Seductive Game Design

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We’ve all seen them- certain themes, ideas, promises that pull players in and won’t let go.  Guillermo del Toro, Miyazaki, Neil Gaimon, Monte Cook all create worlds that are familiar but fresh, enticing you into staying to see what’s over the next hill or around the next corner.

I’m interested in what we can do to build this feeling around design in games.  What are the lenses and best practices we can use to incorporate deep resonance into our gameplay itself?

It’s worth noting that repetition decreases this feeling.  The first MMOs were some of the most seductive, and over time as the formula has been repeated, I believe they have lost some of that magic.

Off-the-cuff examples that deliver in the promise AND the execution:

  • Minecraft – a world where I can do anything I want?
  • Untitled Goose Game – just hearing about the gameplay makes you intrigued.
  • Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Bendy and the Ink Machine – horror of different kinds triggers this feeling for many people
  • Magic: The Gathering – the recent Throne of Eldraine mechanics and themeing does this for me

Hard Hitting Combos

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How do you create a system of game mechanics that best creates the opportunity for interesting, emergent behavior in combination with each other?

Many games have interesting combo systems, and some are better than others.  Magic: The Gathering and Terraforming Mars.  Skill trees in Diablo III or World of Warcraft.

What are techniques for designing a set of mechanics that have interesting combos? What types of combos are there?  How can a set of mechanics be evaluated for how interesting their ‘combo’s are?  Is it a systemizable problem? How can it be made fun and comprehensible?  What is the best I could do procedurally?

Building better social bonds in competitive games

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Playing with strangers on team-based competitive games can be a very hostile experience.  I’d like to discuss ways to build better player communities including:

  • Matching players likely to form friendships early based on personality traits we can intuit or implicitly monitor or geographic location
  • Providing ways to align incentives to mentor (or at least not condemn) fellow players
  • Segregating those with negative behavior
  • Incentivizing positive behavior on forum

Iteration with Metrics

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I’m interested in creating a formal model for how to incorporate player behavior into an economic or systems model.

For example, when creating an initial model there are several types of variables- predictors of behavior (20% of players will wan this), aesthetic settings (score should be in 1000s not 10s), balance knobs (enemies should do 50 damage).  Then you create your model, and it has several outputs- “Gold earned per second”, “Damage dealt per player” “Average HP for a level 20 enemy”.

When we’ve balanced systems, we tend to pick inputs and outputs we want to set for aesthetic or pacing reasons, and then we want to solve for the remaining inputs and outputs through monte carlo (or other method) of simulation.  If our collected metrics fail to match the model, we figure out whether a behavior predictor was wrong or if our model was wrong and adjust accordingly.

We’ve never done this formally (although I am sure several horseshoers have), but it would be really useful to have a good way of setting up this iteration that could be applied to many game design problems.