The Paradox of Choice

A pervasive theme I’ve had in this design blog has been providing a framework that allows for a maximum amount of customization for players.  This was a main topic in my last post, as well as in my design goals, but you can see the theme all over the place.  I recently watched this TED lecture from the author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (thanks to Alexis at Tao of D&D for turning me onto it).

I think there is a lot of truth here.  My real life aside, I see the result of “pain of more choices” all the time in 3.5 and Pathfinder.  There are so many feats, prestige classes, alternate equipment, sub-races, etc. that players feel like they have to research everything for the perfect choice.  And then, once they’ve made the choice, it turns out not to be the perfect one, and overall satisfaction is lower.

I’m trying to provide a framework that still values customization, but in the areas where the game is most customizable, the player creates the choices instead of having to search through volumes to find the choices they like best.  Still, I wonder if I have evaluated my design goals appropriately.

4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Choice

  1. wylliamjudd

    Extra Credits does a 6 minute video about this topic.

    The biggest takeaway is the distinction between a calculation and a choice. How do I maximize damage? is a calculation. They talk about two types of choices – risk assessment with incomplete information, and apples or oranges choices. I think it’s important to understand when designing a game when the options you give players are calculations, and when they’re choices.

    I also think that too many choices hides the impact of those choices. When making a choice, it should be clear what you’re getting out of it. Better mobility? Better defense? More damage? Even if you have a few ways to get better mobility, if there are few enough, you can understand how they differ, but if there are too many, you kind of wind up with a problem of calculating the best way to get mobility (or damage or whatever).

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      Thanks, I was also just introduced to Extra Credits, but haven’t spent as much time going through them as I would like. I’ll take a look at that video as well and post back with my thoughts.

    2. Andy

      Good link. Definitely worth thinking about the difference between calculation and choice when designing a game. The only problem is that in an RPG (versus a computer game) there are so many more variables. I typically would never take a feat that allows my rogue to sneak attack through a mist in a video game as it would be incredibly situational, but in an RPG, if my rogue is good buddies with a weather druid who frequently throws up mist clouds, it suddenly becomes a terrific option. But if your group doesn’t have a druid, everyone will say that you’re creating an “illusion” of choice because the optimal build is +1 to hit (or whatever) and not the situational benefit of being able to sneak attack in a fog cloud.

      I’m torn because I like to have options like “sneak attack through fogs” even though 95% of characters won’t pick it. I think it adds character to the game. Maybe the better way to design a game would be to let the players pick the mechanical benefits as they level (choose between +1 to hit or +2 to damage) and then have all the other options unlock as they interact with the world? Or just get to where I think Brett is already at – your class covers the mechanics when it is initially chosen. Maybe options as you level up can never be determined with math.

      1. wylliamjudd

        Situational bonuses are not calculations, and are a good example of a real choice. You have incomplete information about how often a situation is going to come up. Many situational options would be a good way to create choice in character creation and development.

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