Monday, December 7, 2020

Designing for Timmy and Tammy: Reloaded

A couple years ago (gross, I can't believe it was a couple years ago) I wrote an article about designing for the player psychographic Timmy/Tammy. I decided to get around to writing the other two psychographic articles, but I'm a bit unhappy with the previous article because I felt like I made some points for the sake of being contrarian. This is the redo of that article.

Note: For the sake of smooth wording, I'm using "Tammy" to describe a generic member of the psychographic.

Tammies have a reputation of being young, new, bad at the game, or all three. In particular, "designing for Tammy" gets typecast as "design a 15/15 green creature that costs 9 mana". This reputation is grounded in some reality, and certainly 15/15 green creatures that cost 9 mana are generally good Tammy cards, but being a member of this demographic certainly doesn't require inexperience. There are more Tammies who are new and/or bad at the game because Tammy requires the least investment in Magic to get what they want out of it – a fun time.

In contrast to the other two main demographics, who are more likely to view Magic as a lifestyle of some sort, Tammy views Magic as a game in much the same way they might view, say, Catan. They want a fun time out of Magic with the least amount of effort, just like they would want out of any other game. In fact, Tammy is by far the majority demographic in most other tabletop games, because there are a scant few games like Magic that allow players to become enfranchised enough to become a successful Jenny or Spike.

Because of careful attention by the designers, "have fun" is a much easier goal than "build or do something that's uniquely yours" or "prove your worth". So many Tammies don't spend that much time practicing or learning the ins and outs of the game, because they simply don't need to do that kind of work to achieve their goals. In this way, the stereotypes are somewhat true, but only in the same way that it's somewhat true that I, who bake once a week for fun, am a worse baker than Paul Hollywood.

What Does Tammy Want?

Tammy wants 1) to have fun 2) with as little effort as possible. "Fun" in this context often, but doesn't always, means being proactive (eg. advancing your own plan versus interrupting your opponent's plans) in a satisfying way. Fortunately, being proactive is just a satisfying thing in general, as evidenced by the Commander format. Slamming big stompy creatures onto the battlefield is a common Tammy desire because everyone has fun slamming big stompy creatures onto the battlefield – other psychographics are just willing to sacrifice short-term fun for their long-term goals. However, not all Tammies enjoy this, and it's important not to lump the entire psychographic into this category.

As I mentioned in my previous article, some Tammies have a specific strategy or deck archetype that they prize above all else. Consider pros like Craig Wescoe or Guillaume Wafo-Tapa who adhere to a single deck archetype even at tournaments, or the stax nut who wants nothing more than for their opponents to have a miserable time. This kind of Tammy will more often play Constructed than Limited, because Limited doesn't consistently provide them with this style of gameplay, and will stick with their strategy even if it isn't good in the format.

On the deckbuilding side, Tammy is the most willing to blindly netdeck. Jenny prefers to create their own decks, even if they aren't optimized, and Spike will put in effort to adapt whichever top deck they select to demonstrate their ability to read the metagame. Tammy just wants to play a deck that does the thing they want, and if they can use someone else's build that does that, all the better that they don't have to worry about building a deck when they don't want to. 

In general, Tammy is the closest to a "normal" enthusiast of any other game, which means that we already have a quiver of game design methods to effectively appeal to them. 

Designing for Tammy

There are many ways to make cards, formats, and sets that Tammy enjoys without resorting to printing Titanoth Rex in every set. Here's a few.

Create Simple, Satisfying Combinations

In my article about Magic's immutable laws, I called for an element of subtlety in each set so players can discover their own card combinations. I still believe in this, but there's a plus to also having very obvious card combinations, particularly for Tammy. Zenith Flare and a bunch of cycling cards in the same deck together is pretty simple deckbuilding, but it's still deeply satisfying to snap off a Flare for 7 into your opponent's face after drawing a bunch of cards for cheap. With simple combos, you can feel like you accomplished something without needing to have someone else explain it to you.

Tribal strategies are a perennially effective way of making combos for Tammy, which is why most modern sets have at least a little. It's fairly obvious what you're supposed to do with Lord of Atlantis, but swinging in with eight strong, unblockable merfolk is satisfying nonetheless.

Make Winning The Game Dramatic

Tammy wants games of Magic to be something they can talk about to other people. In this sense, the most important thing is how the game ends. 

Most Magic games either end with one side rolling over the other in a telegraphed fashion over several turns, or with a protracted board stall that gets broken by one player sneaking through for small amounts of damage at a time. In order to give Tammy more stories, we have to give them tools to construct other endings. These include:
  • Cards that let you alpha strike with all your creatures in one turn, like Magmatic Chasm or Inspired Charge
  • Cards that can suddenly win the game out of nowhere, like Blaze or Wee Dragonauts
  • Alternate win conditions, ranging from Phage the Untouchable to mill strategies
Cards like these, even weak ones, routinely get overestimated because their ability to turn a game on its head and create a dramatic victory earn them a terrifying reputation. Leverage that reputation and design those cards.

Provide a Unique Experience

Fun goes away if you do the same thing over and over. In order to provide Tammy with more fun, each new set or product should provide a unique experience in part. For draftable sets, this means mechanics that alter the way the game is played. Looking at the two most recent ones as of this article, Commander Legends has its unique drafting format where you play a commander and draft two cards per pack, and Zendikar Rising had land DFCs that change you how build your decks, constructed and limited alike.

Magic is an interesting case among games that they can release effective expansions that don't really do that much to innovate. It's also difficult for aspiring Magic designers to innovate because most of us are fans, and fans have trouble thinking of or asking for things that don't already exist. Make sure to remember that Magic is a tabletop game at its center, with the expectations and rules that come with that.

Make a Diverse Constructed Meta

Tammy is the demographic that cares the most about a metagame with lots of viable decks because they are the least flexible about choosing decks they don't enjoy piloting as much. Spike is at least okay with a narrow metagame if the decks are rewarding enough to play, and Jenny doesn't care about it in the first place. However, if Tammy doesn't feel even slightly incentivized to do what they enjoy doing, it's going to quickly turn them off of the format and maybe even the game.

I don't have much advice here because this is more of a job for Play Design, but it's important to think about. 

Output Variance

"Input Variance" is the kind of variance where the random thing happens and then you can make a decision, like drawing a card at the start of your turn. "Output Variance" is where you make a decision and then use something random to partially determine the outcome, like using Krark, The Thumbless' triggered ability. (Both of these terms were coined by game designer Keith Burgun.) Magic has significantly more input variance than output variance, though it has its share of the latter.

Tammy loves output variance because they want cool stuff to happen during the game and don't care whether they were fully responsible for it. In particular, they love output variance where something good happens no matter what, but exactly what happens is random. Cascade is one of the most pure Tammy mechanics ever made because it combines proactive game progression – free card! – with a high level of variance regarding which card you'll actually get. Having some output randomness in your set or product will help make games less alike and add more story-worthy moments.

With all this said, one has to be careful about including too much output variance because Spike hates it and will use everything in their power to minimize it. Don't get so caught up in thinking about one group of players that you ignore the rest.

Exceed Previously Set Boundaries

Is there a point to player psychographics? People like to sort themselves into categories, so it's fun for the audience, but is there a benefit to the designers?

I would argue that the biggest benefit of player psychographics is that they remind designers in which directions to push for innovation. In Tammy's case, we want to make cards that smash boundaries in ways that people had never thought possible.

The classic boundary to be exceeded here is creature size. From Leviathan to Krosan Cloudscraper to Craterhoof Behemoth and beyond, each enormous creature Magic prints shatters the comfort zone of players who are used to most creatures topping out at 6/6 or so. If it were merely an arms race of power and toughness, Magic would have collapsed due to power creep long ago, so what's interesting is that these creatures break the boundaries of how a creature can be enormous. Dark Depths produces a creature that can kill your opponent in one swing, but more interestingly, that's a token that's produced by a land. The Eldrazi Titans were some of the earliest colorless non-artifact creatures. Creatures like Cloudscraper and Greater Sandwurm have ways of compensating for drawing them on early turns.

It's not only creatures that can exceed their boundaries – there's also effect size and breadth. Clone Legion took copy effects, which were previously limited to a single creature, and extended them to your opponent's entire board. Shivan Meteor dealt an eye-boggling 13 damage (though only to a creature). Inexorable Tide made proliferate, a normally one-off mechanic, trigger multiple times on everyone's turn in the easy-to-build correct deck. Tammy reminds us of the design space available in scaling up existing effects, and how impactful that can be.


Tammy is more than just a 12-year-old who likes expensive creatures – in fact, being a Tammy could be considered the "default state" of game players. However, because Magic has a much larger crowd of deeply enfranchised players than most tabletop games, and all the designers were deeply enfranchised once, that concept can often get lost. Among their other uses, psychographics help remind us that this kind of player exists and has their own wants and needs that are just as meaningful as everyone else's.

Incidentally, I consider myself a Timmy, though the Spike part of me has grown over the past several years. That said, a big part of Magic hits my game design sweet spot, so I wrote this article less to discuss my tastes and more to discuss the tastes of people who aren't so easily appealed to.

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