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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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One thing to remember, is that there is a niche for complicated games.  Matrix Games, and Graviteam seem to be doing well enough serving the complex game niche.

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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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