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Wavinator

Creating the Idea of a Commonweal

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I like games that allow you to be a savior to the world or purely look out for number one. Often, it seems the former awards you with something to develop yourself in a way the more selfish can't (and vice versa). But what if there were none of that, no XP, no items, no directly granted reward for helping out society over self? What if there was nothing but NPC behavior? Would it be powerful enough to motivate the good guys? Here's my scenario: Like a small village, a developing star system with named ships play specific roles to keep the system alive. There are miners, merchants, tugs, police, transports, etc. Each has to go to different locations and perform specific tasks or the system begins to crumble. Now enter the player: She can help this system or prey on it. Now if the reward for helping is less than preying on the system, I believe most people will opt for the latter. A minority will be intrinsically motivated to do the right thing even in a made up world just because that's how strongly they feel, but most I think will not. So without using XP, what rewards could you use that don't make the player feel like a mercenary (i.e., I helped the merchant, I get 10,000k reward)? And how do you tie them to the commonweal-- by some sort of investment that can be lost, or via bad things happening further down the chain (prey on the miners, now there's less resources, so ammo's more expensive, etc.) For example: Joining a forming posse against marauders. What would you need to risk yourself if there were no hefty reward or XP? Would you have to be a property owner who had something to lose to care? Would you protect the village / system if you could see it breaking down, or see how it functions in a god's eye sort of view? Would you be motivated if you knew that the marauders could, if left alone long enough, sweep through the system, randomly murder folks, take over and impose heavy taxes on everyone? To me, such a negative scenario would invite the player to quit-- although I suppose the player could be warned that if not stopped certain phenomenon make the game very difficult to play. (btw, not an MMO, tho' I suppose it could work for it-- I'm thinking strictly NPC AI).

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There has to be a vested interest for the player. In the real world, the social contract allows us to trust each other to prefer a world without rape and pillage, and we'll abide by those rules and band together against those who don't. In an imaginary world, where the "easy way out" is the quit button, instead of a bullet sandwich, there's less to keep us on the straight and narrow.

So there's got to be a way to earn points and "win more" by doing the right thing. The most honest way to do it, in my opinion, would be to base progress through the tech tree (which I assume is a big part of "winning" your game) to be predicated on successful, peaceful, harmonious infrastructure of NPCs. You'll fend off marauders to protect the community because a safe world, a free world, a non-terrorized world, is the world best suited to supply you with antimatter reactor cores.

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Check out these:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner_dilemma
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimatum_game
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

In these, if you have repeated interactions with individuals, or they have communication between them, and your past actions can influence their actions, then these can be used to encourage social behaviours.

Prisoners Dilemma shows that cooperation (with the other party) can give bigger rewards than non-cooperation. However, it also shows that if someone doesn't cooperate, then they can get a better reward, but is is more risky because if the other party also doesn't cooperate, then you can loose out big time (but less than if you cooperated and they didn't).

The Ultimatum Game shows how someone can sacrifice themselves to punish those that don't want to work within the system (cooperate). It is always better to take the money in the game, unless you are in a group and have repeated interactions with these individuals.

If each individual were to only act for self improvement, then you wouldn't get a strong bond and a few would dominate. However, if you think as part of the group, then by punishing those that are greedy, then the group is better off over all (although individually you might be worse off).

The reason it is better is that those that punish at the cost to themselves are seen a s being more fair by the group. This means that they a re encouraged to be more fair in return as they can only get the money if both sides agree to the split.

Tragedy of the commons shows what can happen when individuals only act for their best interests. In that case, individuals will always be better off by being greedy. However, to get the bets of of the "Common", individuals can share (and forgo their opportunity to partake in it) the resource and so get the most out of it.

It also give a reason for diversification in the community as this diversification leads to the creation/discovery of more "Commons" which allows a more efficient spread of exploitation.

Not only do these provide easily quantifiable situations, they are also easily expressed as algorithms. This makes them good for creating AIs and for including as part of gameplay.

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
So without using XP, what rewards could you use that don't make the player feel like a mercenary (i.e., I helped the merchant, I get 10,000k reward)? And how do you tie them to the commonweal-- by some sort of investment that can be lost, or via bad things happening further down the chain (prey on the miners, now there's less resources, so ammo's more expensive, etc.)

For example: Joining a forming posse against marauders. What would you need to risk yourself if there were no hefty reward or XP? Would you have to be a property owner who had something to lose to care?


The simple answer that comes to mind is that the player should be rewarded for their help with a share in the local economy. Say your example star system is a fledgling mining colony. If the player decides to join and help them, he should be given 5% of the resources produced by the colony. Then the incentive to protect the colony (kill raiders) and help it grow (transport mining equipment, food, construction material, people) is obvious: the player will be rewarded with an increasing stream of resources.

Depending on the type of game, we could translate the 5% resources directly into cash, or drop this share entirely and simply allow the player to monopolize trade with this star system if he so chooses, giving no direct reward, no agreement with the NPCs, just an increasing amount of resources available to purchase.

This all assumes an existing system of some kind of complex, dynamic, interactive economy, but I think that was more or less implied in the scenario. Thus, as you say, the automatic penalty for destroying my mining colony would be the cascading effects on the rest of the economy: small if the colony wasn't producing much to begin with (and thus maybe not worth raiding anyway), potentially disastrous if the colony was important (ie, rich and a tempting target for raiding).

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Being evil may get you higher cash inputs but also forces you to spend much more money. Lawful merchants will refuse to sell you fuel, repairs and goods. Some bounty hunters or police force may occasionally try to take you down.

A good example is Sid Meier's Pirates : One can make a living by hauling goods from port to port. It is easier, however, to just steal goods from a weak merchantman ship and resell it in the closest port. Your reputation in doing this, however, lowers at each attack. That means that when entering into a port, less and less actions are available to you. First, the governor refuses to see you, then local shops will refuse to trade with you, then, if you have a very bad reputation, the port will open fire on your ship on sight.

What made piracy possible in this game was the fact that the four nations had dissociated reputation counters. So sinking an English ship would only change your French reputation if they were currently allied or at war (opposite changes).

Maybe you can use a similar system ?

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Acting in one's best interest is the score. That can include taking a sleightly less than max payoff in trade for team advantage, a purchase. In this sense, it seems that "good" is a herd mentality, and for good/evil (selfless/selfish) to be modelled, there ought to be some defense bonuses to buy for these "acts of selflessness".

Maybe a good intelligence network, that can flag troublemakers early. Or streamlined production costs due to less infighting. Or a solid legal system with healthy police force.

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There is always the possibility to act out that 'goodness' via a proxy if your game has a basic storyline. An easy way to do this, would be a mentor or friend teaching you the game in a tutorial. This builds trust with the player and he's more likely to follow the mentor's path.

By resolving to piracy, which is usually way too easy in most games, the mentor would be pissed off, abandon the player and even work against him/her. Just make piracy 'unattractive' by implementing a strong authority, armed victims, vigilantes protecting their new home and limit the access to upgrades.

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In real life the rewards of selfishness are plentiful and shallow (materialistic) while those of selflessness are few and deep (spiritual).

Take the battle of Thermopylae. Every single Greek that stood there could have chosen the way of selfishness, and gained life. Instead they chose selflessness, and gained glory.

Why did they gain glory? Because they had everything to lose.

Put this into gaming terms: how sweet is victory -- or defeat for that matter when baited by experience points? Better items? Greater reputation? the outcome is dull, shallow.

Let the player be free of good & evil, let him define his morals. Let him embrace his own cause and reap his own rewards. Let selflessness be it's own purpose.

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Quote:
Original post by cih

Let the player be free of good & evil, let him define his morals. Let him embrace his own cause and reap his own rewards. Let selflessness be it's own purpose.


Interesting analysis, but I think it'll be a real challenge making something like this a fun game. If you can't do that it's all pointless unless you're doing behavioral research.

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If you can foster some sort of empathy between the player and the NPCs, many of us would naturally fall into that 'good guy' role.

It can also add a whole new level of challenge. It might be easy to accomplish X by just killing everyone - but what about doing it while being nice? The best example of this I can think of is KoTOR. It's often much harder to complete things without resorting to 'darkside' behavior, but the accomplishment is it's own reward.

(Is this that same game you've been designing for years?)

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