Feature Creep: The little devil on your shoulder
Hello everyone, my name is Michael.
I am one of the co-creators of Mort-A-Mania and am writing the blog this week. Guest blog, what, what! Since the beginning of this crazy project, there has been one very consistent idea that has followed with us from the very beginning: “Watch out for feature creep.” Now you may be asking, why would this be a big concern? The more the merrier, am I right? However in most cases, no, you would in fact not be right.
Feature creep can turn a fantastic idea into a slew of confusion and unplayability. It can start slowly with one or two extra mechanics. However, when it gets out of hand, that's when you end up with 26 pages of rules for a 20 minute game. I know that I am a power gamer, I love min-maxing and my DnD characters have been referred to as book reports. So, I know that I love complexity. Dakota is a euro-gamer at heart, savoring the heavy building and expansion aspect. This means that between the two of us, we like features for days. Normally, that's awesome! Complexity can be a blast! When it gets out of hand though, its awful.
Being aware of what is going on with your game is a crucial part to avoiding this potential disaster. Whenever a feature is added, it can help to stand back and think, “does this add to the game in an elegant way, or is this complexity for complexity’s sake?” Knowing that it was a trap we could easily fall into, we devised a simple plan. Whenever the other thought that a new feature or aspect of the game was really just a symptom of feature creep, they could call out, “feature creep!” If in that moment we couldn’t justify the feature in a valid way, then it was placed to the side. Written down, but not forgotten.
We have run in to many ideas that fell into this category. It is important to point out, that the ideas themselves were good; in fact, we loved many of them. They just weren’t Mort-A-Mania. A good example is death mechanics. We love the idea of knock-out games that have some way for the dead players to influence the game that goes on without them. But with the simplicity of the game and the speed at which each round ends, it became impractical, so we had to let it go. Those ideas were a different game all together. Each mechanic and feature that made it into Mort-A-Mania itself had a place, it had a home where it fit cleanly and nicely into the rules and the feel of the game, adding enjoyment and engagement rather than taking anything away.
A game that is easy to learn can still be difficult to master. Most great games are both, even looking at time’s greatest board games, like Go or Chess. The more wary you are of feature creep, the easier it is to hit that sweet spot that makes a game great for new players and an interesting challenge for veterans.