Maginn: all of this leads to my unified theory of games. Games should be fun. You shouldn't put things in your game that aren't fun. If you find something in your game that isn't fun you should take it out. As a player, as soon as you realize you're not having fun, you should quit. My belief is that time in should always equal time out. If I invest an hour in a game, I want to have fun.
Williams: You know, the thing about MMOs, especially if you look at Star Wars Galaxies, when Galaxies came out, not to beat on poor Rat one more time, but here I go – when Galaxies came out, the idea of the sandbox structure was the predominant theory. The idea is we would never be able to create enough content for the users. Therefore, our goal had to be to create the tools by which users would create fun for themselves. And that, you know, that was basically it.
The problem with the sandbox theory is that if you really go totally in that direction, which is essentially what Star Wars did, the users have to really work to find their fun. And that worked great when you're talking about smaller numbers of extremely hardcore people. You know, like the Star Wars guys are, by definition as a group, extraordinarily hardcore group of people. But when City of Heroes came out, it threw away every tool for actually creating real fun and put an arrow with neon blinking that says, "Fun over here!" And so you went over there and you had fun but you weren't lost and wondering what to do.
When we sort of started out working on Pirates, the sandbox theory was sort of what was in our heads at that time. And that was before Kevin had actually joined us. After City of Heroes came out, we took a look at it and thought, "Whoa! That's a much better model." And what we sort of came up with is sort of a hybrid model. We have very directed gameplay. There are people who tell you where the missions are and what you need to do and say "go through this path in order to level up and here's where the content is." But we also create a lot of tools for you to actually create more content for other players and I think that's what we're going to see more and more of from games going forward – that games will provide the directed content for... If I don't care about the tools, I can still play the game and know where I need to go and do what I need to do, but on top of that, here are the tools by which players can create more and more interesting content for each other.
"'Time in = fun out' is what a game is. If it isn't true for what you're playing, then what you're playing isn't a game.... Sixteen hours and you haven't found a group? That's not a game. It's a torture exercise."
Maginn: Time in = Fun out. Time in = Fun out is what a game is. If it isn't true for what you're playing, then what you're playing isn't a game. We play games to have fun. If I find that Pirates has an entire chunk of it that just simply isn't fun no matter what you do – you invest hours in it – it's not fun.
I played a lot of Final Fantasy XI. I played Final Fantasy XI for about a year and a half – got to level 65 – and then I burnt out. We played as a static group, which meant all of us would get together and play on a regular basis, twice a week, every week. So we never had this problem, but I used to hear stories of Dark Knights, DPS characters, standing around in the city for six hours waiting to get a group. Six hours!
Time in = fun out. Sixteen hours and you haven't found a group? That's not a game. It's a torture exercise.
So, what are we doing? Remove pain points and exit points. A pain point or an exit point is a point where you're playing the game and you say, "That sucked. I'm quitting." You may not think, "I'm quitting because I just got ganked in this six-on-one," but you are, overall, building an impression of the game and you're sort of trying to decide do I want to play? Or do I want to quit? Do I want to stick with this? You have so many options these days for MMOs that there's no reason to play a game that you aren't actually having a lot of fun with.
An exit point is something where we actually kick you out of the game. We tell you, "think to yourself that this is a terrible game and I want to go do something else like make a sandwich or take a break. I'm so stressed and frustrated." Well, once you get up from the computer, we lose. You're going to quit.
Williams: And we've done it. I mean, you know, we did our best and we launched and we realized we had some pain points in there that were real problems. And one of those was the PvP loss. You build this really cool-ass new ship and it's fantastic and it gets whacked. And you're just like GRRRR! We should never have implemented /ragequit. That was a big mistake on our parts.