September 2, 2009

Inspired by some recent discussions in my IM and in Russian RPG blogosphere, as well as by the question I just got (for the hundredth time) in Evony: “do you want to spend 5000 gold to heal these 1000 soldiers?”, I feel compelled to write something about the issue of micromanagement.

One of the most important rules in any RPG, be it game design as such or the gameplay itself, is to make the players’ choices matter. Everybody knows that. However, there is another rule which is equally important: don’t waste the players’ time and energy on choices that don’t matter. Micromanagement is one of those things: you make the players make too much decisions, and each of those is horribly tiny. If this happens in tabletop chargen, you end up distributing literally thousands points among the attributes/skills/perks of your character, and you do this mostly randomly just due to the sheer width of the decision making choice (the example my colleagues were referring to was Eclipse Phase). Same for Evony: if I have 50000000 gold in my pocket, I don’t want to be greedy about a couple of thousands.

There is another folklore saying about RPGs: the dice know the truth. It’s a joke apparently, but every joke has some truth in it—in this case it is the simple fact that most successful game systems are designed in such a way that the randomness provided by the dice brings more fun to the gaming process. However, if the counter values are so high that the random values subtracted from them are close to meaningless, it is also a form of micromanagement and should be avoided if possible or should have a well-designed workaround otherwise.