Co-written by Martin Maurer
Designing a meta-game that spans multiple autonomous worlds may seem daunting to a traditional game designer, but it's not impossible. In fact, it's an exciting opportunity to explore new possibilities and create a truly unique gaming experience.
🌏 An autonomous world is a persistent digital world that is open and equally accessible to anyone. It has a ruleset that governs everything in it and usually comes with domain-specific user interfaces similar to the tools we use to observe the physical world. These worlds are more than just expansive game maps; they are intricate ecosystems where every action can have a ripple effect. It's like a video game that is so significant that it serves as a parallel reality for its inhabitants - offering them a chance to live, work, and play in ways they might not in the real world.
Economic decision-making as a meta-game framework
One way to create a generalizable experience spanning several autonomous worlds is by focusing on the game-design aspects that stem from economic decision-making.
Economy is a universal concept, and this approach provides an overarching gameplay loop while leaving room for each game's unique features. Economic systems in games, when designed well, can mimic real-world complexities, offering players a myriad of choices and strategies to explore.
This foundational process kickstarts the economy of any given world and draws inspiration from the concept of foraging for valuable items, a well-known and proven concept in many games. Beyond just collecting resources, players must consider the sustainability of their actions, the potential impact on the in-game environment, and the broader economy.
Construction & crafting:
A vast field that allows for separating skills into interconnected domains within autonomous worlds. It adds depth to the game and enables players to craft their own unique lore. This isn't just about building structures or creating items; it's about understanding the intricacies of each world's ecosystem and leveraging that knowledge to create items or structures that have value and purpose.
Farmers convert their time and work into money like real-world service workers. They traverse various domains to farm for loot and develop strategies to maximize their profits across the worlds they travel. This mechanic emphasizes the importance of time management, risk assessment, and strategic planning as players decide where to farm when to sell, and how to maximize their returns.
An easy-to-learn yet hard-to-master game loop that introduces the role of the merchant incentivized to connect different realms and exploit trade opportunities. It's not just about buying low and selling high. It's also about understanding cultural nuances, supply and demand dynamics, and the ever-changing geopolitical landscape of the metaverse.
Keeping the discussed game mechanics in mind, we will now structure the foundational elements of our meta-game, ensuring we create a gameplay experience that is both fun and engaging for players.
Arcane Empires: building magical empires across worlds
In the hypothetical game Arcane Empires, players build and expand their magical businesses across multiple autonomous worlds. Their mission: collect magical resources, craft spells, and sell them to adventurers to grow their enterprises and outmaneuver the competition.
As a powerful wizard, your journey begins in an arcane marketplace called the Oasis. Technically, this autonomous world acts as a trade hub connecting various game worlds. This marketplace facilitates trading magical goods and services, resource scavenging, magical item crafting, and hiring skilled workers to enhance your foraging and trading capabilities.
The Oasis isn't just a marketplace - it's a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and opportunities. If funds are tight, you can venture into any realm to search for resources, hopefully returning safely to the marketplace with treasures in tow.
As your business thrives, your influence in the Mages Guild, a DAO-like governing body of mages, grows. This influence allows you to shape decisions across all autonomous worlds where guild members are active, ensuring long-term motivation for players.
Being part of the Mages Guild isn't just about prestige. It's about shaping the future of the metaverse, making decisions that could impact countless players and the very fabric of the game's reality.
Now that we understand the meta-game concept, let's look at how this can be built incrementally.
Keep in mind that a multi-world meta-game like Arcane Empires has the potential to be overwhelming even for experienced players, so we'll have to make sure to keep things easy to understand and gradually introduce complexity.
Kickstarting the experience
Initially, the game loop is an easy combination of resource extraction and crafting. This mini-game is the entry point that every player needs to learn and master.
A workbench from Spellcrafter: An independent, open-source implementation of the game is currently being developed here.
While spell crafting keeps the player busy and engaged, we habituate the player to the play-2-die concept.
💀 Play-2-Die: This concept works like an old-school arcade machine, where players pay for a play session that lasts as long as they survive in dangerous in-game activities.
For the first couple of rounds, all the player needs to do is manage a spell that grows in chaos over time and try to stay alive for as long as possible.
To achieve that, players must take actions like foraging for ingredients, adding them to the spell, studying to unlock abilities, and meditating. Elements and familiars play a role and allow for faster progression.
Still, no matter what you do, the game ends either successfully by crystallizing the spell or fatally by failing to control its powers and being consumed.
This leads to quick and repeatable excitement in the early days of a player's progression while hinting at the game's strategic depth for the brave souls who want to dig deeper.
The tycoon phase
For the players who play long enough to improve their skills substantially, the stakes gradually rise. Players, for example, must now balance the cost of spawning their next life as a mage apprentice versus generating a more skilled adept capable of crafting higher-value spells.
More profound game knowledge becomes crucial, longer-term planning kicks in, and economic reasoning takes center stage.
Furthermore, the need to venture into untapped autonomous worlds to find resources and expand the serviceable market grows as the tycoon`s attention shifts to the meta-game.
This phase is the most intense for the player because the stakes are getting higher, and progress becomes increasingly more demanding. Being a tycoon in the game starts influencing that player's economic situation in real life. The line between playing a game and maintaining a predictable income stream blurs.
Players who make it to this stage inherently feel that being a mage is more than a hobby by now. It is an obligation and a profitable business.
After more time growing a successful magical empire, the most skilled and successful players choose to develop and exercise their voting power in the guild. Becoming a respected guild member is the ultimate privilege, granting access to benefits like macroeconomic decision-making, resource distribution, and governance changes.
At this stage, the tycoon has amassed so much economic power that there is no thrill to compete anymore. The value that needs to be extracted from the game to maintain an enjoyable lifestyle no longer substantially lowers the voting power that can be exercised.
The long-term motivation to keep investing in Arcane Empires has transitioned from being a player to a stakeholder in the meta-game. Players now wield true power and are fundamentally incentivized to keep the world alive.
In "Arcane Empires," we see how a multi-world meta-game can come to life through a focus on economic decision-making. By embracing this approach and incorporating engaging gameplay elements, a complex meta-game becomes accessible to players of all levels.
The journey from a novice spell-crafter to a tycoon mage and eventually a stakeholder in the meta-game showcases the depth and breadth of experiences a multi-world metaverse can offer. It's not just about playing a game - it's about living in a dynamic, interconnected universe where every decision has consequences, and every action can ripple across multiple worlds.
The key takeaway from this exploration is that the potential to empower gamers is palpable, extending from FPSs, MMOs, or even a TPS/RTS hybrid game. While the concept of a multi-world meta-game might initially seem overwhelming, with the right balance of complexity, engagement, and gradual progression, it can offer an unparalleled gaming experience.
In the world of "Arcane Empires," players don't just play; they thrive, strategize, collaborate, and influence the very fabric of the game's universe.
Especially in autonomous worlds, the bar for cohesion, reliability, and long-term planning is higher than in traditional video games. But with these challenges come opportunities - opportunities to innovate, redefine gaming, and create immersive experiences that players will cherish for years to come.
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