Yesterday I accepted the suggestion that design should lead users to the right action. If what feels intuitive is wrong, change whatever part of the game is encouraging failure. I was talking about interface design, but this is how we get theme parks, isn’t it?
The trail of bread crumbs leads you from ride to ride. Follow the big symbols over NPC heads and then arrows to whatever they want. One ride sends you to the next. “The right thing to do” is so obvious that we strongly notice sub-optimal ordering in quests and trip combinations.
We can complain about dumbed-down design, but it is good design in the sense that it provides good guidance, works with users’ intuitions and expectations, and is a big improvement over games that have one “right thing to do” but hide it behind an illusion of freedom. We expect games to have a goal and a victory condition and something to do, rather than toys or worlds where we expect to make our own fun.
EVE Online is a wonderful sandbox with entirely user-defined victory conditions. Those design decisions go well together: there is no way to “win,” so there is limited guidance about the “right” path to take. (It is an improvement that certificates help you figure out the steps on common paths.) World of Warcraft is a wonderful theme park with very clear paths and velvet ropes to make sure you stay on them. The middle ground is harder to establish.