Thursday, March 17, 2011

Accessibility: Are We Dumbing Down Gaming?

This is going to be a spin-off of some of the discussion from the post on statting. I've wanted to post this for a while, so I'm glad this opportunity came up.

The question came up about whether D&D 4th edition was better than previous editions or not. In my opinion, I believe the game is much better than it's 3rd edition counter-part. Why?

Because of accessibility.

Unfortunately (for some people), you can't really talk about accessibility without talking about the hit PC game "World of Warcraft" (WoW). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, it is the most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), but it is by no means the first.

There are really two major reasons for their success.

1. Constant Content Updates and Support
2. Accessibility

Number 1 is a no brainer - you keep the content fresh and you fix problems as they arise, and you won't lose players due to boredom/frustration. But number 2 is something that previously was very taboo in the MMO world, and is generally frowned upon in gaming in general.

World of Warcraft made the game incredibly friendly to causals with essentially no skill or experience in gaming. They also made it so that you could essentially play the game as much or as little as you want and still move forward. Most games prior to this would require a large buy-in by the players, either in hours of grinding or hours of research as to not be gimped completely.

Due to this, WoW picked up a ton of casual gamers and also a number of people who aren't really gamers themselves. An untapped market ripe for the picking.

Back to D&D 4th Edition.

4th Edition added some concepts like the holy trinity of MMORPGs (Tank, Damage, and Healing), added some general survivability which reduced the need for players to pick the same 4 classes before branching out, and completely overhauled the system to streamline combat.

The End Result: You can now play D&D with more people and you can now play D&D without having to learn a veritable Tome of rules first.

So why am I talking about D&D on this blog?

Cause I like D&D. But seriously, it's because, as LARPers, we can learn a lesson from this. A lot of 9th Edition is focused on reminding staff that they can do whatever they want, as long as it doesn't require the players to know more rules. You can add all the effects and modifications to monsters as long as the same damage calls are going out on monsters.

This is the reason that Accelerant is successful and has so much cross gaming. You learn about 30 pages worth of rules and you now know every effect that could possibly hit you in the game and don't have to learn anything else, except what your character can do.

D&D at it's core was intended to be a way to tell a story with some rules. The complexity of the rules was not really important to the end game. It's the same way with story LARPs. We're story tellers. There's no reason to get complex with the rules.

We need to embrace Accessibility. It's the only way to grow the game. Arguing against accessibility is essentially the same as arguing that the game should be more hardcore.


  1. Hopefully this discussion will remain adult. But if not, I will whip my hair back and forth.

    But anyway.

    It's a trend I've noticed, and it's been a good money maker for those that have done so. World of Darkness (White Wolf), Warcraft (Blizzard), and D&D (Wizards) are the big three I've noticed it the most from.

    Warcraft, I remember having to spend hours looking for the 2 pixals I could click on to get the badge to continue the story. Now... it glows. Thus more accessible to anyone who's not obsessive enough to spend hours looking for 2 pixals. Which would be a bigger target audience, I'd assume.

    World of Darkness's new rules and stat sheets are far superior and far simpler to use than their old version.

    4th Ed D&D ... while I'm iffy on the specifics, it is in fact similar to use.

    The problem is, at least in the case of World of Darkness and D&D... the rules became better, and the stories (in my opinion) became... worse. Generic. People may be equating one caused the other as the problem, which simply might not be exactly the case.

    World of Darkness removed many of the more confusing aspects and parts of it's story. However, these parts were also some of the more interesting and beloved aspects.

    D&D... well it's complete over hall of the Forgotten Realms... displeases me. But that's just subjective, I suppose.

    So the question becomes, will making the rules more generic, and thus more accessible... also make the story lines more generic... and thus less interesting. It doesn't have to. Time will tell.

  2. Mark Henry ~MariusMarch 17, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    With the latest expansion of WoW (cata)they completely redid the newbie zones to be more straight forward and the learning of the skills very intuitive. They found a player who gets to 20 is more likely to be a long term player, so making that process quick, easy, and fun became their goal.

    What does that mean for LARPs? It means they need to put in some extra effort for the new players. Our chapter's player's council had this topic come up in a meeting. They decided they are going to run a mod to teach new players the rules, how to roleplay, etc, before game on is even called. They plan to grab some available NPCs, council members, whomever represents what nero is all about, and run a quality mod with some plot directed toward the new guys. Give them an in to the story.

    When I first started I went with a few friends, but I really didn't know what was going on in the story, or how to get involved in plot. I really wished a veteran would have held my hand. Having a relatively simple rule set and getting new players more involved is definitely the way to go.

    I play 4th Ed. too. I think the appeal of 4th is every char has cool attacks they can do each round/encounter instead of auto attacking. The lesson here goes with your statting post of give every party member something interesting to do.

  3. Good points Stephen. With greater accessibility to playing the game came greater accessibility to running the game. That can easily translate to degraded storytelling.

    In the olden days, you had to be insane about the game to know all the rules, especially to run the game. So you know those people put the time and effort into storytelling.

    Even though the buy-in to run a game is lower, good story-tellers shouldn't be affected greatly by changes like this.

  4. Regarding the story degradation: I think Bill is fairly correct about a lower buy-in to runa game may be the issue there. But overall, you do not need complex rules to run complex, interesting, in depth plot. Accelerant rules are insanely simple compared to NERO and yet the games I play are incredibly interesting and rich and dynamic. All it requires is a staff member who wants to run that kind of game and that is true regardless of the rules set.

    I haven't played 4th Ed. D&D, but I can imagine part of the problem there is that it migth be more amenable to casual pick up gaming, ie you and some friends decide to play a one-off on a Sat afternoon, and so I suspect that you get a less indepth game in 6 hours than you do in 40. Or whatever.

    To summarize the summary here, in depth storytelling is not neutered by simpler rules.

    Crap, I just thought of two more things. First, simpler rules aid in immersion. The less OOG crap you have to keep track of, the less OOG you are. Second, there is an eternal conflict in LARP rules writing between simulating "reality" and enabling the story of it. I think the terms are simulationist vs. narrative in more shcolarly looks at gaming. Anyway, the point is, the more simulationist you are, the more you want every single possible real world scenario to be covered by the rules. "How do I cut off someone's foot? How do I starve to death? How does typhoid fever work?" and so on. This, however, leads to massive rules tome and complexity and comes at the cost of accessibility and storytelling a lot of the time. The game bogs down in questions of what skill governs shoelace tying and not in the epic feel of killing the lich-king.

    And most people, in my experience, crave the latter a lot more than the former.

  5. I am of a mind you cannot try to compete with WoW and D&D on their court.
    With WoW and other MMORPG's nothing is asked of the player. The computer can provide a level of graphics, sound and action you simply cannot equal with a LARP. Trying to match what they do is suicide. D&D and other table tops is a different problem. No one is paying, it is done on a whim in a few hours and depends heavily on the imagination. Almost nothing is provided in the way of sensory input, so making the change from a detailed game to a simplified game doesn't effect it as much, little is lost to the new player. My girl friend having never played before had just as hard a time with 4th as I have seen people have with previous editions, it is not easier to learn, it just requires less from you now than it did. Much like a MMORPG you it is less a role playing game now and more a combat game.

    With LARP we have to two components that HAVE to be adhered to. First it happens live and has Action. Second it has to have Role Playing. If you simplify it in the way D&D has been what you have already exists, its called Dagohir, Belegarth, and some other similar combat games, where you are not Role Playing a character, you are using a fantasy medieval character to have combat. There is a very big and distinct difference.
    Sales is the key here, and the oldest rule in selling is you either have to be the cheapest or you have to be different and better, if you try to be both you fail, if you are neither you fail.
    So making NERO into a Live action version of WoW will never work. You cannot create what a computer can and the total cost including leaving the house and taking action makes it to expensive to compete for what it offers, so it has to offer something different.
    Trying to make it D&D 4th ed results in the same thing. It is much cheaper and easier and like a WoW style game requires nothing from the player. It provides all in exchange for simplicity.

    A LARP like NERO must be something else and always has been. I cannot create the stunning graphics of WoW. And my game requires from you some imagination, some effort, you have to leave your house to do it and give up an entire weekend. In return I offer you a complex and ever changing world where you can be a unique individual, not one of the same 20 avatars with a different facial expression, but someone truly different and unique. And you can confront NPCs that are equally distinct and different. With varying powers and abilities, not the same dragon that spawns every 15 minutes at the spawn point that does the same thing this time as it dd last time and will to your group as it did to the last. Its a real world, things are complex, things change, things are different.
    Nor can I offer you the simple paper and dice of a 4th edition D&D game in your living room. You might not be able to eat your Doritos when you want, it might be cold and you can't just wrap it up where you want and continue next week.
    The world of NERO continues, there are consequences. In return you again get to someone special and you get to confront something new and different every time you come. That person that always memorizes the monster manual and knows what every monster is "supposed" to do is going to have to experience it at NERO.
    Trying to be what the competition is and not picking how you are going to compete is a poor sales strategy in my opinion.
    I think NERO stands and competes on its own with its slightly more complex set of rules that allow for more unique and individualized experiences.
    With apologies to Noah I have to once again lean on my NERO experience as well as my profession (which is sales) and say that NcN averages a very large number of new players and retains a large of them with the complexity as it is, and NcN adds its own set of complexities on top.
    I think the appeal of a unique game and experience and experience overrides the new players desire for simplicity, because they could have stayed home and gotten that for much cheaper.

  6. Actually, taking successful game design strategies and using them in your game is the opposite of poor sales strategy.

    No one ever said we're trying to make the game WoW or D&D. The point is that games of all kinds of media are making moves to be more accessible to more players in an attempt to get more people get involved.

    We're not advocating removing the ability for people to be unique. We're talking about reducing the amount of stuff/time that a single individual player needs to have to enjoy the game. This doesn't get in the way of storytelling whatsoever.

  7. There is nothing about the NERO rules system that makes it an inherently better system for the telling of unique and consequential stories and experiences as opposed to a simpler and more intuitive LARP system. Every example you cite for what you offer over MMORPGs and tabletop games are independant of the actual LARP rules you use.

    "With LARP we have to two components that HAVE to be adhered to. First it happens live and has Action. Second it has to have Role Playing. If you simplify it in the way D&D has been what you have already exists, its called Dagohir, Belegarth, and some other similar combat games, where you are not Role Playing a character, you are using a fantasy medieval character to have combat. There is a very big and distinct difference."

    And yet, no one is suggesting stripping out the roleplaying from NERO, nor does making the rules system more accessible do that. In fact, quite the opposite I think most would argue, including myself. A simpler rules system does not automatically equate to nothing more than a combat game as you imply and then rail against.

  8. Also, it's bad sales strategy to alienate players by belittling media that they find interesting.


  9. There are so many good things that you can borrow from WOW and D&D. Simple rules take the focus off of the rules. Simple math frees the mind to be more creative.

  10. Actually, your blog post asks the question if the direction you are going is dumbing the game down. In an effort to not be confrontational I avoided using that term, but that was in fact the crux of your original post and the general direction of your positions.
    Of course you are not advocating removing the ability of people to be unique,nor did I say you were, but the direction of simplification can lead to a less individualized experience, and the comparison you used was with WoW and D&D. Did you read your original post?

    Yes, dumbing down the available option a story teller has to make their story and each players experience unique can get in the way of storytelling.
    Will it for those of us that are good, probably not. Is everyone good enough to tell a good story with tighter confines? NOPE! Are most people succeeding now even with more freedom NOPE.

    There is a pretty steady description by many players for the plot at one of the chapters I know.
    Someone had a transform so we have to go through a gate fight some undead or elementals to get a thing and DFM it.
    The ONLY distinction is the type transform, the type of of gate, the things you fight, and the school of the DFM.
    Simplify one of those, say the undead or elemental and there is not a lot of individualized game play there.

    And copying successful strategies of any kind that do not fit your industry is not only poor sales, it is disastrous.
    Car salespeople are very successful playing their sales games. Walk into a business to business sale with those silly games and you won't walk out with a sale. What is successful in one industry is not necessarily in another, and just because they are all games does not make them the same industry.

  11. Another idea from 4E D&D that chapters should look at is monster construction. At the NERO Chapter I play at (I always NPC) the monsters that have class abilities (fighter or scholar for example) are built just like PCs. For example a lich card has a standard set of defenses, plus an X-column of spells plus formal magic. In order to play the lich you have to do the math and figure out which spell and formals to use to give you the best odds of making the fight sufficiently tough. Why not abandon the monster built as PC? An example of what a Lich with an 6-column (in PC terms) might look like.

    -- body, armor, weapon stats --
    Resist Physical - 1xDay
    Resist Magical - 6xDay
    No Metabolism, Focus
    Magic Death - 6xDay
    Magic Confine - 6xDay
    Magic Destroy - 6xDay
    Magic Cause Wounds - unlimited (cannot heal self)

    This is off the top of my head so it may be ideal. But the card above is both powerful, as you would expect a Lich to be, and easy to run. Your NPC doesn't have to be steeped in the inner workings of the magic system in order to play the card. Also your plot team is taking explicit control of balancing the monster. Plot doesn't have to wonder if the NPC has chosen a particular set of spells that are either more effective or much less effective than you intended.

    Another mechanic 4E has is bloodied, a state creature enters into when the lose half their initial hit points (or Body, in NERO terms). The cool thing about this is you can trigger monster effects that happen when the creature loses half its hit points. For example, using the Lich above

    Voice Radius Magic Weakness 1xDay, only when first bloodied (the Lich leaks death magic temporarily due the pummeling he's taking)


    Lesser Gaseous Form, Immediate, only when first bloodied (the monster turns gaseous for 10 second, hopefully letting them get out of a tight spot.

    The bloodied mechanic lets players know they are making progress on killing the creature plus lets a mid-combat effect trigger that may shift the flow of the fight slightly.

  12. Actually... the point was that the game is not actually being dumbed down - it's being made better. The common fight against accessibility is that it's dumbing the game down, so it's part of the title of the article. See what I did there?

    They did not dumb down the options for a storyteller. They removed shitty options and made it more player friendly. The point is that you have many many options and aren't really limited by the rules. In fact, MORE options were given to plot in the form of lesser attacks.

    Lesser attacks give you more options for modules without a lot of buy in from the players. Much better than creating a second group of effects that mimic existing effects, just with a shorter duration.

    As to you not understanding the good in other games and using them for your own game... I just can't help you there.

  13. @bgardner

    I love that idea, and the idea of using bloodied as a monster effect. This is the kind of thing I'm talking about.

  14. Oh, you misunderstand, I wasn't asking for help

    See Noah, I try to play nice and then someone implies I just can't be understand their advanced thinking and need their help when it seems to me I am doing this thing pretty good. Bet now this is my fault for pointing out that NcN is doing pretty good, growing every event wth a pretty damn high customer satisfaction rating, but I guess its just a matter of time until my ignorance that pales in significance to the expertise of others destroy us because apparently I really suck at NERO AND sales, who knew?

    I tried Stephen, I swear I did.

  15. @Mike

    Perhaps you know what you're doing. But, in writing here, you make no sense. You use circular arguments, make associations between things that do not exist, and have an inability to focus on the fundamentals of an argument without going off on a tangent that is largely based on some other negative issue that others would agree with you on.

    I would be more than happy to have rational discussion with you. But until that day, this thread is being locked down.