Saturday, August 10, 2013

Towards A Theory Of Fun

J3w3l at Healing The Masses posted a very interesting contribution to the current Trinity debate. Balkoth then summed up the entire thing in a nutshell in the first comment:

"I think designers are looking at the situation where many groups are stuck waiting on a tank or healer in a trinity system and going “Well, let’s try to fix that by removing healers and tanks!” This obviously sucks for people who LIKE playing healers and tanks."

Jeff Butler, who was mostly very calm and laid-back and spoke so much sense in most of the SOELive footage I watched, became animated, almost angry, when talking about players being stuck waiting on a Tank or Healer to get started. It sounded to me as though he was talking very much from bitter personal experience, that he's almost made it a mission to make sure this sort of thing never happens again. Other devs spoke in equally heartfelt fashion about being the Tank or Healer on whom the responsibility for other players' entertainment lay, about how that meant they couldn't play the way they wanted. They sounded emotionally as well as professionally engaged.

At the heart of this complex debate is the intractable problem of "Fun". Going back some years, long before I had a blog or even knew what one was, I would often oppose, even attack, the concept of "Fun" during debates and discussions on various MMO forums. There's more to life and more to MMOs than having fun, that was generally my line. I'd have heartily endorsed J3w3l's observation that "Sometimes it isn’t fun healing the dungeons or raids although many times I enjoyed it precisely because it wasn’t."

As time trundled on and MMOs became easier and easier to enjoy in short sessions without much assistance from others I began to believe I'd been mistaken. I couldn't put my finger on exactly when it happened but probably some time around 2007 my personal balance tipped. Instead of opposing fun for fun's sake I started to endorse it. If you're not having fun, why are you playing? That kind of thing.

There's a marked difference between a lesson learned a lesson learned well. Just as it had been shortsighted to dismiss the significance of fun, so it was equally shortsighted to raise fun up and worship it as a god.

Recently, in a reply to a Ravious post at Kill Ten Rats, I observed "The ironic thing is that GW2 seems to have become that thing I thought I always wanted – an MMO that’s played for no other purpose than the fun of playing it, but now I have it I’m not sure I know what to do with it."

That's the nub of it. Fun is a good thing in itself but it's not enough. Not to hold my attention. Not for long. That requires not just fun but satisfaction. Satisfaction is the feeling J3w3l is referencing when she posits the paradox of enjoying something because it's not fun.

Most people don't find household chores fun. Tidying a room, doing the washing up, mowing the lawn, the prospect doesn't generally fill anyone with joy. When you roll up your sleeves and get on with it, sometimes it feels pretty good right away and sometimes it doesn't, but once you're finished, once you can stand back and look at what you've achieved, at the difference you've made, at how much your environment, your living conditions, have been improved by your own effort, then you feel that long, slow burn of satisfaction.

Satisfaction is a feeling that lasts. Not indefinitely, but for a good, long time. Whenever you walk into that kitchen and see the gleaming surfaces, the neatly stacked, clean dishes, cleaned and stacked by you, it feels good. There's a little glow. It's called A Job Well Done and it's a feeling so universal it spawned that cliche.

It's also the feeling you get in MMOs when you know you are playing well, to your capacity; better yet helping others play to their capacity. It's by no means unique to the Trinity but the Trinity has always provided a straightforward route to achieving it.

Right now, that's the feeling I'm seeking in my MMO play. I've lived through the Wonder Years when everything was new, the Grind Years when everything was hard, the Social Years when everyone knew my name. The Fun Years had a good run but there's only so much fun you can have before it stops being so much fun any more.

Coming back to where we started, The Trinity is but a small part of all this. Many have pointed out, rightly, that the Trinity only exists because of technical limitations in the engines of the early MMOs, that it was those limitations rather than any intent of design that shaped what became the expectations of the genre. Flosch at Random Waypoint recently reminded us that even the Trinity started out as something very different from what it means today. Mechanics change. That's understood. It's not about that.

Extreme solutions, however well-intentioned, risk creating further problems as least as bad as those they intend to remove. Relaxing the reliance on specific individuals is a laudable aim, but removing the options for those individuals to accept and embrace the roles they love is not. I believe it is well within the capacity of game designers to create an MMO in which the roles of Tank, Healer and Crowd Control exist in recognizable form, are satisfying to play, yet are not essential.

It should be entirely possible to construct a combat system and encounters within it in an imaginative and flexible way so that, for example, five DPS players can succeed as easily as two DPS players, a Tank, a Healer and a CC. There is no need whatsoever to coerce or cajole players into playing their characters in specific ways, especially not when the only motivation for doing so is that you believe you know better than they do what they will most enjoy.

Give players all the tools. Leave all the options in. Let players decide how and when and where to use them. Let players be generalists or specialists as they prefer. If that means some cleave to a new orthodoxy while others cling to tradition, so be it.

With full disclosure, the Trinity has little direct relevance to my own enjoyment of MMOs. It's seven years or so since I last counted Trinity healing the mainstay of my own gameplay and I was never more than a part-time, stand-in Tank. Combat mechanics are not the be-all and end-all of my enjoyment and neither do I define myself as a player by the roles my characters take. Other people do. They should be supported in the choices they make.


  1. There is an important aspect of "wait". In a world with public quests/dynamic events, you have to deal with the event when it happens. No one can wait for a tank or a healer appear for help when a "rift" open or the centaur band attack.

    That was a problem when I was playing WAR and Rift. At WAR, I had to form a group taht need have a tank and healer, so a lot of times if I had not that group I had to forgot the public quest. At Rift, when a rift opens if there is no tank and healer near for help close the rift that can be a pain, with lots of death and respawn for finally close that thing.

    Public quests make the things happen faster, there is no time for wait. That is the reason tha make public quests and holy trinity not work well together. Adn the trend is have more public quests and less traditional quests. ARR have traditional quests + public quests. WildStar have public quests.

    You noted that everyone say that no holy trinity not work at GW2 dungeons (some people will disagree with it and say it iw because players are not competent... that I tend to agree), but few people noted it work very well with the dynamic events?

    Bahgpuss, if they give the option for not use tanks/healer classes and dynamic events, tank and healer class will be useless classes. It is one or other, that is trade off. If need get rid of trinty, get it rid ou all. It is better than create classes that no one need and that cannot solo.

    What is killing the holy trinity is the public quests/dynamic events. Who give a close attention saw it was the problem with public quests in WAR and Rift. GW2 don't have that problem and GW2 is the second most played MMO...

    What EQN need find is a way for make the no holly trinity work too inside dungeons. It is the ONLY problem that GW2 have about the no holy trinity. The EQN devs say that know how to solve that problem.

    We can believe them or not. However, when I see some people at GW2 having no problems inside dungeons (why? how? it is because they are using only solider gear?).... I think there is a solution and that is really possible that EQN devs know it.

    1. I don't propose to argue the point with you. Your view is clearly both intransigent and extreme and further discussion would be a waste of time for both of us. I'm sure we each have more interesting things to do.

    2. I am certainly no more intransigent thatn a dev that say:

      "The holy trinity came about because of primitive MMO AI. Vastly improved AI means a new dynamic is needed. Wait before you despair."

    3. @João Carlos

      I was confused by that quote. Are they saying we are not going to have tank/healer/dps but we will have other roles or are they saying we are not going to have any roles at all?

    4. @Lost Forever

      He is talking about the holy trinity, so healer/tank/dps. Nothing about diferent holes, but take note tank and healer have holes ONLY if there is the trinity. CC, dps, buffer, debuffer, are not tank and healer, they are diferent holes.

      Try create a "tank" without no taunt. It is useless, low dps and mobs have no reason for hit it. So, why have it in a party?

      I really do'nt understand this adoration you have for an artificial mechanic. The Fellowship of the Ring had no holy trinity, the D&D first editions do'nt had holy trinity (they added them later for make the game more like MMO...), MUDs do'nt had holy trinity and UO do'nt had Holy trinity. It is something that EQ created and WoW perfected.

      But it is artificial.

    5. @João Carlos

      I can live without the holy trinity provided what ever replaces it is better. However I believe team games require role(s) for each member to full fill so that the sum can be greater than the individual parts. This believe doesn't even come from me playing MMOs... From playing team sports I know that if each member play the same role then the resulting game is usually chaotic mess.

    6. @João Carlos

      I can live without the holy trinity provided what ever replaces it is better. However I believe team games require role(s) for each member to full fill so that the sum can be greater than the individual parts. This believe doesn't even come from me playing MMOs... From playing team sports I know that if each member play the same role then the resulting game is usually chaotic mess.

    7. @João Carlos

      They can get rid of the holy trinity provided whatever replaces it is better system. My real issue ins't with getting rid of tank or healers per se but getting rid of roles and making everyone play single role (DPS).

      Note that what ever system they come up with still will be "artificial". You are not going to get a "real" system in a game. It doesn't happen in any game since we invent the game so we can make up the rules as we want.

      Based on playing team games (not MMOs) my believe is that you need roles so that the sum becomes greater than the parts. If everyone plays the dame roles hat you get is a chaotic mess...

  2. Games such as football, cricket, basketball etc have roles. If you can't fill the needed roles you don't get to play the game. However I don't see footballers or cricketers asking to get rid of the roles. To take it further, most people like to play a striker in football game so why ins't footballers not asking to get rid of the roles of goal keeper, defender, mid fielders etc? So why are only MMO players asking get rid of roles in our game?

    1. Because they want to be a Warrior, not a tank.
      A Warrior is master of combat, not a guy taking all the damage.

      And for example while football (the non US) and basketball have roles, no one going to tell the defender to not score the goal. Also pretty much all the roles require the same core skills.

      Even cricket, there are roles, but often players will fill all the roles during a match.

      The people that say GW2 dungeons are zerg fests (5 people is a zerg now) are the same that can't finish them without dying.

      The fact is that GW2 dungeons take more time to learn, especially compared to a setup that people have been using for more than a decade.

      Sure, I'll grant you that the challenges Anet added to their dungeons are sometimes not fun or very rewarding, but that has nothing to do with the lack of tank-healer-dps.

    2. Just to add one more thing.

      If you want to play a tank what is the reason that make you choose a paladin over a warrior? or over a Monk or a Druid?

      Is it just random? Or do you want to play one over the other? Do they play the same just because they achieve the same objectives?

    3. @Swoo Sousa

      I don't understand your argument. You are saying that football and cricket have roles and people sometime play multiple roles. This is all I want in MMO as well. I want there to be roles and if people prefer they can play single role (just like football or cricket) or multiple roles.

      My issue is really with people want to get rid of all roles and make us all play dps.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. @Lost Forever

      In football if I'm the goolkeeper I can go upfront and score a goal - while unusual, there are a few Goal Keepers that convert penalty kicks and free kicks and that if their team is losing in the final instants will go upfront for corner kicks and other set pieces.

      In unholy trinity setups that goal keeper would never be able to score the goal because he would have to be a striker to be allowed to score goals.

      Sure, next game he could play as a striker but not in the smae game where he started as goal keeper.

      That is what I have against the holy trinity - the extreme specialization that means a character can only play a single role at a time.

      GW2 classes aren't all equal - a warrior or a thief are much better at dealing damage than something like an engineer or an elementalist.

      The problem of GW2 is that the mechanics make damage dealing and dodging so much more important, that pretty much everyone specs for damage and so you get 4 bezerker warriors + 1 mesmer for time warp (greatly increase damage) running CoF path 1 over and over.

      People saying "no holy trinity is a fail, look at GW2" are generally players with the most superficial experience of the game and are pointing at the wrong problem.

      In GW2 PvP you can clearly see the different roles of the different classes.

    6. @Swoo Sousa

      I don't think the current trinity system is rigidity as you say. I have personally seen classes fulfilling multiple roles when called for in an emergency etc. This happens lore more often than goal keeper scoring goal...

  3. Even in football and basketball you see a move towards "specialized players" to players who can do everything. i.e. Rob Gronkowski, who blocks like a madman like traditional TEs but still catches passes like WRs. Lebron James, who can pretty much play all 5 positions in basketball. Etc, etc...

    Anyways though the the analogy's a bit off, since no professional team is forced to wait in quene for a Kicker in order to start a game because there's such a shortage of them =P.


    1. That's the design choice Rift uses. They kept all the roles but attached them to all the classes. That has its drawbacks too, but it's not a bad compromise. Since any five characters could in theory fill all possible roles the argument ceased to be about availability and instead became about willingness.

      One of the points I was making was that the Tank and Healer roles should be options, not necessities. I'd like to see more active roles available in combat, not fewer.

    2. How would you balance tanks and healers, though?

      If you can do just fine without them, why should a party take them?

      I mean, you must have to give up something to get the healing or the tanking. If tanks and healers have no disadvantages, then you just take and healers since they have healing and tanking.

      The only option I see is to spread out the healing and tanking, but then you don't have healers and tanks, you only have fleeting roles.

      But that is what GW2 does (although it focus too much on damage and dodge, causing problems).

      And then people complain that all the classes are the same and have no roles since they are all doing all those roles their away.

      Or is your thief playing just the same as your ranger?

    3. In open play, the kind of dynamic events we see in Rift and GW2 for example, anything goes, pretty much. No-one really has much of an idea what anyone else is doing anyway. I don't see any particular problem with how that's working now.

      For content intended for single groups, and especially for instanced content, the much-vaunted emergent AI should read the make-up of the group and behave accordingly. It's supposed to do that anyway, so we hear, but mostly that's being interpreted as the mobs using their smart AI to their own advantage. If this is supposed to be entertainment rather than a simulation the mobs should use their AI to the players' advantage, presenting an appropriate challenge to the specific balance of each group.

      Players will, of course, work out what group make-up is optimum and game it like crazy, but they do that anyway. The significant number of players who are more interested in playing a particular way than in being hyper-efficient, however, will not be excluded, always providing they can find like-minded individuals.

      That's also the answer to the completely valid question of why a group would take Tanks or Healers if encounters don't require them. They wouldn't. They don't need to. No-one is asking them to. If the Tanks and Healers want to carry on playing the way they prefer, the onus is on them to make enough contacts with others of a like mind to sustain that choice of playstyle.

    4. In Guild Wars 1, there was always much debate about henchmen, heroes and how many heroes.

      The population that played in guild groups and the pug population were extremely vocal against increasing the number of allowed heroes per player from 4 to 7 (a party was generally 8), Some even wanted Anet to remove heroes altogether.

      The argument was that heroes reduced the available pool of players to join guilds and play in groups.

      Of course, players that played with full heroes/henchmen, simply wanted to improve their experience and would argue back that they were already playing alone so they wouldn't ever play with others anyway.

      I imagine the segment of population that want to heal and tank will not see with good eyes a game where they aren't needed.

    5. @Ursan

      The analogy isn't off. I play football (the EU version) and cricket with my friends. We are not pros but if our regular striker doesn't turn up or the regular wicket keeper doesn't turn up one of us take that role. The roles still exist it just that someone else is playing that role... this is what should happen in MMO as well.

    6. In any game where certain players don't have special rules, whoever is in the spot, just does the job.

      You might start as a defender in football (world version), but these days defenders also are involved in attacking and if you happen to receive the ball in front of the goalie, you shoot to score. Of course

      In a wholy trinity setup you wouldn't be able to score - you would require the striker to score and only him could do it.

    7. I say the analogy is "off" because when's the last time in a pick-up game which you had to wait in quene for half and hour because you couldn't find a point guard? Whereas waiting for that healer/tank is a real phenomenon in MMOs.

      It's a fair comparison. However, it just isn't that big of a deal in sports, whereas it is a serious issue in MMOs.


    8. I feel bound to point out that back when I actually played regularly in groups in Everquest c. 2002-2004, the game that is supposedly responsible for starting all this Trinity nonsense in the first place, things did work exactly as Lost Forever suggests. Of course we preferred to have a proper plate tank with taunts but we'd only wait about ten minutes for one. Any longer than that and we'd go with what we had.

      We frequently ran whole dungeon sessions with a shaman or a cleric "tanking". I knew at least three enchanters who rune-tanked regularly. I mage-tanked with the Earth pet a few times and I didn't even have the Epic one - that one could out-tank many plate-wearing players.

      For several months our favorite line-up for a six-person group was a beastlord, two necros, a cleric, a rogue and a shaman. Our house-rule was always "player not class" and we would go with the first six funny, amusing, sharp people who answered the call.

      My memory is of a system far, far more flexible than the one people are describing. I have to wonder if the "Trinity" that has such a bad reputation isn't one that was created by WoW, not EQ.

    9. That is why it is called the "unholy trinity" to differentiate from the trinity.

      I have nothing against the trinity. Actually I wouldn't mind if GW2 had more AoE heals and AoE stacked defense coupled with more CC and higher mob group size. I dislike the "threat system/mobs glue to tank" though, preferring body blocking to it.

      Have you played GW1?
      If you do you probably remember the frontline/midline/backline and the fun it was when the humans went after the mobs backline while the mobs frontline went the other direction after our healers.

      As a warrior many hours I spent in corners, using the wall to screw the mobs pathfinding - it was known in our play group as "pimping" - or just turning around to go knock off some mob that was hacking at the healers.

    10. @Ursan

      If you PUG football then you will have to wait for key players to turn up if you want to win!

      But I hear what you are saying in that we all have to PUG sometimes and we don't like waiting for some classes. This is an issue but the solution suggested (no roles) is not the answer to this problem. No roles will create other problems which are worse than this.

      Me and lot of my friends thought we don’t have to wait long time in GW2 get a pug group going since you can go to instances with any 5 people. As it turns out none of us ever pug in GW2! We do instances only with people we know. We found that without well defined roles it’s very hard to coordinate 5 different strangers. This is why GW2 pugs fails or turn into zerg fest mess! If you go to instances in GW2 with people you know they can be quite fun. So my point being lack of roles can actually hurt casual people like me!

      I also play EQ2. Hard instances requires tank, healer, bard, chanter and dps. That’s 5 roles needed before you can even make start! I will gladly pug in EQ2 with people I have never met before. You might think I have to wait long time to get a pug group going in EQ2 since rather than 3 roles I need 5 but thats not actually the case. You can very easily get a pug going in EQ2 with all 5 roles filled.

  4. Actually, I would disagree that the Trinity exists because of "limitations" in design. The evidence from GW2 is that players will recreate the Trinity naturally if allowed to.

    My evidence comes not from PvE, but WvW. In the high tiers, among the most organized guilds. The current meta is frontline tanks (Hammer Warriors), Healers (Elementalist water fields + Guardian Hammer Blast Finishers) and DPS (Necromancer Well Builds).

    This has all happened even though Anet designed their system to block the Trinity. However, it is only available once a group reaches a critical mass of numbers and organization (WvW guild fielding 20+). Only at that point do you have enough Hammer CC and AoE Blast Finisher Healing to actually give you an advantage.

    It will be interesting to see what happens in PvE if Anet implements raid size encounters. If there is PvE content that requires an organized group of 20+ to play, I would bet we will see the WvW Trinity model come to PvE.

    The obvious design flaw, as you can see, is that the Trinity is only available to the elite, super-organized guild groups. So like all poor design, in most avenues of life, it's the average person who loses out.

    (As an aside, did you catch Psycochild -- The Storybricks guy involved in EQN -- call the Trinity "primitive"? Fair comment, but you also just insulted the playstyle of a significant portion of the MMO playerbase. Not good for business).

    1. But in organized GW2 PvE (read dungeons) you mostly fight heavily resilient to CC mobs, making something like hammer warrior mostly useless.

      The problem is not the lack or roles - GW2 professions can play a few roles each, their own particular way, but the fact mobs rules are so different from player rules.

      If mobs AI behaved and played with similar rules to players. it would be a more challenging experience.

      On the other hand it would be an annoyance for those players soloing - Orr wasn't just ugly. it was also much harder than the other areas of the game.

    2. That's an excellent point. Mobs playing by completely different rules to players has been a bone of contention going all the way back to when I first played EQ. It came up on one of the SOELive panels or presentations that I watched (can't remember which one) and it was stated pretty unequivocally that in EQNExt mobs will use the same abilities as players. I hope they also get similar resistances or whatever the relevant mechanic is and don't get loads of opt-outs from crowd-control.

    3. Doesn't that raise the possibility then that anti-Trinity design is "unnatural" (depending as it does on widespread CC immunity among bosses)?

      It also makes me wonder if Anet implemented the immunity to prevent the development of CC-style tanking.

      And if EQN AI is going to be human-like, then it is quite possible we might see the PvP/WvW style Trinity model of CC-taking develop as the preferred (i.e. efficient) method.

      Unless of course, EQN also blocks the Trinity with widespread CC immunity. That will be the canary in the coalmine, something to watch for.

  5. haha, thanks for getting to the crux of what i was trying to say and missed once again. Yes, I think satisfaction is a huge part in play.. maybe even more so then fun. It's much harder to account for in development though as what is satisfying varies for each player.

    All I know is that "fun" content has a short shelf life to me

  6. Psst.

    I'm well aware of the division between fun and satisfaction. :)

    Anyway, I'll just repeat what I said: wait until you despair. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

    1. I find myself in an odd position in that I seem to have gone to war for a cause that I don't even particularly believe in.

      I play lots of MMOs; plenty of them don't really have the Trinity concept at all and even in the ones that do, I rarely experience it directly. My MMO gameplay for many years has been primarily solo, secondarily duo with a smattering of small/full group play for seasoning. Rift and GW2 added a very large dollop of zerg to that recipe. I'm largely happy with that and I fully expect EQNext to provide me with more of the same only different.

      The observations over fun vs satisfaction arise largely from my recent experiences in GW2 and have nothing to do with my expectations for EQNext.

      What got me exercised wasn't any personal concern over whether I'll enjoy EQNext. That's as far from being in doubt as it possibly could be at this stage. No, it was watching what I felt verged on disdainful, even arrogant responses from some of the panelists at SOELive to what seemed like valid and heartfelt concerns from longtime players. I felt that if the people making the game could be so dismissive of their most ardent supporters it did not bode well for the rest of us.

      As I said above, I got the impression that some people in a position to make it happen are determined to change certain aspects of gameplay that have caused them, personally, problems in the past. That's fine, indeed it's part of their remit, but there are ways and ways of going about it.

      Better PR would have mitigated much of the current uncertainty and avoided the backlash, but one thing no-one ever accused SOE of was having a good PR department.

    2. @Bhagpuss

      "I find myself in an odd position in that I seem to have gone to war for a cause that I don't even particularly believe in."

      I thought you were fighting for an issue you believed in namely different styles of play since your own style of play is quite different from the MMO norm :)


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