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How Design can Help Build Meaningful Relationships within Games

blueturtle13blueturtle13 Member LegendaryPosts: 12,513
A report on building relationships in games has been released detailing a series of things that lead and help build friendships within a game.
The group consisted of:

  • Daniel Cook, Spry Fox
  • Yuri Bialoskursky, Electronic Arts
  • Bill Fulton, Microsoft
  • Michael Fitch, Betterrealities.com
  • Joel Gonzales, Wargaming.net
The issue
In many online multiplayer games, players enter as strangers and remain strangers. Due to a variety of unquestioned logistics, economic and social signalling choices, other human beings end up being treated as interchangeable, disposable or abusable. We can do better.
Let’s instead design games that help strangers form positive pro-social relationships.

New tools
There’s a mature body of research going back to the 1950s concerning how to create systems and situations that facilitate positive relationship building between strangers. Given the right context, people will naturally will become acquaintances. And a smaller number will become friends.

We can’t force two people to become friends, nor should we want to. But we are in a unique position to build systems that create fertile ground for friendships to blossom. And by carefully nurturing positive relationships, we can simultaneously avoid naively birthing poisonous cesspools that actively fosters hate.

This paper cover a simple design checklist based off well supported models of friendship formation. Put it into practice and you will create games that build stronger player relationships and stronger communities. In addition to making the world a better place, your games will likely have better retention and improved monetization because you are creating value for your players that speaks to their deeply human psychological needs.


General Model

To build friendships, your game should facilitate four key factors. When these are present, friendships tend to form.
  1. Proximity: Put players in serendipitous situations where they regularly encounter other players. Allow them to recognize one another across multiple play sessions.
  2. Similarity: Create shared identities, values, contexts, and goals that ease alignment and connection.
  3. Reciprocity: Enable exchanges (not necessarily material) that are bi-directional with benefits to both parties. With repetition, this builds relationships.
  4. Disclosure: Further grow trust in the relationship through disclosing vulnerability, testing boundaries, etc.
What types of games can use this friendship model?
For the purposes of this paper, we are interested in a specific domain:
  • Online: Players are not in the same physical space.
  • Mediated: A computer mediates all interactions between the players. Rich in person channel of communication like one might find in a board game or sport are not available.
  • Synchronous: Players are interacting in real time via keyboard, mouse, mic, controller, voice, emote, etc.


We believe two things when we discuss friendships:
  1. The facilitation of meaningful relationships between other human beings is a noble design goal.
  2. Games are uniquely suited to facilitating relationships.
To make friends, you need multiple people, a reason to bring them together and some form of repeated mutually beneficial interaction. Multiplayer games have all these elements. Every piece of a game can be designed to remove walls and build social connections. What an opporutnity!
  • We can design our matchmaking and logistics system to encourage proximity
  • We can design our social signaling, characters and tribes to generate perceived similarity
  • We can design the economics of reciprocation loops at all stages of friendship formation
  • We can incrementally enable safe disclosure based off idle friendship formation pacing.
Often we think of computer games as a single player medium for storytelling or some other evocative experience We put games in the same category as books, movies, comics, etc. However, it is also interesting to think of games as intentional human processes; rule-based machines composed of living, breathing, growing people. They operate on the same scale as sports, religions and governments. Such engineered human processes can help players thrive in designed virtual spaces and ultimately in their real lives.

As game designers, this is one of our great powers and responsibilities. We design these machines. We are responsible for growth and nurturing of the machine’s players and communities that they form. The human process of friendship formation is an essential game design tool. Wield it wisely.


Read the full detailed report here:

 
http://www.lostgarden.com/2017/01/game-design-patterns-for-building.html



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Comments

  • iixviiiixiixviiiix Member RarePosts: 2,167
    Is it another trap ? Sound like somebody try to trick people to buy they online game .
  • anemoanemo Member RarePosts: 1,898
    edited January 2017
    iixviiiix said:
    Is it another trap ? Sound like somebody try to trick people to buy they online game .
    They would be interested in selling themselves as a contractor/advisor/analyst, maybe as a connector of people, or maybe an artist.   Though they aren't really pushing their own actual work anymore.  (Normal white-collar BabyBoomer stuff of pretending to be a leader in a team, without having any real responsibility to the final outcome)

    Was actually tempted to post the link myself.

    EDIT:

    The actual post is actually pretty long and insightful (click the link).  Not posting a TLDR, or the OP actually discussing anything is kind of a disappointment IMO.

    Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent.

    "At one point technology meant making tech that could get to the moon, now it means making tech that could get you a taxi."

  • cameltosiscameltosis Member EpicPosts: 2,712
    Took me a long while to get through the actual article but was worth a read. Once it starts digging into the methods of establishing friendships (proximity, similarity etc) and then, more specifically, the barriers to such things, you begin to understand all the things that modern MMOs (and, to be fair, most older MMOs too) have gotten wrong. 

    To those who believe that modern MMOs don't value community and are being badly designed with community in mind, this article is well worth a read. For me, its just sorted of added formal names to things I'd already considered. 


    The only thing I think it's missing is discussion of the importance of friendships in online games. They mention at the top that on top of making the world a better place, it improves player retention (and thus income) and improves monetisation (because the game is providing more value to the player through meeting emotional needs). However, they don't back this up with any further theory or research, or even discussion. 

    For me, thats fine because I'm firmly in the community camp but I know that for many, they just want to login and kill some stuff, explore a beautiful world and wave at the occasional passer by. For those people, they don't see the value in promoting online friendships as they see it as something distinct from the game, rather than being something critical for the games success. 
  • GdemamiGdemami Member EpicPosts: 12,318
    There is no point in mechanics players have no interest in...

    Beating a dead horse.
  • sunandshadowsunandshadow Member RarePosts: 1,985

    1. Similarity: Create shared identities, values, contexts, and goals that ease alignment and connection.
    I've been saying this for about 15 years, but yeah the problem is that for the most part players aren't interested.
    I want to help design and develop a PvE-focused, solo-friendly, sandpark MMO which combines crafting, monster hunting, and story.  So PM me if you are starting one.
  • CrazKanukCrazKanuk Member EpicPosts: 6,130
    Wow, I hope they now know what a ridiculously waste of resources this was. If they wanted all the answers, they should just come here :awesome:

    Crazkanuk

    ----------------
    Azarelos - 90 Hunter - Emerald
    Durnzig - 90 Paladin - Emerald
    Demonicron - 90 Death Knight - Emerald Dream - US
    Tankinpain - 90 Monk - Azjol-Nerub - US
    Brindell - 90 Warrior - Emerald Dream - US
    ----------------

  • MadFrenchieMadFrenchie Member LegendaryPosts: 8,505
    Definitely giving this a thorough read through tonight!


    Very interesting snippets in the OP.  Glad to see the potential for community building in MMORPGs is being recognized by those in the industry!

    image
  • MendelMendel Member EpicPosts: 4,047
    Interesting.  I would question the priority order scheme they propose, but it's a start.  My issue has always been my non-normal play time, when I played from 1300 to 1700 EST, and all the guilds on the server were based in the Pacific time zone.  When the majority of people started coming online (roughly 2200 to 2300 EST), I was either already offline, or had played 9 hours already.

    The other thing which this paper really didn't directly address is the games tendency to segregate the population by function.  Sure, you can get manipulate the population to put them in groups, but when your 6 man group ends up with 3 identical classes filling a single role, and none in critical functional roles (tank, healer, etc).  And when the entire population online in any single hour is the same class, no nature of game engineering is going to turn 6 enchanters into a viable successful group.

    Logic, my dear, merely enables one to be wrong with great authority.

  • anemoanemo Member RarePosts: 1,898
    @Mendel


    I think the analytics tied to this would be more interested in tying people together that use/abuse the content in the same way.   For instance getting people together that want to do the extra content, or getting people together that will stop to gather optional resources.   Also would care about getting people together that like to talk/BS during the raid or not (I feel silly tossing out a Scooby Doo joke at the start of a haunted house raid, just to have no one reply or try to one up it with a higher effort joke, or worse get yelled at by the extreme grinder to go faster).


    I could really see someone mixing GW1 and a PvE Overwatch type of game play.   Then mixing it with some sort of Facebook Analytic clone to control which people enter the zone/city with you and similar.  Some cases doing a traditional build your own group content, in others entering multiple people into the zone while rigging content up so that they end up meeting in some areas (tied to predictions and similar so that you meet in an interesting spot).  Devs already have a lot of data collected to make broad assumptions.   Likewise there are a lot ways to drive players where you need them with quest generation, adding diversions like a lock picking game if someone goes too fast, and similar.

    Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent.

    "At one point technology meant making tech that could get to the moon, now it means making tech that could get you a taxi."

  • VardahothVardahoth Member RarePosts: 1,472
    Allowing players to govern themselves, provide hard to acquire stuff that is rewarding and only can be done by working with people, and offer long progression grinds so the people will create their own friends/schedules/times to group up with whom they choose.

    I Quit.

    http://www.mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm/thread/436845/page/1 -> http://forums.mmorpg.com/discussion/436845/what-killed-mmorpgs-for-you/p1

    http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2316034
    .............
    Retired Gamer: all MMORPG's have been destroyed by big business, marketing of false promises, unprofessional game makers, and a generation of "I WIN and GIVE ME NOW" (brought to you by pokeman).

  • iixviiiixiixviiiix Member RarePosts: 2,167
    Vardahoth said:
    Allowing players to govern themselves, provide hard to acquire stuff that is rewarding and only can be done by working with people, and offer long progression grinds so the people will create their own friends/schedules/times to group up with whom they choose.
    I don't understand why most people like "make it hard so player have to work with other for reward" instead of "let share it and enjoy it together" .
  • DullahanDullahan Member EpicPosts: 4,534
    I could have saved them time and money on their research:
    shared adversity breeds community


  • Octagon7711Octagon7711 Member LegendaryPosts: 8,968
    SWG tried to do something like that.  Players could teach new players all the languages.  They could train player skills.  

    The only way making friends ingame would work would be if they did it like everything else they want you to do.  Provide some kinds of rewards for doing it.

     Actually I found it pretty easy to make friends ingame.  The very easiest was a camping spot for level grinding  that took the player from lowest level to highest over time and couldn't be done alone but you didn't have to group, only tag the mob.  Met some good people standing around waiting for the spawn timer to reset at the tusken village in SWG.  Didn't know it at the time but it was like the very first dynamic event in an MMO.  The Devs didn't know it either because they nerfed it to hell after a while.

    "We all do the best we can based on life experience, point of view, and our ability to believe in ourselves." - Naropa      "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."  SR Covey

  • Octagon7711Octagon7711 Member LegendaryPosts: 8,968
    iixviiiix said:
    Vardahoth said:
    Allowing players to govern themselves, provide hard to acquire stuff that is rewarding and only can be done by working with people, and offer long progression grinds so the people will create their own friends/schedules/times to group up with whom they choose.
    I don't understand why most people like "make it hard so player have to work with other for reward" instead of "let share it and enjoy it together" .
    Making it harder does not always equate to being more fun to play.  It's a shortcut for the devs.  They just triple the health on the mobs.

    "We all do the best we can based on life experience, point of view, and our ability to believe in ourselves." - Naropa      "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."  SR Covey

  • iixviiiixiixviiiix Member RarePosts: 2,167
    iixviiiix said:
    Vardahoth said:
    Allowing players to govern themselves, provide hard to acquire stuff that is rewarding and only can be done by working with people, and offer long progression grinds so the people will create their own friends/schedules/times to group up with whom they choose.
    I don't understand why most people like "make it hard so player have to work with other for reward" instead of "let share it and enjoy it together" .
      They just triple the health on the mobs.
    This make me lol hard . Yup , they always like that , hard = more health and damage . Personally ,  i think player with same health and stats is more hard to crack than triple health mobs .
  • MendelMendel Member EpicPosts: 4,047
    I read through this again this morning.  It still reads more like a sociology / psychology department's analysis rather than a group of gaming industry professionals.

    So, what is the goal of this?  Is there a new game being developed with these principles, or is this just a group of people fantasizing what they think should be done?  What game is going to adapt these ideas anytime in the next 5-10 year time frame?

    Logic, my dear, merely enables one to be wrong with great authority.

  • cameltosiscameltosis Member EpicPosts: 2,712
    Mendel said:
    I read through this again this morning.  It still reads more like a sociology / psychology department's analysis rather than a group of gaming industry professionals.

    So, what is the goal of this?  Is there a new game being developed with these principles, or is this just a group of people fantasizing what they think should be done?  What game is going to adapt these ideas anytime in the next 5-10 year time frame?
    Well, many of the earliest MMOs really experimented with the whole virtual world idea, trying to create ecosystems that were simplified versions of the real world (but with lasers and swords). The clue really is in the name of the genre - massively multiplayer online. 

    The genre started as a way for as many people as possible to play together in a virtual space. Meaningful relationships are a cornerstone of a good MMO. As they mentioned at the top of the article, in addition to making the world a better place (friendships make you feel good and happy people cause less harm to others), it is much better for player retention (social bonds keep you playing long after you're bored with the game itself) and thus much better for generating money. Players are also much more willing to spend money on your game (because the game is not only providing fun gameplay, but is fulfilling emotional needs too, thus providing great value). 

    From personal experience, I played LotRO for nearly 5 years in total but the game was severely lacking in endgame content. Without the ingame relationships that I had, I would have quit so much quicker. That's not to say the game was bad, it wasn't, it just simply lacked content. Vice versa, SW:TOR almost completely ignored the community and was setup to be a soloers paradise. There were no natural ways to form relationships outside of my existing guild. Even then, my guild kept me playing long after I ran out of content, but I still only lasted 1 year (I would have quit after 2 months without my guild). 


    I think the goal was just to set out a set of principles for how to foster good relationships within a computer game. We, as the community, probably aren't the intended targets. Game designers is who this is aimed at. 


    As to who is going to use this article, or who is developing games with these things in mind, pretty much just pick an MMO and take a look. Everything in this article can be applied to every MMO already released or in development. You can work through the article, pick the features that are promoting relationships and pick out the features that blocking relationships and make an assessment. Hopefully, some game designer out there will read the article and it will influence the next round of development. 


    In terms of upcoming games specifically, I know Camelot Unchained makes use of a lot of these ideas and has been designed to foster a very strong community. They have specifically designed their game with player retention in mind. Whether they used research like this as part of their design process, or whether they just knew what works and what doesn't from past games I don't know. 
  • MadFrenchieMadFrenchie Member LegendaryPosts: 8,505
    One of the most poignant points in the article (to me) is the small paragraph about blocking a player's ability or chances to repeatedly run into the same group of players.  This is the very reason I've never been a fan of crossrealm grouping and the megaserver idea with numerous instances.


    When you essentially have 0 chance to see that player again, it's no longer a person behind the avatar.  It's just a really intelligent NPC.  That's missing the entire point of grouping in these RPGs.  Hell, we make it a point to evaluate singleplayer RPGs by how interesting our NPC companions (which is largely communicated through, surprise surprise, dialogue) are, but for some reason when it comes time to replace those NPCs with actual people with actual personalities, we balk at the idea.

    image
  • VardahothVardahoth Member RarePosts: 1,472
    edited January 2017
    iixviiiix said:
    Vardahoth said:
    Allowing players to govern themselves, provide hard to acquire stuff that is rewarding and only can be done by working with people, and offer long progression grinds so the people will create their own friends/schedules/times to group up with whom they choose.
    I don't understand why most people like "make it hard so player have to work with other for reward" instead of "let share it and enjoy it together" .
    Why not both? Reward is just an incentive for "How Design can Help Build Meaningful Relationships within Games". I'm still friends with people who I played ragnarok online and lineage 2 with. I can't say I have a single friend that has lasted for every game that has come after that. So 2004 was the cut off for me.

    Also, millennials don't understand deep meaningful (unconditional) relationships, because they have never been in one (friendly or romantic).

    I Quit.

    http://www.mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm/thread/436845/page/1 -> http://forums.mmorpg.com/discussion/436845/what-killed-mmorpgs-for-you/p1

    http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2316034
    .............
    Retired Gamer: all MMORPG's have been destroyed by big business, marketing of false promises, unprofessional game makers, and a generation of "I WIN and GIVE ME NOW" (brought to you by pokeman).

  • iixviiiixiixviiiix Member RarePosts: 2,167
    Vardahoth said:
    iixviiiix said:
    Vardahoth said:
    Allowing players to govern themselves, provide hard to acquire stuff that is rewarding and only can be done by working with people, and offer long progression grinds so the people will create their own friends/schedules/times to group up with whom they choose.
    I don't understand why most people like "make it hard so player have to work with other for reward" instead of "let share it and enjoy it together" .
    Why not both? Reward is just an incentive for "How Design can Help Build Meaningful Relationships within Games". I'm still friends with people who I played ragnarok online and lineage 2 with. I can't say I have a single friend that has lasted for every game that has come after that. So 2004 was the cut off for me.

    Also, millennials don't understand deep meaningful (unconditional) relationships, because they have never been in one (friendly or romantic).
    Well , most of game have both anyway .
    But the problem with most of after 2004 MMORPG (age of WOW) is you can't share anything , or sharing option is very limited .
    One time tasks , bind items , instances ects
    The hard forced group don't work well , so they have to create easy forced random group lol

    As for ragnarok online and lineage 2 , they are "let share it and enjoy together" type of game . You can solo in those game , but because it easy to share the contents (mostly mob combat grind) so player naturally group together .

    Think about it , if you play ragnarok while run after quests , will you able to keep your newly meet friend close ? They also do they quests and you level too low to play same quest as them or you ready did the quest cause you have higher level .


  • IselinIselin Member LegendaryPosts: 14,677
    Mendel said:
    I read through this again this morning.  It still reads more like a sociology / psychology department's analysis rather than a group of gaming industry professionals.

    So, what is the goal of this?  Is there a new game being developed with these principles, or is this just a group of people fantasizing what they think should be done?  What game is going to adapt these ideas anytime in the next 5-10 year time frame?
    Well when you take this into consideration...

    • Interactions with friends. The success of F2P games relies on their strong viral dimension. The game must encourage the player to draw his friends' attention by inviting them to join him. But this "virality" has a two-way function. Not only are friends invited to play the game, but it is them who remind the player later and motivate him to continue playing. Thus, with many F2P games, a player is frequently reminded to ask for "virtual" help from his friends and give them a helping hand. As a result, the user no longer plays for his progress but for someone else's.
    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/134920/the_design_of_freetoplay_games_.php?page=3

    ... lots of them.
    “Microtransactions? In a single player role-playing game? Are you nuts?” 
    ― CD PROJEKT RED

    "... the "influencers" which is the tech name we call sell outs now..."
    __ Wizardry, 2020
  • holdenhamletholdenhamlet Member EpicPosts: 3,766
    Interesting read, but as long as the monetization model is trying to basically trick people out of money before they quit and move on to the next game, it's not terribly relevant unfortunately.


    Encouraging people to become friends is great for longevity and player enjoyment.  MMORPGs aren't being built for longevity or player enjoyment currently.
  • IselinIselin Member LegendaryPosts: 14,677
    Interesting read, but as long as the monetization model is trying to basically trick people out of money before they quit and move on to the next game, it's not terribly relevant unfortunately.


    Encouraging people to become friends is great for longevity and player enjoyment.  MMORPGs aren't being built for longevity or player enjoyment currently.
    Ironically, encouraging and enabling strong social interactions in games and making lots of friends there is one of the best ways to ensure continued financial success. It's more subtle and more of a long game than the obvious, in your face tactics of "grind for 2000 hours to get X or buy it for $29.99 in the cash shop today!" but there's a strong financial incentive for making it happen even for the most money-grubbing developers out there.

    The benefits are more obvious in a sub game but keeping people around in the general vicinity of your shop is also beneficial in F2P games.
    “Microtransactions? In a single player role-playing game? Are you nuts?” 
    ― CD PROJEKT RED

    "... the "influencers" which is the tech name we call sell outs now..."
    __ Wizardry, 2020
  • AeolynAeolyn Member UncommonPosts: 350
    My take away from this article is that these behind the scenes people know not only how toxic their game design affects player interaction and their game community as a whole, but seemingly haven't cared enough to take the steps to prevent it.  The only other explanation is that they have been deliberately dabbling in conflict mechanisms to create a whole sub section of detached people(sound familiar?  yes I'm referring to bootcamp brainwashing).

    Of particular interest to me were the bits detailing how the design can make live players disposable and therefore abusable to other live players, instead of creating systems as in the older games like UO, where those that enjoyed being the biggest dick in the game, also were mostly held to account for it with undesirable penalties, instead of the current situation where games seem to be glorifying negative behaviour. 

    I get the whole "other" thing and agree that a rpg needs villains and heroes, but imo making other live players the "other" is just wrong and can and has led to some real life tragedies by those who have been so influenced that they have let it affect their real life.  This is where I believe those that design mmos need to take responsibility for the in game societies they create, it's not like in a rpg where it's just a single live person battling some artificial enemies in an artificial world, they are now playing with real people's psyche.

    At least this paper shows that they're aware of where much of any community building is broken and recognizes that this is a missing step(and therefore an opportunity) between a solo experience and one that fosters a desire to belong to any kind of grouping.

    "In particular, we focus on the transition from stranger to acquaintance. This is the step that most often falters in modern game designs."

    Some people will naturally join others because they're either socially dependent and need/want the chitchat and constant affirmation from other players or the game itself makes it somewhat advantageous to do so, but there are also many people that find groups challenging because of past bad experiences or even just because they're not able to use the voice chat systems that most groups demand, let alone the time requirements that some entail.


  • cameltosiscameltosis Member EpicPosts: 2,712
    Aeolyn said:
    My take away from this article is that these behind the scenes people know not only how toxic their game design affects player interaction and their game community as a whole, but seemingly haven't cared enough to take the steps to prevent it.  The only other explanation is that they have been deliberately dabbling in conflict mechanisms to create a whole sub section of detached people(sound familiar?  yes I'm referring to bootcamp brainwashing).

    Well, the bit that this article doesn't touch on at all (which might be why you have a very jaded view) is that designing a game around community is just one route to success. 

    All these community features, which all do increase retention and monetisation, are hard to reconcile with traditional RPG features. So, for example, the article strongly advocates horizontal progression (because vertical progression creates gear gaps and thus imbalances between players and barriers to cooperative play) and yet RPGs pretty much always use vertical progression - a leftover from pen and paper RPGs. 

    Same thing with grouping and reciprocity. The article is basically saying that if you design classes and content so that players need to group together and work as a team to beat it, the chances of forming friendships increases. Whilst this is true, this increases the difficulty of the game which will drive some people away. Groups also need leaders, but most people are sheep, so if you need to complete group content in order to progress then a large portion of your community are going to be spending their days waiting for leaders to turn up and form a group. 


    Finally, you have to consider what "success" or "good" means to the business. All the things discussed would result in a great community and thus much better retention, so long term success is much more likely. However, that is only one form of success and one route to get there. 

    An MMO could be just as successful (financially speaking) by focusing on initial box sales, rather than retention. Focusing on flashy graphics and strong advertising could generate enough initial box sales to make a profit, so they don;t have to care about long term success. Or, like ESO, they can focus on simply releasing a lot of content so that players always have something to do. 

    Whilst I believe it is possible to create an MMO that does everything (solo, community, pve, pvp, sandbox and themepark features etc), it would be extremely hard to do and a big risk which is why most developers take a narrower view and why most publishers insist on the "safe" route. 
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