6 Jun 2011

Karma As A Mechanic

Eurogamer recently did an interview of Will Wright, which I’d have missed completely if it wasn’t for a gem pointed out by Rock Paper Shotgun. It turns out that he’s working on a game with a strong karmic theme, using smartphones, tablets and Facebook as the platform.

The concept of the game is based on a short story called Maneki Neko by Bruce Stirling. Here’s what Wright had to share about Stirling’s concept:

He describes a karmic computer that’s keeping a balance of payments between different people, and causing them to interact with each other in interesting ways, to improve their lives even though they’re strangers. They earn karmic points that are redeemed by having somebody else help them.

This is all very interesting, but why is Wright’s latest facebook game so important?

Wright’s games have a history of unique and interesting game mechanics that often end up inspiring others. if there’s going to be a change in the way players are encouraged to play together, there’s a good chance it’ll be led by innovations in social gaming. If he can solve the “karma problem” then it’s likely we’ll see it picked up in other games, including MMOs.

How does this link in with Warcraft?

Since the LFD tool was first implemented, there have been discussions about how it embittered parts of the playerbase. The recent switch to bribing some players has only put a band-aid on the problem. What’s really needed is a system whereby players in a massive online game are encouraged to actively play together.

This new karma-centric game is is being worked on by Stupid Fun Club, and still a year and a half off. It’ll take some time for any new mechanics to be picked up by other games. This by itself means that it’ll probably too late for Warcraft to benefit from it, but that’s not to say that the future’s bleak.

For me, it always looked as if the future of MMO gaming was purely concerned with improving the production line – packaging players together quickly and efficiently with minimal fuss and disruption. While this has enabled the group aspects of MMOs to scale up as the genre has moved more mainstream, the experience delivered has arguably suffered as a result.

Now that someone is actively looking at intelligent alternatives, there is a speck of hope that change may be coming.

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One Response to Karma As A Mechanic

  1. Stubborn says:

    As much as my heart likes this, I’m afraid my head says it wouldn’t work in WoW. A karma-centric game is making a mechanic out of being nice; therefore to win, you act nice. In a game like WoW, where there are other win factors, being nice (while the right thing to do) may or may not benefit you. If it’s guaranteed to benefit you, it’s not much more than another form of bribe.

    The best training mechanic in Operant conditioning is rewarding the subject at random. If someone knows they’re going to get a goody, they only do the right thing to get the goody when they want a goody. If they can never be sure when they’ll get a goody, then they’ll do the right thing more often. If the karma engine used this variable reward system, then it might work, but I can see theorycrafters dissecting it into its base parts to figure out the formula, which would boil everything back down to math instead of a variable system.
    I like the idea though!
    Stubborn recently posted..Open and ShutMy Profile