It’s funny how bad ideas in the workplace also are bad ideas for games. Take micro-managing, for example.
I like playing castle type strategy games. The web (and later mobile) strategy game genre, particularly castle building type games have long relied on a time based “Upgrade a building” mechanism. Think of games such as Illyriad, Lords of Ultima, InselKampf, Mytholia, Travian etc.
One common thread they all share is improving buildings. But this takes time and consumes resources, which are typically gold, wheat, stone and wood. In other words, the bulk of these games is spent micro-managing the building upgrades – sometimes to the extent of 90 percent of your time!
Micro-management of building upgrades has one problem and here’s the rub:
I’ve just finished a game of Mytholia and have started another. It lets you acquire five cities very quickly (unlike Inselkampf which took three weeks to get my second island). At the start, you can get by with a minute or two of game play and return a few hours later when your resources have trickled in to let you upgrade something. But then gameplay turns into switching between upgrading the resource producers or the other buildings.
Point the Way, Then Step Aside
Most games now have a tutorial with a reward system, so you learn the game easily and get rewarded with resources. This makes sense, because it keeps players from dropping out due to uncertainty. It’s something that managers at companies would be wise to follow – show me the way, then step aside.
As the game I’m currently playing progresses, some building upgrades can takes as much as a day or longer. I had 80 islands at the peak in Inselkampf and it was taking nearly two hours every day to manage that lot. In the end, I just gave it away to another player in the same clan and dropped out because it required too much babysitting.
In short, micromanaging upgrades and resources leads to increasingly longer game play.
Death to Micro-Management, Long Live Deadlines
Before the Web existed, I programmed postal strategy games for a couple of years. They were deadline based, with players sending in their orders before the deadline. And on the deadline date, these orders were processed and results returned. It’s a slower way of play, but didn’t really take much longer to write orders as the game progressed.
Deadlines could possibly work with browser Strategy games. How about having serfs handle upgrades, research etc., leaving you to only decide how many serfs you wish to use on each task and that determines how long it takes.
Auto pilot could be another feature game designers could bake into the game. It could come in the form of an upgrade or even a paid feature. Lord of Ultima has this sort of thing with various ministers (Building), but few others do.
Players should demand the ability to focus on the real strategic decisions needed in games and be given the opportunity to dabble in micro-management when they feel like it – not because the game play demands that you must.