Insider 11-14-2011

In Oz’s last Privateer Insider blog, he talked about three common gaming elements: skill, luck, and social interaction. In today’s blog, I’m going to write about the first element, skill, and how it impacts game development.

Most of the games that folks think of as “competitive games” tend towards heavy skill elements. Classic tournament games like Chess and Go are some of the best examples of pure skill-based games. Sure, there are aspects of social interaction since you’re facing off against another player, but the outcome of these games is determined by the decisions each player makes. The lack of any sort of randomization element (dice, cards, etc.) or subjective element (voting, guessing, etc.) minimizes the influences of luck or social interaction on the game’s results. There may be an exception here and there. Most games that emphasize player decisions over these randomization or subjective elements are heavily skill-weighted games where player moves correlate directly to victory or defeat.

The skill-based elements of a game are typically the parts that most draw me in as a player, so it’s no surprise that those are the elements that tend to really capture my interest as a game developer. These elements are also a good fit with my own background in the fields of engineering and mathematics. For relatively simple games (or bite-sized pieces of more complex games), mathematical modeling can be a really helpful tool to give an accurate picture of the skill-based element under scrutiny. Such analysis is never a substitute for comprehensive testing and continued development work, but it is an excellent springboard and can save substantial development time down the road.

In games like WARMACHINE and HORDES, there’s also the element of skill involved before the game even begins. Player choices during army building can influence success or failure just as much as a player’s choices within the game itself. One of our goals during development is to provide players with meaningful choices throughout the process, from list construction through to game play. Choosing between a Defender and a Cyclone or the Cold Blood prayer and Dirge of Mists prayer are player decisions that can make a real difference. The ideal is for each of these options to be compelling under some set of circumstances. This keeps players on their toes, engaging them before and after their games as well as while they’re in the middle of the action.

For miniatures games with ongoing releases, balancing the new options against existing options while also providing wholly new choices for players to make while also maintaining our factions’ unique styles of gameplay can be a really challenging and rewarding aspect of developing these games.

It’s probably worth noting that some choices are going to be a bit more straightforward than others. Some models, abilities, or rules may have a broader or narrower niche than others. This ties back to the game development goal of player decisions (player skill) impacting the course of the game, but it also leads into a discussion on social interactions. An army that may work beautifully at the local game store could flounder in a context where emphasis is placed on very different game elements, but that’s a blog for another day.

Make Your Choice,
-DC