A recent bout of League of Legends brought me to thinking about the tools for entertainment in games. Yea, I’m mentioning LoL again, but whatever, any game that manages to capture my attention for over 6 months deserves a cookie with a medal in the middle (WARNING, MAY BE CHOKING HAZARD). So, what are the tools for entertainment? They’re elements of a game that allows the player to layer in their own style or narrative into a pre-existing game universe.
And, for a person with childlike joy in their heart, it’s the stuff of magic.
A Trolltastic Voyage
This particular story begins with Yo Yo Yo Yordle, the greatest ranked 5′s team to ever hit the face of League of Legends. YYYY was the product of 5 simple folk and their desire for greatness. Now, normal men and women would resort to creating a team with “skill” or “cohesion” or a “legitimate reason for existence.” We, being of a different sort, elected to create a team based upon “shenanigans.” In this case, we created a team entirely of the squirrel creatures known as Yordles.
Here’s what you need to know about the Yordles. They’re ADORABLE, tiny and generally capable of outsize beat down. The issue with the Yordles is that there are very few of them, it’s almost impossible to make a reasonable team of out them, particularly if the other side selects any Yordles. Long story short? Flaming train wreck.
Our team got slaughtered. But there was joy in it, because we got to cheer on the Yordles and we derived enjoyment out of the game for reasons other than winning. When things would lean in our direction, we were all the more gleeful. We promised to reconvene the Yordle power tribe for additional battles into the future.
One Game, A Thousand Stories
This got me thinking about the experience, and the value adding depth to an intellectual property can have. If you provide a single narrative, the players will experience that narrative and be done with the game. If you provide a central narrative but significant depth around that story (such as lore, factions, destructible environments, etc.), then the central story can be the genesis for thousands of offshoots, thereby expanding the life and value of the game.
I often think social and mobile games suffer from a very narrow narrative funnel. Once the content is consumed in the traditional mobile or social game, there’s very little reason to continue playing. This results in players grinding and interacting with players solely for the purpose of expediting their progression. This isn’t a particularly compelling interaction, and the increasing skepticism about the value of the social graph among developers isn’t surprising.
Games like WoW have spawned lifelong friendships precisely because the ability to create additional narratives allows players to foster a sense of closeness. Other games, such as Words With Friends or You Draw leverage open-ended interactions that provide players with a range of options: they can be competitive, focus on humorous interactions or bring in colleagues to create real life social interactions about digital systems.
League of Legends benefits from being a very competitive game, but even that is an exhaustible resource. By providing players with options to create alternate objectives, the game can foster a broader set of interactions. If I’m focused solely on winning, then my interactions with other players will be designed to obtain that objective and it might get a bit uncomfortable when mistakes are made. If I’m Yordling, then I have permission to just focus on funny interactions, which makes it a lot easier to foster friendships within the game. This is an area worth further investigation on Riot’s part.
If the goal is to move a game into a service, I believe the developer should consider moving beyond pure content consumption models. There are a variety of means for providing additional depth to games (enhanced communication, social sharing beyond spam, cooperative play, etc.), and the accessibility of the phone means players can be building personal stories attached to mobile games throughout the day. Unlocking that potential can pay serious dividends, just ask the powers behind You Draw.
JM: Hah! Agreed. The social side of social games seems sorely neglected. We need to tell our own stories, not just respond according to programming.