I have been having a conversation with @substituteadventurer that has strayed somewhat from beeptest’s question in “Reduction and Simplification: When is it ‘good’?” So, here’s a thread to continue that.
To recap somewhat…
To loop things back to the original question I think that complexity should be added when players want it and removed if players don’t want it. I also think that this is the in the purview of a DM as they respond to a particular group rather than the job of the designer in anticipation of an imagined audience.
Gonna toss a bomb in here: I think there is an assumption being made here that all game designers have access to people to test their games with before publication. Not all people who put out games have a table they can “design for/to”. Some can only design based on what they can figure out in their own heads.
Oh, sure, I’ve been doing that for a while because my depression/anxiety has made it difficult to play over the past year. To be honest I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, because my game design professor really drilled the importance of playtesting into me!
But, lack of access to playtesters is a practical reality for a lot of people, for all kinds of reasons. You’re probably right to raise it as something we should be more open about.
Aside from all that, I don’t really think it’s my job as the DM to cater exclusively to what the players want, any more than it’s the job of an artist to cater exclusively to what audiences want.
There’s an element of collaboration, sure, but part of the deal (for me) is that I get to do something that interests me on my side of the screen.
I think things probably change once you are a professional game designer. (By which I mean you rely on your rpg revenue in order to finance you and your families lifestyle.) When you are designing as a hobbyist your responsibility isn’t to consumers it is to you and to your friends.
So maybe you are designing a game even though you don’t have a regular group right now and also can’t get a playtest group together. If that is the case you are designing for your own satisfaction. Your audience is yourself.
If that’s the case the answer becomes “you should add complexity if you are enjoying adding complexity and you should simplify if you enjoy the challenge of being an elegant designer.” The idea of achieving some idealized design goal based on a particular play style should only ever enter the equation if doing so is fun to you in it’s own right.
But I am deeply opposed to the commodification of all hobbies. Side-hustle-ism is absolutely corrosive to any hobbyist scene. It’s cool if you want to sell your stuff but you have to realize that IF someone decides to actually play your game they very likely will not be doing so the way that you might have designed for them to do it… because as soon as the dice hit the table its THEIR game now and if they want to port some crunch from Burning Wheel or GURPS into your Into the Odd hack there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop them.
My other hobby is that I roast coffee. Most of it I drink myself or share with a few close friends and family members within that hobby scene. I roast the coffee that I like to drink because I’m going to drink it. Sometimes I give it as gifts or sell it at a very slight margin. Once I do I no longer get to get mad if someone wants to put pumpkin spice creamer in it or brew it in a cheap Mr. Coffee. That’s fine with me because I like roasting and brewing coffee for it’s own sake and, of course, I get to drink it!
Designing a game to sell to others for profit with no intent to play it yourself seems a bit like roasting and selling coffee that you have no interest in drinking yourself.
So I hope everyone is having fun making games, and if you can’t play right now my hope is that you can get back to the table soon!