Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Designing for Low-Skill Players: Introduction

One of the crucial hurdles for novice game designers is understanding their target audience. It's easy to design games that you want to play; it's harder to design games that the rest of the world also wants to play.

Amateur Magic designers often face the problem that they are distinctly non-average as Magic players. They're likely to be experienced in many formats and styles of play, knowledgeable about the game and its history, and at least skilled enough to hold their own at FNM. By contrast, the target audience for Magic is the kitchen table crowd: players whose tournament experience consists of one prerelease every few years. Most of these players are pretty unskilled at the game. This fact has a great deal of importance for designers.

In this series of articles, I will explore some common traits of low-skill players (henceforth denoted LSPs) and their implications for Magic design. First of all, though, let's dispel a few myths about these players.

LSPs are not necessarily new to the game of Magic. Despite the "noob" stereotype, it is easy to play the game for several years without developing a high level of ability.

LSPs are not necessarily young. While the vast majority of players under the age of 15 are pretty weak, the converse does not hold; many adults are equally unskilled.

LSPs are not necessarily Timmies. A quick trip to FNM should convince you of the existence of Spikes who can't sling cardboard worth a darn.

LSPs are not necessarily ignorant about Magic. They may, in fact, be regular tournament-goers, follow every new expansion, and post regularly in online forums.

In fact, the majority of players are LSPs. Magic is a hard game to play well. Even if you understand how to play the game, there are tons of skills to be acquired that make the difference between a good and bad player: drafting, deckbuilding, mulligans, sideboarding, analyzing formats, playing around tricks, etc. Given the vast complexity of the game, it should come as no surprise that most people aren't actually that good at it.

Well, now that we've gotten rid of these myths, what's left? What are the actual reliable qualities of LSPs, and what does that mean for designers? That's what I'll be exploring in subsequent articles in this series.

But first, dear readers, I have a challenge for you. At this weekend's Theros prerelease, watch other people's games. Observe some LSPs in action and pay attention how they play. Think about "noob mistakes" and see if you can determine a pattern in how and why they occur. And most importantly, observe how LSPs react to cards, because that's the key to learning to design for them.

1 comment:

  1. Very very interesting article and topic! I look forward to this