Ratings, Rankings, Reputations & Games
by Shannon Appelcline
When Christopher & I starting writing about collective choice systems in December, I promised that I'd at some point in the future talk more about how these systems can be directly related to games. And now we're there.
In late December and early January, Christopher & I concentrated on the comparison systems. We started on rating and ranking, and have a two-part article on reputation which we'll be posting in the coming weeks. This week I'm going to talk about all three of those comparison systems from the viewpoints of games: both how they can be used to help run games and how they can be used as game systems.
Ratings & Games
As you'll see in the next article in this series, having run through all the major comparison systems, we've tightened up their definitions a bit. Rating systems subjectively measure the quality of things (often content).
Use for Games: The core use of rating systems for games is inevitably to moderate content. As I've written several times, but most firmly in Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities #67, Creativity & The Online Gamer, game administrators can't possible create all of the content required for an always-on 24x7 roleplaying game. Since early AberMUD days we've gone out to players to create additional content, and this has in fact been a major focus at Skotos.
At Skotos we've carefully hand selected user content by carefully selecting people (or people who themselves select other people). However in a larger MMORPG environment, this becomes unviable. Automated methods are needed, and that's where rating systems can come in. If you let users create content, then let users rate content, the good content will rise up and the bad content will fade away. Sure some people will be subjected to that bad content first, but as more ratings occur fewer and fewer people will.
Use in Games: As a mirror to that player-created content, ratings can similarly be used to rate character-created content. You could rate a chracter-run tavern or character-created items (though there needs to be some actual creative input on the players' part for this to be truly meaningful).
You could expand this to letting players rate any items found in world, creating a sort of Consumer Reports for the gaming world of your choice.
As a core game mechanic that helps drive your gameplay, the use of ratings are less obvious. Some sort of rating system that actually allows for and even supports collusion might be an interesting basis for a pseudo-meritocracy-based government system ... but this starts to shade into types of voting.
Rankings & Games
Rating systems objectively measure the skillfulness of people.
Use for Games: As we said in the original article, the use of ranking systems for games is obvious. They're most useful for strategy games, particularly short-term strategy games, where you can use them to reward good play. Often rising (or dropping) on a ranking ladder becomes a metagame in itself, and the ultimate goal that players play for, not the actual victory in any individual game.
Use in Games: In-character, ranking systems can be used in exactly the same manner: to show how good people are at playing games, but in this case games that lie within a gameworld, which characters are playing, rather than games played by players. In our original article on ranking we talked about the eGenesis system, and it was created for exactly this use: to rank characters who were playing simple in-game games.
Many games that have this sort of in-game ranking are actually measuring the player's cognitive ability, not anything related to the character; however this doesn't need to be the case. In a Skotos Pendragon Online game we might have rankings for tournaments or jousts, and these would ultimately be based upon a combination of the player's tactical skill and the actual skill levels of his character in the relevant areas.
In-game ranking systems could also be used to measure how skillful characters are when they're engaging in grouped questing activities. You could rank the efficacy of an individual character's spell use, the skillfullness of his combat tactics, and ultimately whether groups tend to succeed or fail when he's one of their members. The Xbox360 TrueSkill system is one of the few systems to take this tactic thus far, and it doesn't take it to this level of detail, so there's a lot of room for growth here.
Reputation & Games
As we'll discuss more fully in the next two columns, reputation system subjectively & objectively measure the trustworthiness of people.
Use for Games: At Skotos we've talked about reputation systems for years. Though I earlier made out the question of user content to be a simple one, it's not. Beyond the question of "What content is good?" you also have to ask "Who is trustworthy enough to add content at all?"
One of the earliest reputation systems that we investigated was the Avogato Reputation System. We're going to return to that more fully in the next column, but in short it creates several tiers of credentials, and gives users the ability to raise other people up to their own level. This would be a fairly simple system to implement: we could credential trusted people at several levels (e.g.: able to do anything with our StoryBuilder Tool Kit; able to create or destroy leaf objects; able to only create objects; able to create objects, but not introduce them into the world; etc.), then let a larger system of credentialed users develop.
Any game could thus use reputations to protect access to content creation, destruction, and management systems.
Another use for reputation is the idea of using it to manage a rating system. (As we'll see in two columns' time, slashdot does this.) In our game we may not want everyone to rate content, but instead only these who we trust to have good judgement. In this case we manage the reputations of users, and then let those with sufficient reputations rate user-introduced content. It would be easy to create feedback systems for this, to, for example, let people who's content was rated well to rate content in return.
Use in Games: Of all of the comparison systems, reputations probably provide the most rich ground for creating core gameplay mechanics.
Microsoft was the first company to really push this, in their original Asheron's Call. Their reputation system was a pretty simplistic pyramid scheme, but it really showed the power of the form: give people opportunities to increase their "reputation" in some manner, and then link benefits to that increased reputation, and you've instantly got a solid, expandable game system.
If you tie this in with threshold maintenance the interest in your reputation system will increase. We've already discussed the out-of-character awards possible at reputation thresholds, such as the ability to create OOC new content. There could also be simple in-character rewards. If you have enough reputation you might be allowed to buy land, hire serfs, and build a castle. Think of old Medieval feudal systems, but with a twist where people actually can rise up in power, then figure out a way to in some way link it to the acclaim--or at least the awareness--of a character's peers.
The comparison systems--rating, ranking, and reputation--are the three core systems of collective choice. They provide good methods to manage content, permissions, and of course high-scores out-of-game, but also could be used in-game as the core of carefully designed gameplay mechanics. These comparison systems are perhaps not the best collective choice systems for game mechanics. (That'd probably be voting systems.) However they, particularly reputation, do offer some pretty uncharted & fertile ground for game designers.
In case you've missed any, here's the other articles in this series:
And I'll see you in a couple of weeks for the start of our look at reputations, alluded to in this article.