In what has seemingly turned into required reading for me every week (not that I'm complaining), Raph Koster, designer of MMOs like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, took to his new venture's website to break down more game design approaches and philosophies. Last week he talked about player-driven economies, and this week it's all about social play in games.
Koster talks about the social constructs in our society and how they can relate to how games are developed. Citing the social networks of today and the "visualization of relationships" called a "social graph,"
"Social networks are built out of what is called “the social graph”-- a visualization of relationships. Imagine every person as a circle, and every connection between people as a line. A group of people who all know each other form a cluster, and often a pretty insular one. The graph is lumpy, in that sense."
Koster goes on to describe the graph as somtimes having large lumps, like an Amazon or Google, that attract so much that they act as a "social black hole," monopolizing on everything around them. Avoiding these types of monopoly in game design is important according to Koster. This seemingly plays into his philosophy of in-game economies as well as detailed last week, where everything that is done provides value, making every interaction as important as the last.
Koster talks about the design philosophy of not pulling players apart, rather creating a social web that fosters interaction and communication.
"Good social design in games is about preventing those black holes. It’s why sports have seasons, instead of win-loss records accumulating forever. It’s why “rich get richer” is anathema in game design. Otherwise, the game plunges into a black hole, and stops being fun for most of its players."
Koster talks about how leveling, something so intrinsic to game design nowadays can actually foster the stretching of this web. By forcing leveling, by having this "power differential between the novice and veteran," it prevents the social web from truly being as strong as it can be. As Koster goes on to detail, many of the constructs we see in modern MMO gaming, such as level scaling, are in response to "undo the effects of having a level system in the first place[.]"