Ethics in Game Design: Respecting the Player’s Time

[Cross-post from a thread on OpenGameArt]

My opinion is going to be controversial here, but it’s worth sharing.

There are things that players love, that are addicting, but are poor game design. I think it’s borderline unethical to waste a player’s time that way.

Obvious example: slot machines. All the colors, flashing lights, sounds, random chances, etc. are perfectly tuned to addict the player. But is a player having genuine fun? They’re getting the same addicting chemical releases, but they could be doing something more enriching. Something with substance.

I decided early on to not support Lootris in Flare. That’s a term from Diablo where items take up more than one slot, and the player would often spend time rearranging their inventory to carry a few more items (stacking them perfectly like Loot-Tetris, thus the term). Some people find this really “fun”. I actually like the larger item icons for art reasons. But just because it appeals to our obsessive-compulsive personalities doesn’t mean it’s a wise thing to have in a game. If a player doesn’t have to obsessively rearrange their inventory, where will they spend time instead? More questing, more combat, more dialog — elements with vastly more substance.

I think wasting a player’s time is a “cardinal sin” of game design. Perhaps I have the luxury to believe that because I’m not trying to addict people to my game, or make a living off some free-to-play model. I just think it’s unethical, and I wish we could break gamers of bad habits. We shouldn’t be tempted to pour 1000 hours into our favorite game, collecting every item and unlocking every achievement. That player could be experiencing new games instead, new core gameplay with nice substance.

I don’t plan on supporting Achievements in Flare. I think it artificially extends a game’s playtime, when a gamer could be out enjoying other things (games or otherwise). I don’t plan on supporting New Game+ modes either — again, artificially extending a game. How about we have games that are a few rich hours and done.

I don’t begrudge games that do Achievements and New Game+, as I can ignore those options easy enough. But if a game’s design is up to me, I really enjoy trimming the fat.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *