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Employing Game Theory in Game Development

Game Theory in Video Game Design

Some of the most common applications of game theory in society involve “games”, or situations, centered around topics we’ve discussed in class: evolutionary biology, network traffic, auctions, markets, etc. This article on game theory in video game design expands on this list of topics by exploring the use of game theory in what may seem like the most obvious application: game development. However, while similar in name, game theory has stronger ties to the mathematical analysis of decision-making while video game development places more emphasis on users’ emotions and reactions to the game’s design. Because of these differences, relating game theory to game development or design presents a fascinating perspective on what it means to create fair, enjoyable games for the gaming community.

The article begins by describing the highlight of game theory’s usefulness in game development: testing the odds of a game to determine fairness.  As we discovered in class, by using game theory to consider each players’ possible strategies and the corresponding payoffs for each agent based on each specific combination of strategies, we can make a payoff matrix. By analyzing this payoff matrix during the process of game design, we can then ensure that our video game is fair. For example, this would mean making a balanced game where players who played the game most perfectly would each have the same probability of winning. This contrasts an unbalanced game, where even if both players made the most logical, correct decision every time, one player would be more likely to win every time. In order to create a balanced game, the game developer would need to examine best responses, dominant strategies, nash equilibrium, and other concepts we discussed in-class.

While it may seem that using game theory to develop all video games would be an ideal way to create perfect products for the gaming community, there are certain shortcomings when it comes to using game theory to try to make a completely balanced game. As explained in the article, the usefulness of game theory is limited by the fact that players are emotional and do not make perfectly logical decisions. Furthermore, the article cautions that when games involve skills like reflexes, aiming, etc, game theory cannot help; game theory is mainly useful in designing fair games if the game involves decision making (like card games), which echoes the majority of the game theory  decision-based examples we examined in class.

However, despite these limitations to the applicability of game theory in game design, using game theory to develop video games provides a great opportunity for game developers to strategically avoid frustrating gamers with any feelings of unfairness or cheating. Moreover, since one of the largest, most common appeals for game developers to continue producing games is to contribute to the larger gaming community of both developers and consumers,  employing game theory to accommodate to everyone’s mutual desire for fair games could better connect the entire video game community.


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