Designing Experiences for Decentraland
Balancing player types, game mechanics, and technical constraints when building games in a decentralized world
Hey there. This is Chris! (aka, m3mnoch on the internet) Nice to meet you. I’m the guy at Decentraland who has the lucky job of designing and implementing deep, engaging experiences for Decentraland. Even my title is swell: “Experience Architect”
How awesome is that, right?!?
Another great aspect of my job? I get to be your guide to building the best Experiences (with a capital ‘E’) you can on Decentraland. Together, I think we can CRUSH this thing.
Me too! Let’s do this!
Let’s start by looking at our constraints. Then, we’ll assemble some guideposts to keep us from building something inherently broken.
Wait, we have constraints?
I know, right?!?
LAND scarcity is probably the most important reason we have such unusual constraints. This scarcity makes our platform more akin to real world games and sports than traditional video games.
Scarcity also happens to be Decentraland’s secret sauce. It limits individual parcel size and shape, which places more value on parcel adjacency, which finally drives visitor traffic and attention. And visitor attention encourages high quality content.
It’s a cascading series of causes and effects, but since that’s probably for another blog post, you’ll just have to just trust me for now.
But we were talking about specific constraints!
Small parcel footprints
Since we’re building one world for everyone’s individual parcels, they all need to exist in a contiguous layout. Since nobody wants to walk for ages in VR, we need each parcel to be large enough to contain experiences (remember our real world game analogies), but small enough to allow for easy exploration.
This means all game components requiring space should fit in a 10m x 10m square.
Why won’t the Decentraland team let me spread out beyond my parcel’s borders?
That slides us right into the next topic.
The reason you can’t build stuff in a neighboring parcel is because your neighbor owns it, not us.
Think of it like making a real-world RPG. You can’t just bulldoze the elementary school next door and put down a Raid Boss. Any game or experience you design needs to fit within your property limits because there is no “World Owner” that can grant you permission to build on your neighbor’s property.
This means, as a gamemaker, maybe your neighbors like regency games, and don’t want your weird Orcs and Goblins traipsing across their petticoats.
Since a web browser is the only barrier of entry to experience our VR, we all need to plan for allowing some incredible variety.
And, given our Web-First model, we’re relying on WebVR and Three.js to render our world. This means you’ll have that broad audience, but there will be many people running Decentraland on modest hardware. We want to make sure that all of these users are still able to have the best experience possible.
Fret not! Just because graphics are limited doesn’t mean you can’t create rich experiences. The Minecraft communities and pixel-art renaissance have taught us that much.
At least my art budgets will be smaller.
You’d be surprised. Minimalistic art is really about clean, communicative reduction. And that’s hard. But, again, probably another blog post.
Speaking of budgets . . .
Initial Development Budgets
While your art budget should stay the same, your project scope will likely be slim, since buying enough LAND for a vast, open-world game would be horrendously expensive. Chances are, you’re not going to own a couple thousand parcels of LAND in our little 3KM x 3KM virtual world.
Remember, this is a new thing we’re making, and it presents exciting, new problems to solve. We’ve never seen a giant, shared, virtual space with no central owner before.
As a personal anecdote: I’ve been working with virtual worlds since the early ’90s. It’s really, really hard to explain, but the deeper I get into Decentraland’s architecture, the more its decentralization blows up my own assumptions. Imagine if you took what happened with LambdaMOO and removed the ability for any central authority to step in. Add in individual financial investment and all the safeguarding tendencies that come along with that . . . .
That’s where we are going.
I guess what I’m saying here is, let’s take a “Crawl, Walk, Run” approach with what we build together because the way we’re deploying Decentraland is permanent. Backpedaling could be really hard.
Man, you’re kinda scaring me here.
Right? Maybe we should lighten things up and talk about Killers a bit.
Player Type Targets
If you’re new to developing virtual worlds, you might not have heard of the Bartle Player Types. When I say “Player Types”, I’m referring to the four different, primary play modes for people in virtual worlds, coined by Richard Bartle, inventor of the MUD.
I’ll do a quick summary, cribbing from the Wikipedia page:
Achievers: Also known as “Diamonds”, these are players who prefer to gain “points”, levels, equipment and other concrete measurements of succeeding in a game.
Socializers: There is a multitude of gamers who choose to play games for the social aspect, rather than the actual game itself. These players are known as Socializers, or “Hearts”.
Explorers: Explorers, dubbed “Spades” for their tendency to dig around, are players who prefer discovering areas, creating maps, and learning about hidden places.
Killers: “Clubs” is a very accurate moniker for what the Killer likes to do. They thrive on competition with other players, and prefer fighting them over scripted computer-controlled opponents.
When you’re designing an online experience, it’s really helpful to take into account the kind of activities your players will enjoy. Especially when that world is filled with a crosscut of themes and experience types.
But, yeah, Chris. You still haven’t talked about HOW we do that.
Let’s get on that!
Wrapping it in Mechanics
What features should your game or experience in Decentraland have in order to appeal to these player types? Great question. Let’s tackle them one-by-one.
Exploration and Locality: Combining Explorer player types with the carnival of locations in Decentraland is a recipe for fun. The drawback of not having a large, centrally-themed play space can actually benefit us here. Imagine we are distributing totems and artifacts among participants in the broader community. To find those items, players will trek across a variety of unexplored spaces.
Strategy and Planning: Many strategy games lean on “offline” planning and play. Think about how traditional CCGs (Collectible Card Games) do this. Normally, you spend hours researching and assembling a deck away from the play space. Same concept here.
Social and Teamwork: The stickiest aspect of online gaming is playing with your friends, working together to achieve a goal, and social proof. This should be the easy part to tackle since we’re all in the same virtual world.
Action: “Fast” action and Player-vs-Player competitions. Based on our graphical limitations, I’ve put “fast” in quotes. Think more like multiplayer tower defense or MMORTS games rather than a random First-Person Shooter.
Equity and Progression Loops: As more of a general rule, the more game equity a player has, the more likely they’ll return. Equity is built through player progression — Leveling up, badges, social connections, etc.
Homebase Feature: this isn’t quite a game mechanic. Drawing new and existing players back to the original gamemaker’s parcel for updates and releases is important in retaining market presence. Because, again, this whole decentralized, shared-world aspect turns lots of things on their head by introducing real-world concepts to virtual spaces. In this case, there’s no central, curated list (like Steam, Apple’s App Store, etc.) to keep your services visible. Like the web, tastemakers will likely be spread out among lots of different services and organizations.
Looking back at that list, it’s kind of a lot of abstract stuff to chew on, huh?
Man . . . How long do you want this blog post to be?
I have an idea!
What kind of games can we make?
What I’ll do is run through a list of various game types and experiences you can build on top of Decentraland. It’ll hopefully give you guys a bunch of ideas to work with. Maybe you’ll come up with something better and spawn a whole new genre of games!
Dude, that’d be soooooo cool if you did.
Here are a few thoughts I’ve had. I’ll break it up, so that in the coming weeks, I’ll be able to roll through each of them in-depth to give a granular look at how they might be implemented.
Some example experience types:
Scavenger Hunt: Gamemaker’s sell NFT items for players to take back to their own Parcels and other players come find and catalog them.
Skill Duels: Social, fun, impromptu dancing, fighting, and crocheting duels. Done in the streets, visible to everyone.
Crafting: Innovating on item marketplaces by enabling rarity. Want a chair for your house? Buy wood and nails to build it — With a chance at creating a Rare!
King of the Hill: Think worldwide Go!
Loot Crates: What about a distributed RPG where items and MOBs get placed in participating players’ parcels instead of in a large, custom wilderness environment?
Community Growth: Community-driven Biomes to encourage decorating themes and the emergent play that comes with that.
So, that ended up being waaaaay longer than I anticipated. Thanks for sticking it through with me!
Next time, I’ll run through the Scavenger Hunt concept, detailing the mechanics and how I think it all fits together in a distributed, persistent world’s context.
We’ll talk again soon, but in the meantime, follow my developer diary where I’m recording how I’m tackling a bunch of this. I may even let slip some sweet, insider information every now and again.