Game Development Reference
were six classes, the magic-using Adept to the tech-wizard Engineer. But
post-release metrics revealed that 80% of players chose the Soldier — the
most familiar and unoriginal class in the game. Given a set of incompre-
hensible options, people just went for the one they understood, and missed
much of the value in the game.
Another common uncorrected cause of information starvation is the
ambiguity of information delivered through a game's fiction layer. The
critical decision-driving information that players want is usually purely
mechanical: damage statistics, movement rates, quest structures, various
mathematical tables for the game's economics. It is hard to deliver this
information in the fiction because it doesn't exist in the fiction. The fiction
says that the player is firing a rifle at a target, and it should do widely vari-
able damage of many possible types based on range, hit location, random
internal bullet tumbles, and many other variables. The mechanics say
that a bullet is an instant trace that reduces hit points by a fixed amount.
That amount cannot be communicated within the fiction, so it often isn't
communicated at all. In these cases, it is frequently better to go around the
fiction and deliver some of this mechanics information directly.
Sometimes the Internet solves information starvation for us. Websites
like GameFAQs.com provide massive player-authored text files called FAQs
(Frequently Asked Questions) which explain every ability and level in a
game, often including hidden statistical data that players were never sup-
posed to know. At first glance, reading a FAQ seems like a form of cheating
that would ruin a game. But in an information-starved game, FAQs can
dramatically improve the play experience. With the FAQ, players can plan,
predict, and decide meaningfully and intentionally, and the experience
blooms. Because they understand the implications of their choices, those
choices suddenly become interesting.
A useful FAQ is a warning sign. When a text file makes a game notice-
ably better, that game is probably information-starved. It's full of value —
the designer just needs to help players understand that value by giving
them access to more information.
Information starvation is an insidious problem because designers can't
see it due to their unique knowledge of the game, and because it's
emotionally painful to find.
Information starvation is common because it hides itself from design-
ers. It does this in two ways.
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