Ain’t envy fun? The sin of envy in game design

Have you ever seen phat loot someone else had in game, then worked your butt off to get it? Then you’ve seen the power of envy in game design. Inspired by the History Channel series, today we’re continuing our exploration of the seven deadly sins of game design and writing with envy. Though a sin in the Christian tradition, envy can play a positive role in your game design and story.

Envy did not exist on the original list of deadly sins, probably because it was drafted by a monk sworn to poverty. While the list is technically not in the Bible, “thou shalt not covet” suggests this sin is older than the list itself, and one we are most uncomfortable talking about.  Envy rears its ugly head wherever there are possessions and, by extension, special abilities that ascribe status. Envy is insatiable, which is good news for game developers seeking to take advantage of this sin.

But how do you create envy?  Wishing you had something someone else has is a great motivator and arguably what makes games work. Here are just a few ways to create envy in your game, which will spur your players on.

1. Competition
Competition breeds envy. You won’t be able to avoid it. If you have a higher score than I do, I just might be envious.  Game designers take advantage of this by heaping on the competition with games within games in both single and multi-player.  MMOs take the cake with competition, adding a number of levels to compete on — level, PvP rank, badges, guild rank, etc.  Social games add game-wide score charts, while PvP and duels allows players to express their envy mano e mano.

2. Elite goods or abilities
When you create elite loot or skills that can be seen by other players, it will lead to envy and the inevitable question, “Where/how did you get that?” The cape in City of Heroes, which you can only get at level 20, is a great example of envy for lower level players.

However, don’t think single player games can write off envy altogether. Players may see an NPC with a skill or ability and be spurred by envy to continue. In Final Fantasy VII, you are teamed up early with Sephiroth, who pwns your opponent while you swing at it with a “dink.” Envy of this ability is both a motivator and foreshadowing of what you will have to become to defeat him.

3. Customization
Building games and virtual worlds, like Sims and Second Life, can be particularly prone to envy, because someone can always build a bigger, prettier house.  Envy based on customizing is one part elite good envy and another part envy of another player’s ability or talent.  Even in City of Heroes, where everyone has equal access to the costume customizer (say that five times fast), envy is created with impromptu costume competitions.

Whether against other players or against the computer, envy can improve the fun for everyone. “The envy of scholars increases wisdom” goes an old saying. Just so, the envy of players increases fun, if done right.  Next, we’ll be exploring the dark side of envy and when you might want to moderate this deadly sin in your game.

In the meantime, can you think of games where your envy of an NPC prompted you to learn more about him/her?  How about times when you envied a player in a multi-player game?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.
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Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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Election Day turns into MMO/ARG

littlejpegLittle J: Hi!  My sister says there’s no way 80% of the people who can vote today will, so I bet her one week of dishes that she was wrong.

I so don’t want to do the dishes!  Will you please go vote and then come back to me with the “I voted” sticker?  I’ll have something special for ya!

If accept goal: Go vote, retrieve “I voted” sticker

If decline:

littlejpegLittle J: You’re mean and I didn’t like you anyway.  Hope you get the worst president ever!

littlejpegLittle J: Did you vote yet?  If you don’t come back before 8pm, I’ll be doing the dishes for sure!

On completion:
littlejpegLittle J: You did it!  I can’t wait to rub my sister’s nose in it!

So I promised you something special.  Take your “I voted” sticker to any of these places to get your reward.  Why don’t you see who can get the most?

<You receive a carefully handprinted list:

Starbucks offers a free cup of joe November 4th

Ben & Jerrys offers a free scoop of ice cream from 5-8pm

I saw on TV that Daily Grill offers free and discounted appetizers

My hand is tired, so look for the other election freebies here.  Oh, and one of them is NSFW.  That’s what my mom says, anyway.  🙂

-Little J>

So who wants to play?  Come back to post if you voted and where you got swag, and we’ll see who got the most!

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Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 10:06 am  Comments (2)  
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Zombies!! And other Halloween in-game events

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a bit nerdy when it comes to in-game events in MMOs.  Halloween and Christmas happen to be my favorite, but we saw some fun April Fools jokes earlier this year.   raises the question — does content make a good game event, or does execution?


It’s been clinically proven that zombies are good fun.*  As such, zombies have made their presence known in both WoW and COX.  In WoW, the zombies herald the coming Lich King expansion.  I give kudos to any event that ties in to telling a larger story, except the execution leaves something to be desired.  Zombies at the auction house?  PvP on every server?  Check out Scott Jennings take on the WoW zombies, which have caused consternation to players and developers alike.  A for story, C for execution

In CoX, the zombies are coming out as a true Halloween event.  I don’t know if there’s a story reason for these zombies, but it almost doesn’t matter.  Players can also run around and get costumes, which presumably they can wear.  If you’re really gung ho, apparently two NPCs will tell you about old enemies returning… but somehow, if they’re not selling the story behind it in your promotion, chances are it’s not too integral to your game story.  A for execution, C for story (or lower!)

Keep up to date on Halloween events in MMOs here.  Have you played any Halloween events?  Which ones were good?  Which ones told a story?

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* not really

Published in: on October 30, 2008 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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