Dear Mr. Rosewater (2)
thank you very much for answering my mail!
You won’t be surprised, though, that I do not consider my issues answered yet. Of course, in one short mail I could neither convey the scope nor the depth of my concerns. Not to waste too much of your valuable time, let me get right into the thick of things:
You write: “My articles (“Fun Off, Parts I & II”) talking about fun was a face off of cards that different PLAYERS thought was the “most fun card in all of Magic”. The discussion was not about what makes the game fun in general but about what PLAYERS embrace as their favorite. Grizzly Bears is a huge part of what makes the game fun, but I highly doubt it is the “funnest card in the game” for many PLAYERS.” (Capitalizations by me, of course – I’m not comfortable with other ways of highlighting text in mails, since they tend to get lost between different mail programs.)
A centerpiece of my issues with those articles is just that: When the head of Magic design writes such an article, I expect to read about what HE feels, what he KNOWS about what makes this game fun, not just to summarize the players’ view, and it is by no means a stretch to assume that mostly unreflected repetition equals endorsement. Grizzly Bears aren’t the most fun card in the game*, but they are more fun than cards which are actively unfun (e.g. they make other players refuse to play them, or make games end out of nowhere), and they are more fun than cards which sometimes create special moments, but more often create boredom and frustration (e.g. by sitting in one’s hand uncastable or having no visible effect on the game). You touched on those issues ever so lighty, but you missed an opportunity to clear up misconeceptions of the general public. It’s true that you write about the importance of nuts and bolts cards sometimes, but you haven’t stated clearly yet that they are of fundamental importance to the game because they are the cards which keep this game FUN. They are responsible for Magic’s underlying structure of options, choices and interactions, and thus creating the very fun of playing this game, which flashier cards only expand upon or even leech off. These articles of yours gave you the perfect opportunity to explain that, but you refused to take it.
This is perhaps my biggest issue with Magic nowadays: You – (when I write “you”, I might mean you, Mark; or R&D as a whole; or the company WotC; depending on the context – you’ll have no trouble sorting that out, I’m sure) seem to have given up on educating your customers in favor of catering to their whims. I won’t have to explain to you that what people want, what they like, and what they actually need, are different things.
People are notorious for valuing the wrong things. Instead of finding a number of moderately interesting examples from other areas of life, I will apply this insight directly to Magic: The first thing most beginning players wish for is a creature that will flatout win them the game when played. It’s just natural. They want it to be bigger than everything their opponent can muster, and they want it to not be stopped. They might even get excited about getting their hands on a spell with the unbelievable text “opponent loses next turn”. In short, they care so much for winning that they don’t realize that they want to win in a way which would effectively mean to stop playing. They do not appreciate that winning a game is only fun when playing that game is. (Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a game, but this bothersome thing people call “real life”.) Also, they do not realize that their fun of winning with an unstoppable card comes at the expense of their opponent most certainly NOT having fun.
Then, when people leave the beginners’ stage of their magic career, they still cling to their idea that this game would be more fun if winning was easier for them. Note that this is probably true for any single individual: Practically everyone will have a little more fun in a game in which he wins a little more often! Obviously, though, this does not work out if EVERYONE wants to have a little more fun that way (and it also gets problematic when an individual starts to win so consistently that he comes to expect it, but that’s a different issue). To understand that a game might actually be more fun when winning is HARDER for them takes an insight most players are unwilling to gain.
Magic is both a game of skill and luck, and it’s commonplace that skilled players tend to wish it were less luck-based, while less skilled players tend to be happier when the luck factor increases. That debate about the ideal balance between skill and luck, while it ties in with my topic today, I’ll leave aside for now, but I want to note that this balance cannot leave a certain margin which is inherent to the nature of the game – or, put the other way: If you change that balance too drastically, you change the very nature of the game, and you are in dire danger of taking away a fundamental part of what makes this game FUN.
I think we actually agree about an integral part of what makes Magic fun. Your quote: “Anything that makes the game less interactive (be it alt win cards or anything else) is bad.” There, we have it: Interaction is essential!
However, the sad truth is that most players wish to take interaction AWAY from their games. They do not want their opponents to interfere with their plans; to attack their resources, to counter their spells, to remove their permanents. They’re still in the mindset of wanting to win easily, by playing invincible creatures, or by executing ingenious combos – in short, by IGNORING their opponents. They do not want to INTERACT with their opponents’ strategy, they want to TRUMP it.
And this, in a nutshell, is the path which Magic seems to have taken during the last few years: Away from the concept of interaction, towards the concept of trumping your opponents’ cards with stronger cards. This is why it has become a worse game, even though many players seem to enjoy it more.
I’ll end this mail with a few more thoughts on that stew analogy of mine: No, you cannot avoid all ingredients which upset somone, or there will only water be left in the stew (if at all). However, if you put in something you know many will hate, you need a better reason than “others like it, though”. Are there no other possible ingredients which will not provoke as strong a negative reaction, but serve a similar purpose? Is that ingredient possibly essential to the stew?
Some kinds of food are essential to people’s health, and this is true for cards in a complex game like Magic as well. Even if many people don’t like them, they should be included and defended on those grounds. Others are widely liked but are, in fact, detrimental to people’s / a game’s health if used too often. They might get applauded when the stew is served, but lead to sickness after a while. They should not be overused, even if the majority of people calls for them.
* If I had to nominate a card for being “the most fun”, I’d chose something like Impulse – a card which is very seldom useless, almost always gives you interesting options/choices, and almost never frustrates your opponents when you play it.