Why do people cheat? What can designers do about it? SHOULD they do anything about it in non-competitive single-player games?
This is a topic that has touched many of our recent conversations, and I figured it was time to take it head-on.
A great point was made during the episode that I hadn’t thought about before: at its core cheating is another element of a game a developer can choose invest in or not just like gameplay features, cut scenes, bugfixing or anything else. This is especially true in non-competitive games where cheating affects no one but the person engaging in it.
Under this umbrella lives reloading any time something bad happens, and AI exploits, where the player willingly uses knowledge about the AI’s shortcomings to expedite victory – and ruins their own enjoyment of the game. A designer has to decide how important these issues are to address.
Unfortunately, strategy game designers in particular have given very little thought to reloading. And for obvious reasons: any simple cure you can think of is nearly always worse than the disease. Do you prevent players from saving whenever they want, inevitably inconveniencing a large portion of your audience?
Even if you hedge and create an autosave every turn but allow no other saving the ability to ‘scum’ is only slightly hampered. Disincentives to reload, or even more extreme, the complete inability to do so must be a core part of your game. Much of the popularity of roguelikes is built on the unbeatable mandate of ‘no mulligans – ever’.
The only answer I’ve been able to come up in the strategy genre is for a game to be very clear about when a player is crippled and the game is over. This is a big problem in 4X games especially, as it’s easy to lose a city or two and end up in what I describe as the ‘middle zone’. You’re not dead, but you’re probably too weak to win, and in many cases, even enjoy continuing.
Restarting and reloading is built into the DNA of 4X, and it won’t be easy to root out. There’s a good chance At the Gates puts up a good fight on this front though, as failure is obvious and unforgiving. If a middle zone does manage to survive it should at least be much smaller than Civ’s.