Virtual Market, Meet Counter-Strike

One of my favorite topics is the emergence of “massively-social” elements in non-massive (i.e. traditional) single and multiplayer games. The most famous example of this is Will Wright’s Spore, a “massively single-player” game (Will’s term, not mine) that automatically shares user-generated content across individual game instances. I.e. players create alien creatures, and those creatures are distributed to (and unknowingly rated by) other players who otherwise never interact with one another. I threw around some massively single-player ideas of my own last November, in an effort to illustrate how social elements can be used to combat game piracy.

I mention all this because I recently noticed another nice, mainstream example of massively-social game design. Valve has decided to make the prices of weapons in Counter-Strike: Source dependant upon player demand — a virtual market, in other words. This sort of economic mechanism is common in MMOs but generally unheard of in other AAA games. And it’s brilliant. Why spend huge amounts of time tweaking and re-tweaking game balance when you can reduce your effort by starting from a reasonable point, then letting the market handle the rest?

Valve, to its credit, has been candid with the player community, which seems split between those who are excited about the promise of a more balanced gameplay experience, and those who fear unforeseen problems. I predict that this change will ultimately be embraced by the community as long as there’s no major error in its implementation.

Not much else to say for now. It’s clear (to me at least) that massively-social elements can make a game much more interesting and more profitable. The question is: how long will it take for most AAA game developers to embrace this design philosophy?

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