Dragon Age Legends: Guilds Explained

My current game, Dragon Age Legends, was released last month. I wrote the following post as designer notes on the upcoming guild system.

One of the design goals of Dragon Age Legends is to have meaningful social mechanics. Many social game are social only in the sense that they use the player’s social graph to help spread the game virally through her network – by encouraging the player to invite her friends as neighbors to grow her farm, for example, or trading items with one another through the gifting system to finish a building. While these mechanics help grow a social game’s visibility, they don’t necessarily make the actual experience of playing the game more fun.

Our core social feature in Legends is borrowing friends’ characters to fight alongside one’s own character in combat. As one’s friends level up their own characters, they make the game more fun by providing new skills and stronger characters to use. Unlike most RPGs, players of Legends will be able to try out the entire skill tree depending on how their friends upgrade their characters. Borrowing a friend’s character also provides that friend with a small gold bonus, which creates some interesting dynamics – encouraging players to have the most appealing characters (to earn more gold) while also giving veterans a charitable reason to bring along low-level friends they want to help.

However, a genuinely meaningful social mechanic can create its own share of problems. Facebook friends are not necessarily one’s actual friends. Players often announce their names and character details in various forums, hoping to find “fake friends” to fill out their list. Doing so creates three advantages. First, the more friends the player has, the more opportunities for his character to be borrowed and thus earn friend gold for the player. Second, high-level friends make combat far easier because of their high stats and upgraded skills.

Finally, a surplus of friends allows the player to bypass the rest time restriction. Borrowed characters enter a rest state after combat finishes for a certain period of time (often for a few hours, depending on the level and damage sustained). This rest period exists so that players will not be able to reuse a single friend’s character over and over again (and, thus, feel no incentive to invite other friends into the game). However, if a player has a huge list of fake friends playing the game, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, this mechanic becomes irrelevant as there will always be a ready supply of fully rested characters.

These three advantages can greatly distort the balance of the game. In particular, if a player has a huge list of high-level friends, which is not difficult if one looks in the right places, the combat becomes trivially easy. High-level characters can wade through most monsters easily, which prevent us from finding an ideal difficulty level. We could boost the strength of all monsters across the board to compensate for endless high-level friends, but that change would ruin the game for the average player who only uses her real friends. Besides, we want the player to experience the power of a high-level friend mowing down waves upon waves of darkspawn from time to time, just not in every battle.

To fix this issue, we are creating a new system – Guilds. A Guild is a select group of 16 friends who are playing Legends. The player can only borrow characters for combat from this group of 16. The composition of a Guild can be changed at any time (as long as the character being removed is not currently resting), so a player is not restricted to whichever friends are first added to the Guild. Also, a new castle room – the Great Hall – will allow players to expand their Guilds.

Guild membership is one-way; I might have my friend Ethan in my Guild, but Ethan does not need to have me in his Guild. However, if we are both in each other’s Guilds, we receive a bonus of a shorter rest time when using each other’s characters. This feature creates some interesting social pressure, forcing players to choose between using their friends with the best characters and using their actual best friends.

From a design perspective, the greatest benefit of Guilds is tuning as we can now balance the game for a single target – a player who has 16 friends, with a mixture of low- and high-level characters. Because rest time is proportional to a character’s level, players might not want to fill their Guild with only high-level character who would often be unavailable.

Ultimately, the player should be making interesting decisions during all parts of the game, including when deciding which friends to use for combat. Perhaps a certain battle looks fairly easy, so a player might want to use a couple low-level friends or maybe to even try it solo. Perhaps a looming boss battle makes the player hesitant to waste his highest-level friend on a normal encounter. With infinite high-level friends, these dynamics disappear, to the detriment of the gameplay.

Moreover, we want players to be interacting as much as possible with their real friends, as these are the most important social bonds tying the player to the game. Guilds encourage this behavior via the reciprocal membership bonus to rest times as well as the simple ability to build a subset of friends most relevant to the player. Guilds are a small but important step towards creating meaningful and balanced social mechanics within Dragon Age Legends.

9 thoughts on “Dragon Age Legends: Guilds Explained

  1. I think this new feature is nicely thought out, but I fear that it might be a bit too complex for the Facebook crowd.

    Many games (like Cityville and Monster World) show that more simpler interaction-mechanics work very well and they don’t require the user to take complicated decisions. Furthermore, the number of friend invitations /requests generated by simple-but-effective features are beneficial for the games.

    By limiting the guilds to 16 friends might put a limit on the number of requests sent by the players, thus reducing the virality of the game.

  2. @Frank — my thought on “reducing virality” in games with deeper mechanics is that if the social interactions are more meaningful, the game will be more engaging without the need for the tricks that social game metric maximizers have been using for a while. Virality purports to increases the DAU/MAU of a game, but it’s not the only way.

    Soren – I really like the idea of this system — been writing about trying to push the boundaries for a while and it’s great to see that some mainstream FB games are starting to evolve into more meaningful experiences.

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  4. I think this is a good concept but it will also kill the game in many ways for casual players. You will have what you have in WOW now, except even more elitist. High level people not wanting to be friends with others, and vice versa.

    I ahve 25 people on my list, I picked up 11 of them just because I was looking for someone to play the game with and none of my friends played the game, I do not know any of these people and yet I am playing with them, and am making new friends. What happens if they already have 16 friends they know better than me?

    I suddenly end up by myself again and no Guild to be a part of unless of want to spend all day long sucking up to people on Facebook trying to get someone to help me.

    I liked this game, ALOT, before this, now I see just more of the same crap I see in WOW, Guildwars, and the rest.

  5. Is this implemented? Maybe, I’m not a high enough level.

    @adrian, I really wonder what you mean by playing “with” these other players because the actual interaction is practically non-existant. In reality we are just using their characters without common goals, common victory, losses or interaction.

    Furthermore, you can still have these people as friends. Guilds only change your timer.

    This is a single player game-guilds will have very little influence except for the “hard-core”.

    Food for thought:(Can there be a hard-core contingent of legends players without a common scoring system or ladder? Why would you want to be a high level player? I see the game more as a puzzle game than anything else, without most of the flaunting and posturing that most FB games rely on to keep players engaged)

  6. *flaunting= showing off your pretty and expensive X(farm) and getting people to visit it.
    Posturing= showing off your high level ladder rank and competing with your friends and the web to get that rank.

  7. I am new to this game and I pretty much like the overall system and the way it interact with multiple players. As a web game

    The Guild system, which is pretty much like it in WOW, makes it easier to find high-level players to play with. Without Guild, people who need stronger support may search high-level players more widely. This could be difficult because these elites are more likely to be borrowed or in CD. However, when people joined a guild they are more likely, at least to some extent, to get help inside their guild. This also could be easier then seeking help from outside.

    However, from social mechanic perspective, it may lessen the possibility people making new friends via this game, not mention the scale of a guild is limited in 16. This may be opposite to original purpose. This also happened in WOW. Players tend to be isolated within their guild, while there are still some interactions among players from different guild.

    The idea is pretty good though. It is may be better to think about enlarging the size of a single guild.

  8. I thing I’ve always wanted to see more of is treating the guild itself like a player character. Why not give the guild a level, equipment slots (so to speak), etc, so individuals have sense of guild growth?

  9. I think that a deeper game on FB is a good thing, not to be avoided. It’s a new choice, and adding choices can only be an advantage.

    I started this game only because of the DAII unlockables, but now that my excellent friend Morgan is on with me, I’ll keep playing for the fun of the interaction with her. It’s FB, we message.

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