Desert of My Real Life

{December 9, 2008}   Mob Wars

I have recently been playing Mob Wars on FB. I started because Ann and Liz both invited me to be part of their mobs. I nearly stopped playing after Thanksgiving but Scott begged me not to uninstall the application because he wanted me to stay in the mob. As a result of these friends playing, I have continued. But I have to echo Liz when I say, “It’s no Parking Wars.” So why doesn’t Mob Wars stack up well against Parking Wars? To understand why Parking Wars is a better game, I think we have to understand a little bit about how to play each game.

Mob Wars is a game in which the player plays a mob boss. Each mob boss has a number of characteristics, represented by numbers. The characteristics include health (with a starting maximum value of 100), energy (starting maximum value of 20), stamina (starting maximum value of 3), attack (starting maximum value of 3) and defense (starting maximum value of 3). In addition, each mob boss has a stockpile of weapons and vehicles, an amount of cash and experience points. The goal of the game is to move up the levels (called leveling up) by gaining experience points. Experience points are gained in a number of ways.

The first way to gain experience points is to complete jobs. Every job requires some amount of energy as well as some tools (weapons, vehicles, mobsters, other items such as bottles of liquor) and, upon successful completion, pays cash within a certain range. Another way to gain experience points is to fight other mobs (and beat them). Once an appropriate number of experience points is gained, the player is alloted 3 skill points that she can distribute among her many characteristics (such as maximum health, maximum energy and so on).

These are just the beginning of the MANY decisions that need to be made while playing Mob Wars. As I’ve written before, decision-making is a very important factor in determining whether a game is engaging. In general, the more meaningful the decisions that need to be made in a game, the more engaging the game is. A meaningful decision is one that allows the player to delineate a strategy for winning the game. In other words, for a decision to be meaningful, there must be multiple choices, each of which may lead to a winning strategy, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. Mob Wars requires the player to make a series of meaningful decisions. For example, my stamina in Mob Wars is currently set to 9. Each time a player chooses to fight some other mob (hoping to gain experience points and take some of that mob’s money), the player’s stamina is reduced by 1. In other words, I can engage in 9 fights with other mobs in a row without waiting for my stamina to be replenished. For me, however, this value rarely comes into play because of other choices that I have made. In order to win a fight, I must spend my money on weapons and vehicles. Instead, I have chosen to spend my money on properties within the city which allows me to earn more money at a faster rate (without having to fight). Because I don’t have as many weapons and vehicles as other mobs, I lose a lot of fights which decreases my stamina without gaining me anything. Until I purchase more weapons and vehicles, it doesn’t make sense for me to add more stamina to my mobster. This is just one meaningful decision among many that I must make.

Parking Wars, on the other hand, has relatively few meaningful decisions. There are basically two. First, the player must decide on whose streets she is going to park her cars. She is allowed to park her cars on her friends’ streets as well as those of three anonymous strangers’ streets. Second, once she earns a certain amount of money, she must decide which specialized car she is going to purchase (if any). That’s it! There are no other meaningful decisions.

Therefore, according to Costikyan (one of the game theorists that I make my students read), because Mob Wars has more interesting meaningful decisions than Parking Wars, Mob Wars should be a more engaging game than Parking Wars. But it isn’t. And here’s why I think that’s the case.

Both games are played on FaceBook, a social networking tool that is all about connecting with people. Parking Wars involves more interesting social interaction than Mob Wars and since the context of playing the two games is a social interaction site, Parking Wars is more interesting. In Parking Wars, a player parks on her friends’ streets and has her friends park on her streets. She is able to ticket her friends when they park illegally and send them messages on those tickets. She begins to learn her friends’ patterns–when they check their streets, whether they give tickets at low values or wait until the tickets become more valuable, and so on. In addition, there is the possibility of creating alliance with certain friends, agreeing not to ticket that friend’s illegally parked cars. Noticing and commenting on these alliances is also engaging. In fact, Nick created a group called Parkaholics Anonymous in which he explicitly commented on my alliance with Ann. All of this is part of the engagement of Parking Wars.

On the surface, Mob Wars has similar social possibilities via the “mob” aspect of the game.  That is, the members of a player’s mob are her friends.  The fact that a player is in the same mob as one of her friends does not impact on her playing of the game, however. She cannot explicitly take advantage of the fact that she has friends with certain characteristics in her mob. This is a missed opportunity and, I think, the main reason Mob Wars is not as engaging as Parking Wars.

I believe this goes to show that there is not a single reason for playing a game. Game designers would be well advised to pay attention to the context of a game and why players might be interested in playing as they design the interactions and decisions involved in playing their games.

Dave says:

This confirms it….I suspected an alliance in PW! Ha! Watch your cars my friend…. It’s a good game ’cause it’s pretty casual – not much stress and can pretty much be played at leisure. I’ve since jumped onto the Scrabble bandwagon – for a little more ‘action’ (pretty sad I know).

– Enjoy

Robin DeRosa says:

I like how desperate this makes Scott sound. And good analysis– that, too.

Jeremy says:

I have been playing mob wars for 4 days, I’m up to level 24 and it’s like crack for me. I like strategy games of all kinds. I agree that there should be more meaningful interaction with members of your own mob. It would give Mob Wars another dimension for people who aren’t as enthralled with leveling and killing.

Parking Wars sounds dumb to me. I could care less about a game dealing with who parks where and for how long. Again, I haven’t played it, so I might warm up to it given time. The whole premise of the game is anathema to me, so why would I play?

The other appeal of Mob Wars is the idea of the Mafia and violence. I would hazard a guess that the ratio of men to women playing on Mob Wars is greater than 10 to 1. I’ve spent time in the forums recruting members to expand my mob to stay competitive as I level up. I don’t see a lot of females. Anecdotal, but I think I am right. I am mentioning this because the theme is probably more interesting in a sustained way to men. I have a couple ladies in my mob, and they don’t play that much, they aren’t really interested, and they only joined to help out a friend on FaceBook.

I have little opinion on game theory, but that is what I have observed. I now have figured out the best ways to maxamize game play and leveling, so I will get tired of Mob Wars within a couple weeks.

I stumbled into your desert accidently by way of Google. Not to bad for a desert.

cksisson says:

I’m so sorry to bother you, but I have two questions I can’t find answers to in the help section, the forums, or by Googling.

How does being female affect gameplay? I’m guessing it just encourages others to attack you? Or does it automatically make you weaker in the game? (Which would be TOTALLY unfair and WRONG.)

Also, will my actions affect others in my mob? Like say I do something stupid and attack a much bigger mob and lose, will the other guy in my mob have my loss added to his total? If I buy things, does it affect him too, or just the strength of the overall mob? Because I might not buy something he wants. I don’t want to offend him by making poor decisions that affect the mob as a whole. But I can’t tell the total amount of things our mob has anyway, just my totals. And once you get past a handful of people, it would be difficult to stay in contact with them all to plan strategy.

I hope this made sense. He hasn’t answered my email, and I really don’t want to mess things up. I want to go buy some stuff. 🙂

[…] less engaging, probably because the social aspect of the game, which I’ve also written about before, is […]

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