Ramblings of General Geekery

Richard Garfield’s A Game Player’s Manifesto

Richard Garfield, widely known as the creator of Magic: The Gathering, recently posted this “Game Player’s Manifesto” against what he calls “skinnerware”:

I believe that in recent years, while looking for revenue models that work for electronic games, game designers and publishers have stumbled upon some formulae that work only because they abuse segments of their player population. Games can have addictive properties – and these abusive games are created – intentionally or not – to exploit players who are subject to certain addictive behavior.

It’s a good read, as Garfield tries to formalize what’s OK and not OK in games, with clear guidelines about gameplay aspects that make a game become “skinnerware”, while still allowing some gray areas. Of course, many people were quick to point out that his own game, Magic, falls, at least, in these gray areas. After all, a certain percentage of Magic players are known to spend huge amounts of money to acquire rare cards, and, generally speaking, buying more packs give you better cards which gives you some advantage.

What saves Magic from the skinnerware category, in my opinion, is largely that it’s a physical game, not a video game1, so whatever you buy still has value and can be sold back. The other thing is that its “power-ups for money” mechanism is not quite open-ended. True skinnerware games typically let you buy an endless amount of coins or jewels or energy charges or whatever. Magic, on the other hand, has a limited (although quite big) catalog of cards. Trying to get them all by buying booster packs quickly gets you diminishing returns because of the rarity of many cards, so you would quickly turn to individual purchases at market price. It’s still a shitload of money, but it’s a finite shitload.

  1. Although there’s a digital version you can play↩︎