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Emergence and the Build-Try-Fail Loop
by Kevin Gliner on 02/06/14 07:51:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This post originally appeared on Point Line Square on October 20, 2013.

When I talk about the build-try-fail loop, I’m talking about the time it takes a player to set up a strategy, try it, and determine its success.  The build-try-fail loop applies to any game, emergent or not.  For example, Clash of Clans has a very long build phase (it can take several hours to collect the resources and create the units for a single raid), a short try phase (at most three minutes), and failure is moderately difficult to assess (you can’t build units specific to the defensive target’s setup).  By contrast, Candy Crush Saga has a modest build phase (the time it takes for energy to accrue), a lengthy try phase (several minutes), and failure — which isn’t known until the end — is hard to evaluate due to the random initial state of the puzzles.

The examples above have artificially long portions of this loop for monetization purposes, and it’s hard to argue with their success at doing so.  Nevertheless, the more emergent a game gets, the more it benefits from shortening this cycle.  Specifically:

  • Experimentation is encouraged. The longer it takes to set up and make an attempt — a new level, puzzle, raid, whatever — the less risk a player is willing to take.   Reducing this time investment gives players the freedom to try new strategies and explore the entire possibility space the game has to offer.
  • Learning is accelerated. The more frequent the attempts, the faster the player will come to understand the game and it’s potential.  And if you agree with the thesis that fun is primarily about learning (solving problems, figuring out new strategies, etc.), then more learning means more enjoyment for the player.  An emergent game with a large possibility space has more available to learn and therefore more potential fun to be had.
  • Failure itself becomes fun instead of frustrating. The less invested a player is each time they try something new, the more likely the results will be treated as interesting or entertaining instead of unpleasant.

When I talk about the build-try-fail loop, I’m talking about the time it takes a player to set up a strategy, try it, and determine it’s success.  The build-try-fail loop applies to any game, emergent or not.  For example, Clash of Clans has a very long build phase (it can take several hours to collect the resources and create the units for a single raid), a short try phase (at most three minutes), and failure is moderately difficult to assess (you can’t build units specific to the defensive target’s setup).  By contrast, Candy Crush Saga has a modest build phase (the time it takes for energy to accrue), a lengthy try phase (several minutes), and failure — which isn’t known until the end — is hard to evaluate due to the random initial state of the puzzles.

The examples above have artificially long portions of this loop for monetization purposes, and it’s hard to argue with their success at doing so.  Nevertheless, the more emergent a game gets, the more it benefits from shortening this cycle.  Specifically:

  • Experimentation is encouraged. The longer it takes to set up and make an attempt — a new level, puzzle, raid, whatever — the less risk a player is willing to take.   Reducing this time investment gives players the freedom to try new strategies and explore the entire possibility space the game has to offer.
  • Learning is accelerated. The more frequent the attempts, the faster the player will come to understand the game and it’s potential.  And if you agree with the thesis that fun is primarily about learning (solving problems, figuring out new strategies, etc.), then more learning means more enjoyment for the player.  An emergent game with a large possibility space has more available to learn and therefore more potential fun to be had.
  • Failure itself becomes fun instead of frustrating. The less invested a player is each time they try something new, the more likely the results will be treated as interesting or entertaining instead of unpleasant.
- See more at: http://pointlinesquare.com/#sthash.eT4vr2ma.dpuf

When I talk about the build-try-fail loop, I’m talking about the time it takes a player to set up a strategy, try it, and determine it’s success.  The build-try-fail loop applies to any game, emergent or not.  For example, Clash of Clans has a very long build phase (it can take several hours to collect the resources and create the units for a single raid), a short try phase (at most three minutes), and failure is moderately difficult to assess (you can’t build units specific to the defensive target’s setup).  By contrast, Candy Crush Saga has a modest build phase (the time it takes for energy to accrue), a lengthy try phase (several minutes), and failure — which isn’t known until the end — is hard to evaluate due to the random initial state of the puzzles.

The examples above have artificially long portions of this loop for monetization purposes, and it’s hard to argue with their success at doing so.  Nevertheless, the more emergent a game gets, the more it benefits from shortening this cycle.  Specifically:

  • Experimentation is encouraged. The longer it takes to set up and make an attempt — a new level, puzzle, raid, whatever — the less risk a player is willing to take.   Reducing this time investment gives players the freedom to try new strategies and explore the entire possibility space the game has to offer.
  • Learning is accelerated. The more frequent the attempts, the faster the player will come to understand the game and it’s potential.  And if you agree with the thesis that fun is primarily about learning (solving problems, figuring out new strategies, etc.), then more learning means more enjoyment for the player.  An emergent game with a large possibility space has more available to learn and therefore more potential fun to be had.
  • Failure itself becomes fun instead of frustrating. The less invested a player is each time they try something new, the more likely the results will be treated as interesting or entertaining instead of unpleasant.
- See more at: http://pointlinesquare.com/#sthash.eT4vr2ma.dpuf

When I talk about the build-try-fail loop, I’m talking about the time it takes a player to set up a strategy, try it, and determine it’s success.  The build-try-fail loop applies to any game, emergent or not.  For example, Clash of Clans has a very long build phase (it can take several hours to collect the resources and create the units for a single raid), a short try phase (at most three minutes), and failure is moderately difficult to assess (you can’t build units specific to the defensive target’s setup).  By contrast, Candy Crush Saga has a modest build phase (the time it takes for energy to accrue), a lengthy try phase (several minutes), and failure — which isn’t known until the end — is hard to evaluate due to the random initial state of the puzzles.

The examples above have artificially long portions of this loop for monetization purposes, and it’s hard to argue with their success at doing so.  Nevertheless, the more emergent a game gets, the more it benefits from shortening this cycle.  Specifically:

  • Experimentation is encouraged. The longer it takes to set up and make an attempt — a new level, puzzle, raid, whatever — the less risk a player is willing to take.   Reducing this time investment gives players the freedom to try new strategies and explore the entire possibility space the game has to offer.
  • Learning is accelerated. The more frequent the attempts, the faster the player will come to understand the game and it’s potential.  And if you agree with the thesis that fun is primarily about learning (solving problems, figuring out new strategies, etc.), then more learning means more enjoyment for the player.  An emergent game with a large possibility space has more available to learn and therefore more potential fun to be had.
  • Failure itself becomes fun instead of frustrating. The less invested a player is each time they try something new, the more likely the results will be treated as interesting or entertaining instead of unpleasant.
- See more at: http://pointlinesquare.com/#sthash.eT4vr2ma.dpuf

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Comments


David Lindsay
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Kinda makes you wonder how dark souls survived, as a long build-try-FAIL loop

I prepare for hours, I try, I die, I rage quit... tomorrow I come back despite burning hatred, haha! :-p

Rick Reichert
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Many players (myself included) brake each difficult fight into smaller pieces and create self imposed goals, all of them required for success, but each goal alone would not guarantee victory.

Examples would be whenever a specific attack was predicted and avoided, whenever a new opening for an attack was discovered.

With this in consideration, you have a much shorter build-try-fail loop. The player gets constant feedback whenever they do something right (or more usually, wrong) within the same difficult fight.

Nathan Mates
profile image
Each RTS game is essentially a build-try-fail loop, until you've memorized the magic build order that optimizes production over the first phase of the game. With an iteration time on the order of a half hour or more. Probably one of the many reasons that there used to be a few dozen RTSs released per year, and now there's a handful.

SD Marlow
profile image
I'd argue that games that focus on the build process involve deeper play and a personal investment (leaning the backstory, character development, getting "into" the game, etc). Games that focus on the try phase usually have a simple game mechanic and no development or carry-over from one play session to the next.

Full Games vs Abridged Games

Sam Stephens
profile image
I think that is where the emergence part of the equation comes in. Simple actions and mechanics come together and form a much deeper experience. Backstory and character development are nice, but these have much more to do with the fictitious elements, the player's own immersion, than with developing gameplay. I think it is important to remember that depth is not the same as complexity. Complexity can be a good thing, but a game can be too complex depending on what it is trying to accomplish.

Cristian Black
profile image
This concept is a very interesting tool that allows you to properly set up your gameplay. I'm developing a 2D/3D shooter with puzlle and stealth elements and I was wondering how the personal skill of the player influences the build-try-fail loop.

Kevin Gliner
profile image
To the extent skill reduces the number of fails, it probably builds more tolerance for longer build and try phases. Not that you'd want to make those phases longer, particularly in zero sum pvp situations.


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