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CodyKostyak

Simplicity vs. Complexity

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Good evening from Texas.

 

I am working on starting back up making games and working towards making some games with all the new technology today. I've come across some things while trying to plan my games. What is better perceived by a general audience? Complex gameplay or simple gameplay?

 

So here is my theory and i just want your opinions to maybe enlighten me.

 

I believe that all games fall somewhere in a gradient of simple vs complex, and the success of the game in the eyes of the public depend on what end of the spectrum they are on. For example, take Eve Online. Very complex game, however compared to another MMORPG such as WOW, it is an obvious underdog in subscribers and critical acclaim. While it's hard to find a really bad review of Eve Online, you can find many people who cannot simply access the game because of its complexity. WoW however, you can simply hop in and start playing, it's not a game that has an amazing amount of complexity, but it is simply a game that has many elements that all honestly boil down to getting better gear. Whereas eve online boils down to things so complex, such as diplomatic relations, politics, advanced market manipulation that has even been studied to apply to the real world.

 

Now lets take another game. Lets make this a very casual game such as Call of Duty Black Ops (miss those days on xbox!). The game itself can be played without delving into extremely complex features, however whenever you do try to find more complex elements, they are there. While it's not in the middle of the gradient (being a very simple game overall) the skill of the player has quite a difference in how successful you will be, as well as planning things like perks and kill streak rewards does generally make the difference between an average player vs an amazing player.

 

Now relating to indie development. Lets say i'm making an RPG/ARPG. Would content and the presence of an ultimate goal at the cost of simplifying the class system(i.e. an extremely hard boss that drops a piece of gear 1 time out of 100, but having the rogue, warrior, mage, ranger class system) more important than having complex features such as a truly immersive class system that is very complex and in depth that would make each character different from the last? (i.e morrowinds class system)

 

While i agree there should be balance, but in the indie world i feel like i see many games that are overly simple without delicate gameplay elements that actually effect the game in a big way. For example, lets take minecraft. Originally it was basically just a system setup, no frills. Yes it was complex in a sense of building something and exploring a world, but at the end of the day, you gather block, to make a house, to make a farm, to gather more blocks, to make a bigger farm, to gather even more blocks. 

 

Games I enjoy generally have more complex features, without being completely inaccessible to a player who doesn't have years to throw at the game to understand it. For example, Eve Online (again). I enjoyed the genre (minimal reach at the time i started to play , not a huge hype for space games at the time), i enjoyed the size of the world, and i enjoyed being able to choose what i do, with such precision and freedom that if i wanted to be a pirate that gambled all my earnings away on raffles and manufactured drugs in the lawless space of low sec, i could, without any limitations from the game.

 

What do you think the current market wants? What end of the spectrum do you think has the most die-hard supporters/players?

 

TL;DR - Should a game have complex features at risk of accessibility, or vice versa?

Edited by Ckos

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Apparent, discouraging complexity is only one of the many factors that repel players and make a game not likeable or not "accessible".  Other important aspects include ugly or cheap appearance (if the authors don't care, why should I? If they cannot make graphics, how could they possibly do well at something more difficult like designing a good game?) and catering for niche tastes (e.g. EVE Online allows, or used to allow, permanent destruction of player assets in battle: fair and thrilling for some, but unacceptable for a large pool of scrubs).

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Too simple is safer then too complex. Wrap a Skinner box in fancy graphics and people will enjoy it. Reskin rock-paper-scissors and people will compete with each other. Ask them to carefully time a jump over and over again and they'll master that skill.

 

But within the bounds of "not extremely complex" and "well made" you can make a lot of different stuff work. And generally, more depth will result in more replayability. More depth is likely to correlate with better critical acclaim.

 

I think intuitive, interesting choices is key. You can get away with a lot of complexity if the choices are intuitive. In chess, a beginner has only the slightest inkling of what's going on, but capturing pieces is probably good, moving towards the king is probably good, keeping pieces protected is probably good. A beginner doesn't have to feel lost and overwhelmed, they can play what they want to reasonable effectiveness and learn from that. In an rpg, maybe a weapon has ten stats and choosing the right one involves really exquisite trade-offs. But if each weapon also has a "level" and "suggested class" then a casual player can make a quick, reasonable choice and move on.

 

Mirroring real world knowledge is also a good idea. In a war game I might not understand all the rules, but I'll try to defend on the high ground, try to pincer or break through the enemy line, defend my artillery, not attack the pikemen with my cavalry. If the mechanics make those smart ideas then I can ignore a lot of the behind the scenes complexity. If my intuition is violated, then I really do have to master the rules, which is liable to cause to me to just move along.

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Blizzard uses a perfect phrase for this when designing their games: "Easy to learn, difficult to master"

 

I think this describes it perfectly. Obviously you want the players to have an easy start into the game and then keep them long term motivated. Overwatch is a perfect example of this. Each skill is easy to use by itself, but when you use it in combination it becomes more challenging.

 

Besides this I also think you really need to know your audience. Eve Online is perfect example for a game with more hardcore players. Other games might try to attract more casual players. If you plan for games as a service you might want to target hardcore players as they get usually more invested into the game and stay with it. Casual players are more volatile I guess.

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Everyone here is wrong. It's embarrassing on a forum specifically for game design.

 

Firstly the word game is too broad. Without going into stuff like Burgun's work on improving game design theory "games" are interactive systems with an incredible array of goals. Some "games" would benefit from simplicity and some require complexity. Simplicity is probably financially vastly preferable.

 

Simplicity vs complexity hinges on your design goals. The whole depth thing is garbage. "Depth" just means being in the right spot on the spectrum given your design goals. The design goals for something like Chess or Go demand simplicity. Other kinds of games have design goals that demand complexity. Some things are impossible without complexity.

 

EVE Online requires both a complex system of rules and knowledge and quite a bit of dull activity. Its simply not possible to achieve its goal, simulating space imperialism, without those games. You can't do it. Period. WoW has no need for complexity and in fact it would probably do better to be even less complex than it currently is.

 

The objective truth is that some kinds of games will always be more popular regardless of their design. An completely perfect EVE style MMO is NEVER going to have more players than even an above average WoW style MMO. Never, ever, ever. There is simply not enough of a desire for what it provides regardless of the quality on offer. Similarly LoL will always have larger audiences than Starcraft. The market for MOBAs is larger than the RTS market. The quality differential would have to be HUGE for an RTS to out compete a MOBA in profit or popularity.

 

The market is nearly always more significant for those purposes than the quality of the game above a minimum quality threshold. Depending on marketing power that threshold can be pretty low. Furthermore a shitty MOBA will almost always bleed players to a better MOBA and not to a better RTS.

 

Games that objectively require more complexity to function are inherently going to be less popular and less profitable than more simplistic games. The market for simple games with a low time commitment is vastly larger than the market for games that require a large time commitment and more intellectual resources.

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Complexity is sometimes necessary to achieve a design, it's unnecessary complexity that's to be avoided. Complexity always carries a kind of psychic weight to it, and if that weight is greater than the payoff, then it's a net negative. You could say that good design trends towards being another facet of the "make it as simple as possible, but no simpler" axiom.

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Everyone here is wrong. It's embarrassing on a forum specifically for game design.

 

Firstly the word game is too broad. Without going into stuff like Burgun's work on improving game design theory "games" are interactive systems with an incredible array of goals. Some "games" would benefit from simplicity and some require complexity. Simplicity is probably financially vastly preferable.

 

Simplicity vs complexity hinges on your design goals. The whole depth thing is garbage. "Depth" just means being in the right spot on the spectrum given your design goals. The design goals for something like Chess or Go demand simplicity. Other kinds of games have design goals that demand complexity. Some things are impossible without complexity.

 

EVE Online requires both a complex system of rules and knowledge and quite a bit of dull activity. Its simply not possible to achieve its goal, simulating space imperialism, without those games. You can't do it. Period. WoW has no need for complexity and in fact it would probably do better to be even less complex than it currently is.

 

The objective truth is that some kinds of games will always be more popular regardless of their design. An completely perfect EVE style MMO is NEVER going to have more players than even an above average WoW style MMO. Never, ever, ever. There is simply not enough of a desire for what it provides regardless of the quality on offer. Similarly LoL will always have larger audiences than Starcraft. The market for MOBAs is larger than the RTS market. The quality differential would have to be HUGE for an RTS to out compete a MOBA in profit or popularity.

 

The market is nearly always more significant for those purposes than the quality of the game above a minimum quality threshold. Depending on marketing power that threshold can be pretty low. Furthermore a shitty MOBA will almost always bleed players to a better MOBA and not to a better RTS.

 

Games that objectively require more complexity to function are inherently going to be less popular and less profitable than more simplistic games. The market for simple games with a low time commitment is vastly larger than the market for games that require a large time commitment and more intellectual resources.

 

You told everyone they are wrong, then went on to give some very unhelpful information "genre X is just going to be more popular than genre Y." How does that help? Can you dig a little deeper? There is a reason why MOBAs are popular: They are simple to learn, but difficult to master (as someone astutely already pointed out). Also you continued to reiterate the same "incorrect" points that others had already made as correct when coming from you. Not to mention, the typical MOBA/MMO player would be considered more hard core than someone in the "general audience," which is what the OP is asking about in this post.

 

An awesome read on this topic is the Mid-Core Success Series by Michail Katkoff, the guy who made Clash of Clans. I also recommend subscribing to the http://www.appmasters.co/  podcast. Steve P. Young is primarily a PR/marketing guy, but he interviews all the most successful mobile game developers from some of the most successful games (Crossy Road, Angry Birds, Color Switch, etc.). His podcast is extremely informative and motivating.

 

I also recommend the Game Designer's Round Table podcast. Just like Steve P. Young these guys interview a lot of the top game designers, both in the digital and tabletop spaces. The discussions on tabletop games do correlate well with digital games and might get you to think about them from a different perspective than if you just think about the AAA games from big studios like Bethesda, Blizzard, etc.

Edited by smr

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Well, if you are not planning the next 500 mio $ AAA smash hit, you don't need to appeal to everyone and their dog.

 

Instead, you should try to find a niche, and make the best game you can to cater to that niche. That niche might be very well the ultra hardcore gamers that like overly complex, or even very hard games (see dark souls).

First and foremost you need to find an audience. Get people excitet for your game. Which is going to be hard if you try to copy others. Be original, come up with something innovative, don't overcomplicate your design, but never be afraid to try something more complex.

 

Just look for feedback from friends and potential players online early. You will soon get an idea if your game might be too complex or simple if you keep prototyping ideas and let other play them.

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Simplicity vs complexity hinges on your design goals. The whole depth thing is garbage. "Depth" just means being in the right spot on the spectrum given your design goals. The design goals for something like Chess or Go demand simplicity. Other kinds of games have design goals that demand complexity. Some things are impossible without complexity.

 

In this usage, complexity refers to the factors that must be explicitly learned to play reasonably, and depth refers to the amount of "stuff" below the surface that can be discovered for greater mastery (or fun). Usually complexity means inherent complexity (a long rule book) and depth means emergent complexity (many interesting patterns derivable from the rules). Sometimes it means the surface rules needed to understand a game at all (a strike in baseball) versus information which is useful but not critical (infield fly rule).

 

Go players talk about "eyes", "knight jumps", "moyo's", "influence", "heavy play", "fighting spirit", etc. None of those appear in the rules. Contrast that to an argument about which MOBA character has better control skills, which might focus on cooldown times and range. Those are explicitly defined variables with specific values set by the developers. There's a different experience between deriving further and further understanding of the consequence of rules in Chess, and pouring over the relative cover bonuses of 30 tanks in a crunchy wargame. People have different preferences between the two, but they are different things.

 

If we want to really dig into designing appropriate complexity, the more relevant discussion there is probably things like learning curve, epiphany moments, levels of mastery, tree width, rule scope, etc. But for the question of "simple or complex", I think "depth over complexity" and "as simple as possible but no simpler" is sufficient.

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I think that a good game is a mixture of both complex and simple. The user is presented with simple choices, input, requests... but the game does complex operations and interrelations based on the users choices.

 

So, it should be simple for the player to manipulate the game and determine what the game is requesting the player to do... but the systems and mechanics should be deeper and more complex. 

 

-or-

Simple to play, complex to understand. 

 

You shouldn't need to cross-reference three different charts to make an informed, useful decisions... but that chart cross-referencing should reward the player who does try to optimize at that level or detail.

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Well, I think a game should be complex if viable and if makes sense but not complicated. A new complexity layer should only be added if it has noticable marginal utility and if it worths the trouble.

 

For example, some might praise an FPS involving gun maintenance but would you enjoy " Your gun has stuck , please disassemble reassemble (reboot) to see if it works " during a hot fight? ( Yes I know , I have no knowledge about guns :) )

 

For example at a game involving food production, once you grasp the basic idea (for example flour+sugar=cookie, fruit+sugar+flour=fruit cake) does it really matter if you have 5 or 50 recipes? Do additional recipes make things more complex? I don't think so.

 

For me, an ideal game should be complex as long as there is marginal utility but should also allow "Graceful Degradation" where some micromanagement features can simply be overriden by default simpler options. Like a manual transmission car is more complex to drive but offers better fine tuning in performance/efficiency than first generation automatic transmissions making things rather simpler.

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