Notes from Readings: Changing Habits, Why Philosophy, Content Management in Games – 09/11/20

Context around these posts:

  • Primarily written to help me better distill concepts from articles but thought I’d share for anyone interested
  • Naturally more related to my specific interests, career, and life
  • Unedited

Changing Habits: Interview with Dr. Amy Bucher, a Behavior Change Designer

  • Environmental changes are one of the most effective ways to change behaviour, and yet motivation, self-control and other personal variables are still the prominent way people think about habit changes
  • To change habits – the more personalized the system better. It should be catered to what someone naturally cares about, their identity, and what they enjoy.
  • Research shows that consistency in weigh-ins is a top predictor of weight maintenance

Phil’s Thoughts:

  • Nothing particularly new here but good reminders that customizing your environment and measuring what you want to optimize are keys to changing your behaviour. Also, that there is not one size fits all plan, it needs to be catered to fit into your life and what you naturally value and enjoy.

Why We All Need Philosophy

  • When people think about philosophy, many consider it an impractical endeavor that that just produces massive books and involving people arguing with each other endlessly with no solutions. Whereas science provides answers and solutions
  • “Philosophy is the inquiry into our understanding of reality, knowledge, and how we should live.”
  • People are constantly taking part in philosophy on a daily basis (e.g. what is good and bad, why certain things matter and others don’t)
  • Philosophy boils down to three major questions and questions we need to ask ourselves at some point in our lives:
    • What is true? (Metaphysics)
    • Why do I believe it to be true? (Epistemology)
    • How should I live based on what I believe? (Ethics)
  • Failure to answer these questions causes mental and emotional crisis (depression, anxiety etc.). Thus, Philosophy has an immediate and profound impact on our well-being
  • Anytime people go through trauma (e.g. wife cheated, fired) they must reconstruct their mental scaffold around the fundamental questions to re-establish meaning, identity, and purpose. Therapy, meditation, and journaling all help re-answer these questions – this is “doing philosophy”.
  • Philosophy teaches us the fundamental techniques for finding meaning and purpose in a world where there is no given meaning, no cosmic purpose.
  • Practical applications:
    1. What you know
      • One of the major arguments in philosophy is that we are confined by our biological and neurological hardware to know what is “true”. This teaches us to be careful of what we accept to be true, and also to remain uncertain around most issues which will be more beneficial to yourself and the people around you.
      • Sometimes a better question to ask is “What is worth believing?” vs “What is true?” since truth is never completely obtainable.
    2. How to live
      • Much of what you believe and value was not determined by you—it was determined by the people and culture around you.
      • At some point in our lives, we must all step back and question the values that we were raised with and ask ourselves if those values are serving us.
      • These very intentional and conscious decisions not only have repercussions for one’s emotional and mental well-being, but play a major role in what kind of impact they will have on the world
    3. Global Impact
      • Philosophical ideas such as feminism were born decades ago but the impact hasn’t emerged until more recent years
      • This is why nothing appears to ever “get solved” with philosophy: its ideas move so slow over such a staggering amount of time that it’s only possible to properly gauge their influence hundreds of years after the fact.
      • Because philosophy deals with concepts that are so abstract and universal, the effort that goes into redefining our definitions of ideas such as justice, equality, freedom, and gender require not only monumental intellectual effort to redefine, but it takes generations for the ideas to properly disseminate across populations and be translated down into day-to-day applications.
      • Any major leader has defined their own philosophies that drive their actions, any many of these are built off of existing philosophies. E.g. Mark Zuckerberg: Move Fast & Break Things, Connecting the World

Phil’s Thoughts:

  • Philosophy in its academic form has always been difficult for me to consume, digest, and connect with practical applications. This article was great and imo should be closer to the way it’s taught in schools. How can students get excited about philosophy if it’s not positioned as knowledge that has any affect on their lives? When in fact, it is fundamental in helping them navigate their daily challenges with family, careers, relationships, friends, and school.

Content Management for Games – Set Rotations – Magic: The Gathering (Pt. 1, Pt. 2)

Pt.1: Magic The Gathering (MTG) Set Rotations

  • For players to want to buy new Magic Cards, those need to be necessary to remain competitive. Otherwise, players would just stick to the decks they already own.
  • Content escalation strategies and their issues:
    • Stat Escalation: Putting bigger numbers on the new stuff, which then can obliterate anything released before
      • By far the most common and simple method to maintain player interest – but has many problems (doesn’t generate new strategies, devalues content, P2W)
    • Orthogonal Differentiation: New content mechanics counter or is somehow more effective than the previous dominant strategies.
      • which is so unsuited for long-run service games that it usually appears in combination with stat escalation. It makes content much harder to balance and old content gets cannibalized.
  • MTG has been sustainable over time via its obsolescence system: Set Rotations.
    • Summarizing, this means that every time there’s a rotation, the oldest 4 sets that were still valid on the main competitive mode (Standard) become no longer valid to play there.
    • Discontinued (deprecated) content remains in the game, albeit with limited usefulness, for it can still be used in secondary – yet prestigious- formats such as Legacy or Vintage.
  • Set Rotation – Benefits
    • Brings back and retains old players, help new players getting in
      • Legacy content is important to retain old players, but makes it hard for new/churned players to join since they can’t catch up
      • Set deprecation equalizes the battleground
    • Easier to create meaningful and balanced content
      • Making a new card and balancing against years of content is much more difficult than just balancing against the latest available sets
      • Unbalanced cards can rotate out
    • Build IP
      • It’s two contradictory objectives: from the business side, devs want to sell the new characters, yet from the IP side, devs want players to care about older ones.
      • Set rotations allow MTG to release the same characters several times over the years, further developing their stories, maintaining antagonists… As well as moving the world story further, or introduce new settings.
    • Generates Collector Value
      • Since the cards on discontinued sets won’t be printed again, they become extremely rare and exclusive… and that makes them great objects of desire for collectors.
    • Diminishes Unique Selling Point of Competitors
      • If a competitor game has released a mind blowing mechanic or setting, it will eventually make its way into MTG.
  • While in most mobile F2P games, deprecating older collection items would be met with strong controversy from the player base, MTG has pulled off an incredible an incredible achievement: that the rotation is widely accepted with a positive mood, even celebrated among their audience.
  • How to apply:
    • Be clear and transparent
      • Announce clearly and far in advance to maintain player trust
    • Sustainable spending pace
      • Manage player spending so they spend regularly but never too much, too fast
    • New content is easily accessible
      • Make sure there are some easy ones to obtain in each set to play with new mechanics
    • Old content should already be obsolete
      • Not using old content sucks, but if you’re not using it anymore anyway it’s not so bad. Making that key content in newer sets counters strongly dominant strategies, to incentivate people to move to the newer cards by themselves.

Pt. 2: Applying Set Rotations to Clash Royale

  • Clash Royale long-term problems:
    • The endgame eventually turns into a repetitive grindfest.
    • And there’s no incentive to try new decks and strategies.
  • This is a consequence of their content management strategy:
    • Few new cards released at once that don’t introduce any new mechanics that move the meta forward
    • New cards (and their combos) are exclusively oriented to high end users, becomes more P2W
  • Thus, Clash Royale’s metagame has become stagnated and players have limited reasons to keep on playing and remain engaged. Nothing new will surprise them.
  • They are running into the content release issues outlined in Pt.1 above. (hard to balance, hard to create new combos/mechanics)
  • Recommendations
    • Keep early game experience; endgame is the problem so no need to change early game experience
    • Introduce big batches of new content, which will make the meta-game move forward, pushing players to collect and upgrade new cards, build new decks, and master new strategies and card combos.
      • We would keep a basic set of cards outside of the rotation system to maintain early game experience and to teach basic strategies.
    • We want to be able to deprecate big amounts old content to make new content creation and balancing easier, guarantee the meta-game rotation and generate a comeback effect among churned players.
      • Provided limited usage to old content:
        • Option 1. Dusting: Transform cards that are no longer valid into resources to gather or upgrade the cards that are still valid. Collector players would still get something, like a sticker on an album.
        • Option 2. Use is limited to specific events: Use in different modes. What is achieved with this is that players would still be interested on obtaining and upgrading old cards, which means a huge amount of rewards to grant without hurting the main in-game economy.

Phil’s Thoughts:

  • Sustainable content and fresh gameplay is one of the biggest challenges in games and MTG has definitely cracked the nut on it. I’d love to learn more about how this is executed at MTG too as creating new game mechanics and content is very difficult, and they’ve clearly developed a working cadence and process.

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