Barriers to Entry

edited January 2010 in Story Games
So over in the Giant Detailed Settings thread (which you should totally be reading) I sorta thrashed around a bit with a bigger topic, until I finally got smart and took it to a new thread. This is the new thread.

This thread is about barriers to entry with respect to gaming systems. Specifically I'm talking about this sort of thing:

"Sure, we could start playing Houses of the Blooded... but there's a bunch of new rules to learn, and a bunch of setting to get up to speed on, and after all that maybe wouldn't it be better to stick with something we already know all about, like D&D?"

So, hit me with your ideas about what sorts of barriers to entry are present in games, and what we can do to lower them.

(Or if you'd rather talk about pretty much anything else on that Wikipedia page, that's good too; there's all sorts of good stuff there.)


Cheers,
Roger

Comments

  • This has struck me about many games lately too (well, okay, not just lately, but it seems to be happening more often lately). For me, there's a lot of games out there that conceptually and mechanically look brilliant, and some of them I've really enjoyed playing, but their setting has always driven me away, or made it difficult for me to share the game with my friends.
    It seems a lot of games require an intimate knowledge of a particular series of books, or previous games, or certain cultures or periods of history, etc., and you need to invest a lot of time and brain power to get familiar enough to know what's going on. Everything from Warhammer Fantasy (2nd Ed), Dark Heresy, Vampire the Masquerade, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and hell, even Star Wars, require additional geekery to really be an active participant in the game, or so it seems to me. And that seems like a major barrier to enjoying the game overall. At least with a GM's original campaign world (particularly if the players can help narrate and create what that world becomes), you don't have to pull out sourcebooks left and right to explain new concepts...instead you just describe them.
    I had a hell of a time with a Warhammer Fantasy campaign, where even though I was the GM, I was the only person at the table not to have read any of the fiction or played the miniatures game. I enjoyed the rules, and wanted to play it as more of a generic fantasy game, but things were quickly bogged down with mutant hunts, warpstone collecting, and burning heretics. Even worse when a few players kept insisting that certain people or events couldn't be allowed or should be allowed, based on the timeline of the Warhammer Fantasy world.

    So, yeah, that tends to make it pretty hard to start up another game, much less enjoy one.
  • Sometimes barriers to entry are good - they provide you with a strong challenge up front.
  • That's an interesting point; I look at some of the games my group has played and I suspect that some of them would not have been as good if they had lower barriers to entry. But because they were a challenge to learn, a challenge to pitch to the group, and a challenge to run, we couldn't dog it. We had to really want to play those games, more than we wanted to play something familiar, and so we all dug a little deeper and invested a little more in it.

    It's not a perfect situation, but what in this sad broken-down world ever is? It might be nice if some things were easier, but if they aren't and if you decide you'd rather not deal with them right now since you can just have fun doing something familiar instead, that's fine.
  • Yeah, I think it's fair to say that barriers to entry are not always a bad thing.

    They can work as barriers to exit, as well -- "I just spent five years learning this set of D&D rules and I'm not going to throw that all away."

    As far as big crazy settings go... in my experience these haven't been as much of a problem as I was expecting. I just keep my head down, play my character, and things generally work out fine.
  • To me, setting can be an enormous barrier!
    So can the layout of a book, though - when I get a new play text, I want character creation, then basic resolution, and THEN all that other stuff! If there's more than a few paragraphs of material/mood-setting between me and rolling a character, I will balk, at least at first.
    Polaris has the right amount of mood-setting for me - and it really is more mood-setting than, say, information to memorize.
    Eberron is a great example of a game that's very hard for me - a HUGE amount of info, some wonky things getting in the way of the cool ideas ("Everything in D&D is also in Eberron!" Half-elves FTLLLLLL). Not that basic resolution or character creation are hard to access, but there's just so much else going on that I get lost prioritizing what's important, what I actually care about, etc. It's all too much!

    Roger, the "barriers to exit" thing makes tons of sense - it's blocked me and some people I've known (relax, guys - nobody here ^_^) from trying new games or new *kinds* of games, based on personal reasons XYZ.
  • Could someone please give me an example of barriers to entry being a good thing?

    I am not following that at all.
  • I totally have to agree with this "barrier to exit" theory.

    I've just been invited to run a twice weekly D&D 2nd edition game, by a few gamers who have obviously been playing this for years (decades). The problem is that there are bunch of new gamers and inexperienced gamers who just won't get it.

    On one side I've got the "barrier to exit", these guys don't want to leave the system they've been playing for years...on the other side I've got "barrier to entry".

    I can think of some great game systems that would be quick for everyone to learn, games that would put everyone on an even footing. But the experienced D&D players don't want to leave their comfort zone too much...I guess I can be glad their letting me run a setting of my own devising.

    At the moment, I am the barrier warden, trying to lower the threshold to a point where the new players can come in (while not lowering it to a point where the gameplay is unrecognisable as D&D). It's going to be a fun balancing act.
  • Judd, I think there's a couple of things going on.

    For one, we've got the sunk cost fallacy. If someone spends a year mastering a game, they're going to become more loyal to it and more resistant to dropping it in favour of something else.

    For another, we've got the (I believe) well-known effect that free games get less play than games people pay for. Paying for a game is a barrier to entry. There's also some evidence that people will believe a $100 product is inherently better than a $10 product, even if they're just the same product with a different price tag.

    There's probably other effects out there too, but those are the ones that come to mind.
  • edited January 2010
    Barriers to entry that have stopped me in the past:
    • Financial cost:
      • How much do I need to buy in?
      • What is the long term cost? (e.g. - will I need to buy or be pressured to buy updates/expansions/modules?)
      • How much does each artifact cost? Microtransactions don't tend to trigger my thriftiness. I am susceptible to being nickeled and dimed.
    • Lack of familiarity: if the setting or rules seem alien to me and if none of my friends or acquaintances have experience with the subject matter at hand, I am reticent to buy in.
    • Complexity of setting: I've tried getting into games that had familiar subject matter, but the world was so nuanced, that I had difficulty figuring out how to interact with it successfully.
    • Complexity of rules: Same game as above. Each action in combat required 3-4 rolls of varying denominations of dice. This quickly became boring and discouraging.
    • Being unable to affect the story: Often this is attributed to the system, but from my experience it's usually related to the people at the table. I've been stopped in my tracks and been placed in uncompelling stories by both player and GM alike.
    I think "barriers to entry" in the case of gaming might be better named "barriers to adoption." It's usually not too difficult to get someone to sit down to play a couple sessions of a game, which might be considered an entry. You might even get them to buy a book or two. But if they don't stick with it, what was accomplished?
  • edited January 2010
    Posted By: xenomouseBut if they don't stick with it, what was accomplished?
    Tangent: What if games were designed to only be played acouple of times, so it doesn't matter if they stick with it?

    This stick with it thing seems peculiar to RPG culture, to me anyhow. I mean, I feel that way sometimes myself, yet I really don't about it something like a family boardgame or even teaching someone to play poker.
  • Posted By: xenomouseIt's usually not too difficult to get someone to sit down to play a couple sessions of a game, which might be considered an entry. You might even get them to buy a book or two. But if they don't stick with it, what was accomplished?
    ...besides a couple of sessions of gaming, which was (hopefully) fun for the people involved? I mean, what exactly is accomplished if you get someone to sit down and play twenty sessions of a game? Thirty? A thousand? Are there valuable prizes awarded to people who "stick with it"? :D

    Seriously, though, I get the impression that in this particular thread, getting someone to sit down to play a couple sessions of a game would be a victory: we're talking barriers to entry so steep that the prospective players are looking at 'em and saying "Not worth it."
  • edited January 2010
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteSeriously, though, I get the impression that in this particular thread, getting someone to sit down to play a couple sessions of a game would be a victory: we're talking barriers to entry so steep that the prospective players are looking at 'em and saying "Not worth it."
    There are actually a fair few games floating around now that actually are good for easy entry, a couple of sessions of play and done, many of them produced by folks participating on this forum.
  • Posted By: JuddCould someone please give me an example of barriers to entry being a good thing?
    Chess has a bunch of different pieces that all move differently, and the win condition is completely disconnected from normal play. This means that getting started playing chess is hard. This means that chess is fun.
  • edited January 2010
    Posted By: komradebobWhat if games were designed to only be played acouple of times, so it doesn't matter if they stick with it?
    It seems to me that most modern story games, as compared to old/older-school (and mainstream commercial) RPGs, are relatively focused. I don't mean that they are one-shot, but rather that a relative preponderance either seek a climax and endgame (an important part of a story, after all) or adhere to a fairly rigid (and thus more focused) episodic style of play.

    That's just a very general observation from my limited experience with story games, but it does contrast with my impression of more mainstream RPGs, which seem to suffer the most from Stick-With-It! syndrome. I suppose that this is partially a result of the large financial investment that mainstream commercial RPGs demand, but it might also be related to the brand-loyalty trend among the same groups. (Is it just me, or do many DnD players incessantly rag on the White Wolf gamers and vice versa?) Whatever the cause, Stick-With-It! attitudes seem more commonplace outside of the story game community.
  • Posted By: komradebobPosted By: xenomouseBut if they don't stick with it, what was accomplished?
    Tangent: What if games were designed to only be played acouple of times, so it doesn't matter if they stick with it?True. Though, lack of replayability or long term play might be another barrier to entry though, depending on the tastes of the player. I know I tend to be more drawn to games that support long term play than ones that don't.
  • Posted By: JuddCould someone please give me an example of barriers to entry being a good thing?

    I am not following that at all.
    If your goal is only to maximize the number of people who will try out your game, then barriers to entry are always a bad thing. However, that's not always the case.

    Suppose that I wanted to maximize customer satisfaction. I know that customers of type X will be dissatisfied with my game after the first few session. Rather than making it easier for customers of type X to get started on my game, I would prefer to make it more difficult for customers of type X to get started on my game, making it clear to them up front that this is not the game for them. So, for example, suppose I have a math-heavy strategic wargame. I can't cut out the math without fundamentally changing what the game is, and some people really enjoy it. I want to create a barrier to entry on the game so that people who aren't into math won't try it. Similarly, if I make a game that I think works best with a lot of time investment (like an in-depth strategy game), I may not want people coming into it for a quick afternoon's fun. I want to make a barrier against people who aren't willing to put in that time investment.

    If you don't assume that I want as many people as possible to try my game, then you can see all sorts of reasons to create barriers to entry. So, for example, I might want to make a Lord of the Rings game that's fun and accessible for kids who haven't read Tolkien and/or have only seen the a movie or two. However, I might also want to make a Lord of the Rings game that is specifically for fans of Tolkien's written work. Who my target audience is suggests what I might want for barriers to entry.
  • Posted By: Accounting for TastePosted By: xenomouseIt's usually not too difficult to get someone to sit down to play a couple sessions of a game, which might be considered an entry. You might even get them to buy a book or two. But if they don't stick with it, what was accomplished?
    ...besides a couple of sessions of gaming, which was (hopefully) fun for the people involved? I mean, what exactly is accomplished if you get someone to sit down and play twenty sessions of a game? Thirty? A thousand? Are there valuable prizes awarded to people who "stick with it"? :DGood catch. I was implying (and obviously not very well) that "sticking with it" meant they were having fun and wanted to be there. Maybe I should have said something about a time-to-fun variable. How long does it take for me to get into / have fun with this system. Sometimes a little ramp up is required. Sometimes a lot is required. I know people who will give up on a game within 15 minutes of starting if they aren't having fun, and I know people who were willing to play a couple sessions waiting for things to get fun.
  • Posted By: xenomousePosted By: komradebobPosted By: xenomouseBut if they don't stick with it, what was accomplished?
    Tangent: What if games were designed to only be played acouple of times, so it doesn't matter if they stick with it?True. Though, lack of replayability or long term play might be another barrier to entry though, depending on the tastes of the player. I know I tend to be more drawn to games that support long term play than ones that don't.

    I'm more into the thing of long-term roleplaying, but I'm not as into playing a single game long term, for example, if that makes any sense at all.

    So, for me, a good product might be a bunch of easily accessible, short use games, bundled together.

    But then, I'm one of those weirdoes who thinks old-timey adventure modules are ace, too.
  • As others have mentioned, "barriers to acceptance" or some such may have been better than me trying to shoehorn in some economics term. Oh well.


    'Brand Monopoly' is sort of an interesting thing that I think is related to this. Basically, the only people making Coke is the Coke Company, so they have a monopoly on making Coke. This used to be true for D&D... but one of the clever things about the whole 'retro-clone' thing is that now there's quite a number of companies producing products that the average consumer (of that product) is likely to think of as D&D.

    When it comes to branding, I'm a little surprised we haven't yet reached the point of "Vincent Baker presents: Tinky Winky, a game by Joe Q. Developer". Or maybe we have and I just missed it -- to some extent companies like Mongoose and Goodman Games sorta run with this.


    The relationship to barriers of entry is that a lack-of-trust with the producer forms a barrier of entry. Given the choice between two random products, one by Genius Superstar and the other by Anonymous Schlub, people are going to play the odds.
  • Posted By: RogerWhen it comes to branding, I'm a little surprised we haven't yet reached the point of "Vincent Baker presents: Tinky Winky, a game by Joe Q. Developer". Or maybe we have and I just missed it -- to some extent companies like Mongoose and Goodman Games sorta run with this.
    I thought we reached that point a couple of years ago with the "Monte Cook" books released by Wizards a few years back (or maybe it was through Sword&Sorcery studio....anyway...)...I never purchased any, but I understood many of those books to be a collection of Monet Cook's favourite additions to the OGL/3/3.5D&D range of games. Not stuff he had produced, but stuff by other authors that he had recommended.

    Barrier to entry magically lowered for these optional systems, because a "significant" name recommended them.
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