Oct 082010

The intent of this talk was to do a “powers of ten” sort of look at multiplayer mechanics… not really to describe anything new, but instead to try to take the whole big spectrum of what we think of as multiplayer game design, and do a cross-disciplinary look at it. I covered a bit of game theory, a bit of psychology, a bit of evolutionary biology, a touch of history, a heavy dose of sociology, a dash of social networking theory, and of course, game design stuff.

My hope was that when done, it would both serve as a good context for thinking about multiplayer games of several sorts, and also as just a plain old reference, something to point at when discussing things like what the impact of gifts and wall posts are in social games, or why some MMOs have longer retention cycles.

So here it is as a PDF, for your perusal. I tried to make the slides stand on their own as much as I could, but of course, the actual voiceover would make many slides more comprehensible. For that, look for the actual session recording to appear on the GDC Vault.

Long-time readers will notice that there are bits here that reference and repeat elements of much older presentations. I recommend following up this one with the math-heavy but extremely related presentation on social network theory Small Worlds: Competitive and Cooperative Structures in Online Worlds (PDF), if you have not seen it before… I gave it back in 2003, a year before Facebook launched. 🙂 It digs a lot deeper specifically into many of the characteristics of large scale-free networks in games.

  18 Responses to “GDCOnline: my Social Mechanics talk”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Raph Koster, Raph Koster, Allen Varney, GiordanoContestabile, Aaron Matthew and others. Aaron Matthew said: RT @raphkoster: Hey #gdconline, I posted up my slides from my talk here: https://www.raphkoster.com/2010/10/08/gdconline-my-social-mechan … […]

  2. Thanks Raph for posting this. One question: are you concluding that the social games of today, or their theory and commerce, already include tropes and behaviors that will overtake them in the future? Was that the point of the quote at the end?

  3. Wonderful talk, Raph. This is going in my permanent collection of design materials.

    All the best,

  4. Good work, sir! Made me want to have been in Austin to hear it delivered.

  5. Being the overworked game developer that I am, I rarely get to be “”that guy” who saw something great in person. This is a rare exception!

    I really enjoyed the talk Raph. The definition of helping as a form of multiplayer really resonated with me. It reminded me of a really fun time my wife and I had playing Zelda: Wind Waker together. I played, she navigated, looked up suggestions or maps if we had trouble finding stuff, etc. It was great fun even though she technically never picked up a control.

    Only thing about the talk though… I was hoping for a few more slides. j/k 😛

  6. Adam, I assume you mean the Derrida quote.

    In the actual talk, I pulled up the New Troll quote, then said Derrida had an answer, put it up for a few seconds, let everyone stare at it in puzzlement, then said “yeah, I don’t know what that means either.” So I played it for a joke.

    But I do actually think that what Derrida was saying was to some degree on point as a response, once you parse it, which is difficult. 🙂 Basically, I see multiplayer itself as “the joyous affirmation of freeplay” that Derrida describes, which then defines single player as other than the loss of multiplayer.

    But to get at the rest of your question… I don’t see why social games couldn’t use ALL of the mechanics described, just as MMOs could (but don’t) use all of them.

  7. But then there’s “Olly Olly Oxen Free!” (or
    whatever)… what’s that about?

    I’m a little surprised that Richard didn’t chime in on this, but more, a quick search into the phrase didn’t come up with this either. According to an uncle, when this subject came up many years ago among “the men” at a family gathering when I was a wee lad, it comes from “All ye, all ye, cokes in free.” “Cokes” being an old English term for fools who can be manipulated, coaxed, into doing something.
    So, “all ye, all ye, (ye cokes who can be coaxed) in free.”

    But maybe my uncle was wrong.

  8. on slide 148, you say:

    The basic premise of economics is mutual improvement and optimal distribution of resources.
    It’s a way for a group to level up.
    This is anathema to games.

    could you explain this?

  9. But then there’s “Olly Olly Oxen Free!” (or
    whatever)… what’s that about?

    Amaranthar: the point there, covered verbally, wasn’t about the source, but rather that the chant is a ritual, much like “gg” at the end of a match, shaking hands before one, or even playing sports events themselves. Rituals are used to mark state transitions in society, and also to mark them within games. Therefore, they are an important game mechanic to include — levelling up effects, yes, but also social recognition of said levelling up, with a ceremony and with gifts and changes of uniform, would be even more powerful.

  10. Garumoo:

    The way I explained it in the talk was this: we’re each at 90% of what we need, because some of what we have is excess or not useful to us. But that part turns out to be what the other one needs. So we exchange it, and now we are both at 110%.

    This is the basic idea of trade: you exchange items to cause a mutual benefit. both parties end up better off than they were before.

    Performed iteratively over long periods of time, this eventually leads to economics and thence to civilization. It is the basic motive force that causes rises in the standard of living for entire populations. In other words, the group levels up by engaging in trade.

    It is anathema to games because do not admit any rises in standards of living that the designers did not foretell. They are bounded systems. Eventually, players break the bounds through mutual improvement (via both rival and non-rival goods, by the way — the non-rival counterpart to this was covered under Multilevel Selection Theory).

    So basically, games do not handle overall economics very well. The example given of the guild that dominated their Shadowbane server is one example. They established a Pax Guildiana that led to a “better life” for all citizens on that server. Had they accomplished this in real life, they would be considered a perhaps ruthless, but successful civilization. In the game, well, they had ruined it, because the model the designers made did not admit peace, a social advance that was left out of the design.

  11. It is anathema to games because do not admit any rises in standards of living that the designers did not foretell.

    I have personally believed for a long time that this can be solved: that you can in fact have a substantial change in the “standards of living”, the norms, etc. unanticipated by the designers. But I don’t know how. It’s one of the things I have tried to develop on my own.

  12. Actually, the answer is the next slide, which is allow users to continue expanding the boundaries of the system.

  13. @Raph, so “anathema to (existing) games”, as they are currently made lacking that ability to expand?

    To the “oxen free” thing, yeah I know. You covered it a few slides later with:

    Compare Robert Merton’s theory of deviance to
    player lifecycles:
    1. First, users try to conform to the rules as they work to
    understand them.
    2. Then they try to innovate and reach the goals in new
    3. Then they keep doing things “the right way” but stop
    caring about the objective. This is called ritualism
    and he has a great Hopi rain dance example.
    4. Then they retreat and stop caring about the goal or
    the method.

    It’s surrender, in this case, under the ritual rules because it’s a hopeless standstill in “hide and seek”. The next step is the retreat from the game all together, having stopped caring about it at all.

  14. Awesome talk slides, after reading this I dissected a game idea to see which of the 40* core mechanics you described it contained.
    I found the process to be an interesting way of self evaluating a design and determine what the bare-bones foundational elements were, and also roughly determine scope.

  15. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Caroline Jeanteur, Olivier Dauba. Olivier Dauba said: RT @Labonly: Raph Koster's talk at GDC online : https://www.raphkoster.com/2010/10/08/gdconline-my-social-mechanics-talk/?utm_source […]

  16. This is good solid work: a thought-provoking, useful model. I hope it provides some inspiration for designers and developers looking for an endgame beyond “let’s you and him fight”.

  17. Just read, in a rush (still at work), and indeed, fantastic! Would make a solid (text)book all on its own.

  18. […] in this blog post, and if you want some good stuff, check out Raph Koster’s blog: see GDCOnline: Social Mechanics talk (2010) and GDC11: slides for Social Mechanics talk. These one go much deeper into multiplayer […]

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