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Player Action Loops - Megagame Design Mini

When playing any game the player will typically have a “core gameplay loop” - the thing they spend most of their game doing, turn to turn. There may be special events, rare rules or a myriad of other disruptions that lie outside the loop but for this post we will focus on the “normal” progression of a turn.

What follows is the examination of a generic loop:

Gather Information: Find out information about the state of the game.

Negotiate: Consult with other players as to what to do next.

This step is a core to most megagame experiences.

Take Action: Use mechanics to change the game state.

Steps in the loop can rely on other players, for instance a Lieutenant may report enemy troop movements (gather information) to their Major, who does the negotiation before issuing orders back to the Lieutenant, who takes action (and then, seeing the results, reports back, etc.)

These interactions should be encouraged, megagames benefit from player co-operation, but they can also make a design vulnerable to breakdown.

Avoid single points of failure - if the Major is the only way the Lieutenant can meaningfully talk to other players they will have a bad day if that Major didn’t read their brief, if they decided they had other priorities, if they are incompetent.

Perhaps the Lieutenant can leave the front line for a turn to talk to anyone they like. Maybe they can take actions to parlay with their counterparts in the enemy team. These options have an opportunity cost, but they let the player close their own loop.

Avoid only action in a small part of your loop - if the Major can only receive reports and give orders they are mechanically disconnected from the game and may feel like they have little impact.

Perhaps they have a logistics game, sending supplies to the front. Or they could have spies that feed them information, information their lieutenants do not have access to.

You can also play with the loop, if you are careful.

Suppressing actions - a temporary inability to perform one of the core actions can shake up the game.

Players may need to act without knowing what is going on - your missile alert system has gone dark, what do you do?

Players may need to act on information without time to negotiate (instead they need to negotiate the fall out).

Injecting special events - The normal play for one or more players is suspended and a new game plays out.

Den of Wolves does this to great dramatic effect with the Wolf attacks, everyone must stay at the ship they are on while the combat mechanic plays out.

The elections in Urban Nightmare appear at the end of the game, with zombie combat suspended while votes are collected, counted and announced.

This could even take the form of a lunch break - mechanical play stops but negotiations continue, something that the design should account for.

Hopefully this has given you an idea of what a core loop is, how they can go wrong and some ways to play with them. If you can think of a different loop, new problems or new opportunities, please share them below.

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