Finding the fun, how to design a game economy and other quests with lead game designer Paul Brinkkemper.
What’s your name and what do you do on My Neighbor Alice?
My name is Paul Brinkkemper, I am the lead game designer of my neighbor Alice and that means that I am in charge of making sure that the game is fun to play.
When did you start working on My Neighbor Alice?
I joined the team in 2021, originally as the game economy designer. I got my first role because I made a board game and brought it with me. It’s a game about the economy, it’s a game about banks. In the game you basically invent banking. I was then contacted by a recruiter who said “Hey you’ve made this game about the economy, would you like to design that of a blockchain game?”. I accepted since my game was made as a criticism of the banking system and working with cryptocurrencies made a lot of sense. Crypto is basically a reaction; it’s people seeing what’s wrong with banking and coming together to create a solution instead of waiting for the banks to fix themselves. ‘Let’s fix banking and let banks respond to that’. So yeah, I started as an economy designer but as I was also helping to bring a bit of order and structure to the project, I became its lead designer after a while.
So is the economy in My Neighbor Alice fully designed or are you still working on it?
The beauty of a real economy is that its design is never really finished. Take the economy that you see outside, people continuously invent new products, new stores open, companies go out of business etc. It’s just like the box I showed you — mine is a prototype but you can order it as a product — there are slots of sorts that get filled and vacated. As an economy designer, you’re never really satisfied. So we work in increments, small improvements so that we can test new and better ideas. The economy of My Neighbor Alice is also specific because a lot needs to be developed on the blockchain, a lot of dependencies that need to be finalized before the game is fully working. Then, we will see what happens when the game is in the hands of real people and they will surely use it in different ways than we thought of. After that, it will be our turn to adapt. In a nutshell, how the economy will work is impossible to predict in its entirety as it depends on what people will do, and we are all looking forward to finding out.
When we talked to Robin about fishing, he said that you guys would try to tie all the elements of the game to create a circular economy of sorts, can you tell us more?
There are several smaller games inside the game. We talk about game loops. The smallest game loop is like a little thing that you do. Fishing is a very good example. It’s an activity. You throw your bait into the water, you wait and then there’s like this mini game. If you are skilled or very lucky, you catch a fish. This is also part of a larger game loop that’s still under development. You’ll walk on land and find what you need to catch this fish. This fish may be a little special because it is made of cloth, and from this cloth you can make a nice jacket that you will either wear or sell to someone else. Or why not combine the jacket with pants to create a nice suit? You could upgrade your clothing into a whole new awesome combination. In that sense, fishing is only a tiny game loop inside of the main game loop. Therefore, everything you do inside the game has meaning in the bigger sense. We want to make every little activity that you engage in matter to you.
What would you say is your biggest challenge as the lead designer of a blockchain game?
The blockchain part, without a doubt. If My Neighbor Alice was an old fashioned game, it would be on a server that we have full control over. The server will decide how many fish — how many this, how many that — you have right? And if you wanted an extra item you’d buy it from us. But now the game is decentralized, which means we don’t have full control. It means that somebody can pass, right? In the old fashion gaming world, you’d be able to combat that by detecting and banning the user instantly. The blockchain isn’t able to detect things like that, and assigning ourselves as the heroes that ban bots would contradict the decentralization principle. This forces us to design differently, there are a lot of things we need to think about. The whole blockchain part has so many considerations, bottling is one example, quest is another. Quests are something you are used to in other games: find me 10 fish and you’ll get 10 coins — the “find me 10 fish” could work but if you’d need to go to some NPC who would give you a fishing rod, a bot would be able to do that ad infinitum by repeating the “talking to this person” operation on the blockchain node. A bot could theoretically give itself all of the fishing rods.
Did that change the way you work with developers in a significant way?
What is more difficult is that game developers, designers and programmers are very used to iterative working. In traditional game development, you don’t know what’s fun and what’s not fun, you discover that through playing and experimenting. On the blockchain, we don’t experiment, we don’t try and hope that the contract works. Before you write and launch the contract, you want to know if it works and if it meets your expectations. We have less freedom to iterate. If we write something we must be very sure that we want it, so that’s a big change.
Do you think that’s been a good or a bad change?
It has good and bad sides. It’s good because it forces you to think your ideas through and discuss them as a team a lot. But it doesn’t allow for big experimentation phases. What I see a lot with blockchain games is that they are lacking on the fun part. I think it has a lot to do with how much room for experiment one has. It makes finding the fun harder.
Are you guys finding the fun?
*Laughs* Yeah, it’s more and more fun every time I play. But we’re not at the level of fun that we want to be yet, not at this moment. But we have good people, we have a very good team, that’s why I believe that we will find the fun.
About My Neighbor Alice
My Neighbor Alice is a social online game with focus on resource gathering, crafting and creative expression. Players build their own virtual lands, interact with neighbors, perform exciting daily activities and earn rewards along the way.
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