A psychologist has contributed an interesting article to Games Industry in which he presents material from his book, The Psychology of Games, that argues that DiabloWikirespecs might decrease overall, long-term enjoyment in RPGs. This despite the fact that most players say they want respecs, and most developers are moving to enable them. A quote:

    people like to keep their options open and hang on to choices as long as they can because they’re afraid that they’ll want to change their minds later — something called “psychological reactance.” So the psychological immune system is there and it’s effective, but we largely ignore it and take actions that prevent it from coming into play.

    …Most gamers, if asked, would probably tell you that they would love the flexibility that comes with being able to change their abilities, stats, or even class with little to no cost. Why not? What if specialising in ranged weapons turns out to be no fun? What if that “Whirlwind” or “Fire Resistance” or “Goat Launcher” skill that you picked at level 20 turns out to be lame? A lot of us still regret choosing the Aqualung augmentation in the original Deus Ex, after all.

    And yet some others do take the view that you learn to be happy with what you choose and move on with your life – or at least your playthrough. When the super flexible skill system in Diablo 3 was announced, I remember reading reactions from a small but vocal group of Diablo 2 fans who said that committing yourself to a build and sticking it out was integral to the fun. Given what Gilbert and Ebert found about how people prefer options that don’t optimise their happiness, were they right?

    …Game developers should not feel shackled to convenience as a immutable design principle, and they shouldn’t always trust gamers who are not always accurate at predicting how happy they will be with choices. And players? Don’t worry. You’ll be happy.

    Remember these?

    There seem to be a four-stage psychological reaction. People want infinite choice in most areas of life, but: 1) People are often overwhelmed and unable to choose when presented with too many options. 2) People are more comfortable with a multitude of choices if they know they can change their minds later. 3) Having too much ability to keep changing your mind leads to long term dissatisfaction. 4) When people are forced to make a choice and stick with it they usually (subconsciously) talk themselves into liking it more than options they know they could change instantly.

    Anecdotes for this abound; you can’t read any commentary about Diablo 2 without someone talking about how their first Amazon was built terribly, with points in Energy and such, but “I still loved that character and played it a ton and found ways to make it work.”

    So what about it? Do you guys think some enforced character permanence would make Diablo 3 more fun? It’s not an entirely fair question, since the overall suite of customization options is so limited in Diablo 3. Without stat points and skill points the variety within classes is skin deep and almost entirely created by items, which makes it possible to argue that no respecs “worked” in Diablo 2 in a way that it would not in Diablo 3.

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