Every now and then while blogging, I identified or discovered concepts that I thought would be useful in future posts or writings. As such, I would add these terms to the Zen Lexicon, so that new readers could quickly come up to speed on these concepts. Each page below links to the post that introduced this term to the blog.
Ant Farming – Designing a game (usually an MMO) that is more interesting for the designers and/or academics, instead of for players. As an example, MMOs with dynamic ecologies are fascinating to observe from a birds-eye view, but hard for players to understand with their boots on the ground.
Broken Windows – A controversial crime theory that was detailed in various pop economics books, including Freakonomics. It suggested that areas with evidence of crime attracts more crime, as its clearly socially acceptable. Applying this theory to MMOs, the broken windows theory argues it is crucial to keep MMOs as socially clean as possible.
Corner Bar Theory – The thought that people who spend their time in an MMO are spending most or all of their time there, and that therefore the MMO should be a welcoming and cozy home for them.
Cowbell – “This game design idea needs to be cooler.”
Dead Shark – Dead sharks are ideas that will die once they stop moving – i.e. it’s already dead, but designers are fighting to keep it alive despite all available evidence.
Design Space – How big or expandable a design idea is. Magic: the Gathering has a ton of design space, and has been able to make new cards for 20 years now. Framed and Portal are both great game, but have far less design space — there’s only so many ways you can stretch the core design conceit to create new and interesting problems.
Double Coding – When a game or a movie is designed for two audiences simultaneously. Most often used when describing children’s cartoons – old Bugs Bunny cartoons have lots of jokes that the adults will laugh at but the kids won’t get (or care about). I use this to describe games by Blizzard as well, for example, in their ability to simultaneously reach casual and hardcore players.
Elysium Problem – When the worldbuilders create such an awful, terrible dystopia that you, the user, don’t care if the good guys win and save it. I use the term to describe both the horrible Earth world of Elysium, as well as the post-apocalyptic world of Last of Us.
Experience Driven Design – Designing based on the player’s experience with the game, rather than designing by spreadsheet or just shovelling out content.
Fantasia Frenzy – When a designer goes into a self-imposed bubble of crazy, and ludicrously overdesigns something.
Five-Bagger – On UO2, we used to rank our ideas based on the ‘bags of crack’ scale. Thus, our craziest ideas were known as ‘five-baggers’.
High School Problems – Problems that designers and/or hardcore players obsess over, but your average user will likely never notice. Name comes from those problems in high school that were all-consuming before you went to college and realized you spent all that time with no sense of real perspective.
Imperfect Information – When you, the player, do not fully know the tactical options of your opponent. See tactical transparency, below.
Munchkinism – The idea that most players, particularly MMO players, optimize their play patterns to eliminate any actual risk of dying. This is actually made into the core game mechanic of Munchkin the card game.
No Mans’ Land – The gap between you and your friends that prevents you from playing an MMO or other cooperative game together. This problem has been addressed by enough games now that this problem is pretty much evidence of bad design.
Pattern Breaking – If left to their own devices, players will optimize their own gameplay to a degree where they will likely bore themselves to death. Pattern breaking is the concept of using quests or other similar mechanics to ensure that the most profitable course of action for the player is to instead see and consume a wide variety of content.
Resonance – Some games just ‘feel good’. This may be due to leveraging a license, leveraging recognized story tropes, paying homage to things players are familiar with, or just having game mechanics that create genuine joy (see toyetic below)
Tactical Transparency – How obvious an opponent’s tactical options are. Chess is fully tactical transparent – you know fully every move that your opponent can take. Texas Hold’Em is not – you do not know what your opponent has in his hand, and must therefore bluff or otherwise divine that information – see imperfect information, above.
Time to Cock – In any game with player created content, how fast can you expect players to actually create and distribute phallic (or other condemnable) content. The term is not used as a measurement by MMO designers as much as a reminder – when you allow players to create content, always expect and plan for the worst!
Toyetic – The idea that some game features are just plain fun to play with, even without any gameplay benefit. A great jump animation could be toyetic, for example, or the whole of Katamari Damacy.
Variance – How much luck factors into a given game. Poker has high variance, whereas chess has low variance. Board games with lots of dice rolling are high variance, whereas most european games eliminate or minimize luck and are low variance. Note that lowering the variance will increase the importance of skill (and by extension, make it harder for new players to fluke into a victory).