Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

Integrating Talk and Game

Posted by Ben Zeigler on December 31, 2006

As I said yesterday, I am particularly interested in how to get more players deeply involved in a game’s community. In addition to the stuff yesterday, integrating discussion and gameplay can be a powerful tool for drawing players in. Depending on what an individual player is interested in, developers can do different things to involve them:

  • Your min-maxer type really wants hard numbers. If you don’t give them hard numbers, they’ll try to make their own, do it wrong, and then blame you. You don’t have to give out all the numbers, but the more you do, the happier they’ll be. Oh, and if you can’t give out numbers because your systems are too complicated and fragile, players are going to assume it’s because you hate them.
  • The achievement/explorer type of player really wants to be able to show off what they do. If you don’t give them an official way of doing this, some of them will hack your client and create an automated web service that keeps track of their badges. The ones who DON’T want to hack your client will just be sad and eventually quit.
  • The creative/roleplaying type of player wants to perform or create for an audience. Do your best to make this fan content available from inside the game, or at least from the official site. If you want to make them happy, give them wide intellectual property rights and don’t sue them.
  • The entrepreneur/economist type really likes markets. Do your best to expose as much market information as possible to the outside world. Just providing a dedicated forum for market news might be enough, but setting up RSS feeds for price info is probably worth the effort.
  • Players who are most focused on the social aspects of your game want comprehensive in-game communication systems. Cross-shard chat, chat channels, and group-oriented chat are all great ideas. Some sort of in-game message board functionality is a godsend for encouraging guilds and the like. Make this all accessible from outside the game, if you can.
  • Your more casual player is going to want easy access to game guidance. Unless you can perfectly anticipate all needed information (No. You can’t), casual players need access to player-created help and guides. I recommend setting up an official wiki for this purpose. Wikis are substantially better at collecting and organizing game information than ephemeral board postings or static web pages, and keeping it official allows you some policy control. Take a look at the Kingdom of Loathing wiki for a great example. With the help of a wiki, casual players can interact with the hardcore without having to put in the time investment.

Any given player will belong to several of these groups, so improving any of them will make your players more involved and more likely to STAY involved. If you can keep deep discussion as integrated and simple as possible, you can draw in more players without alienating the purely casual player. If you can keep this balance, and have a fun game to boot, it will be successful for years to come.

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