Games as chemical reactions

Welcome gamers and players,

today I’ll start updating blog again. Probably I can’t have the regularity I had in the past, anyway I’ll do my best to keep this blog alive.

Today, we’ll construct a symmetry between games and chemistry to describe two feature of the games usually misunderstood. To create connections between different knowledge (as chemistry and ludology) is a complex, fragile and tiny work, especially if you have to apply mathematical formulation, predictive models and mandatory rules.

I will discuss this matter in simple way, avoiding complex theoretical formulation, without detailed description of knowledge background and so on.
My hypothesis in this post is the following:

  • Game, like chemical reactions, can be divided between those that can foster themselves, and those that need to be fed.

I will not demonstrate that, but taking this hypothesis for real I will see what consequences occur. Within thermodynamics, there are two suffixes to describe this features: Exo– and Endo-. So, we call the two cases Exogames and Endogames.

But this “auto-feeding” feature… is what? In chemistry, it’s heat/energy to keep process going. In games, it’s something connected with what we call “virality“. It’s able to auto-generate participation. On the other side, and Endogame requires continuous “feeding” to acquire new players.

Remember that this distinction have nothing to do with “level of engagement”. Engagement is the final product of the game’s reaction (depending on the game: brand empowerment, crowdsource, analytic and so on).
Those may change for any game: what we are talking about has instead to do with the “energy” (i.e. marketing and communication) needed to keep the reaction (i.e. the game) alive and burning.

  • Well, choose seems pretty simple. Anyone wants always and Exogame: it’s better! It can spread by its own, it needs less marketing attention… why the hell does someone ever want to have an Endogame?

Stop here for a second. We have to be very careful when taking inspiration. Any analogies have its own limit and its weaknesses.
In this case, players are not predictable like atoms (at macroscopic level). In chemistry, a pool of atoms ready for a reaction will always burn if conditions are appropriate. In games, instead, we don’t have the same level of knowledge about players to perfectly predict what will happen.

Rather than modern chemistry, in games we are more similar to chemistry of the early 1800: we know somehow the situation, we know that probably something will happen, but we don’t know exactly what’s going on, we can’t quantify any factor involved, we don’t know how to finely tune reaction. At most, we have a vague idea and a generic direction.

In an Exogame you will not create new players, but someone else will do (usually other players). So you miss the opportunity to fully conduct first user experience, and a lot of details will go out of your control (one for all: game identity, intended as brand identity). To keep analogy alive, you’re like Nobel, trying to find out a safe way to managing high energy reaction. He needs hundred of test to find the solution.

What can happen in games? Suppose your fashion company create a highly addictive game, that drives participant to engage other players. You have thought about something like this, that will support brand, create engagement, obtain insight on customer’s needs and so on. The game became viral, and grow in popularity. Unfortunately, your wonderful world and character physic, and fast widespread of the game, make that over half of the players play it this way.
See the point? Less you do, less you can control.
On the other side, and Endogame will require active communications, work and investment to keep the players coming: this is obviously a cost, but allow to tune and set a whole arrays of segmentation and analytics on new players you cannot have another way.

  • How do create a specific “-game”?
    Like in chemistry, to create and Exo- or Endo- game it’s a matter of the structure itself of the reaction (the game): if it’s able to expand game’s experience (for example with add-on by players) without fuel (company’s support), well it will maybe explode (players can drift the rules or cheat easier), but it will burn faster and will create more heat, which means energy involved in the process (bigger amount of player).

This (game open to player’s contribution) is the simplest solution, but based upon what games you are willing to create, you ,may choose different strategy, privileging one or more different drivers of engagement. Remember that not all the game can be drifted to a high participation level, anyway.

So, that’s it. Watch the world around you: it’s full of suggestion about how make things interesting for your player. Finally, I want to leave with a last suggestion: what if are Exogame the same things Caillois called “paideia“, while are Endogame “ludus“?


2 thoughts on “Games as chemical reactions

  1. bel paragone. E sono abbastanza d’accordo con la tua analisi.
    Solo che non sarei così drastico nel separare l’aspetto di cui parli da quello dell’engagement.
    Sempre più spesso infatti l’engagement è dato non tanto dal gioco in se, quanto alla possibilità di “sfidare” o di “collaborare” con altri giocatori.

    Si tratta di dinamiche che permettono al gioco di “uscire” dalla vita “virtuale” ed entrare a far parte della vita “off-line” dei giocatori: ti faccio l’esempio dei ragazzi che, al pub o sull’autobus, si sfottevano per chi fosse il più forte a ruzzle! Ne parlavano DI PERSONA, propagando il virus anche alle persone attorno a loro che ne sentivano parlare.

    In questo caso quindi parte dell’engagement risiede nella stessa natura virale delle dinamiche di sfida e collaborazione.

    comunque ottimo articolo 😉


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