Guild Wars 2’s analytics boss on why he hates having to create a ‘fun score’ for games

    
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We all know that what’s fun is pretty subjective, but it’s the job of folks like ArenaNet’s John Hopson to produce a “fun score” when performing user research. And he hates it. In a GI.biz op-ed penned by Hopson, he explains why and offers advice to fellow game developers on how to gauge fun without having to turn the nebulous idea of fun into a solid state that can be tracked.

“Don’t get me wrong, fun is absolutely the most important attribute of my games; it’s why I make games and it’s why people play my games. But I don’t believe measuring the fun of a game as a whole is especially valuable in most circumstances,” explains Hopson, who has over 16 years of games industry research and has worked on titles like Destiny, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and now Guild Wars 2 as the head of analytics for ArenaNet.

Hopson’s opinion piece argues that the chase to make a game fun isn’t actionable and is subject to bias. He also argues that multiplayer fun doesn’t count, especially if you play a game with the right people:

“Even Tic-Tac-Toe is fun if it’s played with other people. The most boring activities in the world can be fun if there’s another human involved. The fun generated by other people is a given, something that would be equally true of any other game that group of friends could be playing. If your game is only fun when played with fun people, then it’s not actually fun.”

Hopson then goes into ideas on how to better handle fun scores, like using it as a way to get dev teams in a good mood before asking them to dig into the details of what needs to be fixed in a game and letting participants “enable the but,” as in let them explain that a game is fun but then include an actionable piece of feedback. “We just have to give them the chance to rate both the whole and the parts,” writes Hopson.

Considering Hopson’s years of expertise in the field, his opinion makes for some involved and intriguing reading, especially for armchair game devs.

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kgptzac

I don’t like scoring video games, even aspects of them such as graphics, story, etc… but if there’s one field that has a legitimate cause to assign a numeric value to, it would be the “nebulous idea of fun”. It might not be the smartest thing to ask in a user survey, but you don’t forget you’re in a forest when examining each tree in front of you, not examining each change to the game with the overall lens of “will this make players to have more fun?” seems to a problem plagues many video games, including Guild Wars 2.

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Axetwin .

The MMO market is no longer unexplored territory. MMO’s have been in the mainstream for well over a decade. There is plenty of “metric data” to draw upon when it comes to what players like and what they don’t. More importantly, WHY something works and why it doesn’t. The data is all there, it’s all just a matter of disseminating it.

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Orenj

“The fun generated by other people is a given,”

Ugh NO. When are we going to be able to get it through these extroverts’ heads that for a significant number of us, this just isn’t true?

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Anton Mochalin

Being somewhat introverted myself I get what you mean but he seems to mean something else – the amount of fun you have by just other people’s presence (that could be no fun at all for some really introverted) is just something brought by those people, not the game. The game needs to do its own work to add to that and/or provide some fun for those feeling like going solo.

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Axetwin .

Except that’s not what he was saying. The entire quote suggest exactly what it is you’re saying. Not everyone has fun in games that require others to participate.

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Bannex

Spoken like a true analytics guy…

Nintendo exclusives would beg to differ bud.

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Anton Mochalin

If your game is only fun when played with fun people, then it’s not actually fun.

So true. One of the things I like GW2 for is it’s a lot of fun when played solo – not that that analytics guy has anything to do with it.

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Dug From The Earth

According to Bethesda, if the game is only fun when playing with fun people, then your game is SUPER fun.

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Jeremy Barnes

Is it me or do his own words condemn him? I’ve held for sometime that MMOs should focus on ways to bring players together and make playing with others easier, less stressful and more attractive. They’re MMOs…not multiplayer or singleplayer games. They have a unique element of being massively multiplayer that modern MMOs seem to do their best to hide or get away from…The old ‘grind’ games like EQ or FFXI don’t work anymore because the people who played them have grown up and have other things taking up their time so finding ways to bring the elements of grouping those games had into the modern era for busier people makes a lot of sense to me.

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Alyn

Good article, Chris. It makes me consider those games I have played since my childhood. Fun can be a complicated concept and John Hopson has made some thoughtful points, at least for me.

However, to gain some deeper perspective, I tend to go back to Raph Koster’s “The Theory of Fun for Game Design” as a foundational philosophical look at how we come to enjoy our games.

Here’s some food for thought;

“Merely understanding a space and how the rules make it work isn’t enough, though. We also need to understand how it will react to change to exercise power over it. This is why games progress over time. There are almost no games that take just one turn.*”
― Raph Koster, Theory of Fun for Game Design

Truly great gaming experiences do tend to follow this pattern. Games that we tend to enjoy more do actually progress over time.

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JBNL

“The most boring activities in the world can be fun if there’s another human involved.”

or why GW2 doesn’t need/ask for a group prior to level 80. Got it.

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TomTurtle

If your game is only fun when played with fun people, then it’s not actually fun.

Reminds me of arguments made against the Borderlands series.

I think Blizzard with WoW sticks out to me as a company who focuses too much on metrics over that idea of fun and it shows. But really, MMOs in general do this kind of stuff in particular with the overabundant grinds that are intended as content. It hurts the genre and is part of why so many scoff at the idea of MMOs these days.

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Anton Mochalin

What’s the argument against Borderlands series? Always played Borderlands solo and had a ton of fun with it.

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TomTurtle

I’ve seen various people over the years remark about how unenjoyable the series is to play solo and how it’s only fun because they played with friends. After having played it in co-op and trying to play it solo, I have to agree.

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Anton Mochalin

I’ve played first Borderlands game two times in a row (reaching Playthrough 2.5) and then did some DLCs at Playthrough 2.5 difficulty and all that solo and had a lot of fun and sometimes even think of doing one more run with another character. Borderlands is still a very very good game played solo.