domingo, 6 de abril de 2014

The Engagement Circle: How Game Designers Create An Engaging Midgame (II)

The 12 Key Stages of Engagement in Games: Exploring how games make us lose track of time (Part 2)

Did you ever wonder how game designers create engaging experiences? Why do online games. -and MMORPGs in special-, have way higher engagement ratios than any other game genres?

Can we find any common design patterns in those games? 

And, can we apply all of this to Gamification Design to make it way more engaging?

This is the 2nd part of a series of 4 posts where we're going to explore the key 12 stages of engagement of best-selling video games to discover how to design better gameful experiences. Let's Go!

And if you missed out on the first part of these blogposts' series, check this out: "The Engagement Circle: How Game Designers Create Engaging Experiences (Part 1)"

Stage 4: A New World

"The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. It began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the Elves, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven to the Dwarf lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who, above all else, desire power. But they were, all of them, deceived, for another Ring was made."

We've completed the onboarding of the game, and everything seems to be under control but... There's a whole new world waiting for us, and it's about time to get started with the midgame! The inital quests are over, and something will put us on our way to meet the "real world", a place full of new possibilities. These were some of the defining traits of this stage:

A) Limited access: Not everyone can enter this new world. Just the "bravest heroes" have access to the midgame, which basically is a way to grant that no low-lever players or noobs will start the midgame before mastering the required onboarding. This was usually done through access items, "closed borders", impossible to reach locations (with your initial skills), NPCs not allowing you to pass unless you completed a certain quest, or very high level mobs.

B) Time to Explore: Entering the midgame means that the game's space of possibility is dramatically increased. There are tons of new things to do, new main and side quests, brand new puzzles to solve, a new part of the story that you didn't know before and new stuff to discover. It's probably the first time that the player will get a new skill type, or will start a trait or similar. To sum it all up, it's time to explore all those new possibilities!

C) A faster way to do things:  After entering the midgame, the player discovers a new way to faster move himself or to easily do something that it took a while before. It can be a teleporter (as many MMORPG's do), a mount, a buff/item that increases your speed, or some other similar things that will make your journey easier so you can focus on the real thing: exploring, learning and mastering new skills.

D) Meeting "the others": Almost every single researched game made you meet new people. It could be new NPCs, enemies, or just the people that played the game from all over the world. It's a really good way to increase the player's engagement because most humans crave for social contact. So whether it's just some new and friendly NPC or a whole bunch of strangers, meeting new people is necessary to make the adventure more epic. Besides, meeting new players leads to this kind of "I want to be like those super cool pro players" incredibly poweful feeling.

Stage 5: Training Day

"Today's a training day, Officer Hoyt. Show you around, give you a taste of the business. I got 38 cases pending trial, 63 in active investigations, another 250 on the log I can't clear. I supervise five officers. That's five different personalities. Five sets of problems. You can be number six if you act now. But I ain't holding no hands, okay? I ain't baby-sitting. You got today and today only to show me who and what you're made of."

Games are all about learning and every time we start a new game, it keeps on teaching us new and very complex things until it is over. They have this kind of magical effect that makes learning simple. And it even seems easy to get used to those complicated controls, mechanics and in-game systems. So before we face our first real challenge, we need to get ready for it. These were some of the defining traits of the Training Day stage:

A) Improving your skills: The player's got very few skills up until now but they are most likely important for the rest of the game, so you have to master them through a short/long series of quests. Those missions will finally lead you to the first big boss in the end of this stage, but meanwhile, the player will discover how to use the basics while gaining XP, knowledge of the game story and a bit more of the "winning strategy" of it. This stage was basically a "beta testing" phase to get the player ready for his first big thing. 

B) Getting used to "the map": The player just discovered a whole new world and it seems that it's going to be impossible for him to fully remember where everything is. That's why some scaffolding is needed. Through small main and side quests that are related to each other, the player will start knowing by heart some small spots of the "game's map". This was usually done by dividing the map into small zones/levels/phases that are easily remembered while repeating different types of quest in the same zone ("Go and return quests"). Please note that when we say "map", it needn't be a proper map but it refers to "game zones", or in other words, the different places/levels where gameplay takes place. 

C) Grinding + Gifting: Before facing the game's first real challenge you have to get ready for it, so most games will take you through a whole set of side quests until you reach a certain "mastery level" or gain some "skills". Some of the researched games also offered a "grinding" option (levelling on your own) and others had this fantastic way to get its players ready and constantly motivated by giving them random gifts that they could only open at a certain level. Once the gift was opened, it contained some items that could only be equipped if you had 1-2 more levels, creating a very smart VIP goal loop (valuable, interesting and possible in the short term). 

D) First Final Boss + call to action: The time has come. The player's been training for some hours (shorther or longer depending on the game) and a real challenge is here to test his skills. It can be a final boss, a very complicated level, a super difficult puzzle, or everything together. There can be a  small "getting ready stage" or nothing at all, but in order to keep on moving, we need to "defeat" this boss. Whenever we're done, we'll most likely receive a new skill, item, trait, profession (etc) that will alow us to enter a new level. And last but not least, it's quite likely that we have some kind of "call to action" moment where the mentor, a NPC, or something will motivate us to keep on moving. Besides, from now onwards, you'll be facing mini bosses or(and) final bosses depending on the game's lenght and levels.

E) First Party / Team (only for online games): This is the usually the first time that solo games are going to be different from online (multiplayer) games because you'll probably have to team up with a group of people for the first big challenge, discovering a new way to play the game. As we're going to see ahead, solo games will only reach the circle's 9th stage while online games will move up to the 12th one, creating a way more engaging experience. 

Stage 6: Birth of a Hero

"Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed — again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land."

Once the first "final boss" was defeated, the player will enter a new game's stage. The real hero's journey has started and our hero is born. It's time for some more skills, stories and mysteries. These were some of the defining traits of this stage:

A) A mysterious place: New stage and new level/zone, but this time it's not going to be looking that good since the beginning. There's evil's in the air and you can feel it (mainly because the game will tell you so in some kind of way). A short story about the place where you are now is usually told, and the player will discover what happened to that level/world and why it looks like it does.

B) Alone in the dark: Up until now, the game has protected you in some kind of way. Whether it was by giving you better items, buffs, constraining the power of you enemies or by any other given type of aid, it's time for you to keep on advancing all by yourself because the hero's got enough power. In many of the researched games, the mentor couldn't help you anymore, or there was an evil barrier that blocked former aid, or the game's difficulty increased a bit more than before, etc.

C) New (hidden) powers + first time going back: Along this stage, the player will discover new skills, traits, equipment or items in general, that will make his journey easier and more interesting. It might be that they were hidden for the player before, or that they were locked / unknown. In order to gain them, many of the researched games made you go back to a certain point that was unaccesible before, coming then back to zone you were. This proved to be a good scaffolding technique in order to give some rest to the player after a great challenge and it also taught him that whenever he might be stuck, it's never bad to look behind to see if there's something that might be of help. be continued...

Victor Manrique

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