Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Lets watch some numbers change

When you are a game designer, you become more attuend to this phenomena, but it is all around us. In games, we really notice it. In fact, a talented journalist once reviewed kudos by saying “it’s just watching numbers go up, but sometimes, that’s all you need”. (or words to that effect.)

You probably know what I mean in terms of stuff like ‘leveling up’ in games like World Of Warcraft, or earning skill points in an online shooter. It’s nothing new, when I was a kid there was a lot of obsession about winning a place on the high score table at your local arcade. We seem to love nothing better than getting a high score, a better score, better than our friends, better than yesterday, better than 10 minutes ago.

It’s only when you analyse it, you realsie it’s not just in games, but everywhere. We love getting a pay rise, even if the rise is taken up entirely by extra tax. We care about the ‘top 10’ or the billboard ‘top 100’.  And we love seeing numbers change. It’s not enough to know who is #34 in the worlds richest/fattest/sexiest/cleverest person. We need to know they have risen 4 places!

I love playing the stock market, I get a whole page full of numbers to check, and they go up and down in REAL TIME! And deep down, I know that one of my motivations for getting solar panels is that I’ll get to watch more numbers change each day.

What does surprise me is that employers don’t do this stuff more. My brain would melt if I had a job on a checkout at a supermarket, or driving a truck long distance. However, if there was some built in emtrics and measurement meta-game to my job, based on how efficiently, or consistently I did my job, I’d end up focusing on that, and it would probably make my job go much easier.

People love seeing numbers going up, and comparing numbers, why don’t workplaces make use of that?


15 thoughts on Lets watch some numbers change

  1. “What does surprise me is that employers don’t do this stuff more. My brain would melt if I had a job on a checkout at a supermarket, or driving a truck long distance. However, if there was some built in emtrics and measurement meta-game to my job, based on how efficiently, or consistently I did my job, I’d end up focusing on that, and it would probably make my job go much easier.”

    That could lead to some very humorous moments in the grocery store when your cashier suddenly jumps for joy and you see on their cash register monitor that they’ve just unlocked the “ring up 1 of every item in the produce section” achievement ;)

    Not that that has much to do with efficiency, but it would probably still go that direction.

  2. The US chain store Target currently does this — the checkout computer grades the speed of the cashier after every transaction, and displays the last ten grade at all times.

    It doesn’t seem to make the cashiers any happier. Achievements, though, that’d be funny.

  3. I fly for an airline… I log my flights in a paper logbook, and can tell you how many hours I’ve flown by aircraft type, how much was at night, how many landings, approaches, etc. Not everyone enjoys that though. Amongst pilots close to retirement, some can tell you to the minute how many hours aloft they have, but others will say they stopped logging back in 1972 when they finished getting their licenses. :)

  4. Personally I dislike the achievements system that’s grown up over the last few years and I’ve never cared about high scores. For me it’s about actually playing the game. With GSB I hate trying to analyze my fleets pos t battle, because looking at the numbers doesn’t really do anything for me. Instead I just pay attention to how things are working while the fleet is actually running.

    My longest running game of choice is Street Fighter II. While there’s a scoring system it’s completely secondary to the primary action of winning the current round. On the other hand I love games like Master of Orion (2 especially), even though you could likely code them in Excel, just so long as I can get an intuitive handle on how things mesh.

    What I’m saying is that I’m more of a Chernoff faces kind of guy.

  5. The thing about achievements is that they should always be secondary to the main gameplay. Achivements are good, but only as an add-on.
    It would be cool to have an achivement/XP system for jobs, though! :D
    It would also give a use for the ties that most people wear, you could put achievement badges on them!
    I work in a School and some of the pupils are in sports teams or are prefects, etc. They get given badges to pin or sew on their ties and some of them have the entire tie filled with them.

  6. I, for one, would not like to see employers do this stuff more.

    Numbers are powerful tools in the right hands, but should not become the end in themselves. Look at how many times you call a help desk, and they never quite solve your problem, but then you get called back because they need to close the call as their boss wants to see those calls get closed to meet a target or achieve an SLA. Never mind that you, the customer isn’t satisfied – they’re meeting their numbers. You also start to run into the problem of local optimization, whereby parts of the organisation try to meet their targets even if it’s at the expense of the organisation as a whole. Customer satisfaction gets lost in the stampede to meet SLAs.

  7. This brought a nice new idea for a game because I generally hate what’s on the top 10/100 billboard: Doing the opposite … A game where you have to achieve the lowest score possible!

  8. Perhaps that’s the reason why people are so addicted to EvE Online.

    Basically that game is just an Excel Sheet in space with some neat graphics added to it and that’s it, it’s all about numbers.

    Oh and workplaces do occasionally make use of numbers going up, it’s called a pay rise and that also comes with some satisfaction.

  9. For this to work, as in games, watching the numbers needs to be incentivised somehow. It’s not enough to know that the numbers are going up, the ‘player’ needs to be informed that going up is a good thing with some kind of reward (and going down is bad). In a great deal of wage-earning jobs this would amount to a per unit pay, which unions have consistently worked against since their inception (for better or worse, they have plenty of valid arguments certainly).

    Companies are set up and organised around a minimum level of performance which employees are expected to meet. Exceed that, especially by incrementally increasing amounts, with incentive to do so, you may eventually find yourself without enough work to do, or with a higher minimum performance level that is harder to consistently meet. This economy is no better at handling overproduction than it is at underproduction.

    Inefficient? Pathological for everyone involved? Perhaps, but that’s the way it is.

  10. A few weeks ago my boss sent out an email letting us know how to get a “bugs resolved per day” chart on our bug tracker’s main page. I think a lot of us put it in, and I know it’s resulted in me working harder to finish bugs faster. I want to break ten bugs per day!

    And when a bug is sent back because you didn’t fix it right, it actually deducts from the previous day, which sucks when that was the best day of the month. It’s a good encouragement to not game the system.

    (I’ll admit I’ve been tempted to store up a whole bunch of easy bugs for a record-breaking day, but as long as I’m basically following the priority guidelines, nobody would mind that.)

  11. This doesn’t work for everyone Cliff. In large part it’s a personality thing. If we make all achievements about numbers aren’t we really catering experiences to the set of people that enjoy numbers/ranking and number based achievements and marginalizing the rest?

    I am not one of those people. for me such things are silly. I don’t do mental ranking for instance and when I enjoy a game I rarely bother with achievements of any kind, instead focusing on the story, the emotional elements of it. The excessive emphasis on achievements is what has driven me away from RPGs, even though I’ve traditionally loved them for their emphasis on story. When the story devolves to kill three goblins to get more gold the impact is lost on me and I leave. I just don’t care about the big sword.. I care about the experience, the flavor, the impact. I guess that’s why I am a creative writer/artist. =)

    I’d encourage you to check out the BBC’s series on sex ID. I’d say the male brain is more interested in those number and rank based parts of games. Maybe I’m wrong… I scored 25% to the male side on this test: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sex/add_user.shtml

    I often feel tha those like me are consistently underserved by the gaming industry. This leads me to ask the question: Is it possible to satisfy both kinds of players and those inbetween with one game? Or is it necessary to make two different kinds of game?

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