Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

20 May, 2013

Fun vs. satisfaction
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:32 AM

Games are supposed to be fun, duh. It seems to be a regular comment that if something isn’t fun, it should be removed from a game. Why are game developers so stupid to leave in systems that nobody finds fun? Or, just look at those EEEEEVIL free-to-play games with their “pay to win” strategies, forcing people to pay money to avoid the parts that aren’t fun, amirite?

Except, there’s a good reason why games have parts that don’t seem fun on the surface, but that build a long-term feeling of satisfaction. Let’s take a look at satisfaction and why it matters in games.

For this post, I’ll assume an unstated, informal definition of “fun”. I won’t try to formally define fun, since that’s tough to do. But, I think your specific definition of “fun” that isn’t too esoteric won’t detract from my point.

Measuring on one dimension

Trying to measure everything in a game solely through the lens of “fun” leads to problems. Even if you look at it as a continuum instead of a binary setting, it seems natural that a person should always want “more fun”. Just imagine one of those TV commercials where someone asks a group of kids “do you want more or less fun?” and imagine the answers.

Azuriel over at In An Age posted about Instant Gratification vs Fun Investment, drawing a distinction between something that’s fun immediately vs. something that you have to invest time in that leads to fun later. The post argues that even things you invest in to have fun should be fun in and of themselves. This explanation relies too heavily on looking through the single perspective of “fun”.

Let’s take a look at the example of building a deck to play Magic: the Gathering (MtG). Azuriel argues deck building is a necessary but still fun part of the process, but is that universally true? I think it’s likely that people who do find deck-building fun are the ones who stuck with MtG longer. The existence of pre-constructed decks show that deck building isn’t always fun for everyone in all situations; sometimes you do just want to get in and play.

To me, part of the enjoyment from building a deck comes from the anticipation of playing that deck in a game. Give someone who hasn’t played before a bunch of cards (and no instruction booklet), and while that person might enjoy looking at the art, I doubt they’ll spontaneously decide to build a deck for enjoyment. Take this one step further: give that person rules for how to build a deck but deny them the ability to play the game; would they find that process fun? Some might, but I think you’d get a lot of people who would find that process particularly unfun.

Yes, there are exceptions. I love rolling up characters for RPGs, even if I’ll never play them. I like exploring the mechanics of a game I might not play in earnest. But, people like me are in the minority. This is why I want another way to describe the feeling when constructing an interesting MtG deck.

Adding a second dimension

So, why is deck building “fun” for some people? I think “satisfaction” may be a better term than “fun”. Building a good deck requires skill: knowing how to play the game, knowing how cards work in conjunction, knowing probability, etc. Building a deck expresses of mastery over these skills, and a player can feel satisfied having mastered them. There’s also an element of anticipation: thinking what happens when you get one of the card combos set up and can pull it off spectacularly.

There’s also the continuing satisfaction of when you play the deck in an actual game. If you have done a good job in building the deck, then it enhances the gameplay and you feel greater satisfaction for constructing a deck that performs well. I think this sense of satisfaction is separate from, but very much related to, the fun had while actually playing the game.

To see the role of satisfaction more clearly, consider three scenarios. First, you are given a limited, random supply of MtG cards to make a deck. Second, you are given access to any MtG cards you want to build a deck. In the final scenario, you are given a champion’s pre-constructed deck and allowed no modifications. You then play a game of MtG and win in each of these scenarios. Which scenario gives you the most satisfaction? To me, the more input I have and the more skill required, the more satisfied I am. The more satisfying situation is the one that requires the most effort.

Although, like “fun” there’s no one universal definition of what is “satisfying” to someone. Maybe someone would be just as satisfied with unlimited cards rather than being limited. Or, in RPGs, I might find satisfaction in a well-organized inventory, whereas someone else sees that as unnecessary busywork. You might think getting to max level in a short period of time is satisfying, where I see that as focusing on the destination rather than the journey. To repeat the cliché, one size doesn’t fit all.

Short-term vs. long-term

Fun tends to be fleeting, but satisfaction lingers for most people. Imagine a situation where you have fun, but where you don’t have a lot of satisfaction. Let’s say you play a board game with some friends, but there’s no deep rivalry or decisive victories. You might have fun playing the game, but the next day you might not remember many of the details beyond, “yeah, it was fun.” A week later the fun you had is unlikely to be meaningful to your life. The most likely outcome is that you look forward to having fun again.

Now consider a situation where you didn’t have fun, but experienced intense satisfaction. Obviously there are major life landmarks, like graduation, that tend to be satisfying but not especially fun while you’re going working to the goal. But, consider a smaller situation like writing a blog post that helps cement a game design concept that’s been bouncing around in my head. Sure, writing can be fun, but I could be playing Borderlands 2 right now which is a lot more fun that writing this. ;) But, which am I likely to remember better: that jolt of dopamine from picking up a strange new weapon in Borderlands 2, or the satisfaction of explaining out a few theory of game deign I’ve finally been able to articulate into words? I’d put my money on the latter.

People will want different things at different times. Sometimes you just want to shut off your brain and have some mindless fun. Other times you want something deeper, more meaningful, and satisfying. Neither is universally “better”, but I think a great game provides both. However, it’s also important to understand that some satisfying things may not be as “fun” as other activities, but those other activities may end up being less satisfying.

So, I think satisfaction explains some of the reasons why people put stock into “long-term fun” when it requires doing things that aren’t the maximum amount of fun in the short-term; it’s not really long-term fun we’re talking about, but satisfaction.

Satisfaction vs. achievement

It might seem like satisfaction is a synonym for achievement. I think they are related, but slightly different emotions. Achievement is something that requires external validation. Achievers are one of Bartle’s four types of players, and we have come to realize that it’s important to Achievers to be recognized for their achievements. This is the reason why achievements in games became formalized when we had more networked games and game consoles. I think this is also a motivation for why people play modern MMOs, these games cater to achievers and the other players are a knowledgeable audience who will appreciate your achievements more.

Satisfaction, on the other hand, is internal. I can do something that nobody else will ever see, and be satisfied with the results. Even if nobody read this blog post, I’d have the satisfaction of having developed some of my own game design tools. (I’m posting this on my blog not necessarily to get a high score in number of views or comments, but to get insight into how others react to my concepts and to refine my ideas.) Satisfaction usually has more to do with accomplishing a personal goal than with external validation.

Although, these two concepts an interact in interesting ways. An achiever might feel satisfied with an accomplishment because he or she knows that recognition will follow. Someone doing something for their own personal satisfaction might be pleasantly surprised when others laud their action and it becomes an achievement.

Satisfaction in MMOs

So, how does the concept of satisfaction relate to MMOs? There are a few ways that explain why activities that some people find “unfun” others find the core of the experience.

The multiplayer nature of MMOs really makes satisfaction tricky. As I said above, what one person finds satisfying isn’t necessarily universal. I might find it very satisfying to know an efficient route to get to a dungeon entrance quickly. Or, I might find it satisfying to meander to a dungeon entrance with a group, killing monsters and harvesting resources along the way. You, however, might find it dreadfully boring and want to just get to the dungeon, get your loot, and scram. Once the game introduces an efficiency like an LFD tool, I will likely no longer get the satisfaction from traveling to the dungeon entrance, reducing my interest in the game.

In a previous post, I argue that MMOs need to re-focus on social elements to promote long-term retention in games. As people love to point out, it’s not particularly compelling to wait for groups to form. It can feel like an obligation when doing something organized like raiding. But, there’s a certain sense of satisfaction in being a productive member of a group. Knowing that you helped your guild finally conquer that raid boss gives a sense of satisfaction that can balance if not outweigh the nights of wiping against that boss.

Or, consider the dreaded grind. While many people don’t see repetitive activity as fun, it can bring satisfaction. Knowing that you’re tough enough to endure a “hell level” in the original EQ1. Knowing that you’re capable enough to earn money to fund your raiding. Knowing that you’re clever enough to ferret out the well-kept secrets in a game by checking every nook and cranny. These repetitive activities can feel satisfying even if they don’t feel very fun while you’re in the middle of the process.

As a last example, consider the trend of making games easier. Or “dumbing down”, if you prefer. Looking at this in terms of satisfaction shows that while making a game easier can make it faster to find the “fun” parts, it feels less satisfying. Thinking back on the Meridian 59 characters I’ve built compared to the Guild Wars 2 characters I’ve leveled, I have felt a lot more satisfaction building the M59 characters. In M59, there’s a real element of risk involved that isn’t present in building a character in GW2.

A crisis of satisfaction

This separation of fun from satisfaction explains some of the failings of modern MMOs. Streamlining has let some get to the “fun” faster, but it has lead to less satisfying games for others. WoW is still a fun game, but I think for a lot of people it’s less satisfying and therefore losing subscribers. Other games that copy the fun elements of previous MMOs but don’t examine the satisfying elements are only getting it part right. They need the satisfying elements to keep people interested.

What do you think? Do you agree that fun and satisfaction are two separate emotions? Do you recognize the experiences you had in MMOs as being fun vs. being satisfying? Is there some common element that makes a gameplay element satisfying?


  1. Great perspective!

    I’m an “up front fun” kind of player. I like the discovery of new games, learning systems, figuring out mostly how NOT to suck (whereas a lot of other people try very hard to figure out how to succeed…two different directions XD). Once I run into situations where there really isn’t a lot of opportunity to lean new things, I get real bored, REAL fast.

    I suppose that fun can be the VEHICLE to satisfaction. I know that when I feel that something I’m trying to do is just WORK — and therefor, not fun — I get angry and annoyed and just quit, preventing me from gaining ANY kind of satisfaction. Stringing little bits of fun together in pursuit of a goal, is satisfying.

    Comment by Scopique — 20 May, 2013 @ 11:54 AM

  2. “I can’t get no satisfaction” … sorry, just had to quote this. I would go so far to claim that SATISFACTION is what keeps a MMO running, and not FUN. Satisfaction has longevity while fun is not bad at all, but short lived.

    Who ever has fun all day while working or playing? Fun is a thing of the moment. Yet people like to state they had fun playing this or that, I think it’s not that accurate as they rather want to say they liked something.

    Examples? GW2 combat is very fun! Probably the most fun combat in any MMO. They totally nailed that. But is it satisfying? In the long run it’s not very satisfying for me in dungeons and the least in big groups downing a single event boss, somehow there the “fun” gets lost for me. This might be blamed on downed-state rez orgies or just feeling unimportant in the big mass. The fun of the very fun combat also tends to wear out after 1-2 months at max and then you hopefully find something else to keep you going, which I unfortunately didn’t.

    What people like is indeed different. No big news here. :)
    Civilization V for instance has more builder elements than previous Civ games and many RTS games have/had base building, I always preferred the games where you start out without building but go straight to tactical combat. I dunno if people know MechCommander and Panzer General/Corps. Or King’s Bounty compared to Heroes of Might and Magic. The latter focuses a little more on city building while the first one is more centered around the player character and its army.

    What I totally don’t get is that some people like repetitive farming for hours. Always the same spot, solo or in groups. But there are people who do like that, even if I totally don’t get it.

    Regarding upcoming MMOs, I smell a lot of FUN coming with Wildstar… but it might fall in the FUN-trap and get consumed by content locusts that will move on if they can’t get enough satisfaction to make them stay.

    Comment by Longasc — 20 May, 2013 @ 12:07 PM

  3. For me satisfaction needs to be bitesized in MMO’s and it rarely is. And I think if the satisfaction isn’t there, I won’t stick around no matter how fun it is.

    A good example was my brief return to Vanguard this year. I love the Druid class and I always have a ton of fun playing it. But after three solid nights of question I had gained half a level from 22 to 23. I had no satisfaction that all my time invested had any lasting impact on my game experience.

    Give me a reason to continue to have fun in your game, I need to feel like continued the investment of time and money is buying me something! And if it doesn’t – I’ll go kill time on Fruit Ninja or something instead. I can get fun anywhere, and for cheap!

    Comment by HarbingerZero — 20 May, 2013 @ 1:22 PM

  4. Boiled down, I suppose my biggest gripe was with Darkfall’s AFK gathering system where you literally had no inputs whatsoever. Click the button once, come back 5+ minutes later to collect loot. The concept of metering out resources is sound game design, but I wasn’t even playing the game at that point. And yet I kept reading about people being “satisfied” with the end product, or even worse: suggesting that desiring the gathering to be fun was a sort of plea for instant gratification. As if long-term investments had to be painful and boring. But it doesn’t have to be, as demonstrated in the three games I mentioned. It’s true someone might not find deck-building in Magic fun (although I see the entire process as inextricably linked), but the point was proof-of-concept. It’s possible, ergo it should be striven for.

    Presenting a game that has broad appeal at every step to everyone is likely impossible. But I’m not especially concerned with solving this issue for game companies – that’s what they get paid to do. I’m concerned about having more fun games available for me, or at least improving the play experience for the games I own. We can have our cake and eat it too; it is neither a moral failing on our part nor an impossibility. So why settle for less?

    The terms “fun” and even “satisfaction” are probably a bit tautological at this point. But the bottom line is that we don’t have to feel satisfied in spite of all the boring things we did to get to the end result that presumably makes everything worthwhile. We don’t have to have retrospective fun. We can have the fun and the satisfaction too.

    Comment by Azuriel — 20 May, 2013 @ 4:16 PM

  5. As I attempted to suggest in the comments the Azuriel post that you link I feel the consideration that is usually omitted from these discussions is physicality. Commentators on MMOs tend to be highly cerebral. Everything is about what people think, very little about how people feel. And by “feel” I don’t mean only emotionally. I mean physically.

    I read a fantastic post this evening. Prinnie excels at expressing the physicality of playing MMOs but here she outdoes herself It’s that ineffable moment-in-the-moment when you hit the keys harder so you heal better; when you turn hard to the right in your swivel-chair so your character can teeter on the edge and not fall; when your sheer willpower and ability to really swear is what’s holding the Boss tight against your tower shield.

    That’s the intensity of full-on combat but the physical operates in all spheres. Try designing, constructing and decorating a breakout house in EQ2. The seemingly endless sequence of placements, the intricate finger movements, the concentration, the muscle-lock. Try pulling and breaking a camp in EQ; the feints, the rhythm, the timing. Go farm crafting mats and sense the hoppers fill accordant to your patient dedication.

    It’s like music. When you play your character well it’s like playing an instrument. It’s beauty, harmony, skill, beyond either fun or achievement; those terms belittle what it can be, what it is. It is of itself and sufficient thereby.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 20 May, 2013 @ 5:02 PM

  6. The “rhythm” of gaming is just … Gone.
    That tactile feedback from the game, where you really “feel” what your character is doing is just an afterthought now.

    My favorite games will always be the ones where the controls are airtight.
    It’s probably why I enjoy the street fighter series so much, and games like Castlevania:SotN.
    You felt every move was YOUR doing. You were in complete control of your characters actions.
    I always felt the EQ2 combat system was like this, but they ruined it by making raids into omgpayattentiontoyourdotswindoworweallwipe!!!!!!

    I’m still searching for something that’s even close to as satisfying as watching your friend fall for your fake fireball and jump right into a shin-shoryuken.
    I fear those days are long gone though.

    Comment by xgeist — 20 May, 2013 @ 8:53 PM

  7. Oh dear, I see M:tG referenced here. Another of my guilty pleasures I have relapses into now and again. See, I had the most fun and the least fun playing the same type of game: “Booster Draft”. Why? Because it, in theory, levels the playing field by throwing out the stumbling block of paying for a big catalog of potential cards for use. No “Power Nine”, just whatever comes out of booster packs your little circle of players leave you to pick over.

    It’s fun because I get to play on a competitive level, but less fun because sometimes I can chase an idea and it winds up going sour fast leading to a 0-5 night. Those are not fun, except maybe the last two where you don’t have to TRY to win because it won’t mean anything. So you can fool around. Maybe not fun for an opponent trying to stay in the prize brackets . . .

    Anyway, on the topic of “fun” versus “Satisfaction” from MMOs. I have a lot of fun with Guild Wars 2 and feel satisfied more often than not. Sure, I don’t “achieve” all that much. But I rarely feel my time is wasted . . . mostly because I just do what I want. No pressure to go chasing specific awesome gear, or anything. It’s something in common with M59 actually – I didn’t have to really chase gear in THAT game either! Mostly because it was so very . . . transient? Eh, possibly a different word there. But in M59 my gear was not as important as my skill and build. (Not, mind you, skills. Skill.)

    But on the other hand, I was much less satisfied with M59 overall. The prospect of having any fun cut short by a suitably persistent adversary (read: PKer) due to my overwhelmingly BAD ability to fight? Yes, that tainted any fun I was having with having to always be ready to do the Alt-F4 salute.

    Ultima Online, HONESTLY was the most satisfying game of MMOs I played. Why? I never really got powerful in that, I never owned awesome and unique stuff . . . no but I did own a house with patio and worked my rear off to get my craft skills enough to furnish it all on my own. I hunted down a few particular decorations via shipwreck fishing and had friends watch my back sometimes when I went out mining for rarer ores. I felt accomplished and satisfied with what I built back then, and the only games which come close to that is Minecraft or Gnomoria recently. And where one can allow me more interesting expressions, it’s single-player only while the multi-player one runs the risk of some idiot messing with your stuff.

    Rambled quite a bit, but still wanted to leave something here for thought. When I have fun, I generally have games which wind up going to the shelf only to come out rarely . . . when I have satisfaction I rarely put the games too far from the computer or my reach.

    (For the record, though, I don’t think Settlers of Catan is going too far into my closet. It’s way TOO much fun . . .)

    Comment by Kereminde — 21 May, 2013 @ 1:44 AM

  8. “I’m still searching for something that’s even close to as satisfying as watching your friend fall for your fake fireball and jump right into a shin-shoryuken.
    I fear those days are long gone though.”

    I found Monster Hunter scratched that itch for a while, getting two of my friends together and pitting our rhythm and method together against something.

    Comment by Kereminde — 21 May, 2013 @ 1:52 AM

  9. I once went on a job interview with two guys who wanted to make an MMO which would be “just like Everquest, but with all the boring stuff taken out”. I said, “Ok, like what?”. They said, “You know, like waiting for and taking the boat.”

    I said, “Well, yeah, but doesn’t the irritation of the boat make it all that much better when you get to port?”

    They both looked down, stroked their chins, and went, “Hmmm.”

    I decided not to work for them, although that wasn’t the only reason.

    I think you’re on to something with short-term versus long-term, and it doesn’t matter much what you call it. I think though, that you’re somewhat confounding it with issues of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.

    Comment by Toldain — 21 May, 2013 @ 8:59 AM

  10. “I said, “Well, yeah, but doesn’t the irritation of the boat make it all that much better when you get to port?”"

    No, not really. The main reason the boat worked for more people was that it traveled through a zone to get to the other side, and that zone had stuff in it of interest. Well, one of them did. People hated it mostly because it was something which ate up time they could have used buying a teleport instead . . . unless, like me, they hunted a lot in Ocean of Tears :) (Seafuries were very lucrative.)

    To compare, in my words, it’s like this. The irritation of grinding is alleviated in part by what you get at the end. Going back to roots, grinding experience in old RPGs had its annoyances but they went away when you didn’t have to struggle with things afterwards and could just push through. If what you get from the end is nothing you want, why suffer?

    Comment by Kereminde — 21 May, 2013 @ 2:08 PM

  11. Two comments:

    First, people who grew up in the early years of MMO’s, with more time investment and (hopefully) greater satisfaction now have jobs and families. There is no game design you can posit that will “fix” this “problem”. The theoretical level of satisfaction that I could get from success in a game with hour-long boat times is irrelevant because I can no longer succeed in such a game. Come back in 30+ years when I’m retired and my kid(s) are (dear gods I hope) out of the house – use big fonts on the UI for your MMO Virtual Retirement Community – and we’ll talk.

    As to the view that the consumers of online products collectively don’t know what’s good for ourselves – you may be correct, but I’m not convinced this is a solvable problem either. Ten years ago, switching MMO’s (assuming you found a replacement that supported your preferred playstyle) was going to cost you a trip to a store, $50 for a new game, hours patching and weeks leveling in the new game. Today, during the hour that I’m hypothetically willing to spend waiting for your old school boat ride, I could download and install any number of originally multi-million-dollar products that are now free to play. Or, I could download an even greater number of free “casual” games to the ever increasing number of tablets in my home, some of them literally next to my computer keyboard. Telling your customers that they should tolerate something that they know is not fun now in exchange for something that you claim will be more satisfying later is a tough sell in an environment where they can so easily go do something else that’s fun now instead.

    Comment by Green Armadillo — 21 May, 2013 @ 3:36 PM

  12. Slimy, yet satisfying.

    Comment by Kenneth Nagle — 21 May, 2013 @ 5:38 PM

  13. While I quite agree that you’ve nailed two different concepts – one short-term in the moment, the other longer-termed memorable – in your post as “fun” and “satisfaction,” and that we all have to caveat that what is intrinsically fun or satisfying is subjective for different people, I’m more with Azuriel on this point…

    Fun without satisfaction is fleeting if enjoyable. Satisfaction without immediate fun slides very quickly into “I’m being forced to grind” territory.

    Gotta have both.

    And for the record, I’m one of those weirdoes who enjoy repetitive farming for an hour or two. IF the moment-to-moment combat action is fun (ie. responsive, immediate, either somewhat challenging or somewhat meditative.) Prefer being solo though, other people interrupt my rhythm and sense of control/satisfaction in taking down mobs. And that leads into eventual satisfaction as I collect the loot that is ALL MINE, and either make use of it or sell it for money to enable other goals in-game.

    Comment by Jeromai — 21 May, 2013 @ 6:34 PM

  14. Trying to measure everything in a game solely through the lens of “fun” leads to problems.

    That line rings so very true for me. I remember reading posts by the Blizzard devs about how everything was always about fun and removing anything and everything that wasn’t immediately fun, and how that always felt “off” to me even though I couldn’t very well explain why. Like you said, you can’t very well argue that the game should be less fun.

    And yet… I ended up cancelling my WoW sub, and when my friends asked me what I wanted to do on my last day, I couldn’t think of anything as nothing felt worth doing anymore. Fun alone is not enough.

    Comment by Shintar — 22 May, 2013 @ 3:29 AM

  15. While I agree that there is a difference between “fun” and “satisfaction”, I wouldn’t write off “fun” as ersatz. Huge numbers of people play games that are fleeting/with no progression or enjoy the “Barbie dress-up” aspect of Sims without doing anything more in-depth with the game, for instance. Some of the most popular games in the world are simple fun. They have no depth and never end yet people play(ed) them endlessly. (Tetris anyone?) Consider “shopping” – people (mostly women) going to a store with the express purpose of wandering around and looking at things with no goal of actually buying anything. Just one example of the fun of doing something “non-constructive” like going for a walk. Clearly fun, without it contributing to something bigger, is enjoyed by huge numbers of people.

    In addition, many people seem to either find Satisfaction over-rated, or don’t find Satisfaction a good enough reason to deal with the “grind” of reaching a goal. Otherwise why are there so many people in the world with no perceivable goals? There are people who never reach a goal in their lives: never graduate highschool, never go to college, get married, have children, create anything, etc. People who do nothing but go to work and come home and watch TV or maybe go to a movie.

    What it comes down to is that I agree with Azuriel that both short-term and long-term fun should be fun all the time. I don’t find incredibly difficult or boring things to ultimately be satisfying if they get me to some goal. In fact if something is incredibly difficult or boring I generally will simply avoid doing it at all no matter the goal. I don’t understand people who claim to like grinding. I wonder if they have some tiny “martyr” thing going on where they get satisfaction from “suffering” for their game :) I detest grinding so much that I will usually go out of my way NOT to kill things unless they are necessary to kill for a quest or in order to be able to complete a quest.

    On a side note I really wish that MMOs had not decided upon killing mobs as the base measure of progress in the game. Even though MMOs would simply have a different base measure that for some reason they would make into a grind, I am always disappointed when a new MMO comes out with the same devaluation of killing things.

    Comment by Djinn — 22 May, 2013 @ 8:47 AM

  16. First, Bart, I like your summary. That’s how I read it, too.

    Second, I can also agree with the fun vs. satisfaction, and the satisfaction vs. achievement distinctions you have provided, Brian.

    Now for the complicated bits.

    There are plenty of reasons why I have drifted away from MMOs towards single player games over the last few years, but I can look at least two in the “fun vs. satisfaction” context.

    #1 – Any satisfaction I gained was willfully destroyed by developers

    This one is really quite simple to illustrate: in WoW, I had TUF and TIO. Granted, I got them a little bit for achievement reasons, but definitely felt satisfaction when I finally had them.

    Of course, as with all things, when new content was released they eventually became trophies that took up bag space, nothing more.

    #2 – Any fun I had depended on factors outside of my control, and eventually went away

    I really enjoy grouping for smaller instances with people. That joy goes away when the whole thing becomes work, and it becomes work if you either can’t find the right people to play with, or the instance becomes too hard to play casually. Unfortunately, the games I’ve played don’t let me control who to play with very well (a topic of a comment on a previous blog post, which I shan’t repeat).

    What it both boils down to is that I hate grind if I can’t
    - distract myself by socializing simultaneously, or
    - the grind is hidden behind intrinsically fun activities.

    The second is where single player games tend to be better for me. Unfortunately they do this by providing timing-based challenges (time your jump over to the other platform right) that are a) time-consuming to design, and b) really hard to do in the presence of lag.

    The long term satisfaction comes from achieving the skill level necessary to master content.

    I’m very sure that other sources of satisfaction or fun can be implemented in MMORPGs, but at the moment, I’m at a loss as to what they would be.

    Comment by unwesen — 22 May, 2013 @ 9:22 AM

  17. Satisfaction is like a good meal and fun is like dessert. If given the direct choice of one or the other, people might express a preference for a dessert, but in the long run they probably want more proper meals, even if they don’t say as much in the short term.

    People often mistake ‘fun’ part for the exciting pay-off of any given activity. But they don’t realise that the pay-off is largely contingent on the work put in beforehand – and that’s where satisfaction is the hidden variable, accumulating during their lower-intensity play or preparation. Ask someone about that build-up and they’re likely to consider it a waste of time, coming between them and the glorious dénouement. Take it out, and they’ll be grateful, only to find their future play more hollow without them really understanding why.

    Comment by Ben Sizer — 23 May, 2013 @ 4:40 PM

  18. This was a very insightful and thought-provoking article, and I had multiple Eureka! moments while reading!

    I definitely believe there is a distinction between fun and satisfaction, and it has now become so obvious to me after reading your article. I am able to relate these two emotions to my experiences playing MMORPGS, and can feel the distinction.

    First of all, I wanted to respond to certain comments other gamers made before I delve into my own experiences.

    Longasc said “GW2 combat is very fun! Probably the most fun combat in any MMO. They totally nailed that. But is it satisfying? In the long run it’s not very satisfying for me in dungeons and the least in big groups downing a single event boss, somehow there the “fun” gets lost for me.”

    -I have also seen this play out. GW2 combat feels very fun, but sometimes it feels like the game is lacking an overall satisfying combat experience. I think for me it is the lack of class roles. As a dedicated tank or healer, I felt more unique and useful in other MMOs, but GW2 lacks those specific roles, which results in less satisfaction.

    Bart Stewart said “Fun is fleeting; satisfaction is memorable.”

    -Amen to that! That phrase very nicely summarizes the distinction between the two.

    Azuriel said “Boiled down, I suppose my biggest gripe was with Darkfall’s AFK gathering system where you literally had no inputs whatsoever. Click the button once, come back 5+ minutes later to collect loot. The concept of metering out resources is sound game design, but I wasn’t even playing the game at that point.”

    -I 100% agree with this. Darkfall’s system of allowing AFK gathering and even AFK skilling (swim up against a rock while AFK to level swimming skill… seriously!?) was a complete turn-off for me. I tried the game out only briefly (after following it religiously for over a year), but never expected to get involved in it because I see no point in playing a game that encourages such time-wasting activities. Why should AFK resource gatherers be as efficient as me, when they’re not even playing the game?! I actually want to do something meaningful inside the game world… and NOT AFK.

    Now I’ll compare and contrast some of my experiences in MMOs to make my point:

    First of all, I believe GW2 has been a very fun experience for me so far (I’m a little more than a month into it). But ultimately, I feel the game is not going to be very satisfying in the long run because it lacks certain goals that eventually make a game memorable and satisfying for me. This is because I’m not sure if I’m striving for anything in the game… I’m just playing it for “fun”, which is great in the short-term, but I don’t yet have any long-term goals that I want to achieve. So overall, my experience might be “fun” but ultimately not “satisfying” (i.e. it’ll entertain me for the short-term, but probably won’t keep me playing for long).

    In complete contrast to GW2, I also played Runescape many years ago, and I feel Runescape had the opposite effect on me.

    Quick Disclaimer: I can only compare Runescape to GW2 because Runescape was my first MMORPG and holds a special place in my heart, otherwise it’s not really comparable to GW2.

    But Runescape was indeed a very satisfying game for me, even though it lacked “fun” things to do. Grinding was such a HUGE part of Runescape (everything from leveling, to crafting, to resource gathering), none of which was fun. But overall, I feel like my character kept progressing and becoming more rich and powerful, and that kept me satisfied. Hell… I even remember running agility courses in the game over and over and over again, in order to level up my agility skill (it was all just repetitive clicking tasks), and feeling very satisfied because agility was a skill often ignored by a lot of players, and I felt unique for having the highest agility among all of my friends.

    Accumulating wealth, and progressing from one set of armors and weapons to the next, was very satisfying. No matter what I did in the game, it all felt meaningful to my character (except the firemaking skill… screw firemaking) because I kept getting stronger and stronger, and constantly had new foes to test my strength against, and new places to go explore.

    And then I played WoW, which just hit it out of the park for me because it was both fun AND satisfying (although it did have quite a few elements that were NOT fun). I could have a lot of short-term fun doing Battlegrounds with my friends, but I could also achieve the ultimate long-term satisfaction when I would get a very high Arena rating with my buddies. Being able to cater to both my short-term “fun” needs, and also to my long-term goals, was what made WoW such a great overall game for me.

    I also noted that my desire for fun or satisfaction depends on how much time I have to play on a certain day. When I have a small amount of time, I go for the “fun” activities (i.e. structured PvP or battlegrounds), but when I have plenty of time to kill, I like to do something that will ultimately result in satisfaction (i.e. work on a long-term goal, such as leveling my characters or working on a new character build).

    Any successful new MMOs should provide plenty of opportunities for players to have both fun and satisfaction.

    Comment by Lithion_Shadowscale — 27 May, 2013 @ 10:52 PM

  19. I am definitely a satisfaction over fun kind of player.

    All those short cuts that have crept into MMORPGs over the years in the name of “Quality of Life” have left me cold. When I argue against their introduction into whatever game I am playing I get shouted down on the forums by people claiming I am trying to deny them fun. Perhaps I am, but I know too much of the “quick fix” fun in a game and I am cancelling my subscription and moving on.

    But my biggest gripe is the focus on the so called “end game”, the introduction of “end game” activities means the relegation of the rest of the game to grinding and an obstacle to having fun (of the quick fix variety). End game focus converts MMORPGs into MOBAS and the PvP equivalent, everyone standing around in the lobby waiting for the next ride on the “end game” merry-go-round.

    Comment by Grumpy Koala — 31 May, 2013 @ 3:49 AM

  20. Nicely drawn distinction between fun and satisfaction, as well as satisfaction and achievement. They are each a function of time, and can have multiple relationships with each other — each could be a function of the other, or they could be siblings, or interfaces, or a group — which I think is at least part of the reason why the concepts can be so interesting to analyze.

    To an extent it seems as if anything that’s “satisfying” is the result of self-assessment or self-realization at some point on the play-curve. To draw from another medium — film — random scenes or plot or dialog or gags can be very satisfying or fun without the film as a whole being the least bit fun or satisfying. Games are even more “in the moment” as a medium in general (particularly these days), but persistent world gaming, e.g. MMOs, pen-and-paper D&D, miniature reenactment, etc. are kegs of satisfaction waiting to be tapped, fun or not. As another comment noted, you’re on to something with short-term vs. long-term.

    As a dev I’m just floored by fun’s milieu right now — with proliferate mobile/browser games being bean-counted into F2P oblivion by designers who are losing the old religion with every tick of the game loop, it’s more like work vs. matter-of-faction instead of fun vs. satisfaction. I fear most of the new gamers FB created have no idea just how much fun and satisfying a video game can be. The industry feels as though its soul is being crushed, its magic forgotten, its spirit line-itemed into oblivion.

    Comment by Ben Milstead — 19 June, 2013 @ 7:07 PM

  21. I wish i had found this site earlier. I love game theory and figuring out what makes people tick with their games.

    I’ve got 10,000 hrs into EQ/EQ2/WoW (doesn’t make me an expert – ala malcolm gladwell) so I’m past the point of just playing without wanting to know why this stuff dominates my mind all the time.

    “Why was EQ the most fun I’ve ever had in a game?” is a question i have often asked myself. Apart from it being the first 3D immersion experience for me, why? I guess for me I’ll start by saying it was fun BECAUSE it was satisfying. You had to WORK for everything in that game. It was brutally hard so it required you to be a helpful part of the community. Everyone (except perhaps paladins/sks/rangers maybe) had an important role and people depended on them. necros for corpse recon, monks for pulling, warriors were meat shields, druids/wiz for ports, bards for utility, chanters for crowd control, mages for pet/summoning, rogues for scouting and lockpicking. Half the time I felt like I needed to log in just because people needed me.

    The other argument for EQ1 for me was the balance of options vs controls. Let me explain this further. Many options for spells (and songs) were available but never did I feel like i was waiting for timers and mashing buttons. I enjoyed fighting because I spent less time mashing buttons and more time just managing the game – managing the encounter. I played a monk/bard so i was used to keeping pulls coming. Friends and I excelled in WoW and EQ2 because of the toughness of EQ1. Penalties were brutal, leveling was brutal, gear was lacking (but in a good way). Overcoming the risk/reward was extremely satisfying.

    Old timers like me are now (as posted earlier in the comments) married with kids. We don’t have the consecutive hours (or days) like we had a decade ago. This doesn’t mean we change the principles of what makes a game satisfying though – we simply had to MAKE time in our lives to play if we make it a priority.

    Comment by radiandf — 24 June, 2013 @ 9:18 AM

  22. The MMO Game Loop: Fun vs. Satisfaction

    [...] mind that while satisfaction is related to achievement, the two aren’t exactly equivalent. As Psychochild put it, “Achievement is something that requires external validation. Satisfaction, on the [...]

    Pingback by CosrinHQ — 14 September, 2013 @ 9:36 AM

  23. [Wildstar] Of Unfun Raids. And: That Attunement just got Nerfed

    [...] other MMOs are already doing in terms of difficult mechanics. That makes Wildstar a game of grim satisfaction a lot more than lighthearted fun. It sure feels that way to [...]

    Pingback by MMO Gypsy - Wandering online Worlds — 13 August, 2014 @ 11:48 AM

  24. Round Up – Game Design Blogs

    [...] Psychochild’s Blog – Fun vs Satisfaction Brian Green, aka Psychochild, another game developer, uses this blog to comment on everything from development, to design, to the business of gaming. The post I’ve linked is about fun vs satisfaction and how they connect to gaming.[...]

    Pingback by rantingzebra — 15 December, 2014 @ 7:14 AM

Leave a comment

I value your comment and think the discussions are the best part of this blog. However, there's this scourge called comment spam, so I choose to moderate comments rather than giving filthy spammers any advantage.

If this is your first comment, it will be held for moderation and therefore will not show up immediately. I will approve your comment when I can, usually within a day. Comments should eventually be approved if not spam. If your comment doesn't show up and it wasn't spam, send me an email as the spam catchers might have caught it by accident.

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Email Subscription

Get posts by email:

Recent Comments


Search the Blog


January 2020
« Aug    



Standard Disclaimer

I speak only for myself, not for any company.

My Book


Around the Internet

Game and Online Developers

Game News Sites

Game Ranters and Discussion

Help for Businesses

Other Fun Stuff

Quiet (aka Dead) Sites

Posts Copyright Brian Green, aka Psychochild. Comments belong to their authors.

Support me and my work on