Tag Archives: games

The Long Game: Civilization II and Sim City’s Magnasanti

After ten years of play­ing the same Civil­iz­a­tion II cam­paign (my favour­ite game ever), Red­dit user Lyceri­us has ended up cre­at­ing a dysto­pi­an semi-self-sus­tain­ing world, where the three remain­ing “super-nations” are in a con­stant state of espi­on­age and nuc­le­ar war.

The details of Lyceri­us’ “hellish night­mare” world are abso­lutely fas­cin­at­ing: the mil­it­ary stale­mate; the 1700-year war; and the glob­al warm­ing epi­dem­ic that led to melt­ing ice caps, fam­ine, and the end of cit­ies. This is the polit­ic­al situ­ation:

The only gov­ern­ments left are two theo­cra­cies and myself, a com­mun­ist state. I wanted to stay a demo­cracy, but the Sen­ate would always over-rule me when I wanted to declare war before the Vik­ings did. This would delay my attack and render my turn and often my plans use­less. And of course the Vik­ings would then break the cease fire like clock­work the very next turn. […] I was forced to do away with demo­cracy roughly a thou­sand years ago because it was endan­ger­ing my empire. But of course the people hate me now and every few years since then, there are massive guer­rilla […] upris­ings in the heart of my empire that I have to deal with which saps resources from the war effort.

This reminds me of Mag­nas­anti: the total­it­ari­an city cre­ated in Sim City 3000 that sus­tains the max­im­um pop­u­la­tion (six mil­lion) for 50,000 years. The inter­view with it’s ‘maker’, archi­tec­ture stu­dent Vin­cent Ocasla, is worth a read.

Keep these people away from town plan­ning depart­ments, please.

Mag­nas­anti via Kot­tke

Defining a Game

In a talk lam­bast­ing what has become the most pop­u­lar video game in Amer­ica–Zynga’s Face­book-based Farm­Ville*–we are shown how it fails to meet a single one of late soci­olo­gist Roger Cail­lois’ six cri­ter­ia for defin­ing games (as laid-out in in his 1961 book, Man, Play and Games):

  • Free from oblig­a­tion, routine and respons­ib­il­ity.
  • Sep­ar­ate from ‘real life’.
  • Uncer­tain in out­come (involving chance and/or skill).
  • An unpro­duct­ive activ­ity.
  • Gov­erned by rules.
  • Make-believe (requir­ing either immer­sion or the sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief).

*“Over sev­enty-three mil­lion people play Farm­Ville. Twenty-six mil­lion people play Farm­Ville every day. More people play Farm­Ville than World of War­craft, and Farm­Ville users out­num­ber those who own a Nin­tendo Wii.”

via @cojadate

The Economically-(Im)Perfect World of Online Games

Kris­ti­an Segerstrale–owner of online games com­pany Play­fish (acquired by Elec­tron­ic Arts for $400m in Novem­ber 2009)–discusses why online game envir­on­ments are excit­ing places for eco­nom­ics research (and spe­cific­ally: “how social factors influ­ence eco­nom­ic decision mak­ing”):

When eco­nom­ists try to mod­el beha­vi­or in the real world, they’re always deal­ing with imper­fect inform­a­tion. “The data is always lim­ited, and once you get hold of it there are tons of reas­ons to mis­trust it,” Seger­strale says. In vir­tu­al worlds, on the oth­er hand, “the data set is per­fect. You know every data point with abso­lute cer­tainty. In social net­works you even know who the people are. You can slice and dice by gender, by age, by any­thing.”

Instead of deal­ing only with his­tor­ic­al data, in vir­tu­al worlds “you have the power to exper­i­ment in real time,” Seger­strale says. What hap­pens to demand if you add a 5 per­cent tax to a product? What if you apply a 5 per­cent tax to one half of a group and a 7 per­cent tax to the oth­er half? “You can con­duct any exper­i­ment you want,” he says. “You might dis­cov­er that women over 35 have a high­er tol­er­ance to a tax than males aged 15 to 20—stuff that’s just not pos­sible to dis­cov­er in the real world.”

Of course, there’s a fairly obvi­ous caveat:

One pos­sible flaw in this eco­nom­ic mod­el is that the kind of people who spend hours online tak­ing care of ima­gin­ary pets may not be rep­res­ent­at­ive of the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. The data might be “per­fect” and “com­plete,” but the world from which it’s gathered is any­thing but that.

Behavioural Game Design and the Manipulation of Fun

Over the last twenty or thirty years gam­ing has changed almost bey­ond recog­ni­tion. With the sim­ul­tan­eous growth in beha­vi­our­al psy­cho­logy the two fields have col­lided, as sum­mar­ised by Microsoft games research­er John Hop­son in his look at beha­vi­our­al game design.

Cracked sum­mar­ises the art­icle well (if not a tad sen­sa­tion­al­ised) as Five ways video games are try­ing to get you addicted (part two). It’s worth not­ing that this is taken from the the­or­ies of B. F. Skin­ner and his oper­ant con­di­tion­ing cham­bers (or, Skin­ner boxes).

“Each con­tin­gency is an arrange­ment of time, activ­ity, and reward, and there are an infin­ite num­ber of ways these ele­ments can be com­bined to pro­duce the pat­tern of activ­ity you want from your play­ers.”

Notice his art­icle does not con­tain the words “fun” or “enjoy­ment.” That’s not his field. Instead it’s “the pat­tern of activ­ity you want.”

His the­or­ies are based around the work of BF Skin­ner, who dis­covered you could con­trol beha­vi­or by train­ing sub­jects with simple stim­u­lus and reward. He inven­ted the “Skin­ner Box,” a cage con­tain­ing a small anim­al that, for instance, presses a lever to get food pel­lets. Now, I’m not say­ing this guy at Microsoft sees gamers as a bunch of rats in a Skin­ner box. I’m just say­ing that he illus­trates his the­ory of game design using pic­tures of rats in a Skin­ner box.

This sort of thing caused games research­er Nick Yee to once call Ever­quest a “Vir­tu­al Skin­ner Box.”

So What’s The Prob­lem?

Gam­ing has changed. It used to be that once they sold us a $50 game, they didn’t par­tic­u­larly care how long we played. The big thing was mak­ing sure we liked it enough to buy the next one. But the industry is mov­ing toward sub­scrip­tion-based games like MMO’s that need the sub­ject to keep playing–and paying–until the sun goes super­nova.

Now, there’s no way they can cre­ate enough explor­a­tion or story to keep you play­ing for thou­sands of hours, so they had to change the mech­an­ics of the game, so play­ers would instead keep doing the same actions over and over and over, wheth­er they liked it or not. So game developers turned to Skinner’s tech­niques.

This look at how manip­u­lat­ing con­tin­gen­cies in sys­tems and games can obtain desired results/behaviours opens a num­ber of ques­tions. Expect more on this.

Update: I’ve pos­ted a com­pre­hens­ive sum­mary of the art­icle in ques­tion on micro.Lone Gun­man.

How to Win at Monopoly

It appears that a couple of high-pro­file blogs linked to this a few years back, but it’s new to me: how to win at mono­poly.

Mono­poly is a game of luck, strategy, and people skills. No strategy will guar­an­tee you a win; that’s one of the reas­ons Mono­poly is so inter­est­ing. In any giv­en game, a new­comer can beat a life­time cham­pi­on. Still, there are a few stra­tegic tips that came out of the com­puter sim­u­la­tions that will help you best play the odds: you may not win any giv­en game, but in the long run, you’ll come out ahead. The “people skills” ele­ment isn’t cap­tured here. But as a gen­er­al rule, think about what your oppon­ents want and see if you can engin­eer a trade with them that’s a win/win for you both. That type of nego­ti­at­ing is as vital in Mono­poly as it is in real life.