Sharing, Spoiling, and Scavenger Hunts

Discovery-based fun became harder to design with the internet. Many designers are still working with concepts that made sense in their youth but not in an online world.

Pre-internet, in many games the discovery of hidden things played well as a social game of shared information. Take the Cult of the Vault challenges in the Borderlands games or any similar “find these things hidden in out of the way places” setup. It takes a special kind of obsessive player to catch ’em all because the symbols could be any size, on any surface, half-obstructed, down a dead end you have no reason to visit, etc. It makes a lot more sense to think of this as something you do with your group of friends, and you trade locations or hints on where to find them. On an internet forum, you might do that, pooling information to see who has found what where. That is a great social process. The output of that process is a complete spoiler list, which then eliminates the social game of shared information. That is an undesirable but natural outcome of releasing that sort of game into the internet, where we have become very good at coordinating this sort of information-gathering.

If you are fortunate, you can find a site with tiers of spoilers. Click A for vague hints of where to look, B for narrow ranges and more explicit hints, and C for screenshots or videos. If you are really fortunate, you are playing when many others are playing and can just ask for the right level of spoiler, “am I on the right path here?” And if your gaming friends are local rather than online, you can get back to that social process, perhaps mutated because at least one person in the group will have looked at the full spoiler list.

And so it goes for any hidden but compilable information. If you are on the forefront, with the early adopters and first researchers, you can still participate in that social information game. You can be one of those people compiling information that will eventually be part of a spoiler list, because it is exciting to share where you saw X or how you figured out the formula for Y. But that window is narrow, because if it is happening publicly it can only happen once unless you are part of another group that is going through the same process while explicitly avoiding others’ spoilers.

This may not be a horrible thing. If content locusts are descending on a game and moving on, and you are playing games years after the fact, having the spoilers available to consult is better than nothing after having missed the social game. You need other players to have the social game, and most video games do not sustain populations that way (or the population center moves on to another part of the game so much that it might as well be another game). It is a bit of shame that is happens in days or hours.

If I may reminisce, I remember the early days where complete information was not available. We approached Asheron’s Call’s spell research as if we could create a new spell using the spell components the way you might mix something in a chemistry set, only later realizing that there were fixed spells with fixed formulas (and finding the formula pattern was the shared information project). In the early days of Magic the Gathering, there were rumors of cards because no one know exactly what was in the sets. I usually like my games to have known, fixed parameters, but there is beauty in the unknown.

: Zubon

2 thoughts on “Sharing, Spoiling, and Scavenger Hunts”

  1. We played WoW along the ‘social game’ line in the early years if it’s an appropriate analogy. All group content was approached in our guild from a non-spoiler viewpoint – even if you knew where to go or the tactics for a boss you didn’t say anything unless asked and generally used hints rather than actual spoilers. We did a lot of boss fights in dungeons and heroic dungeons by “try and wipe” until we figured out a way that worked for our group.

    Most of it was in-character RP as well. That made progress much slower for us I guess but it was a huge amount of fun while it lasted. Eventually the explosive growth of spoiler sites like Thottbot and WoWHead crept into our gameplay and this went away. I miss it nowadays.

  2. Although I identify as an Explorer archetype under Bartle I have never considered the kind of activity you describe to have anything to do with exploring. From the first moment when understanding dawns that a sequence exists the process ceases to have much to do with exploring and moves into the province of Achievement.

    Looking at things for the pleasure of seeing them is fun for me. Looking for things because I need them for some purpose yet to be completed is not. At that point all the fun is in finding them. Consequently I strongly disliked the period when we had just enough information to know there were things to be found but not enough to know where to find them.

    I clearly remember the days of game-wide communal effort to discover all the things needed to complete some new content. I found it of some academic interest but mostly I saw it as a roadblock to content I might want to do when it was ready. I played on EQ’s Test server for five years where we had new content almost every week for which no guides existed. I always took that as one of the penalties of playing on that server not one of the perks.

    These days I search for a full walkthrough online at the first step of any content that threatens to become obscure. I find following direct instructions much more entertaining than searching for clues.

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