Play for Fun or Play to Win?

Hi Funomenauts! This is Marc. I’m a relatively new hire here at Funomena, and I've been really excited about working with the people here. When I volunteered to write a blog post, I didn't quite know what I wanted to write about. After thinking about it, and reading back blogs, I decided to write something a little philosophical.  So, I’mma dive right in.

A lot has been made about Playing to Win versus Playing for Fun. There are lots of opinions, and I don't necessarily agree with them, but I do agree that when a player sits down to play there is usually a fundamental divide between attitudes of "Hey, I'm here to have a good time with you" and "I am a better player than you".  Neither of these attitudes is inherently wrong or right, neither of them requires a second player, and despite what most people think, they are not incompatible.

I'm using the terms Playing for Fun (PfF), and Playing to Win (PtW), but they are just placeholders for the underlying concepts. While both of these concepts are probably very intuitive to people, let me lay out how I see them.

Playing for Fun is when you start a game with the primary intention of having a good time. Maybe you want to relax after work with a single player game, or an MMO. Maybe you want to play tag with your daughter. Maybe you want to teach your friend that sweet new boardgame you just bought.  In essence, you are playing to enjoy yourself, and if you’re playing with others, you’re enjoying your time with them.

Playing to Win is when you start a game with the primary intention of claiming victory from within the rules.  Maybe your hockey team is playing the top seed in the league.  Maybe you want to relax after work with a few games of a MOBA, or a sports game.  Maybe you want to practice your chess skills for that upcoming tournament. In essence, you are attempting to best the bar set by yourself or others.

These concepts already exist in parallel in some situations.  A mother teaching her son to play basketball (ostensibly a PtW game) doesn't play her best attempting to defeat the boy. This would simply discourage him, and remove the opportunity for a long term shared interest. This doesn't mean that she would never try, it just needs to be a carefully balanced curriculum.  This is the same reason we don't hand second graders calculus books, and simply grade them as failures when they fail to grasp it immediately.  Not only would this upset the children, it would likely discourage them from pursuing math, because consistent failure is not a good motivator.  Consistent success is also not a good motivator, as studies have shown that it will cause children to expect success and give up on failure.  Hence the careful balancing act in teaching.

So the teacher modulates their skill in training to foster a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment in the student. They provide challenge and encouragement in appropriate but not absolute measures.  They engage a sense of fun to help the student want to come back and play again, and they engage a sense of challenge and competition to help drive learning.

Another area that the concepts of PfF and PtW collide is streaming.  When viewers tune in to a competitive game stream, they don't just want to watch that streamer destroy the competition with the same over-powered strategy. The streamer is responsible for entertaining their audience, and they need to provide fun content for them. This might include anything from simply wearing a silly hat, to offering tutorials, or allowing the audience to engage with them.  Neither a high level of skill, nor a silly hat is necessary.  But most of the most popular game streamers are offering both, a mixture of trying to win their game, and providing a fun atmosphere to do it in.

Even regular gamers will run into this admixture of concepts. Say a group of friends logs into an online game together to defeat a raid boss or take on a random five opponents.  Those friends are likely on chat, cracking jokes, catching up on each others' lives.  They are both having a good time, and trying to defeat something or someone, neither of which is predicated on the other.

As with most things in life, the motivation of a game is not a simple dichotomy. You do not have to play solely with a competitive spirit nor do you have to play solely for enjoyment.  These things can and should be mixed, especially if they let players tailor the experience to what they enjoy, or even better, if the games could tailor themselves to what they glean from a player.

This is an area where I think we as game developers need to think, consider and explore.  Imagine a game where each player's goal is to make the other players have a better time - and they were scored as such.  Not only would the winner have the satisfaction of winning, but also of making their friends feel good. Seems like a 2x win combo to me.

These few existing examples of PfFtW are just ones that I've thought about for this blog, and I'm sure you could think of more, or think up game concepts to purposefully mix the two ideologies.  If you think of any good ones, let me know in the comments below.



How To Do Everything

Probably one of my favorite things about making games is the dynamic nature of the process.  The design and requirements of a project can change multiple times over the course of even a single day, which means game developers have to be fluid and adaptive in their daily work.  A developer might find themselves working with a game’s camera in the morning, then the physics system after lunch, and then a totally different project the next week.  Despite all this though, professional game developers are typically siloed in terms of their work.  The industry often looks at development teams in terms of “classes” in a multiplayer RPG: successful teams will have an Engineer-class (the DPSs), an Artist-class (the Healers), a Designer-class (the Crowd Controllers), and a Producer-class (the Tanks).  Professional developers are often hired as one of those 4 classes, and most educational resources are presented as if the reader was of a single class.  Even GDC divides its content into “tracks” which roughly map to those roles (though multi-track sessions are common).

This never quite made sense to me.  If the process of creating games is so inherently fluid, dynamic, and creative, then why do we as game creators spend so much effort categorizing ourselves?  Doesn’t it seem limiting to encourage someone to fulfill only a single role in the creation of something that is constantly changing?

I believe every team needs a multi-classer.  In the 5-ish years I’ve been a game developer, I’ve done work as a tools programmer, an IT-guy, a project manager, a 2D artist, a build engineer, a designer, and even a BBQ pitmaster.  Each time I stepped into another role, I learned new things and solved important problems for the teams I was working with.  For development teams, that’s the biggest benefit of having (and encouraging) multi-classers: they are Swiss Army knives, capable of solving many of the random problems your team will face.  Outside of simple problem solving, multi-classers also exemplify the type of cross-disciplinary thinking that, frankly, leads to better games.

Having a multi-classer is great, but being a multi-classer is wonderful.  You learn new things every day, largely because you’re doing new things every day.  Multi-classers also enjoy a completely different perspective on the projects they’re involved in because they have so many viewpoints.  And, selfishly, if you’re a good multi-classer, your ability to solve all the problems helps make friends and get jobs in the industry.

So how does one become a good multi-classer?  I’m not sure.  Maybe in another 10 years I’ll write a followup to this post with the golden wisdom.  Mostly what I know now is that it requires a lot of flexibility, and that it’s honestly not for everyone.  However, I do have some tips for those that are or are looking to become a multi-classer:

Always be looking for problems (and solutions)

At the end of the day, the most important role of the multi-classer is to solve problems that more specialized teammates aren’t able to or willing to solve.  Unfortunately, your more specialized teammates might not tell you about those problems, either because they are blind to them, or they just aren’t able to communicate what the problem is.  Good multi-classers are always looking for those problems.  Know your teammates and keep an eye on their blind spots.  For example, your systems designer might always come up with mathematical solutions to design problems, but she might not see an issue that could be solved with an art or sound change.  A constant drive to learn more will also help you identify future problems and solutions.  The more you know about a wider set of skills will give you better insight into the processes and mindsets of your teammates, allowing you to see their blind spots more readily.

Recognize you probably won’t be great at anything (and that’s ok)

Being great at something requires dedication, both to your craft and to the idea of being great.  As a multi-classer, you don’t have time for that, so you’re probably not going to be the next John Carmack or Brenda Romero.  The important thing to remember is that your value to a team doesn’t come from your flawless models or your pristine Gantt charts, but from your unique perspective on all the problems you solve.  Being able to look at a challenge from multiple angles at once is an extremely valuable skill in multi-disciplinary teams because it not only helps you to communicate with a larger swath of your team, but it also affords you the ability to see solutions other more specialized people may not.

Confidence is great, humility is even better

As you come to fulfill more roles on a team, and as your team depends on you more for those roles, it’s necessary to strike a good balance between having confidence in the skills you have and knowing you’re probably not the greatest at any of them.  That balance is generally important when you’re working on a team, but it’s particularly important for multi-classers.  As someone who plays multiple roles, your confidence in your abilities has a multiplier effect on team morale and confidence.  If you are confident you can succeed at many, varied tasks, your team will be that much more confident in the success of the project.  On the flip-side, since multi-classers often play so many roles on a team, it’s very easy to see oneself as “the rock” upon which the team is structured.  Resist that temptation.  Having an ego about your role as a multi-classer can not only hurt your relationship with your team, but it can prevent you from learning more, which in turn prevents you from being a better multi-classer.

Remember not everything is a nail

This is something I struggle with a lot.  If you are like me, and you have a stronger background in one skill than the others you practice (mine’s engineering), it’s extremely tempting to solve most problems with that skill.  When you look at a problem you need to solve, challenge yourself to analyze it from as many perspectives as you can.  See if you can solve it using multiple skills.  That way, you won’t end up trying to solve what really is a production problem with your artistic skills.  Nobody wants that.

Enjoy it

Being a multi-classer is challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.  Take pride in your multiple abilities.  Know that your dynamism will let you do almost anything you need or want to do.  Get to know your teammates, and maybe show them a perspective they might not have seen before.  Satisfy your curiosity about everything, because it may all eventually be useful.  
Cheers to the multi-classers!

-Ted Aronson

Rocket Surgeon/Programmer/Designer 


GDC is coming up, and we are SO EXCITED!!! The funomenauts are going to be out in full force - giving talks, leading workshops, and even looking for some new funomenauts! Here's where you'll be able to find us throughout the week: 

Game Design Workshop


The GDW has been in session at GDC for over a decade! Hosted by a mix of seasoned designers from all walks of game development, this hands-on, paper protoyping workshop involves learning and applying the MDA framework of game design. 

"This intensive two-day workshop will explore the day-to-day craft of game design through hands-on activities, group discussion, analysis and critique. Attendees will immerse themselves in the iterative process of refining a game design and discover design concepts that will help them think more clearly about their designs and make better games”

Deliberately Developmental Leadership


Want to learn more about how we do things at Funomena? In this talk, our CEO Robin Hunicke will talk about how we have adopted principles of the Deliberately Developmental Organization, and why. 

"Founding a game studio is just the first step in a long line of decisions that will determine the quality and success of your games, company culture and work experience as a whole. This talk will introduce the core principals of the DDO: Deliberately Developmental Organization, as outlined in several Harvard Business Review articles - which include letting each person outline their own developmental goals, and working from a place of transparency with respect to individual and group challenges as an organization in the areas of communication, collaboration, coaching and receiving feedback." 

Robin will also be in panels that discuss best practices in Production (So You Want To Be A Producer - THURSDAY, 5:30PM-6:30PM, CAREER CENTER THEATER) and working with experimental technologies (Making RealSense: A Conversation with Independent Developers - WEDNESDAY, 9:30AM-10:30AM, ROOM 301 SOUTH HALL ) 

The Experimental Gameplay Workshop


And, to end your week with a bang, we have the spectacular EGW showcase, which has been in session at GDC for over 10 years now! Focused on a rapid-fire demonstration of the best of this year's experimental game prototypes, the session is always packed. This year's session is especially cool because it includes time for audience members to try the games we're showing on stage! You can read a bit about last year's session, and then check out a preview of this year's session

"The Experimental Gameplay Session, which debuted games like Katamari, Damacy, flOw, Braid, Portal and Storyteller, is back for its 13th year at GDC! In this fast-paced, game-packed session we will showcase a selection of surprising and intriguing prototypes made by innovation-minded game developers from all over the world. By demonstrating games that defy conventions and traditions in search for of new genres and ideas, this session aims to ignite the imagination of all game makers. Come see what's happening on in the world of Experimental Gameplay - and be inspired!"

Most importantly, the Funomenauts will be out and about, talking with fellow developers about the state of the art in our industry, hearing about new and exciting projects under development, and giving much-needed hugs and back-pats to those who have recently shipped their amazing games! Celebrating with our fellow developers is why GDC is our favorite time of year - and we really hope to see you there!


DICE 2015

This year our CEO returned to DICE to talk about the future of VR, AR and "mixed reality" technologies. In this fireside chat with Technical Illusions co-founder Jeri Ellsworth, Robin focused on what the future holds for games, entertainment and education when it comes to enhanced reality platforms. She also wore her amazing panda jacket... and had some pretty sweet slides :D

According to Jeri, the future is looking awesome - and it's happening right now! Tune in and check it out.

Keep Games Weird


This is Vikram - one of the engineers at Funomena. I work on Wattam and this is actually the first commercial game project that I've worked on. Before this I was a software engineer in test at Google and at Microsoft before that.

When I signed up for writing a blog post, quite a while back, I had to pick a title. I knew I wanted to write about something light. I chose "Keep Games Weird" since I like playing weird little video games - it's the weird ones that excite me the most, and hence I feel are the most rewarding to play in the little time I have in my life these days. But since then I've been thinking about the word "weird", its different meanings and why all of them are good for games. (I actually also thought of different meanings for "Keep" and "Games" too but I am just going to stick to "Weird" for now.)

The first meaning is what most people think when they hear weird - something that's strange, bizarre and maybe also unexpected. Games are capable of moving people in different ways through their form and substance. We have just started exploring different ways of doing this. As a game creator, there's just too much ground to cover to make something only slightly different from what has been done before. As a player your time is too precious to be spent on the same kind of game over and over again. Though we can agree on this in principle, we sometimes forget it and settle into the comfort of the known. That's when a weird game comes along and hits you in such a profound way as to remind you of the real power of games. I think we are actually not doing too bad here and there have been so many "weird" games that have come out in the past year that have personally moved me. The part we can probably do better in the "keep"-ing part is to talk about these games more and provide a platform for more of these games to be made.

The next meaning is more related to the original phrase - "Keep Austin Weird". It's a marketing slogan that has grown well beyond its original purpose into a progressive idea of a culture that accepts people from all different backgrounds - LGBT, intellectuals, naturalists and various non-mainstream subcultures. Applying this idea to games, I think this kind of diversity in creators, themes, players and critics is hugely important right now as it expands from games just serving a small group of people (even though it might not seem so small to many who are already in that group). Personally I have been extremely lucky and privileged to find the right people who accepted me into the game making community and I feel its important for me to help bring more people into the fold. In the wake of unfortunate events in the past year I will just mention one of the efforts to support diversity in games - We need to do a lot more here.

Lastly I would like to reflect on something I found in Urban Dictionary (it's all solid sources I'm using here) while researching weird - "Weird (but in a good way)". More specifically the phrase "they're not scared to be themselves". Ultimately being weird is not about just standing out but being true to yourself. And so we make games that we love to make - and they are weird.


P.S After choosing the title I found that there is already an essay titled "Keep Games Weird" by Charles Pratt about the New Arcade Movement and No Quarters Exhibition. Please read it here.



Vikram Subramanian, Software Engineer