On “Bad” Games, Pricing Models, and the Feeling of Fun

Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing - a "bad" game or simply not fun for a majority?

I was reading Beau Hindman’s latest Free for All column earlier and a thought occurred to me that I wanted to put in writing. In Hindman’s post, he was, in part, discussing how the free-to-play movement can be seen as the latest experiential phenomenon to take hold to the world of MMO gaming.

While free-to-play games have had a long-standing history in the realm of MMO titles available to the world, there’s been this stigma that a free-to-play MMO is is some sort of lesser being in the realm of gaming, that it is relegated to the realm of “inferior” products. We know now, through experiencing various MMO pricing models and hybrids of such models of payment, that high-quality and “less-than-high-quality” MMOs can be found in all points of the pricing spectrum.

Now, you may have noticed that I’ve placed quotation marks on some of the negative modifiers in the previous paragraph, and there’s a good reason for that. It all goes back to my personal belief that I, as an individual, have my own preferences and mindsets in life and I cannot truly say that one thing is absolutely abhorrent for everyone. Even the basic ideas of death and poverty or the basic emotions of joy and sadness are so wildly divergent in what they mean to people (such as in terms of what constitutes certain ideas, or what triggers an emotion).

As such, a corollary to my personal belief would be that the “bad” game does not exist. There are simply games that fewer people enjoy and games that a larger group of people enjoy. The sweeping generalizations that Syp recently talked about regarding gaming have to be taken out if we are to better understand why people can feel similar emotions when faced with completely different and possibly opposing stimuli.

For instance, let us take stock of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV and Trion Worlds’ Rift.

When I first installed Final Fantasy XIV on my computer, I played for four or five hours and pretty much left the game entirely because it did not capture my attention. Information on the game and its various activities was scarce, and if you were the type of gamer who honed his skills on World of Warcraft, the lack of question marks to indicate quest givers would drive you insane.

On the other hand, when I first heard of Rift and played the beta, I was also not thoroughly impressed, until launch grew closer and I realized it was essentially a highly polished and technically proficient game with an intriguing storyline. If you check my Rift articles here on Games and Geekery, you’ll notice I meander between thinking the game is “meh” and thinking the game is awesome for having tanks that can self-heal.

If you fast forward to last week though, you’ll notice I barely posted anything. The simple response to this is that Rift could not hold my attention and I was madly searching for a game to occupy my free time. On Saturday evening, I decided to play Final Fantasy XIV again on a whim. I created a new character, rolled on a new server, and looked for the old guild I was chatting with online about the game. I played FFXIV for, as it happens, 14  hours straight that day (a feat that only happened once previously when I went raiding in vanilla WoW).

This week, I was reading through other blogs, and Elementalistly’s entry on how he feels about Rift kind of got to me. It wasn’t that I was offended by his post. Quite the opposite really.

You see, I was beginning to feel the exact same thing he felt when it came to Rift, only I was experiencing what he was feeling with Final Fantasy XIV, the game Elementalistly and I once both found to be less than stellar.

When I compare the two games on a purely technical level, I find Rift to be a clear leader in terms of customer-centric accessibility and polish. Final Fantasy XIV is not perfect, and still remains free-to-play so long as Square Enix deems the game to be in a state that is below their standard of what a good game should be.

Despite this, however, I know that there are people like myself who currently feel about Final Fantasy XIV the same way that Elementalistly feels about Rift. We’re all having fun in the games our preferences and predilections lead us to, and it shouldn’t matter how much you play, how much you pay, or how off-beat your tastes are.

The important thing is that you are happy with what you’re doing, whether it’s when you’re playing an MMORPG, when you’re writing that fantasy novel masterpiece about the adventurous marmot with nunchaku, or when you’re enjoying Direct TV Specials in the comfort of your home.

6 thoughts on “On “Bad” Games, Pricing Models, and the Feeling of Fun

  1. “As such, a corollary to my personal belief would be that the “bad” game does not exist.”

    I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. Yes, some games are horribly broken to the point where they’re unplayable for the most part, but THE GAME isn’t to blame. You can’t say that THE GAME is bad; the decisions that were made to release the game in that state were bad.

    But many people don’t internalize the reasons why they don’t like a particular game. Instead of admitting that they either made a mistake and bought a game on a whim thinking they’ll like it, or because in some weird way they don’t want to admit that there’s something out there that’s simply not their cup of tea, they blame the game. “This game sucks”, or some other complaint that makes it appear that it’s the PRODUCT’S fault they didn’t like it.

    I liked FFXIV, although when I played at launch it wasn’t grabbing me in a way I couldn’t easily wriggle out of. I keep forgetting that it’s still free, and that changes have been made. I might fire it up again myself and see how it’s progressing.

  2. Interesting…

    May I quote…

    “On Saturday evening, I decided to play Final Fantasy XIV again on a whim. I created a new character, rolled on a new server, and looked for the old guild I was chatting with online about the game. I played FFXIV for, as it happens, 14 hours straight that day”

    How much of this involved that “guild” you spoke with? Could it be the camaraderie and discussion led to a better experience? Or could it be the “new” and learning involved with said game bringing more pleasure to you?

    I notice you did not go into depth about what you were doing in FFXIV…and that I think would be an awesome post. Describe what you were doing during that 14 hour stretch…and it could say a lot of why FFXIV now works for you…

    I continue to think there is more to a persons enjoyment of games than just the game itself…especially when it comes to the MMO genre. Is it maybe that FFXIV is different enough to keep you attentive, thanks to some majorly convoluted systems, thus making it more your style of gameplay?

    Well, I hope you continue to enjoy yourself. If they have sped up combat, fixed tab targeting, made gathering and crafting more enjoyable and not so tedious…or I don’t get my butt kicked by a level 1 flea…then I may check it out also…

  3. I might quibble and note that there actually can be what I call “broken” games, which might be called “bad”, but it’s probably semantics. I agree with your sentiment, certainly… it’s just that there actually are games that are so buggy as to be unplayable. On the purely pragmatic, technical level, I think there are plenty of pretty awful games. (And sadly, some may have great game design. They could be great games if they weren’t technically dysfunctional.)

    But when it comes to personal taste, you’re absolutely correct. “Bad” is very subjective, and largely useless as a quantifier. Great article, Victor. 🙂

    • “Broken” seems like a much better qualifier of particular systems that are in need of… “Fixing.”

      The caveat here is to not overuse the term such that it devalues the meaning of when something is broken. 🙂

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