Monday, February 15, 2010

Erlang vs. Metcalfe

In the life of Game Designer we can get a better understanding for the concept of quality by combining two old and trusty mathematical properties. I have hinted at these concepts in older posts but I have put off writing this one for a while. I'll try and make it quick.

Erlang says that quality is 1 when something does what it is supposed to do when it is expected to do it. Things that do almost what it should do, or for less than all the time when it is expected to do it has a quality which is somewhere between 0 and 1.

Metcalfe´s Law says that the number of links in a connected system increases exponentially with the number of connected nodes.

At this point I'll introduce my own definition of antiquality.

Antiquality is what you have left after you subtract quality from 1. Such as if you have a telephone line which has noisy crackles for 0.6 seconds every minute of a phone call your quality is 0.99 and antiquality is 0.01. At this level the amount of antiquality in a simple phone call is not a problem to the user. Its a minor annoyance at worst.

The interesting thing begins to happen when you connect a bunch of phone lines to each other. Imagine the phone call as a conference call with all phones connected to all other phones. If one line crackles the crackling is broadcast to all the other phones. You don't need a whole lot of phones in this system before the quality level needs to be a lot better than 0.99 to get any kind of useful communication going.

When we look at games and other experiential constructions such as a brand, we as humans have the tendency to connect every bit of the experience with every other bit. Our brains are like a super network which categorize every bit of antiquality with every other bit of antiquality presented beneath the same symbolic structure. For any product which is more complex than the most simple of things we will quickly label the whole experience as useless antiquality, unless the actual quality is a true 1.

So how can you use this understanding to build a product with true quality?

That is a different story. But it begins with understanding what the product is supposed to do and when it is supposed to do it. If need be you adjust these parameters and you make sure your user is well informed about this framing or you will quickly be labelled as junk.

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