What old tennis players teach us

 Posted by (Visited 767 times)  Game talk
Sep 222017

First, read this article on how older players have come to dominate the top ranks of tennis, and how the reason why is probably money.

I found this utterly unsurprising, and here is why.

These things are axiomatic:

  1. In any system where rewards accrue to “winners,” it results in those winners doing even better next time.
  2. The result of this is always a power law curve. My favorite shorthand for this is “the typical person in the system ends up below average.”
  3. Meanwhile, the winners at the top compete and drive up costs of entry.
  4. As this happens, the basic cost of entry to participate in the system rises, and the result is those without resources get closed out.
  5. The curve eventually grows towards a cartel at the top, and eventually a monopoly.
  6. The system as a whole stops growing — customers, players, etc.
  7. Attrition for a variety of reasons means the system dies.

This is true in tennis. It is true in a game’s PVP system. It is true in the indie gaming business. It is true in MMO subscriber acquisition. It is true with Amazon and WalMart versus small shops, and it is true with Facebook. Sometimes this means piling up money, sometimes users, sometimes connections. But the nature of the asset doesn’t matter. It’s about the size of the hub.

Systems that don’t destroy their kings on a regular basis end up destroying the kings and the citizenry. And life under a king is never advantageous to the citizens, either.

There is a sweet spot for ecosystems, you see. A certain level of connectedness, a certain level of inequality, gives us teams and cities and competition and cooperation. But a level above that gives us stagnation and centralization and loss of freedoms. There are thresholds in systemic complexity that serve the system but do not serve the components of the system well. Having hugely paid celebrity tennis players serves them and the system of tennis that monetizes that celebrity well, but does not serve anything else in tennis well, just like having a music scene of only the major rock stars does not serve garage musicians well.

This is game design: set up your system to cause ferment, not stability and inevitability. But it is also long-term thinking in business, and for that matter in social structures. Runaway hubs cause problems whether they are guilds controlling servers, tennis champions benefitting from big prizes, or companies that dominate online commerce.

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