Multiple Feedback

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Intent

A single gameplay mechanism feeds into multiple feedback mechanisms, each with a different profile.

Motivation

A player action activates multiple feedback loops at the same time. Some feedback loops will be more obvious than others. This creates a situation where the exact outcome or success of an action might be predictable in the short term but can have unexpected results in the long run.

Applicability

Use multiple feedback when:

  • You want to increase a game’s difficulty.
  • You want to emphasize the player’s ability to read the current game state.

Structure

Note: In the example structure, there are two feedback mechanisms. The action (black) activates one feedback mechanism (red) that is positive, limited in duration, and strong, but it also activates a secondary feedback mechanism (blue) that is negative, permanent, and weak. This illustrates just one way of setting up multiple feedback loops. There are many more.

Participants

  • An action that can be activated by the player
  • Multiple feedback mechanisms that are activated by the action

Collaborations

The action activates multiple feedback mechanisms that ultimately feed back into the action.

Consequences

For the player, multiple feedback loops are more difficult to understand than single feedback loops. As a result, using this pattern makes a game more difficult.

If the feedback loops that the action activates can have dynamic profiles that change during play (which they often do), it is very important for the player to be able to read the current profile, because their balance might shift considerably during the game. Finding the right balance between the multiple feedback loops is an important issue in a game that uses this pattern.

Implementation

When creating a game with multiple feedback, it is very important to make sure that the profiles of the different feedback loops are different. In particular, the speed of the feedback needs to vary if this pattern is going to be effective. Alternatively, varying the profile of the feedback over time can work well. To this end, adding Playing Style Reinforcement and/or a Stopping Mechanism to one or more of the feedback loops is a good design strategy.

The most common combination for multiple feedback seems to be fast, constructive, positive feedback coupled with slow, negative feedback. This creates a trade-off between short-term gains and long-term disadvantages.

Examples

The economy of SimCity includes many multiple feedback mechanisms. For example, the city requires energy, so the player needs to build an energy plant. In the short term, the plant will spur economic growth as it powers residential, commercial, and industrial zones. However, in the long term, power plants also cause pollution and will have negative effects on surrounding zones. Likewise, infrastructure like roads are required to make a city grow, but in the long term, as they are used more frequently, they also cause problems such as traffic jams and pollution.

Attacking in Risk feeds into three positive feedback loops of varying speeds and strengths. Most obviously, using armies to capture more lands allows the player to build more armies. The cards implement a slower form of feedback; a player who successfully attacks gains a card, and certain combinations of three cards allow him to gain extra armies. The last type of feedback is created by capturing continents. A continent will give a player a number of bonus armies each turn; this is a very fast and strong feedback loop, but one that requires a higher investment by the player to achieve.

Related Patterns

Playing style reinforcements and stopping mechanisms are good ways to ensure that the profile of the feedback loops that an action feeds into changes over time.