It’s no secret that I’m an NFL football fan. Every Sunday (and Monday evenings… and Thursday evenings late-season… and some Saturdays during playoffs…) I’m sprawled on the couch, watching a game I love and yelling at the television. I keep track of player stats, monitor playoff brackets, and fume at coaches for things I have no control over.
Outside the actual watching of the game, though, I remain a football fan, and it shapes some amount of the community I have with my friends. When I see a person wearing a football jersey or some other team-branded item, I know I can have a conversation with them. I married my wife at least partially because she was a football, fan, too (and because she liked the correct team).
Where is this all headed?
The metaphor CCP Game Design Director Keli Oskarsson uses is that the game experience is designed for both the sportsmen and the audience in the stadium. “Stadium design” is good design. As a football fan, I’m participating in the football hobby even when an actual football game isn’t on. I’m engaged, I have buy-in, I have relationships, and I’m doing football-related things that aren’t tied to any actual football game in progress.
That’s encouragement for retention. That’s community. That’s an incentive to play or watch more and engage that community and that common interest again — and soon!
From a design perspective, the “design” of the game of football is more than the actual football game being played on the gridiron. Everybody at a football game is “doing” football, even if they’re not a direct player.
That’s a pretty daunting concept from the design perspective. So now, as a designer, you have to design what people are doing when they play your game and when they’re not playing your game?
Not exactly. But what you want to do is give people something to share. In MMOs, you see this a lot in guild culture, where people often join the guild and therein form friendships, and then those friendships keep them coming back to the game. A common interest with an established group of friends is infinitely more compelling and rewarding than the dreaded pick-up group. In a tabletop game environment, let the players engage in downtime activity — a “table talk” mailing list, say, or wikifying some of the worldbuilding elements.
The participation doesn’t need to end when a game session is done. Time out of game planning for the next session is a great example, or spent in a social network tool doing some activity that relates to the game: a Facebook game, for example, that engages people’s existing social networks and then translates accomplishments therein into advancement in the core game. (And I’m not talking those clickfest Facebook games that serve only to annoy your friends.)
So what do you think? How do you keep an ambient awareness or a low-intensity participation in your game when the actual game isn’t happening?