They say that artists see inspiration everywhere. Now I’m not going to get into the “games as art” debate today, but I have noticed that I tend to see the world through my own MMO-colored glasses.
For example, I have recently been reading up quite a bit on web design in an effort to make my various web pages and blogs more usable. I found a really excellent source of great advice on web design in the book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. (That’s it on the right; note that both links are affiliate links in case you feel like buying this book.)
In addition to some truly useful web design advice, I also found the philosophy to be very applicable to MMOs. Paraphrased: If you want people to play your game, don’t make them think too hard about how to do it — just let them do it!
And check out this direct quote from a section called “The myth of the Average User” — tell me if this doesn’t set off MMO design bells for you:
The more you watch users carefully and listen to them articulate their intentions, motivations, and thought processes, the more you realize that their individual reactions to Web pages are based on so many variables that attempts to describe users in terms of one-dimensional likes and dislikes and futile and counter-productive. Good design, on the other hand, takes this complexity into account.
Another example: I read Seth Godin’s blog. Seth is a marketer; he tend to express his knowledge through marketing. But what he has to say goes well beyond marketing — or perhaps it’s easier to say that it also addresses the components of our lives that are fundamentally marketing even when we don’t think of them that way. At any rate, I often find his posts help illuminate aspects of MMO design for me. Check out his post on Mean vs. Median in which he says (slightly snipped for clarity):
Consider a website that reports a mean (average) of 2.1 pages per visitor.
Then realize that the median is 9…
That’s because there’s a large number of people visiting 1 page and a large number visiting 10 or 20.
Once you see that, you will completely change your understanding of what’s happening and what you need to do to change it.
You’ll find the same behavior among McDonald’s customers. The typical (mean) American eats a meal at McDonald’s once every two weeks. But I never go and some people eat there twice a day. That’s a lot more useful to know.
Put these very disparate bits of inspiration together and what do you have? That there is no single average player in your game, and that reducing complex behavior down to a single number to describe that non-existent average player is meaningless.
But more than that, by assembling bits of wisdom from other fields and applying it to your own, you are building a deeper, multi-faceted toolbox to understand your audience. Or so I like to tell myself as I obsessively filter everything I read through my MMO-colored glasses …