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Sid Meier talks player psychology and the year of Civilization


The "father of computer gaming" gave the keynote at GDC 2010 this past week, and while we really hoped he would tell us a lot about the upcoming Facebook version of Civilization, it got only the barest of mentions during the hour-plus talk. Instead, Meier shared wisdom with the gathered crowd, talking about the lessons he'd learned in player psychology over his long and storied career in game design. First, he talked about what he called the "Winner's Paradox" -- "if you've played Civilization," he said, "you're an egomaniac," since anyone crazy enough to think that they can actually "build a civ to stand the test of time," as it says on the game box, must be pretty full of themselves. And because of that, Meier says his players always believe that if they don't win for whatever reason, fate or the random number generator or the crappy AI must be out to get them. As a result, his policy has become to let the player win -- the threat of punishment is enough to keep it interesting, but in the end, the player should win the game.

He also talked about the "unholy alliance" between players and developers -- not only is the relationship beneficial for both parties (players offer their money, developers offer their time and talent), but it's also one of "mutually-assured destruction," as players can break contact with (or even just belief in) the game anytime they feel it's not fun any more, and developers can "really mess up the game, too." Everything in the game, said Meier, should be designed with an eye towards this alliance -- the AI should live to serve the player, the graphics and gameplay should engage imagination, and even options screens and load/save settings should be developed with an eye towards preserving the relationship.

Civilization Network
was mentioned under a section Meier called "my bad" -- along with the original ideas to make Civ real-time (whoops) and make the tech path random, he said that the CN team had considered letting players give gold to each other on Facebook, but during playtesting, found that players never actually did. He did say that the game is deep into testing currently, and that it will allow co-op, singleplayer, and competitive gameplay, and that it will be interesting whether players play for just "a little time a day" or more than that. At the end of the talk, in reply to a question about where he saw gaming going, Meier declared that "this is the year of Civilization!" With CN coming soon and Civ V due out this fall, we can't wait to send our Settlers out into the world.

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