World-renowned game designer Richard Garfield shared insights from his nearly 30-year career in the game industry during his Thursday visit to campus.
The creator of the mega-popular Magic: The Gathering card game spoke to the students of DigiPen’s GAT 210 class, outlining some of the key tenets and design strategies for fostering an engaged player community. In doing so, he discussed how the core principles of the trading card game — the genre he created — could apply equally well to digital online games.
One concept Garfield discussed was allowing users who have purchased a game or game content to play with others who haven’t. While it may run counter to modern publishing practices, he said, it’s actually a well-established model. People who buy games, he said, don’t want to play just with other purchasers but with their own friends.
“That’s the way it’s been done on paper forever. If I own chess, you don’t have to,” he said. “Be as generous as you can be — not to the person that’s playing for free — but to the person who has bought the game.”
Too many modern games, he said, use purchasable content in a way that fractures and segments the player community. Players who purchase extra online content are blocked from playing with those who have not purchased the same content and vice versa. Worse yet, games that implement a pay-to-win strategy — offering purchasable weapons upgrades, for example — create a negative tension between the people who pay and the people who play for free.
A game structure built on sharing, he said, can instead have a positive effect:
“If — when I purchase something online — I share it with the people I’m playing with, suddenly I don’t become a pariah among people who hate me because I’ve spent money. I become somebody who’s valuable to the community — just like real life.
I own a board game and I play it with all of you. I’m doing you guys a favor. I’ve purchased the game. I’ve read the rules. I’ve set it up. I do the hosting.
Here you’ve conferred that same social advantage onto the people who purchase the game. And you’re beginning to see this more and more.”
Magic: The Gathering was first released in 1993 by Seattle-based Wizards of the Coast and has since continued to evolve and expand. The franchise had an estimated 12 million users in 2011. It’s also a very popular game among DigiPen students, with games commonly being played around the tables of DigiPen’s Bits and Bytes Café.