This guide aims to underscore the importance of narrative design in web3 games, offering insights to help you craft, shape, and communicate an effective and compelling narrative. Successfully doing this will make players fall in love with your game and turn them in to your biggest champions.
In web3 game development, a compelling narrative should not be viewed as merely a storytelling tool. It articulates the breadth and depth of a game and ultimately determines whether it can stand the test of time in the eyes of a player.
For web3 games, the narrative encapsulates various elements such as product, tokenomic design, community, and the immediate game design. It also includes the "possibility space"—the sum of all actions players can create within the game (we will explore this later in the article). Essentially, the narrative provides the reason for the game's existence and why players should engage and keep coming back for more.
The Importance of Narrative
A game's narrative is a promise for players that the time, money, and effort they invest in your game will ultimately be worth it; that the journey they will undertake offers something unique compared to other games, and that your game has the potential to be the 'next big thing'.
This becomes even more crucial in web3, where the final game release often happens after the big marketing efforts and NFT collection pre-sales.
Internally, a compelling narrative charts a clear direction for the game. It sells the dream that the community buys into, creating a robust brand identity and turning community members into fervent supporters. Many commercially successful web3 games have shipped fewer products than their competitors but have achieved stronger community sentiment and better commercial results by controlling their narrative effectively.
Crafting a Core Narrative
Designing a game narrative is one of the first steps in any web3 game as it influences almost every subsequent decision, from building the community and designing the game to communicating with players. A great core narrative is aspirational and exciting. It sells the game on multiple fronts and balances the current product with its future state.
Key elements of a core narrative include:
- Product: How is the game expressed in its most aspirational and exciting way?
- Emotion: What should players feel about it?
- Mission: Why should players join you? What is your call to action to the world?
Once set, the core narrative should remain unchanged to preserve its vision and avoid dilution.
Building Out The Elements Of Your Core Narrative
Begin with what makes your game different—the "Product" component of the key selling elements. This could be unique gameplay functions or features, deep lore and content, or world-class or unique art.
The emotion speaks to the ethos of the game. Examples include reciprocity and commitment ("we reward our players"), unity and belonging ("come find your tribe"), or social proof ("big brands back us"). Avoid purely speculative or value extractive levers as these do not tap into the emotional base effectively.
The mission could be something unique like evoking other successes judiciously, e.g., links to similar AAA web2 games. Be careful not to dilute your presence or tie your success to other games. Avoid missions that lack future aspiration beyond "play the game" or "come and earn." This is fundamentally why the web3 gaming industry has largely moved on from the era of selling players on the ‘play-to-earn’ (P2E) model.
Sub-narratives are the "secret sauce" that differentiates a successful web3 game. They contextualize your narrative for different audience segments and work hand-in-hand with marketing and community activities to amplify your game's message. Understanding your user segments is crucial in forming the right narrative and communication strategies. As these evolve over time, it's important to ensure that your core narrative remains unwaveringly consistent.
To put it all together, aligning top down and bottom up is important.
Narrative and Game Design
Narrative is also a vital pillar for broader game design which includes, but is not limited to, the design, lore and backstory of its characters, world, and context. It is both the physics and the world-building of truly engaging and immersive games.
It’s also about how deep your game could go (forward). For example: the possible actions, scenarios and locations the characters could explore. This is termed as the "possibility space".
In game design, the term 'possibility-space' refers to the range of potential actions or outcomes available to a player within a game. It’s not always about creating the most expansive, realistic, and meticulous worlds with intricate detail; instead, it is about crafting a space that fundamentally suits the unique nature of the game.
A well-designed possibility-space offers players enough freedom to explore and make choices while also setting clear boundaries. This balance ensures players understand the mechanics of the game and can find enjoyment in exploring all possible actions.
Even games set in physically restricted worlds can have expansive possibilities, thanks to the unpredictability of human behavior. For instance, multiplayer games like League of Legends may follow a repetitive format, but the element of human randomness creates new narratives every time.
There's also the concept of 'negative possibility space', where a game might build up a player's expectations only to underdeliver. Imagine spending hours figuring out how to climb a difficult cliff in a game, expecting a reward at the top, only to find nothing. This scenario is a classic example of negative possibility space.
Integrating Possibility-Space in Web3 Games
As web3 game development evolves, the concept of possibility-space remains essential. With the integration of NFTs into game economies, web3 games present players with more opportunities than traditional web2 games such as:
- Owning, trading, and monetizing in-game assets,
- Transferring assets across games
- Leveraging metadata to change and impact the state of their NFTs. You can learn more about the importance of metadata in web3 gaming in a previous article we published here.
Becoming a hit-game, and not just another NFT project, requires web3 developers to draw from the history of rich and compelling narrative design in web2 games to build the foundation for their web3 games. This should be done in parallel with exploring new and innovative ways to incorporate web3 mechanics to unlock new possibilities for engagement, interaction, and gameplay avenues for their players.
Establishing a strong narrative is crucial in order to build a successful game, especially in emerging categories like web3 gaming. It not only shapes the game's vision and positioning, but also plays a significant role in increasing attention, engagement, and immersion from your players. It defines your game's identity and differentiates it from being a commodity in the eyes of players.
Keep your story engaging, unique, and consistent and you will captivate the hearts of your players, turning them into die-hard fans, champions of your game, and hitting the 'play again' button over and over.
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