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May 14, 2010

Echo Bazaar (pt 5, Social Games)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 12:40 am

Sorry, real-life stuff is getting in the way of more game design discussion (and I’m almost done anyway). So I think today I’m going to detour and do a short post about the kind of gameplay that happens mostly outside the game, and come back next week sometime with a wrapup post. (Incidentally, Alexis showed up and put a couple comments on the last post, which was pretty cool to see.)

Generally speaking, when people play this kind of online game, they hear about it from someone else. So right from the start, there’s a community set up: you and the person you heard about the game from. And usually it’s not just you two, it’s you and them and whoever else is part of whatever place the game got mentioned on, whether it’s a forum or a blog or a chat room. You can search for Echo Bazaar and find a lot of these, and they’re pretty cool: threads on something awful or livejournal or with people swapping stories and tips about the game and offering to assist each other with various in-game activities.

So one way to look at this is that it’s a bunch of people interested in and talking about the game. But another way is that it’s a bunch of additional content that is also part of the game: you can research on the forum to find out how to become Inexplicably Peckish, demonstrate your knowledge by answering questions, and find people to form alliances with and then demonstrate those alliances with in-game actions.

This is supposed to be a short post, so I’m going to skip over the obvious comments about the game probably needing some kind of in-game chat functionality (though, of course, everyone has twitter; but presumably it’d have to be integrated more) and some kind of guild functionality (and, again, twitter friendslist). I’m also going to skip over talking about the social interaction stuff the game does have currently, which is interesting but pretty minor: basically you and someone else can both spend an action on the same thing and get a minor in-game benefit; furthermore, some of these actions let you pretend to help someone else out but actually backstab them. Anyway, I’m going to cut to the good stuff, ideas for much larger-scale social stuff.

Half the fun of having a Tasselled Sword-Cane is getting to tell other people I have one, so it’d be nice to be able to show it off more. Right now the game has a pretty rudimentary display for people, where it shows their stats, lodgings, recent quests, and currently-worn equipment; maybe instead of currently-worn you should just get to make up an outfit for display purposes. Similarly, it’d be cool if you could put up a list of noteworthy quests rather than current quests; somebody who puts up their seductions is rather different than a character who lists their burglary exploits. The other thing you see a lot is collections, where people can show off all the rats-on-a-string they’ve collected. That’s nice gameplay-wise since it’s an inherent quest to collect as many as possible so you can try to have the most.

Related, it’d be nice if lodgings got fancier. Like, I think this game would be totally suited to having lots of gameplay-useless items you could buy for outfits or furniture that have no function other than to look nice, and then let people invite people over to check out their houses (say, when you play chess with someone, it’d describe their library for you; when they have you over for dinner you find out about the quality of their chef). Furniture would also be a nice way to distinguish between kinds of lodgings, which are all pretty similar now (since most let you hold three cards and give a Knife & Candle bonus that doesn’t matter much): you could have different appearance and furniture allowed in different sorts of lodgings.

But ok, I said larger-scale stuff. The main things I see for this elsewhere are economics and games. Economics, in this case, means the game is set up so people can transfer stuff around, and there’s a need to do so. Like, in Kingdom of Loathing and World of Warcraft and so on, there are quests that require ten whatevers, and some of the time you can just buy it from somebody else instead of doing the work to collect it yourself. So avoiding tedium is one obvious reason to cooperate. That often doesn’t apply in Echo Bazaar — the tedium tends to be in the gaining levels rather than the getting items — but I guess I can imagine people trading commodities at below-market exchange rates.

The other major reason is out of necessity, which usually means disparate skills. In, again, World of Warcraft and similar, characters have different “foraging” skills that let them gather different kinds of resources and different “crafting” skills that let them turn resources into items, and the characters can’t have every skill, so they have to cooperate (or forgo the items, which isn’t always a big deal). Puzzle Pirates makes this into an even bigger part of the game, where the midgame is in large part about cooperating with other people to acquire and transport supplies. This has a fair amount of potential for a graft into Echo Bazaar, I think, although I’m not sure what the things you’d be building would be. I guess I can imagine letting people learn to raise spiders for silk or build furniture out of mushrooms, and presumably you’d pick up new crafting-type skills from various quests and opportunity cards.

But actually, what I’m more interested in the context of Echo Bazaar are games. “Games” meaning activities you do with a subset of the players for a limited duration, with minimal impact on the main game. Like, ok, one subset is the one-on-one or many-on-many direct-dueling things like Knife & Candle. I’m not really sold on the current implementation of K&C but it’s obviously a thing that people want. The more interesting subset to me are the semi-competitive, semi-cooperative games. Like, I’d like to see some version of Diplomacy or Mafia/Werewolf: say, a game where you’re all attending a ball, and have to make social alliances and backstab other players, while being careful not to let things spill over too much and cause a scandal. Another example is what (my impression is) the game had during the Valentine’s Day stuff — there’s a competition to get the highest Admired score, so suddenly all the social interaction stuff matter a lot more, and there is genuine reason to want to sabotage other players*, but you still have to cooperate to win.

* There’s a bunch of analysis done on prisoner’s dilemma-type stuff, and one of the interesting things is how the time limit radically changes things: whether you’re playing one game with somebody or multiple games or an infinite number of games. Effectively Echo Bazaar is in infinite-games mode most of the time, which makes things a lot less cutthroat.

Er, ok, this was intended to be shorter but it’s not really that short. Nevertheless I am going to end it here, and more next time.


  1. On the Diplomacy/Mafia/Werewolf idea, have you seen SpyParty? It’s an upcoming game that looks pretty neat and vaguely in the direction I think you’re talking about. The idea is that there is a cocktail party populated by AIs and one human spy. The human spy has to accomplish certain hidden objectives (steal a blah, put a bug on an Admiral). Meanwhile, there is a human Sniper watching over the party. They get one bullet and they have to figure out who the spy is and kill them. There’s potentially options for multiple cooperative and competitive spies and snipers.

    Comment by BrettW — May 16, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

  2. Nice! This does seem totally tempting. It’s also interesting in the Echo Bazaar because it scales to as few as one person, though gameplay probably gets pretty different in that case. But still, a game that allows but doesn’t require friends is interesting.

    Also on this note, currently my Ambition has a bit where I can enlist another player to help me out and (I think) run some quests to get an object for me. I don’t know how those quests work, but this seems like it has potential for this kind of game too — like, did the person fail on the quest because of bad luck, or did they purposely fail to sabotage you? Did they agree to help you out to legitimately ally with you, or to get on your good side for a later backstab?

    Comment by inky — May 17, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

  3. Two of your points are very interesting.
    1. Player trading / Markets
    2. Useless show-off items

    I find them interesting because I cannot come up with any examples where the idea worked well.

    There are plenty of examples for the second case. Just about every other game out there allows you to dress your main character these days and I’ve always been more annoyed by the fact than I enjoyed it.
    I don’t like shopping for clothes in reality and I don’t enjoy it in games. So what I end up with is a dull character who always looks the same. meh.
    Obviously I’m not talking about the usual way this is done in RPGs where the goal is to increase your stats not to look fancy so that’s something entirely different.

    The biggest example for the first case I know of is EVE online. It has an absurdly huge player market and while this is kind of cool to know it has some rather annoying side effects.
    First people are doing chores, lots and lots of chores. Because now that there is something like “money” you have to work for it. It’s simple, if you can get an item by doing something that is fun there will be an abundance of it and it will not be worth shit. The other controlling factor is skill. If you need a very high level to harvest something then naturally the number of people who can do it decreases…blabla. My point is in EVE online people spend hours MINING:
    a)”fly to asteroid”
    b) “click mine”
    c) “unless cargo full goto a)”
    d) “fly back to space station”
    e) “unload”
    f) “goto a)”
    It’s unbearable!
    Or players spend their time hauling stuff from one point in the galaxy where it is cheap to another where it is expensive. You usually cannot do this on auto pilot because you have to watch out for pirates.
    This makes the game very social because you hang out in chats with other people who are also mining but it clashes with my definitions of “game” and “fun”.

    Now, maybe somebody can provide some positive examples?

    Comment by Touchy — June 10, 2010 @ 1:49 am

  4. Oh, and since you mentioned Twitter. I actually think it’s one of the biggest problems of the game. Imho it adds absolutely no value, gameplay or otherwise but leads to problems like yesterday afternoon. I could not log in because Twitter was over capacity.

    Comment by Touchy — June 10, 2010 @ 2:21 am

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