Intrinsic Fun

August 20, 2021 See All Posts

People (salaried professional aside) play games for fun. Further, people generally enjoy different things in different ways.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about some ideal patch notes for a sort of Wow 2.0 based off of World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. I was spitballing about removing factions from everything but questing/lore, allowing guilds to fight over and tax cities and settlements, making mobs drop materials/crafting patterns instead of completed items and more controversially change a lot of the instanced dungeons and raids to be open-world. The idea is that TBC is so solved that we could introduce player-generated conflict by allowing them to contest each other for important resources.

In my head, that sounds sweet and like the sort of game I could play for hours every day for years, instead of the TBC we have where we can quickly get our BiS and then raidlog / do arenas every week. To my friend, on the other hand, having to engage in server politics to form alliances to secure boss spawns, or be expected to be online to defend a city you control, or have to go protect guildies while they try to kill a boss in Serpent Shrine Cavern sounds miserable.

They don't find that stuff fun; it gets in the way of what they do think is fun: speedrunning raids for loot and doing rank-1 level 3v3 and 2v2 arena.

This is where the intrinsic fun comes in! Try to analyze what about the games you enjoy is the acutal fun part. If you enjoy playing Path of Exile, what part? Do you enjoy researching/coming up with new builds to play? Do you enjoy slaying droves of monster-fodder? Do you enjoy racing each new league?

If you enjoy World of Warcraft raiding, what part? Do you enjoy killing bosses, or do you enjoy the dopamine-lottery that is randomized loot? Would you and your guild raid content you've already cleared if none of the bosses drop loot? If so, you probably find intrinsic fun in clearing content with your friends. If not, you're probably laboring for a reward.

I find intrinsic fun in feeling like I'm living and participating in a fantasy world. I also find intrinsic fun in clearing difficult content with my friends. I find fun in learning to play difficult games, expecially if I can directly compete other players (either in PvP or beating them on DPS meters). I don't find fun in raising an ELO score, experiencing a pre-written plot (I'd rather read a book for plot), or getting loot. For me, those are all a means to an end, or worse, things I have to slog through.

The more different types of intrinsic fun a game tries to support, the less focused it feels. Whenever a game is unfocused, it will have players that are willing to put up with some of its systems in order to be able to interact with others. A MMO player who loves PvP might be willing to slog through leveling and PvE content so that they can have the BiS gear to compete in capture-the-flag. A hardcore raider might be willing to slog through a bunch of frustrating 2v2 matches if it rewards them with the best PvE gear. MMOs try to cater to all kinds of playstyles, and try to lump crafters, marketeers, PvP players, casual explorers, hardcore raiders, etc all together in one game. Their differences in intrinsic fun can clash, leading to friction and eventually toxicity.

Now, if a game attempts to emphasize hardcore raiding, it'll have PvP players and marketeers complain that they have to go through more of a slog to be able to do the thing they enjoy. You'll hear the phrase "can't please everyone". Eventually the game devs lose sight of their target audience, or worse, they start designing for retention metrics or profit maximization. The game is no longer the game they want to play, it's created for some nebulous user that was derived by averaging user feedback surveys.

In focused games like Rocket League, on the other hand, the community is almost singularly behind one idea: winning car soccer in a fair, skillful match against the other team. They're down for changes that make the matches more fair and down for changes that remove bugs that make the game less skillful.

I would love to see the MMO genre try to actually figure out what their target audience is and then build the best game for those people.