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Know-How: Game Design and Player Manipulation – Part 3


Know-How: Game design and player manipulationIt’s been quite a pause after i wrote
part 1 and part 2, it’s time for a new part in this story! For those who just have joined us, I’m talking about game design here – the one based on behavioral psychology (which is all about how people are acting in different situations and why). If you think that such a complex thing has nothing to do with the games we play, you are dramatically wrong – if you play a game (almost any game these days) – you’re seeing behavioral game design up close. So it’s very useful for you as a player to know how exactly it’s working – because it’s that what makes those kooks who play MMOs play until they drop out of work, college and human life, and also because you’ll find out why Final Fantasy XIV sucks on a whole new level!


A little reminder of what i spoke in previous parts (skip that if you have read the previous parts):
* “reinforcers” – rewards given for results or actions
* “contingency” – a set of rules for getting a reinforcer
* “responses” – action taken to fulfill the contingency.
Real-world meaning of these: you have to kill mobs (response) to gain xp (contingency) to raise your level (reinforcer).
There are also “ratio schedules” that make sure you get your reward after you have done a certain number of actions. They called like that because of ratios and intervals – interval is the pause between actions taken by a player, and ratio means how often a player does something.
* “fixed ratio schedule” – example: “kill 20 boars and get a rusty sword”
* “variable ratio schedule” – example: “get me 20 boar hooves and get a rusty sword”.
The difference is that with “fixed ratio” you have a fixed goal, and with “variable ratio” you have the goal, but you don’t know how many boars you’ll need to kill, just 20 or 200 (depending on the drop rate).Now, let’s get to the fresh info. There are a few special cases i have to mention.

Game developers have to think of a way to keep us busy all the time, so they combine different ratio schedules, one after one or all together.“Chain schedules”.It’s when there are multiple stages to the contingency. Lineage2 is using a lot of these chains in their most primitive version, for example – first, go gather some stuff, then bring it to a person, they says “oh, cool, now go and do this and that”, and so on. Another way is when you, say, have to kill a certain number of foes before a door opens – and you have to kill a mob hiding behind that door, but when exactly it appears, you don’t know. Usually, people respond to this kind of schedules in a specific way: like the access to that room they opened (i.e. access to a new schedule) is a reward in itself.The more time a player need to finish a task, the longer will be a pause before he proceeds on with this task. If the pause is too long (it’s too hard to reach a level), the player even might turn around and quit playing – so game developers have to think of a way to keep us busy all the time, so they combine different ratio schedules, one after one or all together. But there is a point when a player must transform from one schedule to another, and many developers make horrible mistakes at this point, triggering a huge backlash on them.

Let’s say, you were killing orcs happily, grinding for XP in some lousy MMO, and then you notice that the orcs aren’t giving any XP anymore! You can’t progress further and are totally enraged, “this game sucks big time” you say, and delete it. You didn’t knew that when the orc became unavailable, you could start killing troll for XP… The contingency had changed – the one you was involved in has been finished, but you couldn’t find how to start a new one. When a player does his contingency and suddenly there is no reward anymore, it’s called “extinction”. And when it hits the player, it brings a lot of anger and frustration, because we expect world to make sense. If you killed a dragon in a specific place every time it respawned, and then it just stopped appearing – the contingency had changed – you will be frustrated.

Whoa, Final Fantasy XIV sucks on a whole new level?!I mentioned Final Fantasy XIV in the lead of this article, so do you want to know why it sucks on a whole new level? They screwed the contingency. Like, totally. Guidleaves (which is a contingency) had been made to hit player with “extinction” every day, and not only that, but they also actually punished the player that took on their contingency – if you couldn’t finish a guildleave due to connection issues or something like that, you would be kicked out of it and had to wait until a next guildleave is available (several days, maybe). I suspect that Square Enix was thinking they’re implementing a clever contingency strategy there, by putting a long pause between guildleaves – maybe, even that players will want to do guildleaves more than if they were available at any time – but they clearly missed the point.

There’s one more type of contingency there - “avoidance”. It’s when players work on preventing something from happening. One of early examples of this contingency were Ultima Online castles and houses where a player – the owner of them – had to visit his property every now and then, or it’ll start to decay. The first of the recent examples that come into my head is Lord of the Rings Online, where you have to pay upkeep for your house, each week, or it will be locked and you won’t be able to access it anymore.

Well, it’s been 3 parts already, but looks like i have to write a 4th one to finish this theme – next time I’ll show you those specific “recipes” – a formulas of what contingencies to use to achieve some specific results – which game developers are using in their games. There are even specific formulas to make players play hard or even forever! What, you thought people are playing some games for years just because these games are sooooo much fun? Nope. It’s all about psychology. So, wait for the final part!

Read other parts here:
Know-How: Game Design and Player Manipulation – Part 1
Know-How: Game Design and Player Manipulation – Part 2
Know-How: Game Design and Player Manipulation – Part 4

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