The Karma effect and self-scaling universes

Search for ‘browser RPG’ in Google and 99% of what you’ll find is MMORPG-style games, the genre first made big by World Of Warcraft. In these games you play with and against thousands of others, in a ‘persistent’ universe. You build bases, gather resources, battle others, team up with other players, etc…

This is in contrast with games like Weewar (or about every RTS game before WoW came about), where you play stand-alone games that do not affect any universe at all: once the game is over, it’s over, and all that changes is your won/lost games player ranking. But even this single ranking number already has a very big effect

These browser MMORPG games are immensely popular, and people seem to be happily willing to pay subscription fees for them. This is because they appeal to this fundamental love we all have for ‘ranking’. Nothing is greater than getting ever more points, seeing a character gain ever more powers in an ever higher rank. In short, we like to have some number/rank represent our standing, and we are thrilled to see that number grow, to the admiration of those around us. In society this number is often our salary, but for example in Reddit this is called ‘Karma’ and the founders are so aware of the psychological effect they don’t even bother to give an actual meaning to it! And they don’t need to: people will do what it takes to boost their Karma. So let’s dub this – extremely strong – effect the Karma Effect, since I don’t know if there’s already a name for it.

Before internet communities (and still today) the role of of Karma was often played by the high score. And indeed we see how it turns the simplest and most repetitive of games in something super-addictive: it’s just fun to keep trying to beat the high scores. Minesweeper anybody?

Each of the massively multiplayer browser games I mentioned earlier capitalises extensively on this Karma effect, to the point where some of them don’t even bother to have a graphical side anymore: all you have and play with, is tables with different rankings and statistics that define how well you do: amount of resources, number of bases, succesfull attacks executed… and that’s it. Playing the game merely means issuing commands with a button, and if your command worked those numbers get higher. And, boy, do you happily obsess over getting them up over time. Indeed one could say that games like these use only the Karma effect, throw a big fat SQL table and a user profile at it, sit back and watch user loyalty go through the roof.

The lesson is obvious: when trying to build a community, especially a gaming community of any kind, make sure that there’s some form of Karma around. In Dice Attack, I already planned a long time ago to include player rankings with an account, and have a ladder/challenging principle.

But maybe we can do even better, and give players other ‘persistant’ numbers to go with? The great danger lies in creating numbers that, as opposed to a ‘ranking’, would actually give players an advantage in the game. It’s quite easy to imagine this if you would make, say, budget something that players can bring over across games. This would create an unfair advantage of experienced players over newer ones, a problem discussed nicely over here for example.

At one point we played with the idea of an infinitely scalable Diceattack universe, in a ‘powers of ten‘ way. What if each Dice Attack game you win, actually conquers you a single tile on some larger grid? If we divide this large grid in grouped tiles and call them ‘countries’, we have ourselves a nice world to battle for! In this world, users could challenge the owners of nearby grids to a game, and convert it to their owned territory after a victory. This already gives players a nicer reason to keep coming back, perhaps?

This opens an entirely new ‘high level’ type of gameplay, and as we have that world map image in our mind already, why not do the obvious and model our high level gameplay like Risk, where an individual Dice Attack game would form a battle over a zone, and you can challenge players with more/less resources or something. 

However, the most tantalizing idea is to actually set up this higher level game play as yet another Dice Attack battle, but now one that spans over many individual battles, many days and possibly many players, where each tile/move is fought out with a short, ‘basic’ Dice Attack game. In these large battles we could line up a ‘blue team’ against a ‘red team’, where each team has some members controlling the units, and is responsible for the ‘atomic battles’ that correspond with their unit’s attack moves.

Of course, a number of issues immediately pop up when thinking among this line. For example, how do we represent different units by entire battles? If a stronger unit attacks a weaker, this could result in an ‘atomic game’  map where the ‘stronger’ player has an advantage from the start? How would we translate health to an underlining game? Maybe not battle to the death, but just for a fixed time and count a player’s ‘game score’ (= sum of money and units in the field) in the end? 

Of course it’s just a thought for now, and I am sure there’s many issues I haven’t even thought of yet. But in principle, once you figure out some practical stuff, and how to map an attack move on an entire game, it could be done. And what’s more, it could scale infinitely as more players join the ‘DiceAttack universe’

A tantalizing thought.

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2 Responses to The Karma effect and self-scaling universes

  1. […] The Karma effect and self-scaling universes applies the old management saying (and game design maxim) “You get what you measure” to MMORPG leaderboards: Each of the massively multiplayer browser games I mentioned earlier capitalizes extensively on this Karma effect, to the point where some of them don’t even bother to have a graphical side anymore: all you have and play with, is tables with different rankings and statistics that define how well you do: amount of resources, number of bases, successful attacks executed… and that’s it. Playing the game merely means issuing commands with a button, and if your command worked those numbers get higher. And, boy, do you happily obsess over getting them up over time. Indeed one could say that games like these use only the Karma effect, throw a big fat SQL table and a user profile at it, sit back and watch user loyalty go through the roof. […]

  2. Drew says:

    I love wow! I quit playing after I hit 80 for so long because it took to long to get all my gear and my mount, but my friend showed me his gold making guide and now im obsessed again, the guide made it fun for me. Check it out here. http://tinyurl.com/wowgoldvip

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