Game Design blog / resource

edited February 2014 in Directed Promotion
Hi, I'm doing a game design blog at Armpit Games

It's general -- aimed at any kind of game, TT-RPGs included.

Here a sample post from the blog.

BUILDING LITTLE EMPIRES OF OUT OF SOME CRAZY GARBAGE
Why does a multi-millionaire strive to make yet more money? How could a teenager derive more satisfaction from the purchase of a second-hand jalopy than a middle-aged executive acquiring their third luxury sports car? Because happiness and satisfaction are associated with relative improvement, not absolute achievement. As long as you are better off today than you were yesterday, by whatever measurement floats your particular boat, you’ll feel good.

No, I haven’t decided to branch out into a self-help blog. I was just setting up being able to use a quote – ‘In games, as in life‘.

An innate goal that players set for themselves in any game that allows it is to continually improve their situation. Many games tap into this powerful urge by starting the player in a relatively uniform, weak or barely adequate state, and then offer opportunities for the player to make it more personalized, powerful or capable. In Civilization, the aim of the game is to turn your little empire into a great one. In Spelunky and Dungeon Bash, the player constantly strives to make their character or team more capable.

Look at Farmville. A quick google, and many of the top results are articles sniffing that because its such a ‘dumb game’, it must be the ‘power of social-networking’ that is responsible for its phenomenal success. Well sure, social-networking is a great way to promote awareness of the game and get people to give it a test-run, but the game itself must be doing something right to hold on to players for any significant time. If you aren’t familiar with Farmville, its basically Sim City lite. The same basic gameplay as Sim City is going on, except the game itself is less complicated and very accessible to new players. The thing that is going on is resource management decisions in pursuit of the goal of building the player’s own little farm. You start off with a certain amount of money, and you decide which crops to grow, and harvesting your crops gives you more money. You can buy other stuff to personalize your farm, and tractors and things to make harvesting easier, etc… As games go, it’s fairly shallow – the variety and depth of the decisions the player makes is limited. As long as the player tends to their farm frequently enough, it’s existence is never threatened. But regardless, it does allow the player to make decisions in pursuit of the goal of continual improvement and that’s enough. Without that basic thing going on, no other amount of social-networking stuff laid on top would get anyone to play it for very long.

Minecraft is an example of this goal used in it’s purest form. In this game you start with a pick-axe and a few other resources, and you can literally end up building the Taj Mahal. This game has two modes: survival mode in which your resources are limited and the existence of your character is threatened by monsters and environmental hazards, and creative mode, where you have infinite resources, super powers, and nothing to worry about except what to build. My exhaustive research (I googled it and clicked on the first three links) shows that survival mode is more popular. Survival mode takes the improvement goal and combines it with some consequential decision making and thus makes a game of it. Creative mode does not.

So. The pursuit of improvement is probably the most important goal a game can facilitate. Many successful games don’t use it, but many, many, many successful games do, and for good reason.

Comments

  • edited February 2014
    Interesting post. As a 'dirty hippie' game designer my natural inclination, when I see game objectives being boiled down to 'helping characters succeed and improve their lot', is to turn that on its head and design a game where the PCs are already fairly high up in their society, but need to fight to retain their position, and avoid falling down an exponentially slippery slope. In fact, my planned 20s themed game Disgraceful kinda does this, as during the game the characters have to avoid the many temptations that Jazz Age Hollywood has to offer, and retain their moral compass.
  • I'd argue Farmville is only doing something "right" in the same way a con-man is.

    On topic, though, I'm on board with catty. If you ever identify a common thread in gaming, the next thing to do would be to flip it and see if you can still get it to work. I'd say this is just one thing many games have, not a necessary component at all, and there are certainly games that don't use it, or even use the opposite (RPGs or otherwise).
  • Iv'e not played Fiasco, but I gather its a game that is explicit about working against your character's best interests?
  • edited February 2014
    I'd argue Farmville is only doing something "right" in the same way a con-man is.
    This is similar to the concept of bestsellers, which are usually execrable in purely literary terms, but have enough crowd-pleasing elements, in fact are usually consciously constructed using those elements. If a lot of people like something, it's not necessarily bad of course, but you have to question the motives of the author/designer in producing it.
    I've not played Fiasco, but I gather its a game that is explicit about working against your character's best interests?
    In a way yes, you're encouraged to envisage your character ending up in a downward spiral, a la many of the Cohen Brothers' films, forex Fargo, which Fiasco takes a lot of its inspiration from.
  • edited February 2014
    Double post.
  • edited February 2014
    I'd argue Farmville is only doing something "right" in the same way a con-man is.
    This is similar to the concept of bestsellers, which are usually execrable in purely literary terms, but have enough crowd-pleasing elements, in fact are usually consciously constructed using those elements. If a lot of people like something, it's not necessarily bad of course, but you have to question the motives of the author/designer in producing it.
    Oh, very few games do what Farmville and other games by the same developer do. It's actively designed to take advantage of psychological weaknesses in order to make money, in the exact same way as a con-man would; carefully enough that it's clearly with intent. Say what you will about the crowd-pleasing elements and design-by-committee that goes into today's triple-A games; the developers at least want to make some decent games, and believe they're making entertainment. The Farmville developers can't possibly not know they are actively programming with no regard for the psychological wellbeing of their customers.
  • I'd argue Farmville is only doing something "right" in the same way a con-man is.
    This is similar to the concept of bestsellers, which are usually execrable in purely literary terms, but have enough crowd-pleasing elements, in fact are usually consciously constructed using those elements. If a lot of people like something, it's not necessarily bad of course, but you have to question the motives of the author/designer in producing it.
    Oh, very few games do what Farmville and other games by the same developer do. It's actively designed to take advantage of psychological weaknesses in order to make money, in the exact same way as a con-man would; carefully enough that it's clearly with intent. Say what you will about the crowd-pleasing elements and design-by-committee that goes into today's triple-A games; the developers at least want to make some decent games, and believe they're making entertainment. The Farmville developers can't possibly not know they are actively programming with no regard for the psychological wellbeing of their customers.
    Hm.. I must confess I'd never heard of Farmville before reading this thread. I'll have to check it out.

  • Oh, very few games do what Farmville and other games by the same developer do. It's actively designed to take advantage of psychological weaknesses in order to make money, in the exact same way as a con-man would; carefully enough that it's clearly with intent.
    Off topic, but Greg Costikyan talks about this in an article over at Gamasutra.
  • (The Costikyan article is fantastic).

  • Yeah, I was going to search for a wonderful talk by Jonathan Blow on the topic, but you're right that we're going way off topic here. Sorry. <_<
  • edited February 2014
    Hi, I'm doing a game design blog at Armpit Games
    I got your blog in my rss feed, and I like what I'm reading, mostly because I want to read people thoughts that wants to revolutionize gaming. I don't always think that you're writing about what you think your write about, like the RTS article, where it's mostly about the downside of micro management. I think this video can be interesting for you on that subject, like Burgeon's opinion about what Magic really is about: http://keithburgun.net/my-practice-2013-talk-is-up-on-vimeo/

    ---

    To be more on topic, I think the a game is more about a change than actually improvement, but I would like to ask you this question.

    WHY is the pursuit of improvement, according to you, the most important goal a game can facilitate?
  • edited February 2014
    Hi Rickard.

    Because its innate and so powerful - you dont have to teach players what to do, just give them some tools and watch them go at it.

    My RTS post was all over the place, but it did end up clarifying something for me - the micromanagement thing is one example of a failure to keep the player constantly engaged by not allowing them to make decisions in pursuit of their currently prioritized goals. That last bit is the important thing, for me.

  • Rickard,

    nice link,

    thanks.
  • On the topic of Farmville and the idea of the pursuit of improvement, y'all really need to play this game: http://www.3rdworldfarmer.com/ . It's a realistic sim of being a subsistence farmer in a third world country. My friend James, who spent three years in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps, turned me on to it.
  • edited February 2014
    Because its innate and so powerful - you dont have to teach players what to do, just give them some tools and watch them go at it.
    Hmm, interesting. So pursuit of improvement is an implicit goal discovered by the participants during the game?

    My answer to my question would be that improvement is about achieving mastery of the game. Learning mastery is why a game is fun, according to Raph Koster's Theory of Fun. When you achieved mastery, the task will be boring, according to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's flow theory. Cognitive Evaluation Theory says that intrinsic reward is partly about competence.

    The other part of CET is autonomy (self-expression) and I think that's also what Farmville brings. I think it wouldn't have had the same impact if you couldn't share your results with friends. "You can buy other stuff to personalize your farm," is also about expressing yourself.

    ---

    Anyway, your answer is interesting because I've been wondering what creates a goal in a game. What is a goal?
  • Theres infinite ways to measure improvement, either internal to the game or like you say, within the player. They all stem from the same urge.

    My gut feel that all those theorists you reference above are referring to the same thing - improvement, or a better term I just came across - progression. The quote from my post is the best way I can explain it "Because happiness and satisfaction are associated with relative improvement, not absolute achievement. As long as you are better off today than you were yesterday, by whatever measurement floats your particular boat, you’ll feel good."

    So yeah, when you have plateaued, either because the task has become too easy (mastery - nowhere else to go) or too hard (getting nowhere) then the fun stops. We've all given up on things because we stopped improving.

    Can you elaborate on your goal question a bit? I mean, a goal is a goal, right? Something you want to achieve. You want to get better at something, you want to rescue Princess Peach, you want to get the high score, you want to take over Elbonia.
  • Can you elaborate on your goal question a bit? I mean, a goal is a goal, right? Something you want to achieve. You want to get better at something, you want to rescue Princess Peach, you want to get the high score, you want to take over Elbonia.
    Goals aren't that simple, at least not in how they are created.

    One type of goal can be created by the game designer: "You win the game by fulfilling [this] victory condition."

    One type of goal can come with the player: "I want to play [this] type of character".

    One type of (short term) goal can be created through play: "If I create [this] combo then I can achieve my long term goal" or "I'm going for [this] but I need to take care of character X first that stops me."
  • Im not sure exactly what you are asking. But I will say that whether by design or observation, its good to work out exactly what goals the player will pursue in your game, and ensure they can make consequential decisions in pursuit of them.
  • It's not so much asking, but to air some of the things I've thought about these last few months.
  • edited March 2014
    Such as...? :)
  • What a goal is and how the goals are created.
  • Give us your thoughts
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