Monday, May 1, 2017

3-strike challenge

The multiplayer competition in GameBrain presently takes the form of a 3-strike system. The object is to wrack up as many points as you can before you, or your opponent gets three strikes by answering three questions incorrectly. There is, however, a design problem with this. First, if you happen to get a big enough lead on your opponent, you have an incentive for intentionally answering the next 1-3 questions incorrectly, thereby ending the game and sealing your victory.

While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this de facto mercy option, and it does present the player who is ahead with the choice between a) taking the win at a lower point score and b) playing on and taking the risk of falling behind, it feels wrong to create a gameplay structure where the winning player is encouraged to end most games by intentionally providing wrong answers.

So, there are at least four alternatives.

  1. Require a player to win with either a pass or a correct answer. The downside of this is that it give the player a free strike so long as the opponent gets the answer wrong.
  2. Award the player points for his opponent's strikes; this will not eliminate the problem entirely, but will require a bigger lead before a player contemplates intentionally accepting strikes. The downside of this is that it will give the leading player a bigger lead by virtue of getting points for his opponent's strikes earlier in the game, so it's largely a wash unless the strikes are progressively awarded more points so the third strike is worth more than the first one.
  3. Let the winning player continue playing and adding to his score until he hits three strikes. The downside to this is that the losing player is not going to want to sit around and do nothing while he waits to see how badly he lost.
  4. Throw out strikes altogether and simply play to specified time or point totals.

Discuss amongst yourselves. In a future post, I'll discuss your solutions and reveal how I decided to handle the 3-strike challenge.


  1. Consider having the points-penalty of strikes escalate as the game progresses, preferably based on a derived "average game" length? This is derivative of 2, and suffers the problem that rather than being a simple optimal "strike out to win" point, there's a slightly more complex one, so I guess it devolves to the same problem.

    What about questions within a time limit, with a three-strike lose condition additional? Personally that's how I'd retain the strike-out.

  2. Only penalize the leading player for strikes and do it on a variable scale: a loss of one-third of the current lead. While there is still a strategy for intentional strikes, it is much riskier, and relies on the lead player betting on the trailing player missing at least one of the next three, if you require a win on a correct answer, the extra strikes are less of an advantage and more of a sudden death situation.

  3. It is usually a bad idea to allow the player to dictate when a round or a match ends, especially in a duel mode.

    The only way such a system may work is when the resources of a player are finite, but there are multiple rounds with separate scoring.

    The main problem is that the system is a competitive PvE disguised as a PvP.
    A player doesn't choose questions for an enemy, it's more like a multiplayer tetris with two bins side by side.
    I don't think it's viable.

  4. I disagree that it is not viable. Trivia Crack operates precisely on the dictatorial mode. You are rewarded for getting on a streak, and it is still very much PvP.

  5. Opponent sees the Q beforehand and chooses a stake for the opponent to win/lose. They can pass once seeing the question if they don't know the answer and it's and unacceptable amount.

  6. If you keep trying to 'fix' a game this way you'll wind up with the 'Family Feud' problem. Nothing but the third round matters. You'd have to win every single point to knock out the other family before then. It never happens.

    A couple of good choices to end it are a mercy rule. Also a ranking rule. The ranking rule is if you have racked up enough points in victory or total points (that could be worked out) you move up in your ranking. Higher rankings give you bragging rights and such. Kind of like international chess rankings.

  7. To eliminate the losing player waiting around for winner to also strike out you could offer the option to resign. This might be tied to the forfeiture of points for the loser or to extra point for the winner.

    If individual game scores play into ladders or rankings the addition of points for "forcing" a resignation could be exploited by cooperative losers. In this case forfeiting points to resign should be preferred.

    However I tend to loath the total point methods. Major league sports rank on games won and lost, not total points for or against for a reason.

    I was also thinking of chess ranking but see Lost Pilgrim already brought it up.

  8. The losing player, also, will be tempted to get the game over with to end the misery.

    My solution is to change the endgame so that both players are incentivized to keep playing as well as they can.

    If the leading player hits three strikes, the trailing player has to play catch-up. If they can match or exceed the leading player's score without three strikes, they win.
    The leading player gets increasing penalties for strikes after the third (either losing points, or granting points to the trailing player).

    The leading player, then, is incentivized to not get complacent, and the trailing player has a glimmer of hope that they can catch up.

  9. I'm not sure what other systems may be at play in the game, so I'll make my suggestion based on what I see here.

    I think a Tetris Attack type of approach could work well here. I'm thinking that by answering a question correctly, a player can build up difficulty for his opponent by reducing the amount of time the opponent has to answer the question.

    In other words, the further behind I'm points you are, the less time you have to answer a question relative to your opponent.

    If you allow the time reduction to go far enough, the losing opponent would eventually just find it impossible to answer a question quickly enough. You could let the time drop so far it would just be impossible to answer fast enough.

    This way, the game would theoretically crescendo in a rapid-fire, high stakes moment until the inevitable fail state breaks the tension.

  10. Have each strike also cost you a third of your current point total, so the longer you play, and the further you get, the higher the stakes for each strike. Also, the player in the lead would need to be substantially in the lead to give up 1/3rd of their points just to end the game.

  11. Could you split this out into seperate modes?

    For instance, one could be you keep playing until you get 3 strikes, with no accompanying score. Just play until somebody gets 3 strikes, and they lose.

    Another mode would be based on the scoring, without strikes, more like your option 4 above.

  12. 3 strikes, you're out would result in a lot of frustration for the winner, whereas winner strikes out puts the loser in an earned disadvantage.

    Like so:

    A gets first question right - 100 pts.

    B gets first question right - 100 pts.

    A gets 2nd Q right - 200 + 100 = 300

    B gets a strike. 100

    A gets a strike. 300

    B gets strike two. 100

    A gets new Q right. 400 total.

    B strikes out. Penalty of 50 pts. 50 pts. Remain.

    A gets strike two. Minus 125. 375.

    B gets Q right. +100. 150 total.

    Now, at this point, A could intentionally strike out at a penalty and still be ahead of A, but if A goes on a streak, he'll overtake B in two correct questions and win.

    I think something like that, where striking out is structured like a call for the end game, with weighted risks for the leader will make it fun for both.

  13. The solution is to remove points altogether and fully design the game around the '3-strike-loss' idea.

  14. No. Then there is no incentive to try the harder questions.

    1. There isn't already. The harder the question, the higher the chance to get it wrong and eventually lose. The way it is now, the only reason you might want to go for the harder questions would be to catch up if you are losing.

      That causes "death spiral effect". Something I consider the second worst possible design flaw in any game, ever.

      (First being botomless pits.)

  15. The problem here is that you have two scoring systems that are at odds with one another: points and strikes. The points act as a reward and the strikes act as a punishment, but only strikes are able to end a round and only points are able to determine the winner. This causes the relative values of points and strikes to flip once the player no longer has need of additional points and wants the round to end.

    I see two potential solutions.

    1. Create a runaway victory threshold. Here, if one player gets so far ahead of the other player that the intentional strikeout strategy becomes the obvious choice, just end the game/round automatically. Once this (probably variable) threshold is crossed, the game or round ends automatically and displays a runaway victory message that congratulates the victor for dominating the round. This way, you're incentivising the winning player to run up the score rather than to intentionally strike out.

    2. Combine the strikes and points into a single health meter scoring system. When a player gets a question wrong, he loses health. You can choose how much health a player loses for missing a question in an inverse manner to the way you currently choose how many points a player gains for answering correctly. Both players start out with the same amount of health and the game or round ends when one player runs out of health. The strength of victory is determined by how much health the victorious player has remaining at the end of a round/game.

    1. You're mistaken. The strikes are not a punishment. Three strikes are a punishment, punishing with loss but one or two strikes do not affect the game in any objective way whatsoever. One could claim it does add a psychological pressure but that is subjective, not objective, as not everyone is susceptible to pressure. Some actually thrive on it.

      1) That does not solve anything. The mercy option is still available and remains, in fact, the easier and faster path. Assuming the other player is still scoring, running up the threshold is a forever moving goalpost with every score from the other player, while the mercy option remains available within three rounds. Nothing changed.

      2) Nothing changed here, as well. The mercy option remains available the same as before. A victory is a victory. Winning big or winning small is a win all the same.

    2. Taking strikes is clearly a punishment during the phase in which they have value.

      1) It alleviates the problem. You can take 3 turns on the 'mercy' option and possibly lose in the process or you can answer 1 or 2 more questions right and win a dominating victory. The 'mercy' option is virtually eliminated because it is no longer a safe strategy. I will add here that the trailing player must be given one last turn to catch up if the leading player strikes out first.

      2) There is no possible mercy option in this scenario because strikes have been removed from the game.

      It is humorous that you say I'm mistaken given your absence of comprehension.

  16. Okay let's try another config:

    Seven strikes total...shared by both players.

    If you get a strike, you lose the question's value in points. If you strikeout on the seventh, the game is over and you are penalized a random amount of points.

    A disincentive to strike out, with just enough of a randomizer to give the worse player a chance at the upset. Over the course of multiple games, the better trivia guy will show his prowess, but there will be enough in the game for the casual fan to get lucky up until the last strike.

    1. The problem I see with many game designers is that when a bad design decision is made they have two options; they can change it, or they can double down and make a lot more bad decisions to attempt to solve a problem they shouldn't even have to begin with.

      Again, your decision does not solve the problem. What you are doing is to punish your good players for being good players. I will explain.

      The point of any game is to win it. If the rules allow the winning player to force the game to end by purposedly get the answers wrong and still win, then the problem is NOT with the player. The move is within the game rules so the problem is with the rules themselves.

      With your suggestion, nothing changed. The mercy option remains as is, except that the player now can no longer end it within 3 turns, but now must use up to SEVEN turns instead. So, you're forcing your winning player to play four more rounds in order to win, for no reason whatsoever, other than that you seem to hate him for being good at your game.

      What will happen is that the winning player will wait until he can pay the cost of the strike outs needlessly.

      And RNG is not the answer to everything. Seriously. People must stop with the idea that any and every design problem can be solved by adding RNG.

  17. depending on how tight you want the points,
    if (leader score)-(trailer score) is greater than or equal to(trailer score), leader strike transfers ((leader score)-(trailer score))/2 to trailer; trailer strike does nothing. this should tie up the game that was getting out of hand.
    if (leader score)-(trailer score) is less than (trailer score), leader strike adds ((leader score)-(trailer score))/2 to trailer, trailer strike adds the same amount to leader.

    edge cases will depend on your scoring system, and need to be worked out. numbers can be adjusted to give the both leader and trailer incentive to keep playing to three strikes or sudden death.

    1. Stop wanting to punish your good players for being good at your game. If a person is amassing a much higher score than the other players then the game is not "getting out of hand."

      Furthermore, your suggestion does not solve the problem. Everything you did was to give the leading player an incentive to finish the game even earlier, since crossing your score advantage mark will now punish him. So you accomplished the opposite of what was wanted.

    2. Go play Mario Kart. Blue shells keep the game interesting.

  18. The object is to keep the players playing. It is not a punishment to keep the better player challenged.

    After all, onside kicks favor the lesser team and no one complains about them being punishments.

    This isn't CoD. It is trivia. It isn't a punishment for a good player to only "wedge" on wedge spaces while the other players wedge on every space. It is an acknowledgement of who the better player is while keeping the game going.

  19. Something along the lines of option 4 is preferable primarily due to the constraints of the mobile platform. Real time multiplayer games ideally have short (3-5 minutes) sessions/matches for mobile since most players are on the go, trying to fit in a quick match between other activities. Games that don't have reliably short match lengths will simply not be as popular as games that you know can be enjoyed in the cafeteria line or any number of short intervals through the day.