Fantasy Patch Notes: Quidditch
I grew up enraptured with the fantasy world of Harry Potter. I loved the spells and wizards and wanted nothing more than to go away to Hogwarts. Despite that, Quidditch always left me feeling confused. It seemed as if it didn't make sense. Today I'm going to analyze it from front to back, on game design and show why Quidditch is a fundamentally flawed game.
I will preface this by saying yes, I am aware it is a fake sport, however it should still be held to the same standards we would hold anything else. Just because they're wizards doesn't mean they can't understand game design!
The Principles of Quidditch
Quidditch is a sport played by teams of 7. Teams consist of chasers, who try and get the quaffle through the hoops, keepers, who protect the hoops, beaters, who hit bludgers at the other team and protect their own, and finally seekers who hunt the Golden Snitch. The object of the game is to score as many points as possible before the game ends. Point scoring is accomplished in one of two ways.
1) You throw the quaffle past the keeper and through the hoop. This scores you 10 points.
2) The seeker catches the Golden Snitch. This scores you 150(!!!) points and ends the game immediately.
There are two ways that a Quidditch game can end:
1) When the Golden Snitch is caught, the game ends immediately.
2) The game ends when both team captains reach a mutual agreement to end the game.
Compare this to a 'muggle' sport parallel, Rugby Sevens. There are a number of similarities, the object is to get the ball to the other side of the field, there are 7 players who work in tandem to reach the other side of the field, and there is contact, allowing you to tackle other players (as long as you do not grab or hold them, exactly as the rules are in Quidditch). In Rugby however, there is a time limit to the game. The games end at a predetermined time, regardless of how many points have been scored. Quidditch, however, only ends once the snitch is caught.
The other difference, of course, if that in Quidditch you are flying.
The Fatal Flaw
The issue that Quidditch has in terms of game design is that the game is horribly unbalanced. The Golden Snitch, of course, being the issue with the sport. It takes 15 goals scored by the chasers to equal the snitch being caught even once. You would need to have a 16 goal lead to make the Snitch irrelevant. What incentive does this give to the chasers to score goals then, if their struggles are largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
Translating this concept to basketball, think of it like this. If the team scores 15 2 point shots (a 30 point total), then the golden snitch is the equivalent of a player taking a shot from under their net that goes in the opponent's net, scoring 30 points and ending the game immediately. What incentive would players have to aim for the 2 point shots, when they could just continually take the change on the 30 point shot, knowing that unless the other team scores on them 16 times, they have nothing to worry about. What would stop the game from devolving to a publicized game of horse, each team trying to take the same 30 point shot, taking turns at it?
And that is the issue with the snitch. It has far too much power, as not only is it a significant source of points, but it also has direct control over the flow and the tempo of the game. Catching the snitch ends the game as soon as it's caught. That is the only way to end the game, as if you were a team captain and your team was losing why would you agree to end the game? Assuming that each team wants to win, the only way that a game ends is when the snitch is caught.
I draw a parallel to wrestling here, where if you manage to pin your opponent on their back then you win the match entirely, regardless of points or rounds. With Quidditch, however, it is more like a team of wrestlers all wrestling at once, trying to get as many points as possible and the only way to end the match is for you to pin your opponent or for you to pin them. And then as long as there isn't a 16 point lead than your pin is all that matters.
Is there a solution?
Now through my research into the (fake) sport, I read a lot of the (fake) history of Quidditch. The game developed organically, introducing the quaffle, bludgers and hoops over time, creating a competitive 6 player game. Each action in the game had counters built into it, and solutions to it.
The Golden Snitch, however, was introduced in a ludicrous manner, inorganically changing the game. The Snitch was thrown into the game by a rich wizard in the 1200s. He promised 150 galleons to the first player who caught it. What happened at that game was that no player played the game properly, they all simply chased after the Snitch, wanting to win the money.
That is the problem with the Golden Snitch. It is simply worth too much, making the rest of the game irrelevant.
What I propose is this: catching the Golden Snitch no longer awards any points, it will only end the game. The Golden Snitch is no longer a goal for winning the game, it is used to end the game when you are in the lead, or in the worst case scenario, caught to prevent the enemy team from running up the score (as the league position is based on total score, not games won). This addresses the largest glaring flaw in quidditch, the points being worthless (in a grand sense).
Would it be the same game? More or less, the meat and bones of Quidditch still remain intact, it is just less about the end and more about the middle now.
Quidditch is of course created and owned by JK Rowling, and yes I know she designed Quidditch to infuriate sports fans, but that doesn't mean it has to be poorly balanced.
A game designer, producer, production designer, writer and editor, Jason has dipped his toes into many creative fields, perhaps too many. He lives in Toronto, writing, making games and thinking about dogs. Follows Jason on Twitter at @jwestonwong.