Game Theory Applied: Endogenous Value

Today’s article is the third one in the series “Game Theory Applied”. You have the previous two here:

In the previous two articles I talked about game design aspects that I think that were well addressed in New Sokoban. However, today I’m going to talk about a very difficult and tricky topic that should be better applied to New Sokoban: endogenous value in games.

Endogenous Value

What’s endogenous value?

“The word endogenous derives from the Greekενδογενής, meaning “proceeding from within” (“ενδο”=inside “-γενής”=coming from)” – Wikipedia

“Relating to an internal cause or origin” – Wordreference.com

“Proceeding from within; derived internally.” – Dictionary.com

“Having an internal cause or origin.” – Oxford Dictionary of English

So, endogenous value in games is achieved when some objects in the game or some part of the game have some kind of value to the player generated inside the game and only by game design means.

Giving endogenous value to our games

So, as you can imagine, giving endogenous value to our games is very interesting and desirable. Fun games are great, but fun games with endogenous value are better. It is more difficult to forget a game that has endogenous value, so it is easier for the player to come back and play again to increase that value. Even if it is not the funniest of the games.

So, from my point of view, there are two ways of giving endogenous value to our games: very difficult tasks and internal economies.

Do you remember playing a game that was extremely difficult to complete? Imagine that you lose your progress. That would be dramatic… In general, things that are hard to achieve have more value than easier ones. No fancy science here I guess.

Internal economics are a more powerful mechanic to gain endogenous value. However, creating a well balanced economics system in a game is a titanic task. When saying “economics system” I don’t necessarily mean involving virtual money or trading operations. Classic RTS games like Starcraft have resources based economy systems that works great from the endogenous value point of view.

However, I think that the best example for this kind of endogenous value are MMO games like World of Warcraft (no, I’m not working for Blizzard, but I like their games :p ). These kind of games generate an incredibly amount of endogenous value to players by having lots of objects, tasks, power-ups, etc, that have value in the game for players.

Players complete quests, kill monsters and bosses all the time, even when it is not fun! However, the value of the reward is so huge that the effort is worthwhile.

Mental note: endogenous value in games is not related with fun. Actually, in general, players perceive endogenous value from things that are hard to achieve and often not so fun to do. Unfortunately, it seems that we don’t perceive the value of fun. It’s a gaming paradox I guess. Or maybe a human one…

Forcing endogenous value

The result of forcing endogenous value is having no endogenous value at all but regular value. All FreeToPlay games are included to this category. You, as the designer, are pricing the objects and consumables of your game. That’s not endogenous. That’s just regular value.

So from my point of view, when real money is introduced to the equation talking about endogenous value has no sense.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, New Sokoban is a very simple game 😀 It is impossible (at lest for me) to introduce all these mechanics to a little game like this one. I tried to increase the endogenous value of the game by means of increasing the difficulty of some tasks. Completing all the puzzles with 3 stars is not that difficult but finding all the under par solutions in the game is very, very difficult. I hope that players that achieve it consider their progress valuable :)

However, I always try to be creative. There is probably a way to increase endogenous value in New Sokoban and I’m going to try to find it.

This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iPhone development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web siteRSS feed, or Twitter.