Warbook: An interesting ecological experiment on Facebook.

I’ve been playing Warbook, an added application on the Facebook site and it has shown to be a good parallel with a forest ecology in some respects. Here’s why I think that:

In a mature forest the large trees take so many of the resources that at ground level hardly anything can grow. Seeds that germinate just can’t get enough energy to survive. It is only when a large tree falls that the opportunity exists for the seedlings to scramble for the new space and grow.

In Warbook the “energy” a player has is determined by their income which is generated by their free land (which they have to buy) with some addition from mines (which take free land). This land resource can be scavenged by other players who can attack other players. The player being attacked can defend using their army, which they also have to buy and upgrade. The problem for the “germinating” new players is that before you can buy and keep enough land to generate enough wealth to flourish in the game and build to the point where you can attack other players (there’s a minimum size of land holding you have to have before you can attack) you have to be able to build up a large enough army with a high enough defence strength to hold onto that land. Of course, for those who got into the game early the number of attackers was far fewer and the level of attack strength for those attackers was far lower than later in the game.

The point is that now it’s almost impossible for any new players to build up the resources needed. Larger players are “harvesting” the land resources of these new players with armies which are so powerful that there is no way the new players can defend against them and both their land and their armies are being depleated at a rate far higher than they can afford to replenish them. Just like the large trees in a forest suppressing the undergrowth. The difference with Warbook, however, is that the “big trees” aren’t restricted in their area of influence and can (and do) sap the energy of any and all opposition. It doesn’t matter, therefore, if one “big tree” dies as no space is made in the ecosystem to give  an opportunity for the saplings to develop. In other words, the game rules are fully biased in favour of early adopters and new players are essentially excluded. There are no niches in the ecosystem for such players to inhabit.

For me, the game is both interesting (in an academic sense) and highly frustrating (‘cos I can’t get to the point where I can even play effectively). Oh well. 🙂

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