For P3, our team designed an ecosystem for social media and those engaging in it as content creators. The ecosystem was modeled as a space from this specific perspective–for instance, the visual representation of the Internet with distinct regions is seen as a board to be “conquered”, in the sense that as a content creator, one is viewing these places as potential spots to carve out their niche and gain a following. When this goal has been successful and a player claims a tile, this tile can also be claimed by another player, but with reduced benefits for both. In this way, we modeled followers’ ability to support multiple people but at the cost of some reduced attention to a singular creator. Similarly, the Action and Item cards revolved around the interactions that creators engage with that affect their or others’ standings in social media – exposing, beefing, collaborating, etc.
I think these mechanics worked well together to show what the Internet is like from the view of those trying to generally make content or establish a place for themselves, and in doing so, players had a lot of fun with Fellowship and Narrative. It was interesting to watch playtesters use cards in unexpected ways and over time, on their own create an ongoing narrative–for instance, some players consistently beefing, but also interacting positively. Sometimes for strategic benefits to both, or sometimes out of renewed goodwill? The very relationships could be messy themselves, which was both comedic and, I felt, accurately showed facets of what it’s like to interact online. Alongside this, there was also the fun of Challenge, as while the game itself retained levity, the goal is still competitive. Players want to be the ones with the greatest level of influence at the end, and as mentioned while sharable, attention is a limited resource. We also modeled some of the randomness of social media with the Trending mechanic (where one region every round, selected by a dice roll, would have an additional benefit) without making the game feel too RNG-based and while adding to this challenge.
It was interesting to watch others play our game from a big picture view as well, not just the question of if they were having fun or the game was balanced, but is the ecosystem we set out to model emerging from what I’m seeing in the gameplay? I was glad to say that while early playtests could be rough, our final playtest answered yes to that question for me. Overall, balancing between the complexity of modeling a system but also creating specifically an enjoyable game was a lot trickier than I thought. I started out thinking that we would need to be extremely detailed and have to focus on making an accurate representation of every little process and consideration, which isn’t completely wrong as this helped with our brainstorming phase and initial system maps. However, it became clear that it was important, and difficult, to figure out what needed to be distilled and how.
I think it was particularly helpful and interesting for my learning process to find that at one point in development, we then actually swung too hard the other way, where it felt like we had oversimplified the system and were accidentally falling too much into party-game territory without enough attention to the moving parts. By our final version, we had found a much better balance, but I didn’t expect to be making such major changes in the structure of the game just based on reducing/introducing/shifting objects in our game. It was also very tricky to nail down concepts beyond just being generally related to the system in this-or-that way, into an actual specific role with defined attributes. I think going forward the importance of this nailing down of objects has become very clear to me. In the future, I would like to place more attention early on towards iterating still-complex but cleaner versions of our first systems map, as gray areas of understanding means great areas of confusion later on and small changes really shift interactions across the board.