Kongregate’s Rating/Reputation systems

Kongregate, in detail

I’d been meaning to write this up for a while. It’s something I’ve said verbally enough times now that I’d rather write it up and send people a URL :). A lot of people underestimate Kong (www.kongregate.com), including, I suspect, many people in the games industry. IMHO, even if you know nothing about games, you ought to be looking at the business facts behind it and sitting up and taking note:

  • It’s founded by one of the people who used to run development for EA’s spectacularly successful online/casual games division, Pogo. They are still regarded as the market leader in casual gaming, at least in Western markets (last I heard was a quoted 11% market share, but google sadly refuses to allow the percentage symbol in searches, making that very difficult to find/confirm)
  • They’ve had multiple rounds of funding currently totalling close to the $10 million mark. That’s a LOT of money for a casual games site that doesn’t do it’s own game development.
  • (and, given the reputation-system focus of this post, it’s worth noting that a lot of Pogo’s uniqueness came from it’s obsession with giving badges (and other rewards/achievements) to players, IIRC back in 1999 – long before XBLA became famous)

As I pointed out on Jeremy’s blog, Kongregate seems to be doing very well for itself.

…the Gamer’s view

I’m Level 18, and damn proud of it. I was surpised how much skill it took at achievement farming to get that high, although there’s more chances to level up each week, so I think by now I can probably hit around 23/24 if I get time.

But you don’t need to play it *that* much to have seen some interesting evidence of how it’s change(ing) people’s casual / flash / portal game-playing habits. If you actually use/play Kong, then you’ll probably have noticed some of the large number of people commenting (not actual quotes, but pretty close):

“I already played this game to death on [some other portal], but now it’s on Kong, I played it again. I’d forgotten how much I liked it”

or

“I saw this game on [other portal] and [other portal], but I wasn’t going to invest the time playing it until it came to Kong and got badges”

Those statements for me encapsulate the reasons people should be paying a lot of attention to Kong just from the gamer point of view – even if you don’t play the thing seriously, you could have easily seen those if you just glanced at the comments back when the site was relatively small.

(NB: nowadays, games get hundreds of pages of comments within the first week, so it’s getting hard to read them for meaningful information. That’s interesting in and of itself, suggesting Kong may have fairly recently crossed a chasm (or, in one word, as I typoed just now: maybe it just “chrossed” :) )).

Indeed, there’s an interesting problem there that I look forward to seeing how the owners are going to deal with: the comments system is so basic – it’s a single-threaded (!) standard forum – that there’s no way to shut out, /ignore, or hide the spam, and the site has attracted a lot of spam now. Not just commercial, but also just bored players messing around. I can think of several approaches, for instance (plucking out of thin air here): charging (in virtual, free currency) everyone for a comment, or limiting their comment rate per day by their Kong level, and – especially if you charge them – allowing other players to give them small rewards that in large-scale aggregate payback and increase the level. Because that’s a kind of reputation/reward system that Kong is missing right now :) – it has a lot of reward systems, but not ALL the rewards systems. Slashdot’s reputation/comments system is an obvious place to look for inspiration on that kind of approach, but there are plenty of others that have been around for many years which can show how to do it, and how not to do it.

Kongregate’s reputation systems

I’m tagging each of these with something I find particularly interesting: whether the rep system is programmatic (i.e. calculated from an aggregation of stats), or free-form (i.e. each individual provides a unique measurement, no aggregation possible), and who does the rating – the site owners, or the users.

Note that there’s a lot of orthogonality here: the reputation systems are fairly balanced between site-provided and user-provided, and between programmatic and free-form. The badges have to be invented and added manually by site admins, making them free-form to create/invent, but programmatic to measure. My inner game design likes the multi-variate overall score that these imply: there’s no overbearing measurement / congregation of measurements.

For games:

  1. [programmatic, site-owned] Aggregate number of times the game has been played by any player
  2. [programmatic, player-owned] Aggregate number of times the game has been favourited by any player
  3. [programmatic, player-owned] Average rating of the game, from 1 to 5 stars, by all players who’ve rated it
  4. [programmatic, site-owned] Aggregate number of people who have chosen to rate the game
  5. [free-form, player-owned] Comments that players write while playing the game (*)
  6. [programmatic/free-form, site-owned] Badges awarded for specific in-game achievements, invented by Kongregate’s admins, and either automatic, or (if necessary) implemented on request by the game-authors
  7. [programmatic/free-form, site-owned] Bonus CCG/TCG cards for the game KonGai, Kongregate’s CCG. These are awarded like badges, but unlike badges each card is only ever winnable for one week. Ever. After that, you’ve missed your chance. This is a big difference. And they’re typically given for slightly different types of in-game achievement

(*) – note a particular piece of genius with this: the comments are a single-threaded forum that is *embedded in the page* (yeah, other people have done that before, myself included. It’s awesome), but … using AJAX.

Why AJAX? Because nearly every Flash game on the internet is written naively in terms of browser refresh: refresh resets the game, forces you to wait for it to download again (!), navigate through the menu, etc – and in many cases, actually wipes your current progress in the game (!). But with AJAX, you can let people comment whilst in-game without refreshing the page. Nice. Safe. And … it is able to refresh the comments without people reloading the page (and losing their precious progress).

And for players? What ratings exist for them?

  1. [prog, site] Your “Level”, as in all classic RPG/MMORPGs, awarded by Kongregate, with your
    experience points earned towards gaining your next level
  2. [prog, site] Experience points earned in the past week (as opposed to “in total”)
  3. [prog, site] Badges you’ve won for playing games
  4. [free, yourself] Games you’ve favourited
  5. [prog, site] Cards you’ve won for playing games
  6. [free, yourself] People who you’ve added as a friend
  7. [free, others] People who’ve added themselves as a fan of yours
  8. [free, others] Freeform comments (“shouts”) that people have left on your profile page

…but nothing much is done with the player ratings.

The game ratings are particularly important because a subset of them is publically (semi-verifiably) used to give money back to the developers – see the box at the bottom right of the front page, which tracks who has recently received cash for managing to have a high rated game / who is about to receive cash in the next round of cash handouts.

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