This week, since we've released and been testing the foraging puzzle on Ice, the many threads that have popped up to discuss the puzzle and its ramifications got me thinking.
There are concerns expressed that small merchants who like to sail out to islands, forage, and sail the fruit back to sell will be hurt by the change, and that this is only being done as a stopgap to prevent people from exploiting the bottomless supply of fruit that uninhabited islands can provide.
One of the lasting lessons I think I've gotten out of working here for the last few years is that when designing, it is useful to reserve personal judgment.
Let me explain:
Obviously, we all have aspects of Puzzle Pirates that we enjoy. Let's say that I personally love carpentry. It's my favorite puzzle and I always play it when I get the chance. If I cling to this belief when we have design meetings, I'll favor new features that relate to carpentry, and want new puzzles to be similar to carpentry.
The thing is, everybody that plays Puzzle Pirates does not share my love of carpentry. There's a good chunk of people that enjoy the carpentry puzzle of course, but letting my personal enjoyment of one particular aspect of the game should not overshadow trying to approach the game as a whole, to make it enjoyable for people who aren't carpentry fanatics.
On the other hand, one needs to have an overarching idea of what is good game design and what is not. Catering to every suggestion from customers cannot decide the way a game is made, either. For example, one of the most frequent requests that I get as an oceanmaster from various pirates is that the game is too hard, and we should give out free money. That obviously doesn't work well for the game because if you give free money to one pirate, you have to give free money to every pirate that asks. If everybody gets free money all of the time, currency is devalued. Prices skyrocket, the economy goes pear-shaped, and nobody plays the game.
Naturally most issues are not that clear-cut, but every time I scroll through the Game Design forum, I read threads with that in mind. What feature does the poster want? Is this feature something that is beneficial to a large number of people, or would it harm more people than it would benefit?
This is not to say that we're trying to make everything even across the board, either. In addition to trying to add features that are fun for most, rather than a small number of our players, people still like having things to achieve, and things that are rare in games. One of the biggest glaring errors with the "free money" suggestion is that once you take away things to aspire to or earn, the game becomes boring. On the other hand, if you make high-end items such as familiars exceedingly rare or difficult for people to earn, it also becomes frustrating and boring.
In general, good game design looks at the game as a whole and how the feature will affect everybody. Bad game design is when a suggestion is for the benefit of an individual or small group without taking the rest of the game into account.
So back to foraging: large-scale operations by a single person to forage metric tons of fruit were an indication that the system was not a good one. The goal was to overhaul the foraging system so that it would be accessible and functional for all people who wanted to forage. (Addressing a fraction of the players who were foraging large amounts of fruit would have been bad game design because it would be a) addressing only one problem that arises from a flawed system rather than the system itself, and b) spending time working on something that would only affect a small group, rather than adding something to the game for everybody. Also, it would be very arbitrary for us to try to crack down on what "too much foraging" amounted to. How would we decide how much was "too much"? Three accounts? Fifteen accounts? Five hours a day? Fifteen hours a day? As an oceanmaster, the support nightmare of trying to keep track of all of that, again, for a small group of people rather than running events or answering questions for as many people as possible, boggles me.)
Furthermore, a forage puzzle of some kind had been in the works for a long time, since the theme of this game is that puzzles that challenge you are supposed to earn you money, rather than the traditional click-and-kill type of MMORPG. It will add more activity for merchants to do in the form of a puzzle to play, and the money earned from foraging might go a bit further, since it will also throttle the amount of foraging an individual can do.
We will of course be on the lookout for changes to the economy and how this will affect things. We're always willing to continue tweaking or changing things as needed. New features and a little shaking up are fun. Onward!