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The Game Design of Survivor 40

Posted by Zonk
from the never-watched-that-game dept.
Wired has an article looking at a game designer working in a fairly unique space: reality television. Clive Thompson discusses the game design of the show Survivor , done mostly by the show's creator Mark Burnett. From the article: "While tweaking Survivor, he closely studied John Nash's game theory in order to better engineer the hysteria and emotional blowouts of each season's finale. 'What Nash's theory predicts is that whenever you have a group of people competing, they collude to squeeze one guy out, again and again, until there's only two guys left,' Burnett notes. 'Yet when there are only two of us left, we're surprised when one of us [screws] each other over. That's the fun part. It surprised John Nash himself, but it happens every time.'"
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The Game Design of Survivor

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  • ...the old Eco-challenge (pre-playboy bunny), where there were real challeneges.
    • Not related (Score:4, Informative)

      by andrewman327 (635952) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @10:47AM (#15910151) Homepage Journal
      The Eco Challenge [wikipedia.org] does not have anything to do with TFA. The Challenge did not have people voted off thus it does not implement Nash's Theories.


      Anyway, back on topic. Nash created ways of describing so many behaviors but he did it so simply. In addition to his mind, his theories are beautiful. Whether competing in an outdoor gameshow or trying to pick up ladies at the club, game theory works wonders. (And no, I am not suggesting that you walk up to a girl and start talking to her about math. It doesn't work so well. Trust me.)

      • And, in a way, that was the beauty of it. The time marks elimated the slow groups; the all-four-must-finish elimated a lot of the groups that (c)wouldn't work together. Clearly Mark has gone where the money is, but I really prefered his eco-challenge setups. Well, the real ones, before he thought that (random group of otherwise unfit competitors) should be inserted for better TV play.
      • math (Score:3, Funny)

        by ajrs (186276)
        (And no, I am not suggesting that you walk up to a girl and start talking to her about math. It doesn't work so well. Trust me.)

        Stay away from girls who don't like to talk about math, or whatever it is your into. The ones who like the same things are less likely to intoduce you to fractions like (1/2) down the road.
      • But Eco-Challenge does have to do with the subject. Burnett was the producer for the televised event, and I believe managed the overall event as well. The GP was harkening back to mark burnett days when competition was about physical skill and strategy, not economic cunning and general ass-baggery.
  • Gold Rush (Score:4, Funny)

    by neonprimetime (528653) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @10:44AM (#15910122)
    Next month, we'll see if Burnett can top these tricks, because he's launching his next game -- Gold Rush. He has hidden a dozen $100,000 stashes of gold (and one $1 million one) around the country, and sprinkled clues to their location inside various Time-Warner and CBS media properties such as Entertainment Weekly, the Netscape homepage, The Opie and Anthony Show and, of course, CBS' Survivor. Playing the game thus forces you to engage in a level of media synergy that leaves advertisers thrilled and me kind of dizzy.

    This doesn't sound like a bright idea. If there is literally $1 million just laying around somewhere, I think we're going to end up with a few arrests for damage to property, plus some homicides before the game ends.
    • it my not be a bright idea, but it will be fun!
      Hell I was damaging property BEFORE I knew there was money to be found in "them there floorboards"!
    • This doesn't sound like a bright idea. If there is literally $1 million just laying around somewhere, I think we're going to end up with a few arrests for damage to property, plus some homicides before the game ends.

      Homocides and arrests? Awesome! Now that you mentioned that, Gold Rush is going to be an enormous hit!

      Any kind of PR is good PR. Screw the flack, how much advertising $$ does flack bring in? :-)

    • Jewel^WGold Rush (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tired_Blood (582679)

      He has hidden a dozen $100,000 stashes of gold (and one $1 million one) around the country, and sprinkled clues to their location inside various ... media properties.

      Sounds familiar [atreasurestrove.com]...

      Realistically, they will have to implement the same policy - using tokens instead of leaving the actual prize on site. Given that this is purely a publicity promotion, they lose much of its value if nobody ever publicly claims a prize. If they force the participants to accept the prize at a network studio, they have the adde

  • Rubbish (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zalle (637380)
    The article is written by a clueless engineer-journalist who thinks game theory and Survivor design have anything to do with video games. Think again. The whole point of game theory is that you have more than 1 person interacting strategically, it has nothing to do with how to make Quake or World of Warcraft fun. And as is seen very often on Slashdot, just because you're fairly smart and can write code or design electronics or study micro-organisms, you don't have a clue about anything else.
  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:00AM (#15910237)
    This interview mostly seems to be to promote Gold Rush, not that we should be surprised by that.

    The bit about Survivor was interesting, but I would have liked to see more discussion about how they tried to change the game over the years to keep up with players who understood its nature.

    The most fascinating thing about the first season of Survivor, for me, was that some of the players clearly understood what it would take to win, but many didn't. Starting with the second season and players having seen the game played out once, the game had a very different feel. Reading more about the things they tried to keep it still a thinking game yet unpredictable, what worked and what didn't, would have been cool.
    • The key though, is that they pick people who will, in fact, play the game the way they want it played. Once Richard Hatch on the first season embodied the backstabbing and laying style of playing, a great number of people adopted that playing style and the producers of the show have, I can only assume, people that will play that way.

      There is nothing about game that requires that you have to be dishonest or backstab. I have thought it would be facinating if once a group of players realized this and said, "
      • There is nothing about game that requires that you have to be dishonest or backstab.

        Requires, no. However, you're kidding yourself if you think selective (and that part is crucial) dishonesty is not key to optimal play of the game.

        Backstabbing at a crucial moment isn't the only tool in a Survivor player's arsenal. It isn't the only factor in whether you'd win or lose. It is possible to win Survivor without ever lying or backstabbing. But, all that said, if you are unwilling or unable to use that
        • This is all a moot point, but I'm not entirely convinced that dishonesty is the key to winning. What would be lost if you told everyone before the vote exactly what you were going to do? You could still switch sides and still vote off firends but you could be honest about it and tell them ahead of time. There is still always the chance that this could result in the person you were voting out backstabbing you. However, isn't that always a possibility regardless?

          So I don't know that being totally honest a
          • What would be lost if you told everyone before the vote exactly what you were going to do? You could still switch sides and still vote off firends but you could be honest about it and tell them ahead of time. There is still always the chance that this could result in the person you were voting out backstabbing you. However, isn't that always a possibility regardless?

            There've been at least a few cases over the many seasons of Survivor wherein someone basically did this, and then got voted out due to the
          • There is still always the chance that this could result in the person you were voting out backstabbing you. However, isn't that always a possibility regardless?

            This is where you go wrong. The chance of someone betraying you, is a lot higher if they know that you are going to betray them. If you have a large enough group of people, then nobody is sure who is going to be betrayed (you only need to vote one person of) - it is best if everybody thinks that someone else will be voted of. Then they don't
      • The first set of Big Brother contestants in Holland apparently did just that. They kicked back, had a good time and hung out with each other. Come voting time, they deliberately rigged it so that they all got the same, and it was just down to the audience to choose who to send off.

        I strongly suspect it was better viewing than the current Big Brother lot in the UK, who bring tedium to new levels.

        Grab.
      • Except that Richard Hatch DIDN'T win by backstabbing and lying.

        He won by building the one and only stable coalition in the game, while the rest of the players bounced around randomly, never thinking to build voting blocs.

        The only significant lying was that he denied the existance of the coalition, as did every other member of it. He didn't even deny it that vociferously.

        In fact, Hatch was one of the most HONEST players of the game ever -- precisely because a pure coalition building strategy was possible in
    • Shannon Appelcline wrote an article about game design issues in survivor: http://www.skotos.net/articles/TTnT_74.shtml [skotos.net] which might supply some of that missing analytical detail.
      There's also a followup article, much briefer, though: http://www.skotos.net/articles/TTnT_135.phtml [skotos.net]
  • Why Survivor Works (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GrayCalx (597428) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:40AM (#15910523)
    Survivor is the one reality show I really like, and have consistently since the first season.

    It works so well, in my opinion, because of the length of the "season" and the isolation of the players. It starts out, I assume, like any other reality show; with everyone acting awkward. The loud obnoxious person making an ass of him/her-self. The shy ones hiding out in the background. But over the weeks (the show lasts 39 days i think) as the field whittles down, more of eveyone's true personality comes out and eventually I think it gets as "real" as reality tv can get.

    Add to that the fact that it requires a combination of physical and mental strength to win. Winning all of the challenges will certainly get you there, so will aligning with the proper people and really manipulating them. What comes off as bitchy/asshole-ish in other reality shows, really could win you the game in Survivor.

    Unfortunately I still hear a lot of people lump Survivor in with any other reality show: The Bachelor, Big Brother, American Idol. But whatever, we don't all have to like the same stuff.
    • The way that Survivor is set up, it too often promotes purely selfish back-stabbing behavior. It really brings out the worst in people, and more often than not when there are finally repercussions at the end of the game when the ousted contestants get to vote for the real winner... it's too late. They're stuck with two assholes and having to choose from the lesser of two evils.

      This is one of the reasons that I prefer a show like "The Apprentice", where merit is the constant driving force in the game, ra
      • by MarkGriz (520778) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @01:28PM (#15911359)
        "They're stuck with two assholes and having to choose from the lesser of two evils."

        Based on that description, and the popularity of the show,
        you'd think more people would be interested in politics.
      • Yeah I guess I agree in a sense. I'm not so sure the show promotes selfish behavior so much as thats been a proven technique to win, but who knows what they're editting out ya know?

        And it seems like so far the winner of the show is either the most selfish/backstabbingist person OR someone who made no moves what-so-ever and just squeeked in by not being noticed. Those situations actually tick me off more, I'd rather some jerk who played win over someone who was just there for fun.

        But to add to that,
      • You must be talking about the US version of the Apprentice. They have a version in the UK, full of incompetent buffoons, each trying to talk themselves up while proving that they have no business ability at all. I end up rooting (you must be an ozzie as well) for the least incompetent of a pretty pathetic bunch of fools.

        And, at least in the UK version, there is still a lot of backstabbing and blame passing.
    • Survivor is a great show, it gets a bunch of people, and puts them in a very difficult situation. That would be enough for a show right there, but forcing allegiances and betrayals adds a whole other dimension. I really wish they showed it here in the UK.

      Funny thing is, I know they had an Australian version, and there were probably others, but they were just not as good. Something about Americans being entertainers (or backstabbing bastards - depends how you see thigns)
  • by bigmouth_strikes (224629) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @12:03PM (#15910705) Journal
    The concept and the format was created by a British production company. Mark Burnett simply purchased a license to it. The first show produced using this format was the Swedish Expedition Robinson [wikipedia.org].

  • by AnotherAaron (995504) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @12:10PM (#15910757)
    ...describes my cube farm almost perfectly. The boss at any one time has one "favorite" and one "target." Every time the "target" gets fired or laid off, the rest of the work group gangs up on one individual and ensures that the individual ends up as the new "target."

    I've been here two years and have seen this happen over and over again like clockwork.....I haven't been able to decide whether the boss, who is a big fan of Survivor, is creating this environment on purpose (through knowledge of Nash's theory) or if it's just a product of her being a crank.

    God, I so need a new job.
    • Oh. My. Lord. I would go completely, Columbine style insane in an environment like that. Two years? You've got thicker skin than me, I wouldn't have lasted two months. I feel for you, man, I really do.
      • The only reason I've lasted this long is because I get in at 10:30 every day and they all get in around 7. That means I get about 4 hours without any of them in the office.....usually with most of my work for the day done.... If it wasn't for that, I would have gone insane within a month.
  • I did some testing on the Survivor PC video game when I was working at Atari. That game sucks big time. There was a lot of QA testers who wanted to be "voted" off that title.

You can bring any calculator you like to the midterm, as long as it doesn't dim the lights when you turn it on. -- Hepler, Systems Design 182

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