As games become a greater market and players spend more and more hours of their day emerged into games, questions arise on how games should be designed to benefit and not to harm players.
A swamp of “fun”
In a world where we see loads of games being released every day, we come into the need to find stronger categorizations for sifting through this swamp of new games to find games we enjoy playing. For me, a very important aspect of games is the effect of learning. What will I learn when I play this game, how will it change me, and how strong will this change be? When I speak about learning I’m not talking about the boring “learning” we were forced to conduct in school. I’m talking about real learning and personality development. If you are interested in this topic of how humans learn and why learning is “fun”, let me know in the comments below.
(Why the quotes around “fun”? In general, I’m having problems with this word because of its imprecision, but for the sake of understanding, I’m using it in this article. I prefer “flow” and “engagement”, but this would go too far and too deep for this article. Tell me if you would like to hear more about the differences.)
With this learning-related aspect in mind, I would like to discuss two categories of games as defined by Tim Ruswick in a Youtube video: Consumable Games and Infinite Experience Generators (IEG).
This categorization is like many other categories, not black and white. It is a continuum between those two categories, and each game can be placed somewhere in between. So, what are the characteristics of each of these categories?
To eat and not to eat
Consumables are games that come to a defined end and are mostly scripted in the way they play out. A lot of the games with a scripted storyline will lean more into this category than into IEG. If you would see classic movies as games, they would be the ultimate consumables, because players are very limited in the ways they can interact with it. Even books would be further towards IEG because they leave more room for the player’s fantasy to form and change the experience. These games have finite goals that aim towards an end: “I want to defeat the final boss.” would be one such goal.
On the other side of the spectrum, IEGs are games that have an open end and can be played over and over again without stopping to learn and progress further. Simulators, Sandboxes, survival, strategy, and card games tend to fall into this category. All these games have in common are infinite goals and therefore the possibility for infinite gameplay.
In contrast to finite goals, infinite goals are not coming to an end. “Environmental sustainability is a good example of an infinite goal. Nurture and protect your world from harm, while improving yourself and your technology.” [Tamba2013]
It is important to note that IEGs even though they have overarching infinite goals, can have multiple finite goals on the path. I don’t want to dive too deep into the philosophical means of this categorization but one could see life as the ultimate IEG depending on its players. For a deep dive into this topic have a look at this GDC talk. If this is still not enough the book Finite and Infinite Play by James P. Carse will knock you out.
IEGs are not a new category but were defined multiple times, by different authors. Jasper Juul calls them Open Games and sees games as languages and mechanics are grammars. IEGs are simply games that utilize more grammars than Consumables.
Because we are talking about the effects of learning in games, I would like to focus on IEGs in this article. These games yield greater potential for teaching concrete skills. Of course, Consumables have also a great potential to teach, but they show more promise for abstract concepts than concrete skills. We can discuss the implications of Consumables in another article.
I chose to use the name “Infinite Experience Generator” because it isn’t specific to games at all. It uses the definition of games as experiences as defined by James Portnow at some point on Extra Credits (couldn’t find the exact video again, but check out their Youtube channel if you are interested in game design — they are awesome). Just when we see games as experiences, instead of child’s play, we can apply their benefits to broader topics and address greater issues with them.
Characteristics of IEGs
IEGs often have a great amount of randomness or pseudo-randomness involved, or even generate content procedurally. This randomness can be created through other players interacting with the same game world, real-world data, or mathematical methods.
The second characteristic of IEGs is the possibility that players can express themself in a great variety through play just as we can by using a variety of grammars while talking to another person.
Both of these characteristics play a big role in surprising the player with new situations, she hasn’t encountered before. Carse also speaks about infinite players being prepared for a surprise, and finite players being prepared against surprise [Carse2012]. Learning happens when we are surprised or in other words, challenged. This is why IEGs seem to have greater potential for continued learning through play.
A Consumer’s Viewpoint
What implications have IEGs from a consumer, or player point of view? For players, IEGs promise to last longer and generate more experiences. Instead of hundreds of hours of “fun” a player can have thousands of hours of “fun”. Especially, when done right, IEGs can bleed into other fields of application. For example, one big field that is nearly unventured is games in education. Games used to teach skills (e.g. languages, math, social behavior, work processes, etc.), are faster and more sustainable than our classic educational system, or glorified seminar weekends with certificates at the end, as we experience in today’s job world. Creating these kinds of teaching environments is way more difficult, and limited with Consumables.
A Developer’s Viewpoint
As a developer, IEGs promise some models for generating profits and keeping the lights on. For example, streamers playing your game is a great new marketing tool, getting more players to play your game. The problem with Consumables is that they are consumed by watching a streamer play the game. Therefore, it is less likely that viewers will get into your game afterward. On the flip side, the monetization models possible for IEGs also yield great potential to remove all the “fun”, learning, and meaning from the game if not crafted carefully or applied too greedy. Sadly, since Carse defined infinite and finite play, we have seen a growth in games that use these models wrong or too greedy. Giving the whole sector of free-to-play games a bad taste.
A Changing Immutable Universe
What would my articles be without your daily dose of blockchain? We already covered the implications of blockchain for gaming in this article. Therefore, let’s focus on the implications for IEGs in this paragraph. With blockchain, we are given another tool to create stronger IEGs. Utilizing the ever-growing data, assets, and content inside the universe of public blockchains to create ever-changing and new experiences for players. We are at the beginning to explore this new frontier and haven’t seen much of a venture into its depth so far. But we could imagine real-world examples that have real emergent stories like Legend of the Five Rings or EVE Online to unfold more possibilities and be preserved longer when using public blockchains.
The Infinite Universe of Serra
We are designing Synergy of Serra with this definition of learning as the meaning of life and infinite experiences in mind. It will be free-to-play and play-to-earn, creating a rewarding foundation for players to invest time into Serra. Additionally, Synergy of Serra is a Deckbuilder Card Game at its core which promotes skill in understanding the game mechanics instead of owning the stronger cards (as it is in most competitive collectible/trading card games today). Deckbuilder have their share of problems themself, which is why Synergy of Serra is a whole new genre of card games (Deckbuilding TCG), merging the best of Deckbuilding and Strategic Card Games such as Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering. Here is an article addressing this new game genre.
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We are Calystral, a team of game developers that set out to unleash the potential of gamers. We are focusing on building games where the time and effort put in, is rewarded with real value. Enhancing the players’ experience and empowering gamers to achieve more. In the process, we strive to overcome the technical limitations of Blockchain Technology and use its benefits to lift games to the next level. We would love to share these solutions with the community and other developers. Towards a better future of Gaming!
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