Greedy Goblin

Friday, September 9, 2016

The two Nash equilibria of length

Imagine a game that has a match length of X minutes. What will be the first question of a suit? "Will we get more money if we decrease or increase it by 1 minute?" You find that you get more money for decreasing. But that doesn't only mean getting N new players who like shorter games more. It's actually getting N+M new players and losing M who don't like shorter games. Now with your new demographics, the suit returns and ask his question again. The result is another shortening. Repeat it a couple times and your game is completely redesigned to "fit to the faster pace", meaning every depth is removed and it's another "click faster" game.

The problem is that "22 sessions", "5 sessions" and "111 sessions" are not Nash equilibria in the eternal battle for the soul of gaming against the Evil Suits. They can always add or subtract one session and get more money. There are two and only two equilibria: "1 session" and "infinite". The first is a typical MOBA, RTS or FPS: you sit down, load the game and complete the battle right then. You might play another round in that sitting, but the point is that one battle never spans between playing sessions. The other is the typical MMO: you play the same game in various playing sessions forever. If you started playing EVE when it started, you are playing the same match for 11 years. If you mined veldspar on day 1 and stored it, it's still there and you can use it to build an up-to-date ship today (not ilvl 5 rough copper boots like from WoW vanilla materials).

The point is that if your game doesn't fit into one playing session, it must be infinitely long or the suits will cut and cut and cut it until they manage to fit it into one playing session. I believe one of the critical mistakes of WoW developers was cutting the game into 2-years, then 2-months parts. BC didn't just add content to old WoW, but obsoleted its content, removing player advancement done before it by first fel orc giving better gear than AQ. Players no longer could rely to longevity and the demographic shifted to a shorter attention span crowd, starting the "let's shorten it" cycles leading to instant-formed AoE fest 15 minutes dungeons.

This is also why I don't plan on playing mid-long single player games like Fallout 4 or No Man's Sky. They are an anomaly and not a genre. Something must be infinitely long - like EVE - or 1-session like LoL. Damn, once again I cite EVE as an example. If only the devs wouldn't be corrupted as hell it would be the best game ever made. Anyway: this is the reason why I'm so interested in MMOs, the only genre which aims for the "infinite" length. If I can't find any, I will likely turn to 1-session games, though I don't think I find enough intellectual challenge in these "higher APM wins" games. But trying to play with any medium-length game is waste of time, they'll never last.

Note: I'm aware that Crowfall is offering forever-living World with dying sub-Worlds and this can work. But Crowfall doesn't even have a release date.


Anonymous said...

You write with regard to EVE, - "If only the devs wouldn't be corrupted as hell"

I understand you were upset by CCP Falcon's remarks sometime ago, but what hard evidence do you have that the Devs are 'corrupted as hell' ?

You wrote a very strong statement, so just curious about the facts you have to back this up.

Smokeman said...

WoW's long term mechanic is interesting... it's "Controlled hyperinflation to delete stored wealth."

You're trying to store wealth, because you don't seem to understand that games are about the moment. In a REAL game, a competitive game like Chess, there is no stored wealth. There is accumulated knowledge, but every game starts the same.

Eve's mechanic, set up by a classically trained economist, was "Bubble it until that bubble pops, bitches!" Well, that bubble popped when skill injectors went on sale.

Who the hell cares if the current gear will be totally obsolete when the next expansion hits? It's relevant NOW, in this moment, the moment that matters. If you're playing a game to accumulate a tangible asset for the future, other than the experience of having played the game, then you're doing it wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean when Mid Long single player games are an anomaly.

Donkey Kong, Mario, even on the old PC, Doom, that old Carmen San Diego Game, Oregon Trail... Doom had an enormous impact on game development, its graphic engine was revolutionary, or so I've read.

That's what sold the NES, SNES, Genesis... all gens of consoles up to the Gamecube, now PS4 Xbox....

Gevlon said...

@Anon: I'm not upset by his *remarks* (meaning: the fact that he has an extremely negative opinion about me, that's within his right). I'm upset about:
- he sees no problem to use his official account to vent his hate against me, ignoring (or flat out wanting) that other players will see me as "enemy of CCP" because of it and refuse to play on my side
- he protected Goon criminals from justice and let them back to the game and fanfest without even identifying them and forcing them to apologize. Next time on Fanfest you might be sitting next to one of them
- he openly and multiple times did propaganda on the Goon propaganda site and other places to motivate people to donate money to the Goon propaganda book. This means using his official position to make EVE players give their money on NOT EVE but to his buddies.
- he canceled my CSM candidacy while a well-known neo-nazi could run

While I clearly thought of him, I said "devs wouldn't be corrupted as hell" since there were actions where I can't prove it was him (and possibly he is not alone in corruption):
- IWI was banned from the in-game browser for obvious RMT and then got unbanned without stopping it
- IWI bankers were banned from the game and then unbanned. The team security leader was upset about this unban and clearly stated that they were guilty and he was overruled.
- On the introduction of Fozziesov someone smuggled a feature in which wasn't in the plans: doubling anoms which removed any in-game reason to take anyone's Sov. It was a central demand of the Document of Shame written by the Mittani, signed by various game monetizers.
- In Citadels they allowed the highsec trade be taxed by citadel owners creating a top-down income source (clearly designed for the actual strongest party IWI/PL) that dwarfs moon mining and needs no player interaction. Please note that this was the reason I've left, everything else - despite being inacceptable and clearly corrupted - seemed defeatable. You simply can't fight 30T/month passive income.

@Smokeman: have you even read the article? There are two proper length: "the moment matters" meaning one sitting and infinite, where grand strategy matters.

@Anon: "anomaly" means something that happened because of lack of equilibrium. Doom and Mario happened because they had no competition, no suits, no nothing. With a real life example: if you want land, you must purchase it from a landowner. Just grabbing a piece of no man's land is not possible as there is no such. When America was explored, bunch of settlers did just that. The settlement of the USA was a one-time anomaly, an exception from the rule and you can't design your life around their experiences.

Archaicwonder said...

What are your thoughts on games like Sword Coast Legends and Neverwinter that allow for player created infinite length stories utilizing their game engine?

maxim said...

You need in-game representations to remind you of the emotions you had in this game before. The need to accumulate stuff comes from this foundation. This is the reason why t0.5 gear is still clogging up my mage's bank in WoW (even after all the transmog UI improvements).
I'd say that the accumulation of in-game wealth serves the same purpose, after a fashion. By looking at your nice goldcap gold stash you are reminded of all the moments in which you were smarter, better and worked harder than the rest of the people in the game.

Anonymous said...

"If only the devs wouldn't be corrupted as hell it would be the best game ever made."

I would say "incompetent" but I agree wholeheartedly.

maxim said...

The general rule of session length being acceptable for the target audience is ironclad. This means, among other things, that if "the suit" comes in and says "we need smaller session length", he is effectively changing the game's target audience.

If the suit is not aware of this, it is a game developer's duty to inform him that this is indeed what is happening, and possibly even block this decision. And if there is a conflict with the suit, then for every suit, there is always a bigger suit. And, ultimately, if the company owner decides that he doesn't want to serve a specific target audience, then he is changing the nature of the company, and it is then on a designer to decide if he wants to be in that company anymore.

Also, for every suit that wins, there are hundreds if not thousands of suits that crash and burn.

maxim said...

I am a bit confused about the way you are using the "Nash equilibrium" here. If you want to operate within the bounds of the game theory, then you need to specify what game exactly is being played here and what is its outcome-reward structure.

David Boshko said...

What about games with very very long single sessions. Like if you played Crusader Kings II with the Carolingian expansion you can have a stupidly long single session, especially if you port the game over to EU.

Gevlon said...

@Archaicwonder: yes, that's the ultimate end of the single-player (and story driven multiplayer) RPGs. More content than the gamers consume (infinite from their point of view).

@maxim: there is more than that. It rewards playing NOW instead of playing a year later. If I pick up old Doom 2 now and play, it's the same game as it was in the nineties. If I pick up EVE now, I'm a noob in my Ibis when everyone else has titans.

@Anon: incompetence means "bad game rules". Braking their own rules is corruption.

@maxim: the session length isn't yes-or-no. Those who play a 25 minutes game want something "short". It doesn't mean exactly 25 minutes. I'd say half of the players would not mind the game being 26 minutes and other half 24. The suit can try to cater to the "bigger half" or to the half that has smaller future competition.

Every suit that crash and burn will be replaced by another suit. There will always be a suit and at the end, "the suit" will win. The guy in the suit is irrelevant.

Nash equilibrium refers to the battle of competing games and competing groups of game devs/suits. My point is that if your game needs 25 sitting to complete, it WILL be shortened or lengthened. The ONLY ones that are stable are 1-sitting and infinite games.

@David: "very long" is the practical version of "infinite". We can't create truly infinite long games with available technology.

Anonymous said...

Gevlon if your actual reason for leaving Eve was player citadels and the alleged "New Jita" then I don't understand why you left. New Jita is something that can be fought by players/mercenaries (as opposed to dev corruption which you can't do anything about).

In fact, so far every citadel capable of hosting a market hub in The Forge region has been destroyed within 2 weeks of going up. The last one went down last Sunday. New ones keep popping up and getting destroyed all the time. There is no "30T/month passive income". I doubt they even break even.

Tithian said...

"Donkey Kong, Mario, even on the old PC, Doom, that old Carmen San Diego Game, Oregon Trail... Doom had an enormous impact on game development, its graphic engine was revolutionary, or so I've read."

I find it weird that you mention games that can be completed in a single 2 or 3-hour session, to support the opposite. If you look at Twitch, chances are you can find speedrunners that can complete those games in 40-50 minutes.

The rise of longer games that would be completed in a lot of sessions only came with the rise of adventure games, and later CRPGs, i.e. post 1990. Before that even adventure games could be completed in a single sitting.

Gevlon said...

No, not every citadel is destroyed. Citadels now owned by Lenny are destroyed. There will be a numerical analysis on Monday. I'm not claiming that they already make 30T/month, the figure is increasing and will reach that number in a year. The pure existence of this passive income is corruption.

Also, the rest are bad enough. How one supposed to fight opponents when they are allowed to cheat and even commit real World crimes?

Anonymous said...

PoE, D2, D3, WoW, HS, Duelyst, OW etc are all seasonal games, resetting progression every few months.

But anon the things you do in the game still fit in one session - sure so does a L4 mission an incursion etc.

Anonymous said...

Nintendo had fierce competition. new tech was one of the risk:roi adventures. it payed out for them. their adventure with monopolising the market didn't go that well tho.
id Software (DOOM) especially lead dev John Carmak surfs the very edge of what is possible. he brought parallax scrolling to PC hardware, one of his keypoint breakthrough back then. John and id software need to do it to have the "we have more in every frame of the game than everybody else currently! with the best FPS!" badge.

The settlement of the USA was a one-time anomaly
is it? Every piece of land was taken in blood. this applies to every living thing that somewhat wants and maintains their district/region. If you don't want to see nature in this at all. ok great. look at history and all great empires they just took. So back to recent settlement, when some highly entitle european scum carved some land out for themselfes and slaughter "savages" and animals alike, this is very much as it always goes and not a anomaly at all. home of the free and land of the brave

Antze said...

@maxim: "if the company owner decides that he doesn't want to serve a specific target audience, then he is changing the nature of the company, and it is then on a designer to decide if he wants to be in that company anymore"

Of course, the developer is free to leave. Does that solve the problem? For the individual developer, yes. For the game, quite the opposite.

One suit leaves, another comes, serves the same goal, to "optimize revenues". One burned out developer leaves, another comes in and listens to the suits much more (he's a noob anyway and knows nothing about the nature of the game).

It's not conspiracy theory, just check how many companies were founded by former employees of Blizzard. Doesn't it hint that, for those companies to be founded, some employees of Blizzard had to become former employees?

Pandaria, in my opinion, was created by completely different group of developers, than classic WoW.

maxim said...

Games live and they die. If a game dies, no biggie, plenty of games out there. Kojima recently left Konami - and MGS will soon become a zombie survival game, so it is effectively dead. So what? Kojima is now going to make his next mind-bendy instant classic without Konami. "The suit" named Konami, on another hand, is quite effectively running all of its franchises into the ground in the meantime.

In any serious conflict between "the suit" (as a collective gestalt entity, capable of replacing any single individual suited person within itself) and the creative spark of the developer, "the suit" inevitably loses - it either silences the creative spark (and thus is unable to benefit from it any longer), or is forced to roll the dice on the new employee (which may or may not have the creative spark and either way will require years of training). Developers, on another hand, do occasionally win :D

On WoW, i am reasonably certain that the original team completely lost control of the project mid-WotLK, possibly somewhere immediately after Ulduar. Ghostcrawler, specifically, joined somewhere around Sunwell.

Regarding "the suit" - consider above reply to Antze. "The suit" can indeed endure longer than a single human, but it doesn't always win, and, with enough losses, it can actually very well die.

Regarding play sessions - it is not always the case that shortening the play session is better, even on financial paper. I have encountered numerous situations where whale monetisation is optimal within a specific session timeframe (for example's sake, in one project the people spent the most money between 15 and 30 minutes of a session). This timeframe, then, becomes the third equilibrium attracting point.

jedi2015 said...

Its not possible for lenny or anyone to destroy all fortizars around jita, in time, to not turn a profit. Once a fortizar is up and running it take weeks, to destroy it, going through the multiple timers. And just a 0,2% tax, during those weeks, is enough to earn back the costs of setting up the fortizar. The citadels in high-sec are making actually high-sec back an interesting place to live in.

Antze said...


If what it takes to develop a specific game is mostly developer's creativity, then the developer is free to continue his work in another company, with a bunch of friends or even alone. This is not the case for mainstream MMOs where the developer is dependent on external investments and sometimes access to expensive technologies.

In the mainstream MMOs developers no longer win. Like I said before, when the technological process becomes more accessible, developers might start to win again. Sometimes.

While I indeed have emotions and personal attitude, it's irrelevant if it's biggie or not if the game dies, I'm just discussing the process: developers leaving the company that works on a mainstream MMO (every word matters here) = bad for the said MMO.

maxim said...

We are in agreement that it is bad for said MMO
We are not in agreement on the value of a specific MMO against the value of developer creativity. I think individual MMOs are worth more or less nothing and the faster creative developers leave the project that is no longer able to channel their creativity, the better.

I do agree that barrier of entry in mainstream MMOs is the highest it has ever been. However, we also live in a world where an indie studio is perfectly capable of making a AAA quality multiplayer game (f/ex WarFrame), so i wouldn't think that making a proper MMO is out of reach of a determined and talented group of independent devs.

Anonymous said...


> an indie studio is perfectly capable of making a AAA quality multiplayer game (f/ex WarFrame)

WarFrame, made by Digital Extremes. 170 employees. That's stretching the "indie" definition somewhat.

Hello Games would be a more relevant example. 15 employees. The team wasn't big enough to write hundreds of hours of narrative and gameplay experiences, so they relied on procedural generation for No Man's Sky. Many people were disappointed because they found the content to be shallow and repetitive.

It's true that a sandbox MMO needs *less* handcrafted content than a themepark MMO ... but it will still take months to create all of the ships, equipment, character models, music tracks, etc. The small (and/or inexperienced) indie team may also struggle to create netcode or server architecture which can support a twitch-based multiplayer game. Also: documentation, localization, tech support, subscription billing, marketing, etc. MMOs need lots of resources just to survive the launch. In order to *obtain* those resources, you'll typically need to kowtow to a "suit" and accede to some of his stupid requirements.

An MMO designer can maintain his integrity by walking out of a "corrupted" dev project, but he'll find it very difficult to build and publish a game. His family will probably also go hungry :(

Anonymous said...

Gevlon is not speaking of any 1 game (even though he references EVE a lot) - he is saying that *all* gaming, in general, is going this route.

When he says that when 1 suit dies another replaces it - he means that for the biggest suits of all (the AAA *companies* themselves*) as well. When 1 giant gaming studio dies, it doesn't get replaced by a group of independent game developers - because they don't have the money to become a AAA gaming studio. It simply gets replaced by the next AAA gaming studio in line - which is motivated by *profit* and so will ultimately make the same decisions for short term financial gains at the expense of future longevity/quality of the game.

Also ultimately developers can only leave so many companies before they run out of new companies to turn to for funding - and sooner or later every company/financial backer is going to demand a bigger financial return on their investment - even if it means killing the game.

In theory of course the developer could be privately wealthy and invest his own money in the project - but if they were that wealthy they wouldn't have had to work for the suits in the first place.

Shalcker said...

@maxim :
On WoW, i am reasonably certain that the original team completely lost control of the project mid-WotLK, possibly somewhere immediately after Ulduar. Ghostcrawler, specifically, joined somewhere around Sunwell.

Original team most likely just lost their "spark" by that moment rather then "control". Remember, WoW was announced as project in 2001! Release was in 2004. By WotLK arrival, that was already from 4 to 7 years in development for "original team". It is miracle some of them held for so long, and ofc when given a chance they jumped ship to Titan.

They had their own ideas of what was good, their own features they though would be nice but never materialized and that they pushed for Team II, but they didn't necessarily know (or could prove to Team II) which part of "magic formula" that made WoW top MMO was the main one - or if what happened was even result of their actions at all and not largely dependent on outside factors...

So Team II went to experiment, and created Dungeon Finder - which i would say single-handedly destroyed social fabric of the game. Don't think there can be more destructive feature that in one patch turned "long-term-strategy game" into "single-session game".

maxim said...

Interestingly enough, Blizzard seems to be reintroducing gating (to some extent). There are, once again, dungeons behind a rep wall and the like.

So here is at least one "suit" that seems to deviate from its focus on "grandma" content.

maxim said...

+1 to Shalcker

What stretches the definition of indie kind of depends on what the definition of indie includes. The definition of indie i work with does not include the size of a company. F/ex, in my eyes Blizzard were indie until they were bought by Activision.

When a giant game studio dies, it doesn't get "replaced". It just dies and often the niche it served crumbles with it. F/ex, there still isn't any real "replacement" for Bullfrog, despite the demand being present.

Developers always have the option of starting their own company. I understand, of course, that putting food on the table often requires bending knee to "the suit", and many choose to abandon any other prospects while doing so, but let's not pretend that this is the only possible way.

I will grant you that the developer must be connected and qualified enough before he has any sort of a shot at his own studio, and most developers dreaming of their own studios are simply not there yet in terms of their skillset and resources. Those, however, can still make plans for going independent (including putting together personal development, connections, product ideas - money usually being the least important concern) and act on them, even as they work for "the suit".

The "every company or financial backer will eventually get greedy" thing is sort of a myth. The relationship between the developer and its financial backers is often very individualised. There are even financial backers out there willing to invest in projects just because they sound cool. Those will still ask you for due market diligence, naturally, - you actually wouldn't want a financial backer who is willing to just splurge on impulse. However, confusing due diligence for greed or particular desire to control the studio through money is a big mistake.

Further on the topic of funding, Kickstarter hasn't gone anywhere (and, hopefully, projects like Bloodstained will redeem the reputation of kickstarted games a bit). Patreon funding is also possible (XXX game devs have especially been taking advantage of it).

TLDR: there are ways to become independently wealthy and get your own company, if you are not a moron or slacker.

Anonymous said...

If you go the moba route you should really think hard what you want to do with it since while they all may seem alot like each other they are quite different. I have played (in-order) DotA, HoN (Heroes of Newerth), DotA2, LoL and HotS (Heroes of the Storm). (Also some proto versions in orginal Starcraft.)

I am in no way expert, but I would characterise the last 3 (as I would assume those to be your real contestants) as;

DotA2, quite honest for the original. Aims for depth, equal and competitive gameplay.

LoL, For me feels like easymode reskinned DotA. They have reduced amount of mechanics (for example last hitting is made easier and no denying (last hitting own creeps)). Also they have added the account progression and locked heroes.

HotS, they go one step futher in the Blizzard fashion. They actively make mechanics to force everyone towards the same line. Shared exp, for all heroes, anti-snowballing or incremental bonus gains. This game is different from the other two in that everymap has some extra objective that when completed gives... well not really advantage but a sift in score towards victory. For me it seems that you can't try to do little better than your enemies and gain advantage over time (in single match) more like the game ends when one team 'scores x points'. Like football match (the European variety) that ends when one team gets 5 goals. Heroes level outside the games gaining more abilities to choose from in following games. They also have added heavy gating on heroes to encourage spending money.

They are also in order that I think a single player can do something in the game. While DotA is also heavily team game, in lower tiers one player can single handedly win the game. On higher mmr more and more team focus is needed in general.

In HotS a single player is absolutely worthless , basically because in 2 vs 1 even drooling morons can win quite easily. Also the nature of game as heavily objective focused gameplay that sifts the focus to the 'group is mandatory' (in way the objectives are done).

LoL is somewhere between these two.

If you want to try to 'rally troops' like you did in Wintergrasp you can do that in anyone of these. But if you just want the most possibilities (of what to do) I would suggest DotA2 as it is mechanically most rich and there is no gates to keep you out from doing something (I.e. playing spesific hero).

For example in DotA2 you find in lower mmr people buying items like the pros do in tourneys and trying to imitate them. Often these are countered easily by buying 'suboptimal / bad' items as they give enough advantage over people not successfully implementing execution of the actual play.

While you will never rise to the very top by having medium apm, one can rise quite far with just awareness and understanding what is going on. Infact I would say that awareness and understanding is far more important in DotA2 than the actual apm and the apm comes in play when most players are in same level of awareness and understanding.

In the end I would acknowledge that I am biased in favour of DotA2 as I think it is the far superior game.

One interesting angle could be examining how these games have different focus groups.

That is my bit of unsolicited opinions about mobas.

Anonymous said...

Gevlon have you considered playing vanilla wow again? Quality of the private servers that i've tried(Nostalrius begins and Kronos 2) seem to be on par with official servers and population seems solid. I am interested in how you would approach vanilla where pretty much everything is "known" and passive gold sources are limited.