Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Game Design Lessons From Evolutionary Psychology: Social Status, Pt. 3 - Bling

IMAGE: Mattel's MyScene Bling Dolls. What every little girl aspires to?

In my last two posts, I've been talking about human's insatiable desire for status and how to leverage it in your social game design. Yesterday, I promised I'd discuss status mechanisms that appeal to women.

Here's a few ways women show status in the offline world:

Objects. In the real world, women show status primarily through objects. Particularly, accessories. Handbags, shoes, jewelry. Men do, as well, but to a lesser degree. The status value of an object is directly related to its cost. When an object costs a lot, only people with sufficient resources can acquire it. Generally, only people with high status have sufficient resources to purchase high-cost items.

Gifts. An expensive gift is an indicator of status. To afford to be able to give away resources is a huge indicator of status. It implies that I have so many resources that I can afford to give them away. Some cultures take this to the logical extreme of destroying resources, literally burning their stuff, to show others how much they possess and its correlative, how much status they have.

Physical Appearance. Beauty attracts high-status mates, and therefore in the eyes of others, particularly other women, beauty is an indicator of status. Sit with a group of women and listen to how they evaluate other women. Or better yet, watch how a normal woman will slightly wilt when a very beautiful woman enters a room.

There are more, but in my mind these loom larger than others.

By now, I'm sure your brains are spinning on way that these mechanisms can be or are already incorporated into games.

Objects. It's all about profile bling. Give your female players an opportunity to earn decorations for their profile, or avatar, or whatever way they are personally represented in your game. Expensive and/or rare objects indicate more status. You should definitely optimize for these in your virtual economy. It needs to be clear what objects are worth more. World of Warcraft does this brilliantly, by associating colors with an object to indicate its value. It's a clear, but not vulgar way of indicating value. I'd argue that you could be A LOT more vulgar about indicating value, for instance, showing the cost of an object when you mouse-over it. After all, an object does not effectively indicate status unless everyone else knows its value.

Gifts. I've written about gifting before, so I'll direct you to my previous post for a more detailed essay of the power of gifting. I would d like to see someone play with the idea of showing the gifts that someone has sent instead of focusing on gifts a person has received. I suspect, it'll increase the amount and value of gifts send if prominently displayed.

Physical Appearance. It's been noted that people tend to make their avatars more attractive then they appear in real life. Perhaps, you could charge more from features that make avatars more attractive. I believe some people may be doing this already but not systematically. It's pretty straightforward, every time a feature is chosen make that feature a little more expensive for the next person who chooses it. Regularly introduce new features to allow new players to have somethng to buy.

Beyond avatars, I'm stumped on this one. Ideas welcome in the comments.