2016 Selected Workgroup Topics2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Designing a Friendship Leveling System

How do we level up player relationships? We work hard at leveling up their skills with careful scaffolding of level difficulty combined with a slow drip of new concepts. We level up their virtual skills and sense of power with RPG style leveling schemes. But can we level up players from strangers to friends that cooperate?

In psychology, there’s numerous studies on how friendships form. They identify factors like similarity, repeated unplanned interactions (logistics) and the economics of reciprocation loops. All those are factors we can directly manipulate with our game designs. We do this already in a folk design fashion with blindly followed MMO conventions. However, we can explicitly design systems that methodically create positive human relationships. What are the exact tools? What elements should a crafted friendship leveling system contain?

This is a group that would require some research ahead of time. Collect some papers. Bring them with you. Let’s not just sit around and bullshit, but start with materials and distill out something real and useful.

Some initial reading and viewing that might be of interest

7 thoughts on “Designing a Friendship Leveling System

  1. Hmm. I must say, the “leveling up” mechanism for friendships strikes me a bit odd. If you’re happy having some tough questions thrown at this idea, I’d be happy to attend to provide some honest critique. The upside is that if we come up with some solid answers, there are opportunities for innovation here. Just know that startup-land is littered with the bodies of many related failures. {Cough Peeple Cough] It’s not easy.


  2. Very open to honest critique. 🙂 I’m not all that attached to the term ‘leveling’. It is just a splashy metaphor that I’ve found other designers tend to grok when I talk about these topics.

    Another way of approaching it is to ask:
    1. What are the design requirements for positive pro-social play between strangers?
    This ties into a lot of the anti-griefing work, but IMO it is a limited framing of the problem. It tends to say ‘given a system that may not be friendly, how do we reduce bad outcomes.’ Which is a very different question than asking ‘how do we engineer from the ground up a friendly system’. Amy Jo Kim’s work and some of the emerging learning around cooperative games with non-zero sum resources gives solid results. There are likely entire classes of highly competitive games that are structurally problematic when it comes to creating positive communities.

    2. What the economic, logistic and social contexts that need to be in place in order to increase the rate at which strangers start converting to friendships.
    Lots of research out there. These are things that I’ve played with in terms of creating high density repeated unplanned interactions (via various forms of matchmaking, world size, etc). It works.

    3. What are the economic, logistic and social contexts that help maintain friendships?
    There’s less research that I’ve been able to find, but it is worth a look.

    There are some side topics that are often popular
    – Why can’t I just play with my existing friends? Logistics math that makes this wildly improbable.
    – Why just focusing on griefing isn’t enough. If you’ve created a game theory structure where optimal strategies are regularly antagonistic, you’ve built in a constant reoccuring source of griefing.
    – What are prosocial structures that can be engineered at various group levels. Individual, partners, close friends, family, tribe, city, nation / religion. The alternative is natural group formation that may or may not be a positive influence on the community.
    – How do we facilitate desired norm formation via around automated, fast response feedback systems? This ties into some of the work that Riot has done.

    Reputation systems are an intriguing direction I haven’t considered deeply. Would love to hear more. I could see it as trying to add a relationship-focused quality signal on top of an existing system that is rife with antisocial behavior.

  3. Dang–my apologies, Dan. I should have read this post before I posted my own topic. Happy to combine our topics into one.

  4. Ooh, would love to combine topics. I’ll bring a bunch of random research if you bring a bunch of random research…<3 <3 <3.

    We could also post it here as we find interesting links.

  5. Other notes on friendship formation

    Friendship Wikipedia

    Factors in friendship formation: Propinquity, Reciprocity, Similarity
    “A study conducted by Simpson, Miller and Walton (1993) provides evidence of reciprocity leading to the formation of a friendship. The study was conducted on 50 undergraduate students, who were each sent a letter by the researcher pretending to be a fellow classmate. Half of the letters simply contained a written profile of a potential friend, while the other half were friendship letters that all finished with the sentence: “I really like you and would greatly value your friendship” (Simpson, Miller & Walton, 1993). A few weeks after receiving the letters, all participants were invited to a social dance. Over the duration of the night, each participant was introduced to the author of the letter (who was actually a confederate). At the end of the dance participants were asked to rate to degree to which they liked the potential friend (i.e. the confederate) and whether or not they would consider pursuing a friendship.

    The result indicated that a huge 76% of participants who received the friendship letters said that they would be willing to further pursue the friendship, while only 9% of those participants who received the profile said that they would be willing to further pursue a friendship (Simpson, Miller & Walton, 1993).”

    Factors that lead to friendship chemistry
    “Participants with agreeable, open, and conscientious personalities more commonly report experiencing friendship chemistry, as do those who are female, young, and European/white.”

    Note: There’s a lot of interesting papers out there about biases involved in friendship formation. Spoiler: Sexist, racist disturbing results show up in almost every single study that looks at the topic. There is a default behavior for non-designed systems and it isn’t always desirable. Of particular interest to me is what factors help create friendships across typical lines.

    How environment impacts friendship formation

  6. A tabletop game designer, Jared Sorensen, took a stab at creating an economy that is based off social-positive behavior rather than material wealth. It involves a currency — “Flow” — which is gained from giving gifts, cooperating on use of resources, and suchlike. The manual for the RPG in question, “FreeMarket,” is available in PDF through Scribd, if any of your number have a subscription to that service. If not, it looks like you can sign up for a free month to take a look at it. FreeMarket is a bit tangential to your topic, but might provide some ideas to stimulate your group’s thinking on the use of incentives to bring about positive social connection.

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