (as I'm knee deep in developing Domus) is identifying the reward mechanic if it already exists.

I like your idea of "look for what's fun, and see if you encourage it".

This ties in quite well with some ideas I've been having that all rules exists to engender particular (designed for) behaviours.

??

Troy_Costisick said...

Heya,

Darcy Wrote:
This ties in quite well with some ideas I've been having that all rules exists to engender particular (designed for) behaviours.

Ideally, yeah. For some games it might be one behavior, so some it will be numerous. Are there any particular questions about the rewards in your game you're having trouble answering yourself?

Peace,

-Troy

Darcy said...

Indeed.

Like: is there one and, if so, where is it?

That's pretty wide-open, ain't it? And I'm not nearly as clueless on the issue as those questions would indicate. Where I'm sort of stumbling is differentiating between an "in-game" reward mechanic (neat idea! bonus dice!) and a "end of game" one (you slew the minotaur -- 10XP!).

Is there any point in considering such a differentiation as important? How would it affect design.

Troy_Costisick said...

Heya,

Cool. Give me some time to read over your game, Darcy, and I'll be more than happy to post my thoughts about Rewards. Might take a day or two, so even if I make some more comments on the front page of my blog, be sure to check back here in the comments. Sound good?

Peace,

-Troy

Christopher Peterson said...

Troy: I played AD&D back in the 1980s. Last year, I was invited to join a D&D 3.5E game. I hadn't even know that WotC bought TSR or that there was a 3.0E or 3.5E! <:) I enjoyed D&D 3.5E for about one year. I've bought and read some indie games (Donjon, Dogs in the Vineyard, Polaris, The Pool), but I have a very difficult time convincing my D&D buddies to try a different game.

Some might delcare this heresey, but maybe indie games need to address this "barrier to entry" for traditional old-school gamers?

Troy_Costisick said...

Heya,

Chris Peterson Wrote:
Some might delcare this heresey, but maybe indie games need to address this "barrier to entry" for traditional old-school gamers?

Nope, that's not heresy. That's the purpose of this website :)

Peace,

-Troy

Troy_Costisick said...

Darcy!

You’ve got rewards all over the place in your game! Take payback for example. The player gives the GM currency to whack the other players. That’s a reward (it will encourage that same behavior in the future if not by the same player, then by the other players). At least, if I’m understanding how it works correctly. That section could really use a lengthy example by the way.

Prattling about your traits gets you more dice. More dice is better, so thus you are once again encouraging a particular behavior.

Going too Far is the flip side of Rewards- Punishments. Punishments also encourage various kinds of behavior, so in a sense, they are a “Reward” too in the way I talk about them.

I’d even suggest that Backlash is a kind of reward, though it is a dangerous one. Probably why I like it so much.

Growing and Spiking are both rewards. Ahem: “Growing and Spiking is to provide yet another reason for players to give a crap about the game…” Yeah, that’s what a Reward does.

You’ve got a VERY interesting game, Darcy. If I were just to offer quick suggestions, I’d ask for a few more examples in there. They always help. Anyway, good luck with it!

Peace,

-Troy

Nathan P. said...

Coming to this one a little late, but...

Here's a slighly-related point that I think is worth mentioning. It's a point I copped from Steven Brust, who copped it from some other author: Write about what you think is cool. Other people who think that it's cool, will like what you write.

In terms of RPGs and reward systems? Be upfront about what kind of play your game is rewarding. Ron is the poster child for this, I think, and it's definitly something that I still struggle with. But the "any RPG can please anyone" meme is still out there, alive and well, and I think this is the only way to bring it down - not only say "this is why my game is cool, and why you should play it" but also "if you don't think this is cool, don't play this game. You won't have fun."