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Alliances theory

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We are group of independent game developers, and we are focusing mostly on social games. We had tournaments and some kinda multi-player elements in our previous games, but we are currently designing new game and want it to focus on multi-player/alliances. After some time of brainstorming we have come to conclusion that its hard to design good and interesting alliance system. Not many resources on subject available. So what i`m basically asking you kind gamedev community is to help me with this subject. Any advice, resource, tip will be appreciated.
Thank you.

I just realized that my request and problem is kinda vague to get a decant replay. Game we are making is more of a casual game with some rpg/sim city/exploring mix. So I don`t need so to say hardcore alliance/guild system, but something that is basic fun and works.

[Edited by - vegetable69 on October 21, 2010 6:07:34 AM]

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There are two aproaches to designing a social system in a game: Explicit and Emergent.

Explicit designs are designs that create a specific framework that players must conform to as part of the gameplay. Often Guild systems in MMOs fall into this category.

Emergent designs are designs give players tools with which to build an alliance system and are designed in such a way that players will use them. A good example is Face Book as it provides tools (letting you know people you know in common with someone else and such).

I am more in favour of emergent systems as they give the player a greater sense of connection to other players, but I do acknowledge that they ar enot always the best solution as they are of course more difficult to impliment.

Generally, if alliances are needed for gamplay reasons, then the simpler, Explicit design is the better one, but this does not mean that an emergent design can't be used for gameplay reasons.

What is interesting is that you can have hybrids of the two.

An example of a hybrid social system for a game is a Leaderboard or ranking system. With such systems players can see who is near them on the leaderboard and who is either too good or not much of a threat. So a player wanting to move up the leaderboard could ally with players further down to give them an edge over the players just above them, but theis then gives a reciprocal boost to the player lower down on the leaderboard as they are going to win games against much better oppoentns and learn from the better players.

The leaderboard is an explicit system, but the tools that allow players to communicate and choose who they are allied to are the emergent system.

Often a mistake that occurs when someone tries to design a social system is that they try to create a hirachy system, but they only look at what is good for the players higher up on the hirachy. These mistakes apply to both Explicit and Emergent social systems.

An example is when a Feaudal system is attempted to be implimented.

The problem is the feaudal system is a system of mutual benifits. That is both parties (the lord and the vassal) both get something out of the relationship. there is a reason a vassal will willingly become subject to a lord, and it is not because the lord is more powerful (there were times in history where a vassal was actually more powerful than the king, but they still willingly subjected themselves as the vassal because it was in their own interests to do so), but because the vassal gets somthing out of the deal (in historical feaudal systems the vassal would have the protection of their lord and access to trading that they could never have easily got on their own).

The lord also got benifits from having vassals, and this was not just the sense of power over them (typically the amount of power over vassals was fairly small except when it was turned into a dictatorship - but then that is a different social structure than the feaudal system). The lord usually had the right to taxation, or service (where the vassal would have to provide some form of support like troops or food, etc in lieu of taxes) from the vassal and would also have access to trade with peole within the vassal's estates.

It is such systems of mutual benifits that allows real life alliances to form and be maintained. However, often in games the only real benifit created by allainces is either instantainious (which serves for a specific match) or is familiarity (you ally because you are friends).

Imediate alliances are temporary, and so don't work to build a community of players, and familiarity only allows player who already have an existing relationship to connect, which again does not build community in your game.

To build community, you need to give strangers a reason to work together and become friend (and so the familiarity system is the reverse of what you want to happen).

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Thank you for your post it helped me a lot.
As our game is social, it has your friend circle and scoreboard of friends and other players, so familiarity system will definitely be here by default. But now I understand that we need to make system for people who don`t have friends in game or don`t want to allay with friends, BUT they HAVE to allay with someone for OBVIOUS reasons and benefits.
Thank you.

The thing is we have our game design 90% ready, and it`s fun and attractive game, but we need to build tournament/alliance/competition element in it for longer game lifecycle. And so far I`m pretty stuck in this. So any additional link would be grate. I couldn't find anything on this topic - someone all knowing on subject should step up and do something about this.

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