In my last post I discussed a few ideas I had rolling about for motivating players to play my (currently vapourware) Kung Fu Legends. It was focussed on intrinsic motivation – ways inside the game to make players play more. Now I want to talk about a few ideas I had for extrinsic motivation – ways outside of the game to increase motivation. This motivation is not just the players, but how I want to motivate myself to actually write the thing.
There are a lot of ways to encourage people to play a game of yours. You can dabble in search engine optimization, get (or encourage, or pay for) reviews, buy ad space… These are all boring so I don’t want to dwell on them. The other thing to do is just work on it as a hobby and hope for the best. This is the current plan, but I think I have better ideas if it ever gains any traction (or, heh, code).
There is an increasing trend for “social” games to interact with social networking tools. EA has taken the lead on this with The Sims, Simcity and Spore where user-generated content can be shared via EA’s websites and you can create a forum avatar that has some connection to the games you play. Lionhead also helped push this with their game The Movies where they supported whole communities to share movies (ostensibly short machinima) created with the game and review others’ works. Farmville and Mafia Wars took this to the next level where they embedded the game into the social networking tools themselves and exploited your social network for game mechanics (and, more controversially, to increase Zynga’s profits). Other games have had an interaction with social networks, be they forum legacy games of Dwarf Fortress or clans and guilds from your favourite FPS or MMO.
Kung Fu Legends is, by necessity, a single-player game. It’s hard to coordinate stories across multiple users whilst allowing the server the fudge factor it needs to dish up useful content. Plus the scaling is terrible. MMOs work because they scale at little to no game cost (server costs, however, rise dramatically). MMOs can spawn as many quest instances as they need and the world is more-or-less static. To have the game world model I’m working towards, the computation ramps up exponentially. This is part of the design – I’m trying to do things where I drive the CPU to within an inch of its life without asking it to feed up more graphics or deal with network latency prediction code. I have thought of some equivalent of a play-by-mail, where multiple players roam the same world but do not directly interact. They feed their daily deltas to the server and the world perturbs accordingly. No idea if that’s workable or even interesting.
So okay, to get a community feel out of the game, I need to try something less obvious than multiplayer. Kung Fu Legends has a strong story focus, so it might be good to capitalize on sharing these stories. On an almost zero-cost level you could write exporters that take your current game and output it to a few interesting formats: RSS so you can syndicate your game like a travel blog, text in the style of a movie script, or massage the output text into a book form. These would all require readers to accept substandard writing, but hey, in some cases it might be an improvement In any case, this is similar to the way Sims, Spore and The Movies draw their gaming communities together.
Another method is to provide ways to update your favourite social networking tools with your game progress. This is not new and isn’t without its issues. It lets you exploit utilize the social network of your players. There is a limit, however. Any overproductive Farmville addict may find their social network changing due to the Facebook spam their hobby produces. The idea isn’t too hard to implement, but has a lot of gotchas.
Kingdom of Loathing takes another approach which I think can be quite interesting. Grab lots of telemetry from your game and create endless ways to examine the data. Kingdom of Loathing can tell you the Top 5 consumers of kumquats in their game, as well as give the exclusive list of people who own the ultra-rare Crazy Bastard Sword. Having access to this sort of data is absolutely invaluable to developers, but can motivate players if displayed in an interesting way. Like achievements, this sort of data can encourage players to try different play styles, push their game a bit more and give a point of reference for bragging rights.
That’s an interesting grab-bag of techniques to push player extrinsic motivation. Now I want to focus on a way to motivate myself on development. I’ve been doing lots of thinking about this game, but I really need to put code to compilers and write at least a first stab at the thing [1. Thomas Edison said, "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." I've got my percentages around the wrong way ]. It’d be nice at some point if I could allow game development to take a larger portion of my week and not go hungry. Look, I’m talking about monetization. How can I get money for development? There are a few options: IndieFund, bank loans, work fuller than full time and just not sleep…
One model that I really like I first heard in an interview of Gabe Newell from Valve Software on Good Game [2. By the way, I emailed Gabe and ended up talking to another Valve representative about this idea. They don't see it integrating with Steam at the current time, but welcome all new games under the slightly more traditional model Steam provides.]. The basic idea is a bounty system. If players want features or certain bug fixes, they can donate money towards specific things in the development. Optionally people can put money into the “overall development” bucket. Developers control the list of things on offer, but gamers get to influence where the effort goes. I for one would like a system where I could “buy a bugfix” for a few dollars. Even though my contribution might be small, enough people can make a sizable donation. It wouldn’t necessarily equate to a full-time job but at least you knew how much you were in for. It can also give you a way to build up a fund to commission an artist for a set amount of work, equivalent to a set “graphical update”. Of course there are a lot of gotchas (what do you do when a “quick fix” turns out to be something much bigger? how do you prioritize equally funded development?) but there are always gotchas.
This model isn’t particularly new. Bounty Source runs something similar to this idea. Unfortunately it wants to host this model for every open source project out there and you can’t really tailor the setup to your particular project. And, to be honest, the website is a little lacking in documentation and detail. But it’s an admirable system. I would like to have a self-hosted system focussed specifically on Kung Fu Legends. Moreover, we can borrow from the telemetry idea and display data on the funding for those who opt-in on the service. This can be as simple as “Top 5 donators” or tracking community funding across different aspects of the development (“Graphics beats Sound!”) Bay 12 Games do a similar thing with this for their community funding via their Champions page and monthly forum updates, but I fear it’s a bit mandraulic. I emailed Tarn Adams a while ago about his development progress pages and at that time he was updating it mostly by hand, so it might be par for the course for those guys. But don’t forget, they actually live on donations for Dwarf Fortress, so they’re definitely doing something right.
A further idea I had for this system comes from a slightly despicable source. On Xbox Live you can buy Xbox Live points which you can use to buy game add-ons, avatar gear, arcade games and the like. The Sims 3 store allows you to buy SimPoints so you can purchase new hairstyles, furniture and clothing for your Sims to use. Notice the disconnect of buying points with real money so you can use this virtual money to buy things you want. When you do the translations in your head, the prices can come out a little outrageous (a hairstyle on Sims 3 is only 100 points, but that equates to $1.70 AUD which is a little greedy in my opinion). Farmville takes this a step further and encourages you to use real money to help boost your virtual money income. Now I’m no moustache-twirling villain – there’s no way I could justify this type of practice (morally or even on good development grounds). But I do like the points idea, just implemented differently. I’m figuring I’ll be providing the game as freeware or at some crazy low price. Registration earns you a game plus some pocketful of points that you can use on the Development Bounty page for free. This ensures a minimum level of support for the game, but also encourages people to get involved in the bounty scheme. They can buy more bounty points, like buying Xbox Live points. The upshot of this model is that people can have cheap games, but still have the option of explicitly supporting developers. There was an implicit version of this model in 2d Boy’s “Pay-what-you-want” sale, which was a raging success but terribly confronting for some people.
Another upshot of the points system is that if they are one-way convertible, you don’t have to deal with the headaches of tracking money and dealing with returns. If you make it clear that it is a donation and the developer has given you access to a voting system on where donations track, then things are probably simpler. I have absolutely no idea whether The Law would agree, but these things can be researched. Yet another way this is useful is that in-game bug reporting can push you towards the bounty system. Plus you can dynamically modify the credits to the game to highlight the player’s name in big sparkly letters so they know their support is appreciated. It kinda sucks if you want your tiny bit of recognition and you end up somewhere in the middle of a massive list of names.
Developing the bounty system would require a bit of work. I’ve looked into ways to get this going (Paypal have APIs that are promising), but it’s all a bit daunting. I’ve barely got the game engine to announce “Hello world” and considering this extra development time in trying to make some e-commerce-style site is terrifying. At the moment it’s all just ideas, so we’ll see where we go with it. I’d appreciate any ideas, feedback or suggestions from folks about this, even if it’s just “shut up and write the game already!”