Designing a Community Driven Game

Creating games is hard. Creating fun and engaging games is even harder. Creating games that have social and cultural impact feels like an impossible feat. Yet here at Wondershop, we are creating games that are fun, engaging, and have social and cultural impact. Just how are we tackling such a Herculean task?

In the first post of our blog series, Samu shares his point of view on how we are building a new kind of game that combines community with physical and digital play play into a cohesive, meaningful experience. What does this mean in practice, and what kind of a game does all of this actually translate to?

Understanding the Players

I’ve always been fascinated by stories and storytelling. This led to a lifetime passion for tabletop RPGs, which led to a profession in game design. After working in the games industry for several years, I realized that what really interests me is making games that create emergent stories: stories that are organically born of great moments when people get together to play and create something impulsively, rather than being carefully orchestrated by an author or a narrative designer.

Emergent storytelling is hard to achieve, but when done right it is very memorable to the players. For that reason, when designing new features or gameplay elements, I am constantly thinking about how the game can encourage emergent storytelling.

The majority of my work in the industry has been level and puzzle design, where I learned how to focus on the player-facing details of how games work and what makes playing them fun. Now, after joining Wondershop as the lead designer, I have the opportunity to look at game design a lot more holistically.

The direction we’re going for in Wonderworld is a combination of many game design and project management best practices I’ve taken to heart from the companies I’ve worked in and the great people I’ve worked with. One of the lessons in game design that I’ve picked up is that player engagement stems from player motivation. If we game developers don’t provide enough incentives and motives for the players to play our games, they will definitely find some other source of entertainment or way to pass the time. Therefore, our most important task is to provide meaningful challenges and interactions for the players so that they actually want to play the game.

While individual player experiences are important, support from the community is also crucial to a good gameplay exprience

The main driving force behind Wonderworld has been to create something that we, the developers, would have loved to have had when we were children. Not just the game itself, but a community that is both safe and easy to join. Many online games provide great environments to make friends and connect with people from around the world, but sometimes we wish we had more local connections in addition to the online ones. Wonderworld aims to achieve the same kind of community-building as online games do, but in the physical world.

Creating a community-based game is of course easier said than done, as building communities takes a lot of time and effort. We are approaching this by helping existing communities engage and activate their existing members with our game. In our vision, these community hubs are part of the larger Wonderworld ecosystem, where a community of players can expand across multiple hubs.

Our game idea started from boosting the motivation and engagement of our players through collaborative gameplay: single player progress in the game benefits the whole community, and the advancements of the community benefits the individual players. This is what I would consider the “secret sauce” of our game, the thing that makes it feel unique and refreshing.

First We Borrow, Then We Innovate

One of the key pillars of Wonderworld’s game design is “bridging the gap between physical and digital worlds”. There are multiple ways to approach this, and boardgames such as Mansions of Madness and Forgotten Waters do this very successfully already. The physical components of the game represent the tactile gameplay of traditional boardgames, and the digital app provides an easy way to distribute contextual story content without having to rely on separate story books or card decks.

In our case, the physical side of the game is all about the real world tasks. Whether it is painting in art class, playing ice hockey or reading books, we want to create ways to motivate and reward the players for participating in the community activities.

On the digital side, Wonderworld shares its core DNA with other game-as-a-service products. These kind of games are sometimes referred to as “lifestyle” games and are built in a way that the players can continue to play as long as they want. As we are not making a free-to-play game, we are not bound by their typical monetization needs such as microtransactions, premium currencies or season passes. There is a lot that we have learned from other lifestyle games, such as how to reward active players, how to implement player progression and quest systems, and how to foster community engagement through motivating players to work together for a common goal.

The gameplay of Wonderworld follows a very typical quest format found in many MMOs and roleplaying games. A player is presented with a short-term challenge such as collecting a certain amount of resources or delivering a specific item to an NPC. After completing the challenge, the player is given a reward that will that will help them complete their long-term goals, such as finishing a set of collectibles or completing a long storyline.

Single Player Quests, Community Missions and Real World Tasks all feed into the same gameplay loop

This kind of familiar gameplay helps the players get into the game faster than if we had tried to be innovative in our core game mechanics. In fact, it’s exactly that familiarity that allows us to innovate in the way rest of the game works.

Our focus on local multiplayer gameplay allows us to create a game that leans into the strengths of existing communities while providing tools for the instructors and community managers to engage their members. Providing the players with in-game rewards for the physical world activities helps to create a sense of belonging to the community, and further motivates player participation in both the game world and the physical world.

We also want to put further emphasis on the community-driven gameplay through in-game mechanics such as gift items that can contain resources and collectibles, and shared missions that require participation from multiple members of the community. As the players complete these community missions, they gain rewards that will help with their personal progress, which in turn will help them complete more missions with everyone. Working together to complete missions and expand the game world is the sort of material that enables emergent storytelling, as the players have a shared experience within the game that they can then talk about with their friends.

Final Thoughts

All of the above is of course merely a design hypothesis that we are working hard to prove right. We need to be ready to constantly re-evaluate our mechanics and practices to make sure that the game we are making really creates the kinds of interactions and social dynamics that we are aiming for. After we make sure that the players are engaged with the game and telling their own stories with other players, we’re sure to have something unique in our hands. The first prototype of the game is almost done, so we’re excited to start testing it out!