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January 23, 2008 / jadettman

Effort + Fun = Investment

So yesterday I got to thinking about the different ways in which players (this includes the GM, here) become invested in a roleplaying game.

When I say investment I mean that the player becomes attached to the game in some way (emotionally, financially, etc). So, to my way of thinking, the formula is [effort + fun = investment].

Effort is the easiest of the ingredients to break down in the equation. Any time that a player puts some work into the game they have become more invested.

At the outset of most RPGs, the GM is the player most invested in the game-at-the-table. The GM has gone to the trouble of learning the system, come up with possible series concepts, and pitched the the whole shebang to the other players. They may even have already created maps of the game-world, built some initial NPCs, and thought about some areas of conflict for the other players to engage. In addition to the creative work that has been done, the GM has also (probably) purchased the rules which creates a financial investment in the game.

Investment by the other players comes later, once they have agree to participate in the game-at-the-table. The players may have to learn a new game system, they will certainly have to make a new character, and they will have to figure out where their character fits into the game. They might even buy a copy of the rules for themselves, creating financial investment, but that isn’t a given.

Emotional investment comes from several different angles. The social aspects of the game (hanging out with your friends during the game, talking about the game with friends outside of the game, and interacting with friends in the context of the game) can be one of the major points of investment, as can getting into character and getting to know the character in more depth through play. Group cohesion and the build-up of shared experiences through play also provide emotional investment. These are, theoretically, the ‘fun’ part of the equation.

Once investment has occurred, it becomes more difficult for the players to give up on the game. The players don’t want to simply throw away the time and effort they’ve already spent. Also, once the game has sufficient momentum, the players should want to continue playing because they want to continue having fun.

From a rules standpoint, investment happens when the players learn the rules well enough so that the book doesn’t have to be referenced. So, from a designer standpoint, it seems that the optimal choice is to create a complex and lengthy rule-set so that the players are required to expend more effort to learn them. That may be why simpler ‘lite’ games seem to have less following, or at least fewer vocal adherents. On the other hand, the relative success of Amber Diceless may be due in large part to the game’s encouragement of player participation outside the gaming session.

I feel like there is more to this train of thought but I started it this morning and had to interupt my thought process to go to work. I’ll probably return to it later.



Leave a Comment
  1. Britt / Jan 24 2008 10:57 am

    I think that you’re right, both in terms of effort (which I think definitely holds true for me as a player) and also financially. There is a psychological principle that the more you spend on a product, the more likely you are to be slavishly devoted to it after purchase (*cough*Apple*cough*). It’s an unconscious feeling that damnit, you spent a whole bunch of money, and you don’t want to feel like you were a fool for doing it, so *of course* you’re happy with your purchase.

    In gaming there’s a bit of a feedback; you have to be somewhat engaged to a system to buy a supplemental reference but the more you buy, the more engaged you find yourself, so the more you buy, and thus the splatbook industry flourishes.

  2. J.A. Dettman / Jan 24 2008 9:15 pm

    Yep, I totally agree that splatbooks take advantage of an investment feedback loop.

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