Single-Player Skillcap – Game Design

One of the tricky aspects of creating single-player games is that the game has to slowly get more and more difficult for a long period of time in order to keep the players challenged. In a multiplayer game, a good system can allow players to all increase in skill, and constantly provide a challenge for each other through competition. With single-player games we have to replace the competition provided by other players with rising difficulty. Where this might max out has been a concern for us. A game doesn’t necessarily have to scale forever, but we do want to provide great value to our players.

gif Apr 21, 2016 15:01 (And I thought rank 18 was high!)

A discussion about the skill cap in Axes and Acres came up a number of times during development, and of course in theory it has to cap somewhere. We eventually decided that the skill cap was high enough it wasn’t something we really needed to worry about. The vast majority of players would never get to a high enough rank for the game to be impossible. Recently we have implemented Steam stat-tracking features so we could get an idea of what ranks people have achieved. We were shocked to learn how high people have reached! I personally doubted that ranks lower than what people have achieved were possible. It really makes you wonder if there are strategies people have developed that as a game designer you never even dreamed of.

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Considering all of this I feel that Axes and Acres was a success with regards to a skill cap. I’m sure it still exists, but it is so far away its existence feels trivial. Ideally, we would like to come up with a system that has no skill cap, but we are still debating whether such a thing is possible in a single-player game.

Anyone have opinions on this?

2 thoughts on “Single-Player Skillcap – Game Design”

  1. I think it is impossible to create any game that has no skill cap. At the end of the day, your game has a finite set of choices. Once a player learns how to choose optimally, there is a best play, even with random elements. Even chess and go have skill caps, though you can argue that a human could never reach them.

    You can increase the skill cap in your games by creating more choices (all of them meaningful or at least situational) and more complex scenarios. But then you have to balance that against initial accessibility.

    You also have to balance the fun a player gets from increasing their skill cap against the fun of mastering a new game (how you allocate your development time). But I guess that line of thinking, taken to the extreme, is how we end up with Farmville.

    Can I ask, what is the highest rank you’ve seen in Axes & Acres, and Militia?

    1. Hey Ken, thanks for the well thought-out comments, I appreciate it! I think you may be right to some extent, there is always a balance between complexity and accessibility. There are games though that have a lot of strategic depth or complexity without being unaccessible. The two are not always directly correlated. Some games are incredibly simple, but still create a lot of interesting strategic choices. For example Loveletter has essentially a 2 sentence rulebook, but it has a surprising amount of depth. This sort of thing makes me hopeful that a game could be created with a very elegant and intuitive system that also had a ton of strategic depth. I think you are right though that it would have to be a “practically impossible” to reach skillcap rather than a truly infinite skillcap.

      As far as the highest rank we’ve seen I am not sure yet. We are collecting the data, but it only collects each time someone logs in, so players who haven’t played recently won’t have registered yet. We are likely going to add a public ladder displaying player’s ranks in the next update or two so you can look out for that!

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