Metagames as viral loops

MtG: My Pride-n-Joys by AuE on Flickr

Metagames’Richard Garfield’s pre­sen­ta­tion for the 2000 Game Devel­op­ers Con­fer­enceis in today’s links, but I think it deserves a bit more atten­tion than that. Here are some quotes from the doc­u­ment that stood out for me.1

What a metagame is:

My def­i­n­i­tion of metagame is broad. It is how a game inter­faces with life.”

In oth­er words, metagame design is con­tex­tu­al. It forces you to think about when, where, how and by who your game will be played.

Why metagame design has not been get­ting as much atten­tion as game design itself:

…the major­i­ty of a game’s metagame is prob­a­bly unal­ter­able by game design­er or pub­lish­er.”

So, metagame design is a sec­ond order design prob­lem. Design­ers can only indi­rect­ly influ­ence how metagames play out. They facil­i­tate it, but do not direct it.

Garfield divides metagames in four broad cat­e­gories:

  • What you bring to a game
  • What you take away from a game
  • What hap­pens between games
  • What hap­pens dur­ing a game

Where “game” should be under­stood as a sin­gle play ses­sion of a game.

Garfield has inter­est­ing things to say about all these cat­e­gories, and I rec­om­mend read­ing the arti­cle in full, but I’d like to zoom in on one bit men­tioned under “from”:

It is worth not­ing that many things list­ed have a ‘cir­cu­lar’ val­ue to the play­er.”

Get­ting some­thing from a game that you can bring with you again to a game makes you care more and more about the game itself. One clear exam­ple of how metagames are a help­ful con­cept for mak­ing a game more self-sus­tain­ing.

Bet­ter yet, the ‘stuff’ that play­ers get from a game play ses­sion can be shared or passed on to oth­ers. In this man­ner, the metagame becomes a viral loop.2

  1. Richard Garfield is the design­er of the CCG Mag­ic: The Gath­er­ing. []
  2. Via Matt Webb. []

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.

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