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I am making an online single-player game (open beta here) with a huge emphasis on content creation and world design (sort of like Super Mario Maker or Little Big Planet but more designed for adventure or "short story" games). The default gameplay style is a sort of Zelda-esque action RPG but it can also handle things like platformers or arcade-style shooters. "Worlds" can vary greatly in scope, from a single short hallway to basically a full game.

In order to tie all of these diverse worlds together and make travel between them meaningful, I am using a universal currency (called Sparks) that world builders can use as collectibles and give as rewards for defeating enemies or completing challenges, and can also be used to purchase items and so on. To prevent their abuse and discourage boring "spark farming" worlds, the amount of sparks a player can take from a world is capped based on the amount of time they spent in that world, and the world builder is rewarded for another player exploring their world based on how close the player gets to obtaining a certain percentage of that cap, encouraging them to make it easy to obtain around that amount, and possible for a skilled player to acquire more (making it worthwhile for players to replay their world in order to master it) but not exceeding the cap.

Right now, the cap is one spark per second, and the "ideal average ratio" is one fifth of that. However, one point every five seconds seems far too low and unrewarding for most kinds of games, especially fast-paced arcade-style worlds where it is not uncommon to beat more than one basic enemy or pick up multiple collectibles per second. However, setting the cap too high can make spark collection feel meaningless since their total value just looks like "a big number".

I have done some searching for advice or writing on typical scoring rates for different game genres or even the psychological impact of using different scoring methods. I know that some old arcade games would add a few zeros to their score system to make things feel more rewarding but beyond that I could find very little writing on the subject. What is a typical "points per second" value that feels rewarding and can work for a large number of possible genres?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's way too broad. We don't know what one "spark" is worth, we don't know how long an average player spends in a world, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Bálint Aug 19 '18 at 9:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bálint Well that's the point. The amount of time an average player spends in a world depends on the size of that world, and how much a spark is "worth" will be directly based on how many an average player earns over a given length of time. \$\endgroup\$ – IndigoFenix Aug 19 '18 at 10:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is registration really necessary for your beta? You lost at least one tester (me) by having it. \$\endgroup\$ – Evorlor Aug 19 '18 at 12:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Evorlor Not for exploration. Only to save data and create worlds. \$\endgroup\$ – IndigoFenix Aug 19 '18 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh my mistake. Keep up the great work! \$\endgroup\$ – Evorlor Aug 19 '18 at 13:00
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I'm not sure that there exists an established magic number like "0.77 points per second" that holds across families of games. This is the type of tuning we usually do in the context of a single game, specific to that game's needs and rhythm.

In fact, when you say...

I know that some old arcade games would add a few zeros to their score system to make things feel more rewarding

this suggests that these sweet spots for a particular game can vary over several orders of magnitude. In some games, the base points are in 10s, others are in 100s. So I don't think you'll find research that argues convincingly that any particular value X is generally best, even within a single genre.

What you may want to consider instead is the role of various rewards in your game. Here I'm borrowing from a series of lectures & workshops on player psychology from Celia Hodent, author of the Gamer's Brain.

When you talk about getting these points every few seconds, it sounds like you're describing a continuous reward. This is the bread & butter layer of rewards for participating in the game, a regular hum of feedback saying you're making progress.

These rewards are important to game feel (eg. the "+100" points text or shower of coins flying out of a destroyed target), and to learning game systems. They tell the player what actions in the game are valued and useful. They're not so strong at creating sustained engagement though. Once the player learns that they can reliably get X points per second from a swath of different actions in your game, it's no longer a surprise or a reason to strive to complete this particular action. It's expected, and fades into the background of play.

For this type of reward, it's important to be reliable & consistent. So this might not be the layer you want to put into UGC player control. If not providing enough of these rewards in a given time span diminishes your game feel, then don't require creators to understand that design principle and exactingly reproduce this metronome of continuous rewards to keep the game feeling good. Instead, build your scoring rules into the system, so you can ensure every level created with the kit of parts you offer to players has a certain baseline level of feel.

Sustained engagement in games more often derives from intermittent rewards. These are rewards that don't come quite so regularly - like the cherry in Pac-Man instead of the continuous reward of the dots, or the UFO flying by in Space Invaders compared to the regular enemies. Because they're sporadic, they're less useful for establishing baseline moment-to-moment feel and learning, but they're also less impacted by habituation - they keep feeling exciting for longer, because opportunities to score them aren't continuously available, so players pay extra attention when they see an opportunity on the horizon.

By making these rewards somewhat rare or unpredictable, you build anticipation - maybe in the next room I'll find a chest! Maybe this boss drops some super loot!

This less predictable/reliable, more occasional layer reward might be the one you want to put into UGC player control, harnessing the unpredictability of players to create variety & interest in a few key areas, rather than painstakingly breadcrumbing out continuous rewards throughout. This can be in an entirely different set of units than your continuous rewards. Defeating a single basic enemy might score 100 points, while collecting just 5 "gems" placed by the creator might be a pretty good result for completing a whole level.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Due to the wide variety of game styles available, taking the ability to reward players out of the world builder's hands wouldn't work. But these are all useful principles to consider when making a "world builder tutorial" area. \$\endgroup\$ – IndigoFenix Aug 19 '18 at 13:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ If your planned variety of games is meant to be so wide, then trying to pin them all to one shared scoring system might negatively impact creators, disincentivising them from making types of content that aren't a good match for your idealized scoring rhythm. You could instead make the continuous reward layer non-shared, so each creation can dole them out on its own schedule without impacting balance relative to other creations (the scores are only meaningful/comparable within that creation's leaderboard), while your shared currency is the intermittent reward, doled out more selectively. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Aug 19 '18 at 14:57
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I think you've got a few exploitable issues here but I'll start with your main question.

You are right many games differ in their expected reward schedule, but sparks don't have to be what is awarded for everything in game. An arcade style game for instance could give arbitrary non-spark points for playing, but later convert points to sparks based on some ratio or table of thresholds. If having points other than sparks is a no-no then they could still be limited by making them based on more complicated goals. Destroying an enemy may be one thing, but to earn a spark you might need to destroy a whole squad before they leave the screen or indulge in other risk-reward behavior that will up the challenge for players hunting sparks.

With that out of the way though I think you should reconsider your farming deterrents.

If players get have a desire to gain more sparks then they will tend towards playing the games with the largest reward. If content creators desire more of their rewards then they'll make games that give out exactly what gives them the maximum reward, regardless of player ability. With these two factors I suspect you'd see most games starting out at giving the 1/5 per second you mentioned with some creeping upward hoping to make back in volume what they lose out on in giving out more. This assumes though that giving more than 1/5 per second actively harms the creator's reward, as otherwise they have no reason not to give the players as much as they can possibly receive in order to draw the most players.

On top of all that, relying on mutual greed to limit your economy is a dangerous game. This goes double when neither side loses anything when the other gains. All it takes to wreck the balance is to have one creator benefactor who isn't concerned with personal reward (or a player willing to make a second account to benefit their first) and you suddenly have idle games that spit out the maximum sparks per second allowable by the systems, at best possibly loosely hidden by weak gameplay mechanics.

In order to combat these behaviors, it's important to figure out what behaviors your ideal players would participate in, and then balance the systems such that the best way to exploit the system is to take part in those behaviors. You'll never be able to stop players from gaming the system, but you can make sure that gaming the system is fun for everyone involved, including those doing the gaming.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Using a custom variable that is converted to sparks is certainly an option; the question is really more about an amount that "feels good". \$\endgroup\$ – IndigoFenix Aug 19 '18 at 10:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ The basic concept behind the system is to try and encourage world builders to make worlds that players like to spend time in by virtue of their content, while minimizing the global impact of boring farming worlds, and also give a general "baseline" for item pricing and so on. Some players will grind anyway, but if the amount they get from a payout-maxed world is not significantly higher than the amount they gain from a normal world, hopefully this will encourage them to focus on having fun rather than getting points. \$\endgroup\$ – IndigoFenix Aug 19 '18 at 10:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Then I wouldn't worry on the game to game side of things because the cream of the content creators should rise to the top and they'll figure out the best reward ratio for their own game type and then map it to the sparks meta-currency based on what is most beneficial to them/their players. I don't believe you'll find a sparks/sec that universally means anything but you could look into reward schedules in other systems and experimentally map those to yours to see what sticks. You might also look into various micro-transaction models as they share a similar concept only backed by real money. \$\endgroup\$ – Lunin Aug 19 '18 at 19:50

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