The Meta-game: What is it and where did it come from?

I spoke to one of the lecturers I work with and tried to explain what a meta-game is to him once.

“It’s an abstraction of what ways of playing are popular, a sort of game within a game about what ways of playing are being used and how to best play against them. An ever evolving state of play where what’s popular is defined by what’s good against what was popular in the recent past”

He was having none of it, to his mind this was neither meta, nor a game.

It begins

Who am I? What is this? And why do you care?

I’m William Kavanagh, a Computer Science Ph.D. student at the University of Glasgow in the Formal Methods, Theory and Algorithms group supervised, by Dr Alice Miller. I look at making games fun using novel model checking techniques for my research. Outside of work I am a player of games, and have been since age 4 (thanks Dad). I would like to write a book on Game Balancing one day, but first I need to do a lot of research, hence this place.

In academia, my acheivements are somewhat limited. But I’m a Ph.D. student at a great university in a brilliant department and after over a year they haven’t found me out quite yet. I went to the inaugural AI and Games summer school paid for by SICSA and others (thanks for that by the way).

As a player of games however, my acheivements are … also somewhat limited, but to give you an idea, here are some of the things I’ve done:

  • Caught all 150 original Pok'emon in Pok'emon Blue (look out for me writing about these games a lot!),
  • Played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare semi-professionally as a teenager
  • Created a guild on Elder Scrolls Online in 2016 that is still going today, over three years after I stopped playing the game,
  • Ran several well-intentioned, but poorly executed D&D campaigns,
  • Bought Gloomhaven and managed to unpack the box, play it and then repack the box somewhat tidily! This is something I am still proud of every time we play,
  • Raided in Lord of the Rings: Online rather than be sociable or do well in my GCSEs aged about 15,
  • Having played FIFA every year for over ten years now, I have made it past January in career mode for the third time just this year,
  • I got pretty far through Super Hexagon.

Why listen to me? What have I got to say?

I think about game balancing a lot, it is my job to think about it, sort of. As part of my work I’ve looked at using new tools to aid balancing and I’ve delved into why games need to be balanced at all. I do not think that I am an authority on the subject by any means, as such I intend to work hard on each post here so that they offer value.

What are you going to write about?

I want to use studies and examples to show everything I talk about. I have plans for the first few posts, but will gladly write about areas people point me to (assuming anyone ever reads this). Some of the topics I intend to cover include:

  • What is the meta-game and where did it come from,
  • The reason game balancing is so difficult (spoiler: it’s because of combinatoric complexity),
  • How games are balanced in industry,
  • The divide between the game development industry and academia,
  • Specific posts about relevant work published in academia (hopefully some of it will be my work),
  • The subject/object divide and how game balancing is both an art and a science.

I intend to write 2/3 posts not including this one, then I will start talking about this publically and try to write a new post every month or so, to give me the time to make them (some what) good.

Soon, you’ll have your #content, I promise.