Monday, November 12, 2012

Negative Feedback

Nope it isn't about those comments we hear of THAT table top rpg.  The negative feedback I'll be talking about is that which takes a bit of the success in an RPG and feeds it back as a cost.  A slowing down force that curbs exponential growth.  Since negative feedback gets stronger the higher the success it can be said that it benefits the loser in the game.  This is particularly good in an RPG were you want to keep party balance.  The less powerful of the characters is less hampered by negative feedback than the more prominent, because negative feedback is a fraction of the success.  The more powerful the character, the higher the success, and the larger the feedback put back into the system.

The opposite of negative feedback is quite obviously positive feedback.  In positive feedback the bigger the success the stronger the feedback for  more success.  This  type of feedback benefits the winner, and while we all want to win, this is hardly what you'd want in an RPG.  Positive feedback is a destabilizing force that benefits the winner.  The more ahead a character is the further ahead he or she will get.  Positive feedback works against party balance.

A very simple and clear example of positive vs negative feedback in games can be seen in a deadly car race with armed vehicles.  Something similar to Death Race. In this type of game forward facing guns are negative feedback and backward facing guns are positive feedback.  With positive feedback (backward facing guns), if your ahead you can fire back at those behind you and strengthen your position.  On the other hand with negative feedback (forward facing guns) all lagging players can shoot the leading ones.  Note: this doesn't mean trailing players in party should shoot the leading ones, it's just an example of negative vs positive feedback.

Here are a few observations I'd like to point out about negative and positive feedback systems:

Negative Feedback Systems

  • Drive output towards target value.
  • Keep output within acceptable range.
  • Are stable.
Positive Feedback Systems
  • Drive output away from target value.
  • If left unchecked will drive output to infinity.
  • Are unstable.
If we take a moment to look at tabletop rpg games we can see that a great deal many have positive feedback and few have negative.  In the next article of this series I'll put up some feedback rules and look deeper into games.  Notice how some game elements build synergy and seem to take a life of their own?  That's emerging feedback and I'll touch on that on the next article as well.

Source :
Marc LeBlanc
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