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Wavinator

Why Must Games Be Fair?

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Simple question but maybe not so simple answer: What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair? Is it the idea that games embody the concept of a goal which must be attainable? Or is it simply that an evenly matched challenge is just more enjoyable?

Have you ever encountered situations where a game is patently unfair but fun regardless? Arcade games described as "punishingly hard" might apply, but then maybe not as these sorts of games often have an intrinsic assumption that you COULD win them if only you were more skilled. Games with accelerating difficulty curves that end in no win situations (Missile Command, the last level of Halo: Reach) might be a better example of an unfair game that is enjoyable nonetheless because your goal is not to win but to see how long you can survive.

What about games with longer term goals which may eventually become unfair?

From a behavioral standpoint maybe games need to be fair because there's a dopamine payoff in winning which, if the game is unfair, is denied to the player.

Thoughts?

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Original post by Wavinator
Simple question but maybe not so simple answer: What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair? Is it the idea that games embody the concept of a goal which must be attainable? Or is it simply that an evenly matched challenge is just more enjoyable?

Have you ever encountered situations where a game is patently unfair but fun regardless? Arcade games described as "punishingly hard" might apply, but then maybe not as these sorts of games often have an intrinsic assumption that you COULD win them if only you were more skilled. Games with accelerating difficulty curves that end in no win situations (Missile Command, the last level of Halo: Reach) might be a better example of an unfair game that is enjoyable nonetheless because your goal is not to win but to see how long you can survive.

What about games with longer term goals which may eventually become unfair?

From a behavioral standpoint maybe games need to be fair because there's a dopamine payoff in winning which, if the game is unfair, is denied to the player.

Thoughts?


IWBTG is a game that is extremely unfair and still fun, allthough much of the fun comes from it taking the unfairness to the extreme.

In general i think games should be fair, they don't have to be winnable though and challenges doesn't have to be evenly matched, for me fair means that the computer doesn't cheat, using handicaps to increase difficulty is acceptable as long as the player knows about it.

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Gamers always try to understand the game, to figure out how the systems work, how the characters are structured and how different situations can be managed. They use that information to try to become good at the game, doing the right things and planning ahead. "Fairness", to them, is when a game is intelligible, when you can learn how to play it well, and then playing it well earns rewards. If your skill is outmatched, you just play better. If you're defeated regardless of your skill level, it feels like a deus ex machina and that can either be part of the narrative, as in the end of Reach, or bad balance, like when a roguelike reams you with an inescapable, unpredictable threat. Either way, the player derives either enjoyment or frustration, declares that he did his best, and makes a conscious decision not to learn from that event--not to factor it into his personal growth. He's not going to save up grenades in Reach so he can fight the endless covenant hordes for another twelve minutes, and he's not going to stop drinking out of wells in NetHack just because that one sucked him into a demon's lair. Unfair, unintelligible gameplay does not contribute to the long-term interaction between the player and the game, except that it can influence the player's opinion of it.

Long-term games with long-term goals are often harder, and many players don't like the risk of saving their game after they've screwed themselves but before they've realized that they're screwed. I had a Fallout save one time when I had a sweet gun upgrade, but I'd dilly-dallied and I was six days' march from the final battle, but only five days from the automated cutscene heralding the (hidden) timer's expiration and my mission's failure. I got my kickass new gun, I saved my game, and I was totally hosed forever. Bullshit. But if the game's rules are clear and intelligible, and the player can plan ahead and--with skill and practice--learn to recognize the seeds of his destruction, then it becomes fair to include long-term catastrophes of the sort that might take shape in a long round of Civilization. Heck, screwing yourself twenty years into a twenty-eight-year game is just an order of magnitude away from screwing yourself twenty minutes into a twenty-minute game, and so your failure to establish defensible supply lines to your lunar colony is no different, in terms of fairness, than your failure to scout the enemy's expansion in Starcraft and see that he's producing twenty mutalisks (bastard).

I get a dopamine payoff when I score a headshot or reach level 99 or see the scoreboard at the end of a round. There's no shortage of immediate, Pavlovian ways to reward players. As long as you don't allow them to believe that there's an "end game" or a "victory condition" that they should be striving for, and provide ample opportunities for them to excel and achieve, they'll be able to do a good job and to feel good about it.

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I like Iron Chefs answer.

There's a scale of fairness. In reach it is not particularly unfair because it is the end of the game. If it happened halfway through the game and you weren't able to progress, that's obviously too much (unfairness) because the gamers have an expectation of being able to complete the game. This is pretty much what happened in fallout mentioned above. So I'd say yes to your second question.

On a platform game where you jump onto a platform and the platform immediately falls to the ground killing you, and causing you to respawn 20 seconds earlier: That's unfair (because you didn't know that would happen) but 20 seconds isn't a big cost. Dying is sometimes necessary in games to explore the problem space and find a solution. Exploration isn't unfun, and as long as dying doesn't have a big cost then I don't see a problem with this.

I'd like to hear about more games that are unfair but fun :)

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I think a player feels that a game is fair when all competing agents have the same level of opportunity to avoid a bad outcome initiated by one another.

Rock-paper-scissors is fair when both players can't tell what sign the other player will throw. It is unfair when one throws after seeing the opponent's sign.

According to this definition, most computer games are not fair per agent because the game agents often has less opportunity to avoid the player's attack than that the player has. The game balances this by having more agents.


A game, as the product that you make, does not need to be fair, because if it is interesting enough, the player could define a derivative game based on the environment you provide if they want to play a fair game.

For example, if your game specifies a victory condition that is unattainable, but the player finds it fun to just play and see how long he can survive, then the player is using your game environment to play his game. Regardless whether the player thinks that his game is fair, the player plays it because it is rewarding.


"What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair?"
I don't expect games to be fair.

"From a behavioral standpoint maybe games need to be fair because there's a dopamine payoff in winning which, if the game is unfair, is denied to the player."
Reaching the prescribed winning condition is not the only reason people play games or the only source of enjoyment. Sometimes people play a game just because the playing is fun or rewarding.

Lottery is an example of a game that is often not fair that people play.


Quote:
Because we pay money for games. Or, because we don't want our time to be wasted on poorly designed games.

I think advertisement/deal needs to be fair. If you buy a game because the advertisement promises you an awesome ending after you win, and you can't win with a fair amount of effort, then you should feel unfair. The same can go with lottery advertisements.

You could buy a lottery ticket knowing that the game is not fair, but since there is no false advertisement and you know the risks, the deal is fair. Or, you could buy the ticket believing that you will surely win due to the ad. In that case, the game is still unfair--since that is the property of the game. But in addition to that, the deal is also unfair.


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In my option:
Fair is for keeping the variety of a game.

For example, if a game has 3 classes - warrior, priest and magi, but magi is obviously overpowering. Then the player will use only magi.
But if the power of the 3 classes are equal, then the player can try magi, then warrior, and after that, priest ^^

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I think it's important to draw a distinction between a game being fair and a game being balanced.

A game of Battleship would not be fair if your opponent knew where your ships were located. Unless you play first and are lucky enough to not miss a single shot (extremely improbable) you're guaranteed to lose. Obviously, this would stop the game from being fun.

Now take the same game but make it fair; the other player does not know the location of your ships. However, say your opponent is much more intelligent and/or more familiar with the game and uses a very structured approach, therefore finding and eliminating your ships very efficiently. If you are not smart or familiar enough to take a similar approach the game would not be balanced, but it could still be fun.


So, your "punishingly hard" arcade games probably aren't balanced in the players favour -- the player is vastly out-numbered, and possibly also out-gunned -- but unless the AI are cheating it is fair.


I don't think fairness is neccesary in a good game, but the game should appear to be fair to the player; if the AI knows things it shouldn't this should not be obvious to the player.

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Original post by Wavinator
Simple question but maybe not so simple answer: What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair? Is it the idea that games embody the concept of a goal which must be attainable? Or is it simply that an evenly matched challenge is just more enjoyable?

Have you ever encountered situations where a game is patently unfair but fun regardless? Arcade games described as "punishingly hard" might apply, but then maybe not as these sorts of games often have an intrinsic assumption that you COULD win them if only you were more skilled. Games with accelerating difficulty curves that end in no win situations (Missile Command, the last level of Halo: Reach) might be a better example of an unfair game that is enjoyable nonetheless because your goal is not to win but to see how long you can survive.

What about games with longer term goals which may eventually become unfair?

From a behavioral standpoint maybe games need to be fair because there's a dopamine payoff in winning which, if the game is unfair, is denied to the player.

Thoughts?


You could consider the game developers to have a monopoly on a code of ethics that describes a relationship between the game engine and the player, and of course, the game will mercilessly enforce these standards.

I think the code has to be based on the morals of the game world in itself. When playing a first person multiplayer shooter, I would not want xXxPwnj00xXx to spawn closer to the HeadBlaster 7000 than I do all the time, nor would I want YoM4m4 to be able to find some solid geometry that allows him to fire outwards in all directions but protects him from all inward fire. I expect advantages to come from the player's biological growth, not from the engine's (unintended) favoritism!

However, in a horror game, go for total linearity and a feeling of hopelessness. Make the player feel like they are going to lose, but at the same time get a major revelation from that loss... Like cannibalism is cool. Expect horror, where victory is an optional bonus. This is where a game is "unfair", but still succeeds it's function to scare. If I plan to step into a world inhabited by demons, ghosts and gremlins as a human being, I expect NOT to survive, truth be told.

In short, I think this is a specialized discussion of ethics, and that "fair" should be seen as a mutual agreement between the engine, devs and the players to make sure all of them can serve their function to challenge, not incapacitate each other. This is all relative, and a game should not impose any standards a player would find TOO surprising. It could be pretentious, where a player is penalized for having certain morals, or technical, like when the player shoots at someone's head, and they miss, BUT NO THEY DID NOT THAT WAS DEAD ON.

[Edited by - zyrolasting on October 24, 2010 1:48:45 PM]

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Have you ever encountered situations where a game is patently unfair but fun regardless? Arcade games described as "punishingly hard" might apply, but then maybe not as these sorts of games often have an intrinsic assumption that you COULD win them if only you were more skilled. Games with accelerating difficulty curves that end in no win situations (Missile Command, the last level of Halo: Reach) might be a better example of an unfair game that is enjoyable nonetheless because your goal is not to win but to see how long you can survive.

Puzzle/adventure games usually have "unfairly hard" puzzles. This is usually ok, because the whole point of the puzzle is to slow you down and make you think (sure, the gamer in you is going to use-everything-with-everything till you find the solution. The really unfair puzzles do show up though, in the form of puzzles that require a specific type of thinking, or knowledge foreign to the game. Some people "just get" the word puzzles, programming puzzles, spatial origination puzzles, puns, plays on words, historical, cultural, etc. Others will stumble on one particular type of puzzle, but I'd still say that one bad puzzle in a game doesn't ruin the game.

Games like Lemmings, World of Goo, Armadillo Run, Crimson Land, Gratuitous Space Battles, etc. can EASILY get away with stupid hard parts. The key I think here is that they are scenario based games. You can't save in the middle of a challenge, but the challenges are small enough that restarting them isn't frustrating. I've defiantly hit snags in all of these, and just keep playing it till i get the level right.

But, I'd say that most people just can't put up with FPS/3rdPS/platformers where you have to redo even a second of gameplay if you die. The issue here is, I personally think, is that the only "reward" the game gives you is physical progress in the level. Killing things is only a means to get to progress, so having to re-kill things gets very annoying. Likewise, jumping over a difficult platforming puzzle is the challenge. Success in that means you probably don't want to die and then have to do the platforming again.

EDIT: Replaced your SOURCE tags with QUOTE ones to make your post much more readable. - jbadams

[Edited by - jbadams on October 27, 2010 3:15:45 AM]

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