Grind Without Progression in Die2Nite
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Games: collaboration, experience, game design, grind, P, prisoner's dilemma
I’ve been playing the game Die2Nite with a few friends, and I’m fascinated that it has no character advancement — no levels, no skills, no upgrades — but it has a terrible grind.
You are a survivor of the zombie apocalypse in a town with up to 39 other players. It runs on a 24 hour cycle, and each day you get six Action Points (refillable 1-3 times per day, depending on what items are available) to scavenge for items and build up shared town defenses. If you die (which can happen individually or because your town is overrun in the nightly zombie attack), you can join right back into a new town tomorrow.
The core game mechanic is a sort of iterated prisoner’s dilemma, you have to choose to keep things back from the town or contribute to the town, and then socializing with other players to decide what defenses to spend your very limited resources on.
But the basic prisoner’s dilemma isn’t much of a choice, you learn after the first town or two that it is always much better to collaborate with your town, you cannot survive solo at all. But this does take you a town or two to learn.
The typical town is dominated largely by newbies who haven’t yet learned the necessity of collaboration. They don’t form a majority of members, but it only takes a handful of newbies to waste key early resources or disable town defenses shortly before the attack. The mechanisms required to police this are weak, the game simply doesn’t report who wasted the resources to start construction of the wrong building.
This is where the grind comes into play. You can collect experience points that carry over between towns. There’s still no character improvement, the only benefit is unlocking the ability to play in towns that require 100xp. That is, in towns that have no newbies.
The typical newbie-ridden town fails in 1-3 days due to wasted resources and compromised defenses, so a good attempt will earn you 6xp, but 1-3 is typical. You’re staring at 20-40 towns, 2-3 real-life months, before you can start in a town without newbies.
Experience points really do track player experience in this scenario. The player will definitely be very well-experienced by the time they reach the milestone. But it’s incredibly frustrating because you’ll be playing the same game over and over: day 1 everyone yells to build a workshop but someone wastes the needed resources on a portal lock instead, day 2 a bunch of people get stranded outside of town and need rescue, day 3 the town fails. (Sometimes this all happens on day 1, or someone doesn’t give the needed click to turn on the defenses so there’s a total party kill of the town.)
I’m in a guild (“coalition”) with two friends so we’ll appear in the same town, but none of us has moved to get us into a new town in two weeks because the game is so boringly repetitive. We understand the basic mechanics, but we simply can’t play because there are too many newbies and idiots. I could see this being an awesome game to play with a dozen friends, but I don’t want to subject them to several months of grind to get to the “real game”.
One thing the game does do right is that if you join a guild with 100xp-friends you can still be pulled along to their town. You probably won’t be a problem newbie because you’ll be relying on your friends in a town that’s already running smoothly.
Spitballing with Ammon (who I’m currently staying with in Austin, TX), I think one improvement would be to start sorting players by experience points immediately. In addition to the 100xp cutoff, put players into towns with similar amounts of XP every time they join a new town.
Each successive town the player joins they’ll see fewer newbies in a town that survives a little longer. Even if there’s a bit of a grind up to 100xp, it’ll be more fun because you’ll see new things each town.
Second, the game really needs to give complete disclosure of who spent resources so that experienced players can quickly and directly responds to newbie wastage. If a newbie already isn’t paying attention to the forums (where people always repost the now-standard Day 1 strategy), they’re not going to learn what not to do because no one knows who they are to reach out to (and perhaps smack) them.
I know a lot of my readers think about game design, what are your solutions? You have a game that’s built around collaboration with other players, but it’s frustrating because new players can’t effectively collaborate.