Player Proficency


As has been mentioned before, Duck and Roll is in the process of building an RPG called "Skeleton Quest" And during the development of the game I noticed something interesting that a lot of game designers don't talk much about, but that applies equally well to videogames and tabletop RPGs.

Today's topic is "Minimum and maximum enjoyable proficiency." which is basically a look at how bad, or good, can your player be at your game before it's no longer fun.  This is something really important to consider from a design standpoint. We've all had that game where our level of proficiency does not match the game we're in. Sometimes that can be getting absolutely crushed in a game like Darksouls, Hydlide, or just the campaign of that one friend who thinks the DM's job is to kill you. And we've also all had our fair share of mind numbingly easy games, The "Final fantasy mystic quest"s, Lego batman's, or most of the Pokémon franchise (not counting competitive play). And a lot of us have also felt the guilt of utterly crushing and outpacing as new or gentle DM's toughest boss encounters.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this, and in fact trying to avoid it entirely is sometimes very difficult or even counterproductive. What would Darksouls be if it didn't force you to git gud? What would DND 3.5 and Pathfinder be if all the classes were balanced? The truth is every game has some point at which if you aren't at least a certain level of qualified the game will suck, and likewise every game has a point where you're so good it's no longer exciting.

The important thing is to keep this threshold in mind when designing your videogame, campaign, or dungeon. There's nothing wrong with offering a hard or easy experience, but the important factor is to consider carefully what your range is. If you say "I'm running a very high difficulty Shadowrun game, I recommend making sure you're well equipped and know the rules inside and out" then everyone who shows up should have the expectation that they might get geeked. And they might even love it. The same group told "I'm gonna run a shadowrun game. Try to have a sheet ready for when we start" And then faces the same challenge is likely to range from disappointed to furious.

With a tabletop game, most systems have ways to adjust the difficulty, by changing the tactics of the enemy, by using more or fewer monsters or more dangerous weapons, and there's always the option of just fudging things a bit on the fly. But a videogame is a lot harder to adjust, and the bigger and longer the game is the harder it gets. Every extra +1 defense or +5 hp, or potion of healing that you hide away gradually widens the gulf between someone who found every secret, and someone who didn't. And each new move and optimal strategy further separates the great players from the average or mediocre players.

In an upcoming article I'm going to cover a bunch of tips and approaches for dealing with this gap of player proficiency, and how to use it to your advantage. But until then I hope I've got you thinking about the kind of game you're running.