This piece on the business of game development has some real gems in it: What Games Are: The Fun Boson Does Not Exist - by Tadhg Kelly - TechCrunch
The gaming industry has the ability to tap into a distribution system that is truly unique, and it is innovating around distribution more than around the games themselves:
The tragedy of social games is that the companies involved discovered the greatest distribution tool in the history of the industry, and yet proved inept at providing great games to go with it. The best things that they’ve come up with so far is Poker, some socialised versions of simple casual games, some super-simple sims and about 100,000 variations of Dungeons and Dragons.
Measurement is a good thing, but can overtake creative in negative ways
Like other industries today, the very ability to measure everything has created a deep bias towards metrics instead of human judgment.
The ultimate fallacy of sticking with “you can only improve what you can measure” is that measurements eventually determine all of your creative decisions. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a designer complain that they need to enact a deep change in their game, but are not allowed to do so by a manager who demands it be proved with numbers first. Both understand that something is not right, but the axiom mandates that the problem must be expressed in numeric terms, or else it does not exist.
Kelly sees electronic games as having the same dynamic that physical games do. So you can explain the rules governing a game, such as tennis, basketball, or croquet, but you don't really get the dynamics until you see the system in motion. Real world games are sensitive to changes, such as changes in the height of the tennis net. Which is no doubt why such changes are contemplated at length by sporting bodies prior to making them.
Fun as emergent property
But in electronic games, he argues, the obsession with measurement can sometimes improve the measured of "fun", without actually making the game more fun.
Games are essentially chaotic systems. In a chaotic system you can look at the initial starting conditions and the topology of a simulation and try to predict the interactions of strange attractors as much as you like, but you generally don’t really get what the hell the simulation is doing until you observe it in motion. The system is too sensitive, the patterns too hard to interpret and the situation too emergent.
Fun is essentially an emergent property of the system, and not subject to the application of process rules in the same way manufacturing is.
Designers of great board games, such as the famous Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber, often test and refine with real players for a long time to get things just right, tweaking minor game elements. Catan is one of those board games that inspires such incredible user engagement that you can find many instructions on line for how to build a better playing board.
Kelly argues that social games have yet to find the fun. What do you think?