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Buy In, Direction, Design

January 4, 2008

Player Buy In: When one player likes, appreciates, “buys into” the play contribution of another player – dialogue, choices, narration, etc.

In general, when we talk about fun, we talk about how much we can make play we like, the group likes, and how much we see others making play we like. It doesn’t work if you do stuff you don’t like just to satisfy others, and it doesn’t work if everyone only does stuff they, themselves like. In both cases, you get unsatifying play.

With that in mind- group cohesion and fun play are tied into how well we can hit our own and each other’s buttons in the good way.

Most older games have no mechanical support to help facilitate player buy-in- it came mostly in the form of “Hey Joe, good roleplaying!”.

The one traditional way of mechanically supporting it was in the form of the GM handing out extra xp. The problem with this is that since it usually happens at the end of the game, the GM isn’t reminded to give positive social cues along the way, nor necessarily the rest of the group.

Not only that, but players are then mechanically encouraged to direct their efforts towards the GM alone. Hence, “All that matters is your GM” because if you can’t directly reward to get what you want, you try to get a GM who encourages the same kind of play out of all of the players, that you’re looking for.

For many people, GM-less freeform was the immediate alternative- without mechanical basis of reward, everything becomes about the direct social reward amongst the group.

In terms of mechanical design, Primetime Adventures’ Fan Mail changed things significantly in terms of talking about buy-in. Like freeform anyone could reward anyone else for any appreciated contribution in the form of handing over chips during play- meaning you can reward someone right while they’re narrating without disrupting play. Also having the bowl of chips right in front of you serves as a physical reminder to let other folks know when you buy-in to what they’re doing.

In the long run, as a player, you start figuring out how to play to the desires of the group and it forms a means of the group providing play tailored to it’s members. This is where we see rpgs reach their ideal state- a game tailored in content and experience to the individual group.

So the role of a designer is not just providing an experience by rules, but also designing rules that help the group self direct for their ideal experience. The basic group economy is trading entertaining play for reward (mechanical or social) and it works well. I just wonder what kinds of neat games we’ll be seeing with more complex variations on that…

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