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Soapbox: About the Industry

Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox

by Sandy Antunes
Jan 09,2004

 

Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox

Happy New Year!

This year's columns will be taking a different stance than usual. Instead of topical events, for which I am out of the loop, I am going to cover game theory, making saleable games, larp, and kids (in some vague order).

Specifically, we shall look at why most games suck. For this, we need to look at games from the outside, in order to improve them. We also need to look at gamers, and what they want.

I think many publishers love their own customers, but have at least a vague dislike of 'gamers', defined as "all those folks buying other people's products, but not mine."

This goes hand in hand with "I've written a great product that will be the next big thing", which, when it fails, always means "those morons didn't get my genius!"

Fortunately, as an accredited mad scientist, I'm trained to recognize such behavior. The fools, I'll teach them all!

Actually, I'm being pretty serious with the 'mad scientist' comparison.

I think the lack of market studies and focus groups (or at least blind playtesting, for gosh sakes) means a lot of creators are creating from their gut, from their heart. All truly great things come from there, but, umm... how to put this, so does a lot of crap. Good writers have editors to keep them focused and relevant, but good publishers have only 'the market'. And unlike editing, the market is purely pass/fail.

It's easier to blame the customers for this industry, than ourselves. What the "market" really need to provide to "gamers" is good games. In order to do that, we have to discard the usual game creation steps:

  1. I have a cool idea
  2. It's like _X_, only with _A_
  3. My players like this sort of thing, so it must be good!

When you run a good game, it's because you're good at the run-time experience. Good at GMing, good at handling a game event. But a good game as a product, standing on its own, requires a certain rigour in its creation. It has to be easy, yet bulletproof. It has to appeal to everyone, yet challenge them. It has to be familiar, yet novel.

We'll start with the Kilgallon Paradox. Stated succinctly, it says:

RPGs emphasize combat. But if the game has problem-solving, I'm the best problem solver I know. Therefore, problem-solving isn't roleplay. So why have a non-combat character, since any non-combat details are just schtick.

The Kilgallon Paradox goes a long way towards explaining why so many RPGs dedicate the bulk of their rules towards combat. The corrolary is that players then think, "if there's so many rules about combat, I guess that's what is most important."

Net result: games focus on combat, and thus attract a specific audience: people who want fantasy fighting.

Now, one of my recent works was basically a "sneaker" (non-combat mystery) adventure, set in Redhurst Academy of Magic. From this, our gaming group springboarded into "Redhurst: CSI" as a campaign idea.

From a game theory point of view, this was possible only because Redhurst contains the tools to make combat difficult, if not impossible. If combat is not an option, suddenly players have to do "other stuff". And we've had fun.

But we still haven't really escaped the Kilgallon Paradox. Suddenly, the players are thinking and interacting, but they're solving puzzles as, well, players. They aren't interacting with the environment in a character-based sense, rather, they are receiving character input, solving things as players, then feeding that back to their characters.

Here's an (poor) example of the difference between character-based and player-based problem solving.

Player-based: Hmm... the orcs are attacking in a line, I should use burning hands to slow them, so the rangers can leisurely shoot them full of arrows.

Character-based: Hmm... the orcs are attacking but I'm a first level magic user with no combat experience and low wisdom, so I should probably just run away.

Well, gee, the last one is "realistic", but not terribly fun. And "the most fun way to play the game should always be the most rewarding" (Larry DeMar, Game Developer, Nov 2003). So we are suddenly left with 2 problems. Can we resolve the Kilgallon Paradox? And should we, or would it change what we think of as an RPG?

Until next month,
Sandy
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What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
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  • The Hazards of Non-Combat Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 05aug05
  • Just-in-Time Pre-order Hell by Sandy Antunes, 01jul05
  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
  • I am not a Storyteller by Sandy Antunes, 08apr05
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  • Advice For Working Writers by Sandy Antunes, 04mar05
  • Startup Fever by Sandy Antunes, 04feb05
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  • Being a Pro Writer by Sandy Antunes, 10dec04
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  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
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  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
  • Let's Team Up! by Sandy Antunes, 07may04
  • Beyond Role and Pla(t)y(pus) by Sandy Antunes, 08apr04
  • Slow Improv and the Post-Kilgallon by Sandy Antunes, 05mar04
  • Paradox Redux by Sandy Antunes, 06feb04
  • Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox by Sandy Antunes, 09jan04
  • It's Not Your World, It's Mine by Sandy Antunes, 05dec03
  • Murphy's Law for Adventure Writers by Sandy Antunes, 07nov03
  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
  • Atomic by Sandy Antunes, 05sep03
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  • Designing Amidst the Tides of Gaming History by Sandy Antunes, 08jul03
  • Buy This Book by Sandy Antunes, 05jun03
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  • The Websites That Wouldn't Die by Sandy Antunes, 10apr03
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  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
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  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
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  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
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  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
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  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
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  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
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  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

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