The Designer's Notebook: Selling Hate and Humiliation
April 8, 2010 Page 2 of 3
The F2P business model seems a bit weird to me -- it distorts what I think of as the designer's main role -- but it's not wrong in and of itself, just different. But that's not all. Another thing that Zhan Ye said was that we have to get over conventional notions of fairness. Fairness is not a goal, just a means. In his slides, he wrote,
"The goal is to create a highly dynamic community, in which a lot of conflicts, dramas, love, and hate can happen. If it helps to create the tension -- the conflicts, the dramas -- fairness can be sacrificed. If we believe that a game world is a reflection of the real world, then the concept of fairness in the game should not be taken for granted."
So I see where part of Rich Carlson's problem is. He's an old-timer, and like a lot of old-timers, he came to video games through traditional board gaming. As a designer, fairness means a lot to him -- it's the cornerstone of multiplayer game design. And for my own part, I have never believed that a game world is a reflection of the real world -- I certainly hope it isn't.
I play games to escape, not to experience, the problems of the real world. In fact, our primary defense against censorship is the claim that game worlds are make-believe. When we blur that line, we make ourselves vulnerable. So I began to be concerned.
Then I came across this in Mr. Ye's lecture:
"The most successful F2P games (monetization-wise) in China all give their paying customers HUGE advantages. In the beginning, rich people kill poor people all the time. Balancing is a big issue. Chinese game designers tried different innovative methods over the course of last several years."
It doesn't seem to have occurred to him to create a game in which people simply can't kill each other at all -- a problem Ultima Online solved years ago when they broke the world into PvP and non-PvP shards. For that matter, nobody kills anybody in FarmVille, either. Instead, this was the solution:
"Let rich people organize family clans, hire poor people, lead them to fight with other clans, and reward them. Think about who those rich people are in the real world -- business owners and factory owners. They manage and lead hundreds of people in the real world and are used to the leadership role. In the F2P world, they still want that feeling. We just offer them that in the game, naturally.
"Clans are closely intertwined smaller communities that function as corporations. Clan leader lavishes his clan members with gifts and equipment, in exchange for loyalty and service.
"Rich people lead poor people to fight with other rich people via clans. It is much better than rich people killing poor people all the time. Creates a highly dynamic social system with better balancing."
Wonderful. This, in a nutshell, is tribalism, or warlordism. This fantasy game world they've constructed is essentially Afghanistan or Sierra Leone or Somalia, where the poor are forced into militias at gunpoint and made to fight. As game designers, we can be pleased that it creates "a highly dynamic social system with better balancing."
Maybe this is popular in China. Apparently people there will pay money for it. Perhaps when they want to escape from their day-to-day lives in an oppressive centralized regime, that's what they fantasize about: being peasants forced to fight for a brutal overlord, in an oppressive decentralized regime. But I find it appalling.
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