Game Whispering http://gamewhispering.com Game Design Consulting Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:47:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.0.1 http://gamewhispering.com/newdesign/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cropped-Favicon_512x5121-32x32.jpg Game Whispering http://gamewhispering.com 32 32 102620793 Compulsion loop is withdrawal-driven http://gamewhispering.com/compulsion-loop-withdrawal-driven/ http://gamewhispering.com/compulsion-loop-withdrawal-driven/#respond Wed, 10 Aug 2016 16:40:25 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=3721 The forces that push us to play just one more turn, or level to obtain a reward can be very strong. This is what we call the compulsion loop. Look into its anatomy.

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Compulsion loop is withdrawal-driven

Diablo compulsion loop

Diablo is the constant race between damage and monster HP.

The forces that push us to play just one more turn, level, or mission, so we can obtain a reward can be very strong. But soon enough, satisfaction wears off and vexation settles in. With it, we are urged to push further to find another prize. This is what we call the compulsion loop.

In games, compulsion is achieved by creating a baseline situation where players perform a rewarding action, then by degrading player tool efficiency while offering clear ways to get back to baseline.

The dip in performance lowers the frequency of rewards and resulting pleasure. Similar to drug withdrawal symptoms, this impacts player mood negatively, creating the need to restore reward schedule. If the game offers a clear way to solve this problem, then a strong motivation emerges, while in the absence of a solution, frustration develops that can lead players to quit.

A frequent implementation is done by modifying numerical strength of opposition compared to player tools, typical example being monsters that increase in stats and now require an upgrade to defeat efficiently. This is why strategy and roleplaying games very commonly feature compulsion loops.

Compulsion loop = Decrease player tool efficiency + Offer clear solution + Repeat

A great example is the Diablo which always starts players against monsters so weak they get killed in one blow. Very quickly though, enemies get tougher and now can sustain multiple hits. Players are motivated to min-max their character builds to go back to the initial level of efficiency, and nothing feels better than finding a powerful magic item that will put monsters in the one-shot kill zone, even very momentarily.

Envy-based compulsion also relies on withdrawal mechanism

Overwatch compulsion loop

Seeing special skins drives engagement.

Another way of creating strong players motivation is to trigger envy by showing a distant reward, generally in another player’s possession. Typical examples range from allowing players to take care of their more advanced friends’ crops in Farmville, seeing replays of high ranked matches in Clash Royale, or coming across someone with rare gear in a multiplayer core game like World of Warcraft or Overwatch.

Exposing players to something they can’t obtain in the short term is going to increase their engagement, but only works if they have enough knowledge of the game actually realize its value, and as such, can only come later in a player experience.

In addition, envy-based compulsion actually relies on the withdrawal mechanism, generally in a social context. Players felt perfectly content with what they had until they came across something they can’t access. This knowledge makes them feel like they are missing something, which in turn triggers engagement.

The decrease of their worth is only perceived based on context, instead of an actual dip of their own level of performance. This makes envy-based compulsion a variant of withdrawal.

Compulsion loop in Clash of Clans – Case study

Like most successful free-to-play games, Clash of Clans has very effective ways to engage players and ensure retention. So let’s analyze one of them, based on the wall breaker upgrade cycle.

Wall breakers are specialized units for destroying enemy walls and breach a perimeter, so we need to compare their strength against wall hit points along the different upgrades levels. The figure below shows the number of wall breakers needed to destroy a wall, at the available upgrade for each town hall level.

Compulsion loop Clash of Clans

The base level efficiency is set as two wall breakers are needed to destroy walls at town hall level 3, when they are first made available. This ratio is maintained at level 4, establishing a strong habit for players along the first few days they use this unit.

At town hall 5 and 6, wall breakers can’t be upgraded enough to keep up with walls and players now need 3 to breach defenses. The sufficient upgrade is only made available when reaching town hall level 7. You can bet that it is very high on the player’s upgrade priority list at this point.

Also read: Tips on game balancing – Focus on dynamics before setting element statistics.

Avoiding the treadmill with gameplay depth

Clash of Clan compulsion loop

Clash of Clans: Basic units dominate early to mid game.

While effective for player motivation, the compulsion loop described above can start feeling meaningless. What’s the point of unlocking and researching an upgrade if it leads to a status quo as opposition gets equally stronger?

Many players will simply be attracted by positive reinforcement, and it might be enough for them, but for challenge-driven players, your game can’t only rely on compulsion loops and has to offer depth. Let’s look at how Clash of Clans progression satisfies its “mid-core” target.

As the first attack unit available, barbarians are the bread and butter of offense in the early game. Very strong army compositions rely heavily on them as they can overwhelm defenses at a cheap cost. Their efficiency against walls doesn’t evolve in a similar fashion as wall breakers though as their attack rating gets outpaced by wall hit points.

This is done to introduce other mechanics and units and gradually give them relevance. Spells, flying units and heroes start taking more of a front seat while barbarians need to be mixed into attacker’s strategies to remain useful.

As the game progresses, players have to learn the different strategies introduced, and also understand how to match them to the different types of defenses other players concoct. By increasing the quantity of available options, the challenge of discerning the optimal path becomes more engaging, especially for a challenge-driven audience.

To add depth, it is best to layer easy to understand mechanics that subtly interact with each other, making the behaviour of the whole system difficult to predict. A classic example of this layered structure is Sim City, where basic rules that help or hinder each building growth are clear, but the multiple interactions soon create complex dynamics that are rewarding to anticipate.

Also read: Pleasure without learning leads to addiction – The importance of challenging player skill.

In conclusion

By modulating the payoff of rewarding activities, players can be strongly motivated to work to maintain the rate of recompense. While this type of compulsion loop can be very effective to engage players looking for gratification, it will appear meaningless to more educated players interested in developing skill mastery. In that case, it is important to incorporate gameplay depth to sustain long-term engagement.

References:

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Video: Zero-sum for game design

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Article: Fun and uncertainty

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Video: Tips on Game Balancing

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Assassin’s Creed flow, motivation and reward http://gamewhispering.com/assassins-creed-flow/ http://gamewhispering.com/assassins-creed-flow/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 17:00:55 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=2404 Why the reach high point system is used in most open-world games since the original Assassin's Creed.

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Assassin’s Creed flow, motivation and reward

AC_LeapOfFaithRecent Ubisoft games have been observed to share a lot of game mechanics. The formula gradually evolved through the years but took its roots in the first open-world title of the company, Assassin’s Creed.

The core system of this formula is the Reach high point mechanic, that lets players make Altair climb a tall building, synchronize to unlock all quests in the area, and jump down through a signature Leap of faith.

As I had the chance to participate in its design, I would like to share with you how we got there, and what made the system so successful that it’s still used in games, 8 years after its debut. As you’ll see its strength can be analyzed through the lens of biology and psychology.

I believe the strength of this mechanic lies on how strongly it motivates players. This is achieved through proposing a clear objective, and a significant reward that immediately follows challenge completion in a very tight loop. This echoes the conditions for flow stated by Csikszentmihalyi that create maximum engagement when performing tasks. Let’s deconstruct the different components that make this system so rewarding and efficient.

The first characteristic is that the reward of unlocking nearby quests comes immediately after synchronizing. This creates a strong and apparent link between cause and effect that brings clarity to the system. The direct reaction to the players actions also represents a dopamine-based reward. It is Nature’s way to motivate us to impact the world around us.

KidElevatorSecondly, the fact that multiple quests are unlocked at once increases the pleasure response as it reinforces the player’s feeling of agency. The bigger the difference between a small action and a big response, the stronger the dopamine release, motivating us to create strong consequences.

The initial design for this system involved talking to characters hidden outside of cities in order to unlock individual quests players had to travel to. These two factors explain why having multiple quests unlocked immediately available creates stronger reward.

The pleasure created by a tight loop with immediate and important reward mimics kids reactions when they press elevator buttons, get the immediate visual and sound feedback and put the whole cab in motion.

Another aspect is the fact that this system grants intrinsic rewards. Instead of extrinsic abstract prize like gold that the player would have to trade in, the player now gets access to more challenge/reward loops. Not only intrinsic rewards are more satisfying, but they also increase a player motivation and engagement with the activity, compared to extrinsic rewards that rather encourage players to exit the current loop, and literally break the flow.

References:

  1. Wikipedia- Flow – link
  2. Gamasutra – Addiction and the Structural Characteristics of MMO Games – link
  3. Youtube – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us – link

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Video: Assassin's creed combat

How a simple combat system was the best way to match the target audience taste on Assassin’s Creed.

Video: Warcraft III randomness

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Video: Halo multiplayer combat

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Tips on game balancing http://gamewhispering.com/tips-game-balancing/ http://gamewhispering.com/tips-game-balancing/#comments Mon, 02 Feb 2015 02:44:46 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=2121 Game balancing is key for game design, but we often approach it from a number-driven angle which distract us from the big picture, the resulting dynamic. Read my tips on game balancing.

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Tips on game balancing

Game balancing is key for game design. Finding the exact damage value for a weapon or the correct height for the jump of a character is exciting for game designers because it’s about the only moment where we can immediately see the impact of our decisions.

This feedback loop is so rewarding it can trick us into endless tweaking, tinkering and fiddling of spreadsheets. Focusing so much on details can often make us forget the big picture, and I want to give you my tips on how to approach game balancing.

Game balancing is creating dynamics

The most important notion is that elements of a game are meaningless on their own, as the player will never encounter them in a vacuum. An ability will always be confronted by obstacles. For gameplay to feel good, player tools must seem adapted to the challenge they help overcome. Game balancing - Mario jumpsThis lets players develop a consistent understanding of the game and leads to “aha moments” as they recognize patterns in the obstacles and know what ability to use.

The first level of Super Mario Bros proposes obstacles exactly matched to Mario’s jump, in height and length. This teaches the player the parameters of the key ability, and will allow to clearly evaluate options in navigating each level.

Games are systems of elements in interaction, and a dynamic always emerges from the ensemble. Because you want to give players a seamless experience interacting with your game dynamic, you should decide upon it first, then use this target to evaluate your balancing effort. It is the role of design to determine these interactions, and of game balancing to set parameters so things unfold as desired.

Another way to make a tool particularly adapted to a situation is to make it way more efficient compared to the others. Think of the classic RTS unit type cycle infantry/archer/cavalry, or even rock/paper/scissors. Once again, it is the clarity or the relationship that creates a satisfactory decision for players because it lets them learn more easily.

This illustrates the notion that game balancing is generally not about making the different elements equal, but rather creating strong discrepancies leading to clear dynamics and relationships.

Game theory applied to game balancing

Game Balancing - Nerfing dominant strategies

Hearthstone cards get nerfed if used in most decks.

With many moving parts, it is possible that strategies becomes way stronger than expected, to the point of making all other options useless, what game theory calls dominant strategies. If your gameplay relies on selecting the best approach, this will definitely hurt the depth of the decision process as well as gameplay variety.

In this case, you want to reduce the effectiveness of the elements that give so much strength to this strategy (also called nerfing) and make multiple options viable again. This will bring value back in the decision process by proposing a dilemma where all options are clear, the right one being uncertain (cf. Fun and uncertainty).

Very frequently, unforeseen strategies will divert from intended gameplay. On a shipped game, this will be called an exploit, but it can be addressed to some extend during development. If the testing team is given a list of the desired winning strategies for each situation, it will be able to validate that the intention is maintained, and verify that other options don’t unduly dominate.

Skill is very important when trying to basically break intended gameplay, this is why our balance testers at Relic were competitive level players. This type of workflow, makes the team able to evaluate the strength of the gameplay structure, find loopholes, and decide to react accordingly, or to leave these options available.

Also read: Fun and uncertainty – The importance of uncertain outcomes for fun.

Conclusion

During the development of Street Fighter II, the team incorporated leniency to make special moves easier to execute, but a side effect made it possible to create unplanned combos. They viewed this as an interesting features and decided to keep it, which opened up some pretty dominating strategies. From there, it got refined and became the key mechanic of the whole fighting genre. This shows that we shouldn’t discard the value of emergence.

The team got pretty lucky to create such a successful gameplay through what was almost an oversight. This is why I think that an intentional approach is superior to better control the resulting game dynamic. Defining a clear target for gameplay then feeds into the game balancing process. It allows to evaluate the different strategies that emerge, and make informed and rational decisions before rushing to our beloved spreadsheets.

References:

  1. Clint Tasker, The zealot and the zergling
  2. Blizzard forums, Hearthstone‘s card balance philosophy
  3. Gamasutra, Street Fighter II designer opens up about the cancelling ‘bug’
  4. On this blog, Understanding gameplay – Part two: Technique

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Video: Zero-sum for game design

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Article: Fun and uncertainty

My definition of fun: The desired exploration of uncertainty.

Video: Meaningful game systems

How to convey meaning through game systems.

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Interactivity as a Medium http://gamewhispering.com/interactivity-as-a-medium/ http://gamewhispering.com/interactivity-as-a-medium/#respond Sun, 14 Sep 2014 19:51:04 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=1722 Which of narrative or gameplay should take the lead in video games?

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Interactivity as a Medium

Which of narrative or gameplay should take the lead in video games? It’s very common topic that polarizes both game devs and players. I was asked my opinion on the question through youtube, so here is my opinion on the balance between interactivity and gameplay.

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Article: Fun and uncertainty

My definition of fun: The desired exploration of uncertainty.

Video: Meaningful game systems

How to convey meaning through game systems.

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Zero-Sum Games for Game Design http://gamewhispering.com/zero-sum-games-for-game-design/ http://gamewhispering.com/zero-sum-games-for-game-design/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 07:30:47 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=1705 Zero-Sum games is a very important concept for game systems as well as rewards, so here is my perspective on it, as well as examples on what it means for game design.

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Zero-Sum Games for Game Design

Zero-Sum games is a very important concept for game systems as well as rewards, so here is my perspective on it, as well as examples on what it means for game design.

If you want more details on how to balance games, I would point you to this article on Positive feedback by Ernest Adams, and if you are interested in Game Theory, head to my article on the topic.

Also, as we reached the 600 subscriber mark for our youtube channel, I want to thank you by letting you choose the topic of my next videos! Please write a question you want me to treat next in the comment section.

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Video: Halo multiplayer combat

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Video: Warcraft III randomness

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Article: Tips on game balancing

Game balancing is about establishing desired dynamics first, then tweaking numbers to make them emerge.

Follow my social feeds

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Warcraft 3 Randomness http://gamewhispering.com/warcraft-3-randomness/ http://gamewhispering.com/warcraft-3-randomness/#respond Tue, 05 Aug 2014 05:19:10 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=1690 Compared to Starcraft's very predictible systems, Warcraft 3 and its randomness always puzzled me. Here are my conclusions on how such a random game can still be fit for competitive play.

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Warcraft 3 Randomness

Compared to Starcraft’s very predictible systems, Warcraft 3 and its randomness always puzzled me. Here are my conclusions on how such a random game can still be fit for competitive play.

Other articles you might like:

Article: Tips on game balancing

Game balancing is about establishing desired dynamics first, then tweaking numbers to make them emerge.

Video: Zero-sum for game design

Zero-Sum games is a very important concept for game systems as well as rewards, so here is my perspective on it, as well as examples on what it means for game design.

Video: Halo multiplayer combat

Halo’s 30 seconds of fun explained.

Follow my social feeds

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Assassin’s Creed Combat system http://gamewhispering.com/assassins-creed-combat-system/ http://gamewhispering.com/assassins-creed-combat-system/#respond Mon, 28 Jul 2014 07:37:50 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=1671 How a simple combat system was the best way to match the target audience taste on Assassin's Creed.

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Assassin’s Creed Combat system

While working at Ubisoft Montreal, I was involved with Assassin’s Creed, and we faced a situation where we realized that the combat system was largely perfectible, but we were specifically asked to stick with a design that we felt was rather poor. It took me several years to realize that it was the best decision, and I explain in this video how sometimes bad design is best.

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Video: Warcraft III randomness

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The main motivation loop of Assassin’s Creed that gave birth to one of the key systems of open world games: Towers.

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Gameplay True Form http://gamewhispering.com/gameplay-true-form/ http://gamewhispering.com/gameplay-true-form/#respond Mon, 14 Jul 2014 07:30:07 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=1664 About the difference between winning conditions and what players really have to do to succeed.

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Gameplay True Form

Here is a short video to introduce the concept of Gameplay True Form that I describe in more details in this article and in this conference talk.

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Article: Understanding gameplay - Part one: Definitions

An actionable definition of gameplay to help understand this complex term.

Article: Understanding gameplay - Part two: Technique

What are the building blocks of gameplay and how to assemble them?

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Shooting isn’t the key mechanic of Quake http://gamewhispering.com/shooting-and-quake/ http://gamewhispering.com/shooting-and-quake/#respond Mon, 07 Jul 2014 23:33:01 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=1660 There's more to Quake than pure aim. Learn about the decisional challenge of this game.

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Shooting isn’t the key mechanic of Quake

After last week video where I analyzed the way Halo shapes the combat dynamic for the average players, here is a quick look at Quake’s top competitive end.

Also, some related links:

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Video: Halo multiplayer combat

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Article: Fun and uncertainty

My definition of fun: The desired exploration of uncertainty.

Video: Warcraft III randomness

Compared to Starcraft’s very predictible systems, Warcraft 3 and its randomness always puzzled me. Here are my conclusions on how such a random game can still be fit for competitive play.

Follow my social feeds

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Halo Multiplayer Combat http://gamewhispering.com/halo-multiplayer-combat/ http://gamewhispering.com/halo-multiplayer-combat/#respond Mon, 30 Jun 2014 15:37:40 +0000 http://gamewhispering.com/?p=1621 Halo's 30 seconds of fun explained.

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Halo Multiplayer Combat

As a follow-up to last week’s video on the lessons from Pac-Man design, here is how they can apply to AAA games, with a short study of Halo’s multiplayer combat.

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Halo’s 30 seconds of fun explained.

Video: Lessons from Pac Man

Discover the hidden depth of the videogame classic: Pac man.

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