Feb 3, 2017

Game Design, Resources and Economy Part 1

What's It All Worth?

This time I will be talking about a select few economy elements within game design. By economy I mean deciding how resources are used within the game. Many different games use resources in different ways, and so it is important to decide early what you want players to experience and what you want players to have their attention directed towards. 

Art by Matheus Graef

Diversity of Resources

One of the first key decisions of a designer is to choose how many resources you want the player to have access to, how many resources you want the player to have to manage. Some players are very good at managing different resources, keeping many different variables in their mind at one time and the relationship between them, how each one gets them closer to victory. However for some players this does not come as naturally and can inhibit enjoyment of the game if they feel they are always overwhelmed. 

It matters that a designer has a target audience in mind when making these choices. The designer must also decide what resources can be traded for other resources, and when. All of these elements need to be clearly defined and chosen with purpose.

For example in Magic: The Gathering the player can play spells and creatures before AND after the combat phase of their turn. This was a specific choice made by the designers that give the player more tactical options in how they use their turn. Also in the Pokemon Trading Card Game, energy cards are attached directly to the creatures (equipped), instead of floating in a pool of resources, which severely limits the player's tactical options and forces the player to consider carefully how and when they use their resources.

Linear Scaling Costs

Once the value of one basic ability is established, it is a simple matter to then scale the costs of similar abilities. If inflicting 3 damage is worth one energy card, then inflicting 6 damage should be worth two energy cards, and inflicting 9 damage should worth three energy cards (unless your game has a very particular curve).

There can always be exceptions for this, but they need to very purposeful. For example in a resource game, having 1 coal could be worth ten gold, having 5 coal could be worth fifteen gold, and having 10 coal could be worth eighteen gold. This would simulate a plentiful resource driving down prices in a realistic supply and demand economy, but could also force a very specific handicap to make sure one player does not get too far ahead of the other players.

For example, in Ticket to Ride, placing one track scores 1 point, placing three track scores 4 points, and placing six tracks scores 15 points. This creates an important curve when considering how to use the resources in the player's hand.

The Delta of Randomness

Borrowing a great deal from the Extra Credits YouTube videos, part of the Delta of Randomness refers to the idea that having a 50% chance of achieving something is not worth half the cost of definitely achieving something.

So for example, if being able to draw a card costs six energy cards, it does not follow that a 50% chance of drawing card (for example on a successful coin flip) is worth three energy cards. The randomness involved simply makes the ability worth less than half the cost, the risk is too great.
This means that when costing certain abilities, I will need to ensure that if abilities have an element of randomness in then I am costing them carefully so that players feel that as many abilities as possible are seen as valuable.  

Please check out the excellent Extra Credits video for a more thorough look at how to price randomness in games.

Goals For My Game

So going into the game design, I knew I had three goals for what I wanted my players to experience when playing my game. This might also be what you would call my vision.

1. For the players to be interacting with as few resources as possible. I would like for the players to be devoting their focus to their strategy and tactics, instead of managing and remembering many different resources and the relationship between them.

2. For the players to have access to many different abilities that scale intuitively. The players will have many different abilities with which to build their strategy, and part of having an accessible game that is welcoming to new players is having as many elements as possible feel intuitive and un-obtuse, including how elements are priced.

3. For a complete game to last less than 45 minutes. It is important to me that the players feel like they have had a satisfying experience in much less than an hour, and that there was enough drama, enough story, enough positive feedback in that time that the players might want to play again, or at least not feel weary of the experience. The cost of abilities and options will be very important factor in this.

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