In today's Gamasutra feature
, Badgeville's Tony Ventrice looks at how social games offer competition to players but also try to hide their failures and allow them to break fairness.
Examining how competition against other players and/or systems makes games fun, Ventrice points out that while almost everybody likes to win, obviously very few enjoy losing.
"The very reason that competition is so appealing -- the thrill of victory -- creates an equal opportunity for being unappealing -- the shame of defeat," he says. Titles looking to appeal to and keep players, though, are finding ways around that.
"Some social games have managed to create the illusion of a zero-sum situation in what is actually an 'everyone wins' situation. Bluntly, this means hiding failures by 'paying off' defeats from the game system itself."
The game designer adds, "For example, if this technique was used in Monopoly, the bank would help players by paying the majority of their debt every time they landed on a rival's property."
"One consequence of this technique is an inflating game economy, another is a game that will never end (the latter being desirable in a social game)," says Ventrice.
He also comments on how traditional games might typically offer a sense of fairness, but that's not what all players want: "[Games] almost always strive to be fair, meaning all players start with a roughly equal opportunity of victory."
"The only unfairness in games should be the player's innate natural ability (i.e. physical skill, mental talent, etc). An alternate means of breaking fairness that has been turning up lately, is buying an advantage."
Ventrice continues, "While this can be profitable for the game's maker, it is potentially dangerous to the integrity of the game if it weakens the significance of the other forms of competition (tactics, skill, etc)."
"The profitability of most social games is based on buying advantages. In most cases, money seems to be most acceptable as a replacement for time and this may not be unusual; in a world of hourly wages, we are already conditioned to perceive time and money as analogous."
The full feature dissecting choice and competition in games, and how they can be applied when considering gamification, is live on Gamsutra now