Features and Antifeatures

One interesting thing I’ve noticed in the field of game design is that there are some purported features that are so hated that not having them becomes an advertised feature! Here are some quick examples:

  • In the world of card games, Magic: the Gathering’s ‘lands’/​‘mana’ system for accumulating resources is widely hated, and competitors to Magic at times explicitly advertise “no mana flood! no mana screw!” (For those unfamiliar with Magic, this is a situation where randomness in the game’s resource system can essentially decide the game without the players making very meaningful decisions.)

  • In digital games, I’ve seen “no pay-to-win” used as a selling point to differentiate from games where players can directly buy things that increase their in-game power.

  • An even more extreme example of “no pay-to-win” is “no NFTs”—NFTs have a very bad reputation in the gaming world, to the point where not having them is advertised sometimes even when one doesn’t much have reason to think the game would have NFTs.

I like the word ‘antifeatures’ for these sorts of things—and while the existence of ‘antifeatures’ first came to my attention in the domain of game design, I think this sort of thing is prevalent in a lot of other places as well. For example, some bars will advertise “no cover charge”, some comedy shows will advertise “no drink minimum”, and so on.

However, I think there’s another important aspect to this that concept some people miss. Just avoiding things that people don’t like doesn’t make your game good! It’s cool that your game has no mana screw or mana flood, that it isn’t pay-to-win, and that it doesn’t have NFTs—but in order for me to be interested in it, it has to go beyond merely not having bad things and instead has to actively have things to recommend it!

In other words, I’m talking to my friends about a game and trying to get them to play it, I think I generally need more to go on than “it doesn’t have <unpopular feature X>”—there have to be other things that make it actively appealing!

One potentially relevant example is that there are a bunch of conservative films that have “this film isn’t ‘woke’ like what Hollywood puts out!” or whatever as a primary selling point. Unfortunately, to be really successful you also have to… actually make a good film? “Not being <undesirable thing X>” seems generally insufficient.