Sirlin on game design: closed systems vs. open and customizeable

Tataki posted this on Twitter, and it’s chock full of goodness. Link leads to a post Sirlin made on his forum.

Note that while it’s in a SFxT topic, this is really about game design as a whole, hence posting it in GD.

You know, Sirlin’s hate for M:TG is so insane that it just blows my mind. The enjoyment people have gotten out of the collectable aspect or from the many options you have to build decks more or less outweigh what the game is like in a competitive environment. We have so many ways to play M:TG and the value of those cards going up or down depending on them that for all I care, Sirlin can mostly choke on his games at this point.

I like the guy an all but he sure as fuck seems super closed minded. The idea that you can’t create a good, ever evolving game seems really narrow minded to me. MTG has show that it can be done very very well, it seems almost child like how he keeps picking on it.

And besides he’s wrong anyway. I only have Super SF4. If I wanna keep playing with the current crowed who plays SF4 i need to buy the AE Booster Pack so honestly, to me, it seems a little like something he should shut the fuck up about.

If I’m wrong about this and someone would like to explain why I’m all ears but it just seems to me like he’s cherry picking his arguments. Even STHDR is a booster pack to SFII so I don’t see how it’s all that different from a collectible card game. To keep playing fighters on a competitive level you need to have the latest build and ruleset.

When you discuss games around Sirlin, Sirlin gives his opinion about games.

Don’t let Sirlin give his opinion about games.

Get rid of cable. Switch to DirectTV.

That’s all false dichotomy and strawman arguments though.

Pethro says people love building decks. Yeah, building decks does not imply a collectable model where the price is masked by rares in random packs, and doesn’t require it be harder for you to get the cards you want. Quite the opposite. To really enable people to build decks, you’d just sell each set of cards straight up, making it as simple as possible to get the cards to build the decks. So it’s a false dichotomy to think you need a collectable model to build decks, and it really only hurts you (and me) the consumer, so we should all be against that model, even when we are completely for the exciting prospect of deckbuilding.

Radiant Silvergun says you can create a good game with endless content. Yeah of course? Even if MTG’s method of selling cards is reprehensible, it definitely shows game-design wise that you can keep a game interesting for a long time that way. So uh, violent agreement there I guess. That said, closed system games that are highly tuned and as elegant as possible are also good. Chris Hecker’s point was there might be no room for those kind of games in the future. Yeah that’s scary. Thinking it’s scary and imagining no prospect of Street Fighter or Starcraft as we know it does NOT imply that open ended games are all bad. What it does is say that the other end of the spectrum is also good, and practically an endangered species now. Fighting games were one of the last refuges and we may very well lose those too. It scares the hell out of me that SFxT wouldn’t be rejected out-of-hand by the entire community if it does indeed have forced grinding and rare gems, even when you’ve already bought the game. So much for an immediate level playing field without having to level up gimped characters, as a fundamental concept of fair competition.

Saying new a new version of a game is like a booster pack is really misunderstanding the issue. No, it’s not like that in any way, at all. I am more for new versions of games than just about anyone, it seems. I prefer games that are better to games that aren’t better. So that means if we have a game, and we know how to make it better, then we should do so. Somehow this is controversial, but it’s nothing to do with any of this. A booster pack for an SF4 update would mean there are like 15 updates including one rare update and you don’t know which one you’ll get. This hides the cost of the rare update and allows it to cost many times more without triggering complaints about an update costing 15x more than it first seems. Of course it would be bad to sell updates in a booster pack, it’s ridiculous. As ridiculous as selling cards that way. Not sure why you’d actually want to be charged so much more. As a person who sells stuff, maybe I should be happy and charge like 10x more by using booster packs? It’s just such an obvious crappy thing to do that as a player I’d reject it, so I’m not comfortable selling gameply-affecting things in that way. Anyway, the point is updates to games are great and not “a booster pack.”

Btw, there’s a higher level of discourse without the personal insults.

Are you guys really reading what he’s saying, or are we gonna turn this into another Sirlin hate-fest? The stuff that he’s discussing is the reason why people are debating the gems in SFxT, and what it means for the genre if that feature becomes the norm.

Thanks for weighing in!

This times infinity billion. It also applies to more than just fighters, hence the posting.

Also, a new version of ST isn’t an addon the same way, say, a booster back of MTG cards is.

Was hoping to incite better discussion than much of what I’ve seen so far.

Sirlin is a smart guy. Really. I just don’t think he knows that gems in SFxT aren’t THAT big of a deal. The better player will win. Every single time. It doesn’t matter what gem a scrub has unless he plays other scrubs.

The gems as they are are very confusing, will the pre order gems be made available to everyone? When? For how much? Are they that much better or just different? Do you unlock them in game? Is there grinding? We don’t know enough yet but what the unformed individual can conclude is that at the very least the default gems available to everyone from the start is fair game and moving past those is the only point of debate.

Let’s get this out of the way first - I think the guy’s so closed-minded and full of himself that it hurts, and I’ll always think he’s a giant prick.

That said, I DO think that a more or less closed system (in other words, as closed as SF4, so open for some sort of expansion) is the best way to go about things. For the consumer. If I ever get some of my card games out there, they’d either go the Dominion/Ascension route (add if you wish) or the LCG route (every “booster” pack after the starter/base is a playset of x different cards, i.e. Warhammer Invasion or Lord of the Rings LCGs). Would these ways work nearly as profitably as, say, Wizards’ methods for MTG? God no. I can only assume Wizards is standing so deep in coin right now that three dimes and a penny are currently giving the VP there an enema. So, on that issue, I actually LIKE Sirlin’s viewpoint. (Although he hates the LCG model, too. Just can’t fucking please the guy.)

The fact of the matter, however, is that MTG’s system also allows for so much variety and community that I don’t care. I really, really don’t. If he wants to argue that I’m not getting the full experience or that I can’t hang with the big boys unless I buy 392 booster packs, then I don’t think he’s played Magic or has no way of buying individual cards from others.

I think the guy’s just hurt over the fact that a fighting game is allowing for customization. I don’t LIKE the way SFxT is doing things, but it’s a whole new world out there, and I can’t imagine this idea wouldn’t have been done sooner if it was feasible. Personally, I’d rather have the option of being nickel’d and dime’d by gem-style DLC than, say, a bunch of new characters one at a time, but both (to me at least) are roughly the same as selling me a full game and then offering up an expansion. All these options feel like they nullify the value of the older game because, hey, it’s not the new, complete, and intended game.

You know. Like he’s doing with his games. Right now.

Ok to summarize Hogosha, you are calling me a giant prick and other insults (this seems inappropriate, ad hominem, unjustified) and that you are fine with buying a bag of random tools that might contain a hammer, basically. Like maybe a fighting game where not everyone can play Blanka, but if you open a rare random blanka you can. Also, it’s a false dichotomy about MTG selling in this way and that the game has a rich variety and community. Straightforwardly selling the same cards would also have a rich gameplay variety and community. Or “wrong cause and effect” would be another way of putting that.

Smash Bro, surely you know that every gameplay advantage matters, no matter how small. The great thing about fighting games and Starcraft is that you pick your character or race, and have the same power character or race as everyone else picking that character. You can start practicing the same thing that the best players in the world are practicing. If you care about fair competition, you want you and your opponents to have equal access to the same gameplay power. I shouldn’t really have to “defend” the idea of not giving one player more powerful stuff, I mean that is a basic concept of competition. It’s really sad that anyone would be ok with eroding away fair competition with immediate and equal access to gameplay-relevant elements of a game they already bought.

A closed system is generally good when the closed system has been exploited to it’s fullest and there is still fun to be had and new things to discover even at the highest levels of play. To me, chess is better than checkers because chess is an unsolved(currently unsolvable with modern technology) game. Volumes upon volumes of books have been published exploiting the game of chess, but there is no way to know which ‘exploit’ is the best one for particular situations on the board. There are no proven perfect moves in chess.

A closed game still has the ability to evolve/change via exploits while remaining the same game, but an open game evolves through the people playing and by the creator.

Neither one is inherently bad, unless either type of system/game has a perfect solution that is humanly possible. Street Fighter will never suffer from this problem for example, because reaction time is a factor that prevents perfect play. Open games such as card games will only be ‘bad’ if there is a perfect solution to counter every deck.

Closed games and open games operate in a semi-similar way, because they are both able to change.

However, I believe that closed games are better than open games in one way. They would be equivalent to me if the additions to an open game are free, but that is an unrealistic expectation and one that would never happen. Money could be a major determining factor against whether you win or lose. Other than that there is no strong case against either one of these.

So I said all of this to basically say this: If money isn’t in short supply to any participants playing said game, then why do people think of an open game so badly?

As far as SF x T, they are trying to turn a closed game into an open experience, when fighting games have traditionally been a closed design. People who buy these games are generally looking to ‘play to win’ not ‘pay to win’ / 2 cents

I’m with you man. But if the gems are IN THE GAME (not the DLC or whatever) and just unlocks for playing story mode or something like that I don’t see it as a HUGE problem its if its being sold that’s the real issue. If theyre made available to everyone for free over time and sold for early access that’s LESS problematic but still problematic. I’m not very familiar with the land of card games since I dropped Yu-Gi-oh at age 12 though.

If me and John are playing and he uses Gem B with his Ken and I choose Gem C with my Cammy that’s a non-issue, gems are a solid idea apart from their distribution in my opinion and in all honesty all we can do is theorize until they announce exactly how this will work.

Just a thought though. If the packs are set packs for sale (for example pack A has X,Y,Z guaranteed no rare no collectables you know exactly what’s inside and what it does) and its like .50 cents, I don’t see the big deal. It’s not the best but its the best realistic thing I can think of (unless the rumors that they’re free are true).

Yeah we agree or almost agree on that. To restate: if all the gems are immediately available, ok. If getting all the gems requires further purchase, but after that purchase, they are immediately available, that is almost ok. I mean it’s just a trick of making the game cost more, but when you pay that (tricky, hidden) higher cost, you have everything, so sure ok.

If gems are in random packs, so I have to buy them over and over and over just get them all, that’s just clearly a scam, and stupid.

Also, if it takes more than 0 seconds of grinding or waiting to get all the gems (when I’m willing to pay for the game), that’s not ok. Taking more than 0 seconds is really anti spirit of competition to me. The only reason to do it is to excite casuals with unlocks, which is better done with stages, art, dress-up customizations, and so on. Having to grind to get Reavers in Starcraft would be absurd, even if it was only 10 minutes. It’s just kind of insulting to competitors. It was already insulting that I had to grind to unlock Algol in SC5, which is a game I really like and have been playing a lot. I just wish there was more of a backlash like “hey companies stop doing this. And uh, while you’re at it, but in the right kind of button config,” lol.

I don’t like unlocks for important things either but I WOULD prefer a bit of grinding as opposed to having to buy. I also hate button config that makes me know which button is called what.

Luckily the “random pack” idea ISN’T in SFxT. It’s set from what I understand. It’s just a matter of how they get sold at this point. I saw a store image of them being free but I dont know…

You seem to misunderstand. I prefer things like LCGs or expansions as far as tabletop games. I know what I’m getting. Every time. If I buy a LCG booster/pack/whatever they’re called, I know what’s in it beforehand. I actually don’t play Magic because I couldn’t afford to keep up (temp job, etc.), but when I did play I enjoyed booster draft and sealed deck tournaments, more than I enjoyed constructed. This is something that is difficult to replicate with closed-system.

Also. If I buy one deck for Yomi and go to a tournament that allows people to change decks (much like changing characters in a fighting game), I’m screwed or I’m shelling out another x amount of dollars. Not the best example, but not that far off either. Now, if Capcom releases a set of gems that’s straight-up BETTER than every other gem out there and nullifies every other gem, then yes, we have a reason to complain, but right now it’s no different than not buying every playable thing for Yomi/Warhammer/UMVC3/whatever.

And my opinion of you comes from interactions you’ve had with acquaintances of mine, many of which have bought products associated with you. I’m sure you’re a nice guy to your friends and everything, but I go by the saying, “If you’re nice to your friends and mean to the waitress, you’re a mean person.” I’d straight-up buy Puzzle Strike and maybe Yomi if not for this. It doesn’t help that your reaction to anyone disagreeing with you or stating that they didn’t like your game is “you’re wrong”. Am I a bit of a schmuck for what I said? Maybe. But I know I’ll be able to take criticism when I get my products out there.

If someone disagrees, then by the very nature of what disagreement means, the other person would think they are wrong. You would too. Anyone would? I try to say why, as I have in this thread. Like there’s actual reasons why it would be bad for fair competition to erode away in fighting games, if collectable gems took over. So I don’t even follow what you’re saying there about being mad about disagreeing. I also have no idea what you are saying about some other people being mad about some unnamed thing. It’s like some vague insult that I have no way to respond to, so whatever. Who knows why they are offended or if it was justified or what happened, or what they or I misunderstood, etc. More to the point, I’d hope people would just whether to buy a game based on whether that game is good or not.

That your friends don’t like me for unstated reasons isn’t really relevant to the thread, so I guess that’s a derail anyway.

Back to the point, knowing what you’re getting is great. It beats the hell out of not knowing. So if the only two choices were random packs and LCG model, then LCG model is miles better. You’re saying exactly the same thing. The only thing iffy about the LCG model is that if you were designing a game and wanted that game to have the number of elements (or cards) that makes the game the best, I highly, highly doubt that the number you’d come up with is the number in the LCG model. It’s far more likely that the LCG model is an excuse to sell more chaff at regular intervals. So expansions make more sense to me. Like work on an expansion, when it’s really good and balanced, release it, whenever that is. Don’t put more in it than needs to be there. If you are somehow able to release stuff that really actually improves the game with no chaff every single month like an LCG…ok great, good job. It’s just way more likely to be a money grab than a way to maximize design quality.

I personally hate it when you have to buy something like a booster pack but the pack would be random. It’s designed to get more money from the consumer till they finally get what they want. I think having Fantasy Strike being non random sets that you can buy feels better to me, because I know what I am getting and what I want. For example, a lot of F2P games rely on a random model to get the player to spend more money. In early DFO when it came to US, Avatars were random, which meant if you want some nice hat, well you had to keep rolling for it, which cost money (though luckily this made a market for players to trade them). Numerous other F2P also do things like give you shitty reinforcement rates, so you cough up the cash for something like making you have a better chance (though I’m moving away from his point now).

I feel like a suckup liking all of sirlins posts, but damn, expertise will tell.

As a slight diversion, there really really needs to be more understanding of the idea ‘more isn’t automatically better’.

People think more flash, longer combos, more options, more customization, more whatever is always superior, but it’s really not, and in FG’s we’re well past the point where that stuff distracts from the really important elements of the games.

Especially when the ‘more’ element is designed to draw continuous purchases out of the fanbase.

Black market for cards solves everyone’s problems.

Oh, if the gems were sold in some MTG-style booster pack format, then yeah, I’d be right next to you screaming how dumb of an idea that is. And I agree on other things (grinding in games should be for outfits/music/etc. and not characters is the main one). But in a customizable game, it’s difficult to tell straight-up what cards will be bad or not (well, unless you make them bad of course, i.e. MTG’s infamous Chimney Imp). I mean, no one knows what the balance of a game will turn out to be in the end, especially the developers. There are STILL tier-shifts in ST and SSB Melee, Hilde went from the worst character in SC4 to eventually banned, and Starcraft really only had two viable races for how long. And these are in closed systems. Customizable, well, the sky’s the limit. A lot of people didn’t think Wild Mongrel would be a great card during Odyssey block in Magic, and yet that simple common helped shape the entire metagame.

The one glaring problem I see with any collectible model isn’t really the price or distribution. It’s the fact that the metagame develops so fast that it stifles creativity. A few weeks before a set is even released, people have made proxy-filled decks and tested them against other proxy-filled decks to find out what the best deck will end up being. In other words, it develops so fast that you may already know what the “best” deck is by the time the shopkeepers have the cards in stock.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, in a perfect world for consumers, everything would be like a fighting game. In a perfect world for companies, everything would be like MTG. The happy compromise won’t be something agreed on by everyone, and I don’t think there’s one clear-cut option anyway with so many ways to compete, no matter how much arguing we do on the internet about it.