As part of his long-running Designer's Notebook column, veteran design consultant Ernest Adams considers antidotes to the "downward spiral"
in games, in which game mechanics conspire to keep the losers losing.
The idea is inspired by the classic board game Monopoly, though Adams examines similar design concepts that exist in video games. "The downward spiral isn't completely bad, but it's depressing," writes Adams.
In the article, Adams presents five concrete ideas for alleviating the problem, testing them out against design ideas for contemporary video games.
His first suggestion is to include a repair mechanism, in which wounded units can recoup function, easing the pain of the downward slide. "You can slow down a downward spiral -- and perhaps even reverse it -- by building in a repair mechanism that tends to restore what the player has lost," writes Adams.
Lateral thinking is suggested in Adams' second example, about redefining victory conditions. "Even in a combat game, you don't have to define victory in terms of damage done to the enemy, or loss in terms of damage done to the player. If victory depends on a quantity or mechanic that is outside the feedback loop, then the feedback loop doesn't matter so much."
The full article, The Designer's Notebook: Preventing the Downward Spiral
, which explores three more ideas, as well as fully discussing the ones mentioned above, is live now on Gamasutra.