Diplomacy, Multiplayer Asymmetry and Design Philosophy

Diplomacy, Multiplayer Asymmetry and Design Philosophy

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Jin_Cardassian

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As we'll likely be getting a diplomacy revamp sometime in the next few updates, there's a design philosophy discussion that I think needs to be had.

Diplomacy mechanics in strategy games are usually just there for single player, and are an utterly superfluous joke in multiplayer. Opinion modifiers do not matter, because only the AI cares about them. Likewise, formal agreements and alliances give no indication of actual diplomatic orientation. Any real multplayer diplomacy takes place in private chat, totally circumventing all other mechanics.

Stellaris is not alone in suffering from this problem. This problem is common. It is accepted that SP and MP are just different games and it's totally fine if none of the diplomacy mechanics apply. The result is that SP diplomacy is left feeling contrived and simplistic, while MP diplomacy can't reward and enhance the roleplay element of empire choices; it just sits atop the world as some powergamey aberration while your Fanatic Spiritualists casually ally with Fanatic Materialists.

It does not have to be this way.

The issue is that so much of diplomacy is made to rest on opinion and manipulating it when it holds no real value for non-AI opponents. That's not a given; that's a faulty design choice. The solution is to simply replace asymmetric mechanics with symmetrical ones that effect players the same as the AI.

  • Opinions could apply hard limits on player actions. So for example you cannot ally with someone unless you have a good opinion with them and they with you, regardless of whether both players want to. Relations are resources you have to steward, just as you steward your economy and military.
  • Diplomatic actions could cost influence/energy. Shit does not come for free. You have to spend political capital to get things out of another government, even one headed by a player. If spending influence for each deal would be tedious and prohibitive, at least allow it for more difficult and significant deals, perhaps as part of a more fleshed out diplomatic combat system.
  • Alliances, Guarantees and the like could provide straight mechanical bonuses on top of the diplomatic status change itself, so that there's actually a reason to pay the influence cost on these. Defensive Pacts could provide combat bonuses in eachother's territories during a defensive war and allow upgrading at each others starports. Federations could have their own civics, applying bonuses to members but requiring commitments to certain stances and actions. Without mechanical bonuses there's no point, and people will opt for chat-based realpolitik instead.

The fear here is that players will complain about control being taken out of their hands by "gamey" mechanics, but this is selective indignation. How is it any less gamey to have to spend influence on edicts, claims and outposts? Politics requires this kind of thing. Even if both "executives" want something to happen, they have vast armies of NPC underlings and interest groups they must convince to go along with it. You cannot force too many drastic changes too quickly. You have to steward and spend political capital to do such things, and depending on your ethic and government choices some decisions are harder sells than others.

Whenever strategy games accept this and build mechanics with this realization in mind, the multiplayer design improves dramatically. Now all of a sudden global and internal politics are strings you must carefully pluck to achieve your player goals. You can no longer circumvent the process with meta. The result is deeper mechanics, greater immersion and symmetry between SP and MP game dynamics.

Paradox has been very wise to apply this philosophy to many of their other games. Stellaris would benefit from the same.

In HOI4 you straight up cannot make certain diplomatic decisions unless World Tension is high enough. Period. Regardless of what the players behind the flags want to do. A standard MP game as the USA involves constant finagling to persuade your people and government to become more involved in the war, and to eventually join it. Just like it was in real in real life.

It's an investment to create a system that accomplishes this, but ultimately less of an investment than trying to balance MP and SP independently from each other.
 
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I like the idea.

I think it comes down to the philosophy of whether you are playing a ‘God’ and your orders are yours to make completely autonomously or whether your playing the role of a government who has to swim the river of diplomacy to achieve its goals - single and multiplayer seem to have different opinions on this.

Because players do not have the same opinions as their species it makes some traits defunct. In a multiplayer game, repugnant is almost a free trait & charismatic is a useless one.
 

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Rather than a hard block on diplomatic actions, I'd personally like to see a influence cost modifier. Defensive pact with a neutral empire ? The usual 1 influence/month. Friendly one ? 0.50. Unfriendly (obviously this would only happen in MP) ? An expensive 2 (I'm pulling numbers out of my butt here, but you get the idea). Hard blocks tend to be frustrating in my experience and this system would, in addition to discouraging players from seeking pacts with enemies, reward them for making pacts with their friends. It also makes sense fluff-side, as alliances with people you like are easier to push on the political stage than alliances with people you hate, or are simply neutral about.

As for federations, I'm waiting to see what the devs have in mind for them, but I do hope we'll be seeing more mechanics related to it, such as federal policies, civics as you mentioned, maybe even forcing specific species rights on federated empires under certain circumstances...
 

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<snip>

  • Opinions could apply hard limits on player actions. So for example you cannot ally with someone unless you have a good opinion with them and they with you, regardless of whether both players want to. Relations are resources you have to steward, just as you steward your economy and military.
Except that it really can't. Two players may be unable to realize a formal alliance inside the game, but they can still choose which direction to expand, which stars to claim, which colonies to form, which other players to antagonize. In short, they can still support one another in almost all the ways meaningful to a 4X or grand strategy game. Their failure to sign any formal agreement wrt military, economic, or other alliance notwithstanding, the empires can align their interests. If you try to apply hard limits to these aspects, you are left with little game since the players get almost no choices remaining..

  • Diplomatic actions could cost influence/energy. Shit does not come for free. You have to spend political capital to get things out of another government, even one headed by a player. If spending influence for each deal would be tedious and prohibitive, at least allow it for more difficult and significant deals, perhaps as part of a more fleshed out diplomatic combat system.
Sure! which makes formal agreements between players more expensive and makes informal arrangements more valuable and likely. Wait, I thought you wanted more formal arrangements between human players? If you want more formal arrangements inside the game to mirror/replace informal arrangements outside the game then the game has to offer inducements to forming such relationships -- not inflict costs.

  • Alliances, Guarantees and the like could provide straight mechanical bonuses on top of the diplomatic status change itself, so that there's actually a reason to pay the influence cost on these. Defensive Pacts could provide combat bonuses in eachother's territories during a defensive war and allow upgrading at each others starports. Federations could have their own civics, applying bonuses to members but requiring commitments to certain stances and actions. Without mechanical bonuses there's no point, and people will opt for chat-based realpolitik instead.
This is the strongest idea for having the players actually participate in in-game diplomatic action with each other. But even here, you'll likely end up with out-of-game relationships and alliances simply because people are people. Unless the mechanical benefits are so strong as to overwhelm the other game mechanics, players will choose to do what they feel is best for them and often have a lot of out-of-game reasons for their choices wrt the actions towards other players.
The fear here is that players will complain about control being taken out of their hands by "gamey" mechanics, but this is selective indignation. How is it any less gamey to have to spend influence on edicts, claims and outposts? Politics requires this kind of thing. Even if both "executives" want something to happen, they have vast armies of NPC underlings and interest groups they must convince to go along with it. You cannot force too many drastic changes too quickly. You have to steward and spend political capital to do such things, and depending on your ethic and government choices some decisions are harder sells than others.

<snip>

But this does not address the problem of alliance-in-all-but-name or rivals-in-all-but-name that characterise informal player relationships. By all means, have in-game decisions cost appropriate in-game resources for appropriate in-game rewards. Just realize the out-of-game relationships are going to still dominate player-to-player choices and colour almost every decision the player makes and that those choices matter a whole lot more to the tenor of a game than whatever value any formal diplomatic option may bring.
 
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I like the idea.

I think it comes down to the philosophy of whether you are playing a ‘God’ and your orders are yours to make completely autonomously or whether your playing the role of a government who has to swim the river of diplomacy to achieve its goals - single and multiplayer seem to have different opinions on this.

Because players do not have the same opinions as their species it makes some traits defunct. In a multiplayer game, repugnant is almost a free trait & charismatic is a useless one.

There can be a range of Godliness for people that prefer to play with fewer internal obstacles to executive power. Gestalts provide this to a degree. Normal government types are underdeveloped compared to ethics and civics (which I think are wonderfully done), but among those Dictatorship seems like it should offer the strongest executive power. You don't have to secure the support of either voters, oligarchs or royal court members. You can just strongman a lot of stuff. Still, while this could reduce the cost or widen the range of some diplomatic options, it should never completely ignore costs or offer carte blanche control. And of course you give up other advantages to get this.

Yeah, Repugnant/Charismatic could be adjusted to give discounts/bonuses to whatever meaningful diplomatic cost economy there is. Or if opinion modifies the cost of certain diplomatic actions like @Paradoxon suggests, it could come into play then.
 

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Sure! which makes formal agreements between players more expensive and makes informal arrangements more valuable and likely. Wait, I thought you wanted more formal arrangements between human players? If you want more formal arrangements inside the game to mirror/replace informal arrangements outside the game then the game has to offer inducements to forming such relationships -- not inflict costs.

You're partially right. Yes, such a system wouldn't change how people agree to informal NAPs... Which don't cost influence anyway, so these are obviously irrelevant to the debate at hand. But there is no such thing as an "informal defensive pact", which is the example I was using here. You could try to declare war on your buddy's attacker in response, but as they'd be two different wars, with two different WEs, it'd be far less efficient than an actual, unified war of two empires against one.
Next, you're assuming I was presenting this as an idea to "encourage people to have more formal arrangements". I wasn't. I saw a proposition to stop people from having certain kinds of alliances, I made a counter-proposition that was less restraining. And I believe the initial point of the thread was not "more formal arrangements", but "less formal arrangements that shouldn't have happened in the first place" (i.e. empires with -200 relation modifiers ending up in a defensive pact together because they're players). My proposition incidentally creates more incentive to ally with people you like, and not ally with people you hate, but it's a plus rather than the core of my proposal.
At last, that idea can work both ways : to discourage players from seeking beneficial relations with hostile empires, but it could also grant bonuses to empires who engage negatively with them. For example, it'd be easy to imagine that, if defensive pacts would cost less with friendly empires, rivalries could generate more influence with empires you truly hate, and less with empires that don't warrant a rivalry in the first place.

All in all, my argument is simply "don't hard block stuff, it's bland and there are far more interesting ways of encouraging players to make coherent, in-universe decisions".
 

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@sillyrobot

The idea is more to offer clear mechanical benefits to formal diplomatic agreements so that there is an incentive to take advantage of them, and a justification for the cost. So for example a Defense Pact could give you a +10% fire rate in each others territories during a defensive war, or something. Informal alliances would still be possible, they would just forgo many advantages. There are incentives to navigating the political and social terrain of the world, rather than just ignoring it.

Yes, these mechanics would have to be balanced so as to provide strong enough gains and limitations without over-determining player choices, but that's true of all mechanics. Not really sure what your point is other than "playtesting needed".

As to player agency, this is no more a limitation on player behavior than having to spend minerals to build ships, rather than just possessing the power to will them into existence. I mean, why can't you just press a single key and win the game. No player agency!

There's an economic reality beyond your ruler that you have to engage with, and so too a political and social one. If you want to sell your Spiritualist legislature on an alliance with Materialists, it takes some convincing. This adds rewarding mechanical and narrative complexity to diplomacy, which is what people keep asking for. I don't really understand the objection to the notion that a playing a political strategy game requires political strategy.

My point in writing this was to emphasize the importance of founding diplomacy on mechanics that remain equally powerful in multiplayer as they are in single player.
 

Jorrhast

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Opinions could apply hard limits on player actions. So for example you cannot ally with someone unless you have a good opinion with them and they with you, regardless of whether both players want to.
ez workaround
Joe and Bil want to launch joint attack against common enemy some AI who doesn't even know he's their enemy.
Problem: they have opinion malus between them because ethics(or whatever).
Solution:
0)Joe has energy, Bill doesn't
1.1)Joe "gifts" Bill 2000 energy, opinion +50(or whatever)
1.2)Bill "gifts" that same 2000 energy to Joe, opinion +50(or whatever)
2)repeat 1.1-1.2 till opinion reaches "joint attacks allowed" threshold
3)attack the AI
..
5)PROFIT!!!
 

sillyrobot

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<snip>
Next, you're assuming I was presenting this as an idea to "encourage people to have more formal arrangements". <snip>
I'm sorry, did I reply to you? <Checks thread> Nope. I've made no assumptions about what you meant or said since I've made no comment about what you meant or said.
 

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@sillyrobot Okay, I have simply no clue how I managed to mistake Jin's paragraph for mine. You have my fully honest apologies here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's probably a hole somewhere I need to crawl back to.
 

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I believe the initial point of the thread was not "more formal arrangements", but "less formal arrangements that shouldn't have happened in the first place" (i.e. empires with -200 relation modifiers ending up in a defensive pact together because they're players). My proposition incidentally creates more incentive to ally with people you like, and not ally with people you hate, but it's a plus rather than the core of my proposal.
At last, that idea can work both ways : to discourage players from seeking beneficial relations with hostile empires, but it could also grant bonuses to empires who engage negatively with them. For example, it'd be easy to imagine that, if defensive pacts would cost less with friendly empires, rivalries could generate more influence with empires you truly hate, and less with empires that don't warrant a rivalry in the first place.

All in all, my argument is simply "don't hard block stuff, it's bland and there are far more interesting ways of encouraging players to make coherent, in-universe decisions".

I like these ideas, and yes soft blocks are generally better than hard blocks. Out of Socio-Political Character (OSPC) actions can happen but they should be proportionately more costly.

The point of the post was both "less formal arrangements that shouldn't have happened in the first place" and also "formal arrangements should have mechanical teeth". That way they're both desirable even in multiplayer and you have to work for them. Which together adds up to making both the socio-political terrain equally weighty in multiplayer and any fleshed out diplomacy system (and abilities surrounding such) equally important in multiplayer.
 

sillyrobot

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@sillyrobot

The idea is more to offer clear mechanical benefits to formal diplomatic agreements so that there is an incentive to take advantage of them, and a justification for the cost. So for example a Defense Pact could give you a +10% fire rate in each others territories during a defensive war, or something. Informal alliances would still be possible, they would just forgo many advantages. There are incentives to navigating the political and social terrain of the world, rather than just ignoring it.

Something I'm all for having.

Yes, these mechanics would have to be balanced so as to provide strong enough gains and limitations without over-determining player choices, but that's true of all mechanics. Not really sure what your point is other than "playtesting needed".

The point wasn't around having or not having clear mechanical effects derive from relationships. The point was about why most games give short shrift to diplomacy in multiplayer games. The broad effect of informal/out-of-game relationships tends to provide such a large effect on game play that the in-game formal relationship fundamentally matters little.

As to player agency, this is no more a limitation on player behavior than having to spend minerals to build ships, rather than just possessing the power to will them into existence. I mean, why can't you just press a single key and win the game. No player agency!

On the contrary. Attempting to reduce the impact of the informal relationship will strike at almost every aspect of player choice since the informal relationship can affect almost every type of player choice. If the formal relationship between to empires is one of distrust, fear, and hatred then the long common border should be secured, resources deployed to detect/deter pre-emptive strikes, etc. But with the informal out-of-game relationship, both parties can afford to completely ignore that border, equitably split access to strategic resources, and redeploy forces against a "common enemy" that a disinterested observer would view as the preferred ally by either party. If the game attempts to control development along a naturalistic path, the players would need to lose some control about where resources get spent, what defensive constructs are required, etc. Without that control, there is really nothing that game can do to have the actual diplomatic orientation match the formal relationships.

Can a game engine introduce additional complexity to encourage behaviour from the players that fits more naturally with the in-game reality? Yes, but it tends to be a hard problem with a lot of unintended consequences attached to solutions.

There's an economic reality beyond your ruler that you have to engage with, and so too a political and social one. If you want to sell your Spiritualist legislature on an alliance with Materialists, it takes some convincing. This adds rewarding mechanical and narrative complexity to diplomacy, which is what people keep asking for. I don't really understand the objection to the notion that a playing a political strategy game requires political strategy.

The typical player response would be "Since becoming friends is hard, let's reap the benefits from a Rivalry or Cold War whilst remaining fast friends, what do you say?" and suddenly we're back to your point in the OP "Likewise, formal agreements and alliances give no indication of actual diplomatic orientation".

My point in writing this was to emphasize the importance of founding diplomacy on mechanics that remain equally powerful in multiplayer as they are in single player.

My point is the informal relationships have such a strong effect on game play in ways that cannot be unwound inside the game that any effect from a formal in-game relationship tends to be completely swamped.
 

sillyrobot

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@sillyrobot Okay, I have simply no clue how I managed to mistake Jin's paragraph for mine. You have my fully honest apologies here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's probably a hole somewhere I need to crawl back to.

LOL, no worries. I'll read your OP and probably post a response once I have!
 

sillyrobot

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Rather than a hard block on diplomatic actions, I'd personally like to see a influence cost modifier. Defensive pact with a neutral empire ? The usual 1 influence/month. Friendly one ? 0.50. Unfriendly (obviously this would only happen in MP) ? An expensive 2 (I'm pulling numbers out of my butt here, but you get the idea). Hard blocks tend to be frustrating in my experience and this system would, in addition to discouraging players from seeking pacts with enemies, reward them for making pacts with their friends. It also makes sense fluff-side, as alliances with people you like are easier to push on the political stage than alliances with people you hate, or are simply neutral about.

As for federations, I'm waiting to see what the devs have in mind for them, but I do hope we'll be seeing more mechanics related to it, such as federal policies, civics as you mentioned, maybe even forcing specific species rights on federated empires under certain circumstances...

This is a good approach for helping a player choose a naturalistic path for their diplomatic evolution and gives a good incentive for improving relations past the minimal level required to achieve an arrangement. Another of my favourite tweaks would be to reduce border friction malus based on relationship status and attitudes. Canada and the U.S. would be at each other's throat if real life border friction worked like it does in Stellaris.

What the suggestion doesn't do is attack the differences between an informal player arrangement compared to the formal in-game relationship which the OP starts off noting. The value of a strong informal relationship is hard to overstate in a multiplayer game and it is very hard to force an in-game reflection of that arrangement.
 

sillyrobot

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I like the idea.

I think it comes down to the philosophy of whether you are playing a ‘God’ and your orders are yours to make completely autonomously or whether your playing the role of a government who has to swim the river of diplomacy to achieve its goals - single and multiplayer seem to have different opinions on this.

Because players do not have the same opinions as their species it makes some traits defunct. In a multiplayer game, repugnant is almost a free trait & charismatic is a useless one.

That can be corrected by making AI and human effects more asymmetric rather than more symmetric. For example, if repugnant means trade agreements between human players suffer a 25% penalty from a repugnant partner (repugnant partner sends 100 but you only receive 75) and trade agreements between humans get a free 25% bonus from a charismatic partner then the traits would be worth consideration in a multiplayer game (assuming trade agreements are common enough and valuable enough in the game in question of course).
 

Planky

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How about including the factions in this? It's easy to imagine a hippie faction being upset that you agreed a defensive pact with slaving despots, equally militarists in a slaving despot empire wouldn't be happy about being friends with some namby pamby free love egalitarians. Thus when you make diplo actions you have to think about what your people are going to make of it, pushing you towards more of a role-play style
 

Paradoxon

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What the suggestion doesn't do is attack the differences between an informal player arrangement compared to the formal in-game relationship which the OP starts off noting. The value of a strong informal relationship is hard to overstate in a multiplayer game and it is very hard to force an in-game reflection of that arrangement.

You'll never erase the advantages of an informal relationship, indeed, but you can improve the formal ones to make them more appealing to the players. Right now, the idea of buffing formal alliances bonuses has been mentioned several times on the thread (and I maintain that DPs and Federations do have advantages over informal relations, even if it does not make them superior, by far), but I'm also interested in discussing their current downsides : I believe that one of the main reasons people avoid NAPs and DPs is because of the hard timers behind them. When you have to wait 10 years after a NAP is broken to declare war on someone, backstabbing is impossible, which is problematic when one of the main appeals of MP diplomacy is the dirty tricks and the political manipulations to get what you want.

For that, I'd suggest the same thing I suggested for the rest: get rid of the hard blocks, replace with bonuses/maluses. You break a NAP ? Sure, you can attack the guy right away. But it'll destroy the Trust you have with every other empire (after all, you just proved your Trust-worthiness is worthless) and apply a growth malus on it for, I don't know, the next ten years. That way, you make backstabbing viable through formal means, with realistic/coherent consequences after.

Fundamentally, I don't think we should block players from having all these irregular moves in their games. They're what makes the MP gameplay fun, and why games like Dominions or Neptune's Pride are praised for their diplomatic side. The best outcome is to make sure that these irregular moves can be represented in the game, and give them enough substance to make them worth more than their non-represented counterpart.
 

Jin_Cardassian

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That can be corrected by making AI and human effects more asymmetric rather than more symmetric. For example, if repugnant means trade agreements between human players suffer a 25% penalty from a repugnant partner (repugnant partner sends 100 but you only receive 75) and trade agreements between humans get a free 25% bonus from a charismatic partner then the traits would be worth consideration in a multiplayer game (assuming trade agreements are common enough and valuable enough in the game in question of course).

Check out the diplomatic combat system idea I linked. With a system like this, in which most diplomatic actions take time to accomplish, these traits could quicken or slow your progress gain for all negotiations, reflecting either "I can't deal with these disgusting people" or "talking to them is such a joy". Even non-adversarial deals in which both parties want the outcome would suffer a lag in accomplishing it, representing the extra difficulty or ease that Diplomats face when dealing with each other. So it would still create a problem even for multiplayer buddies trying to seal mutually beneficial deals, as well as a hilarious mental image.
 
Last edited:

Ezumiyr

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Some multiplayer groups use house rules to prevent the problems related to alliances.

Fanatic Materialists allying with fanatic Spiritualists isn't the problem per se - there's no reason why you couldn't roleplay a good reason for it. And an added cost to alliances would be detrimental for empires that already struggle to stay in the game.

No, the problem is when the empires that already dominate the game make alliances or become parts of federation. This leads to very unbalanced, unfun game at worst, and to cold war situations at best.
The main difference between solo and multi in Stellaris is that you want a more balanced experience. So the house rules often decreet that the most powerful empires in the galaxy won't be able to form alliances or defensive pactsn for example.

I think that a good way to implement that in game would be to scale the diplomatic cost to the relative power of each empire in an optional rule at the start of the game. The stronger your empire, the biggest the cost. For example, the stronger empire would have to pay x10 influence for all diplomatic treaties, while the weakest one would have a .0,1 reduction. That way the strongest empires would be on their own, while the weaker ones would have the chance to have a meaningful existence in the galaxy.

And for repugnant and charismatic, it could respectively boost and alleviate diplomatic costs.


In general, I feel like this thread misses the true problem. If you want multiplayer diplomacy to be based on empires opinion, and if you want realpolitik in the chat, you should join a roleplay group. Your solution won't allow multiplayer to become more symmetrical or balanced. By putting more restrictions and adding a cost to alliances for everyone, you're making empires that can handle the costs stronger, and you're making weaker empires that need alliances weaker.