Grind Without Progression in Die2Nite «

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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.

The Setup

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.

The Grind

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”.

A Solution

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.


  1. I like your solutions better than this, but you asked for additional input: Maybe some sort of approval system? So, whenever someone wants to build something (like a portal lock), When it comes time to hit the build button, everyone has two options: [Propose to group], or [Just build it]. [Propose to group] allows everyone in the group to give a [Aye], [Nay], [Abstain] (with abstain being the choice if they don’t respond in the requisite amount of time). If a majority agrees with the decision, it will happen. This will encourage collaboration, but you could go one step further and make it so people with less than 10? XP can’t actually make decisions without consensus, the “just build it” button is disabled with a “you can’t do this until you get to 10 xp” message come up (Monetizing the enabling of that button seems like a possibility too?)

  2. Ooh… I like the idea suggested by McKay. Tho’ I’m not entirely convinced about the monetisation of the “just build it” button. It sounds a little like selling semi-experienced players the option to bypass the democratic process which could potentially be quite damaging to a growing community; not everyone that plays collaborative games acts with the best intentions of the community in mind, sadly.

  3. I think voting is an interesting idea, but adds a significant amount of complexity (players now have to visit an extra time per day to vote if they want to interact with a new building site) and breaks the collaboration model. Though that’s exactly the bit I’m complaining about not working, so maybe that’s a good idea. Hrm.

  4. Segmenting by XP is a somewhat-reasonable basis as it helps to place more experienced players together faster.

    I would suggest it actually prioritized placement on an xp : activity ratio. That way you’re actually placed with others who are gaining xp at a rate similar to your own. This would help cut down on being grouped with those whom have been around for MONTHS but are still horrible at the game.

    I actually had thought about this quite a bit from playing Starcraft 2. Blizzard released a few “official mods” and one of which is a Starcraft 2 conversion of this game. And my high-level achievements are all that I have left simply because I can’t find a skilled teammate to help me out. :(

  5. I see the point of voting on building, but to me that ruins part of the idea of the game itself.

    A huge part of the game can be griefed, be that with buildings that aren’t needed, hoarding items and opening the gates last minute – but, these things aren’t closed off or “fixed” because they are there intentionally. All of these things add to the chaos of the entire situation, they enable the game to have “clever” people, “stupid” people and “evil” people (and not RP of someone who thinks he’s Coach), just as a town full of survivors would have.

    In general, this is more frustrating for starter towns than it is for meta coalition towns, as coalitions see the obvious things coming and are swift with justice. In my opinion, in a high end town, this turns a griefer into an anarchist and if successful in blending in and not being shunned.. a clever, devious evil genius.

    It’s a game where the Zombies aren’t your only enemy and to me, that’s a perfect example of how chaotic society already is, never mind how it would be in that setting.

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