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Specific diegetic social networks where membership is defined by what actions are favored, disfavored, and required.

A Faction is a group that has members, criterion on membership, and accepted and disallowed behaviors. Different kinds of groups, such as a family, a gang, an army, are all examples of Factions.


The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in The Elder Scrolls series provide many different types of Factions for players to join. Each requires certain tasks and requirements to be fulfill for membership, and having this provides access to various tools and the possibility of advancement through completing additional goals.

Players' characters in World of Warcraft can have different relations to the many Factions that exists in games. Their standings are measure by the reputation value they have to each specific Faction, and this can be affected through completing quests and killing monsters. Some rivaling factions are react diametrically different to some actions, so for example killing a pirate of the Bloodsail Buccaneers may result in a lower reputation among them while increasing ones reputation among the goblins of the Steamwheedle Cartel. However, players cannot join Factions - this is instead handled through guilds which consist solely of players.

Using the pattern

Membership in Factions can be considered from three perspectives: what is required to join, what is required to continue being a member, and what is required to advance within their organizations.

Typically a few of the members in Factions act as the Social Gatekeepers which determine who can join. The requirements that need to be fulfilled to satisfy these Social Gatekeepers can range from having the right set of Attributes, possessing the right set of Tools, completing Quests, or a combination of these. Joining Factions may be Enforced Goals due to Predetermined Story Structures but can also be Optional Goals which in the latter case Player-Planned Development. If there are several Factions which can be joined, an additional design choice is if one can only be member of one of these (creating a Selectable Set of Goals) or if multiple memberships are possible.

Being, or not being, a player or human (which does not need to be the same thing due to the possibility of AI Players or NPCs) is another possible requirement for be allowed to join Factions. World of Warcraft is an example of a game using this differentiation, called the organization consisting only of NPCs for Factions while those consisting only of players for Guilds. In contrast, the Single-Player Game Oblivion in the Elder Scrolls series has Factions consisting of NPCs which can be joined by the player. It can be easy to ensure that the rules of Factions are maintained, i.e. that in relation to these rules Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, if there is at least one Algorithmic Agent in the Factions while Guilds, which only contain human players, run under Self-Facilitated Rules. Of course, Factions can play important roles in games without players being members of them. The most obvious case is as Enemies to provide Conflicts with many opponents but can also be used for NPCs to control accessibility of Quests and modifications of prices during Trading.

Since membership is the result of completing a goal, it is typically that the membership is associated with some type of Rewards. The possibility to gain New Abilities or Improved Abilities is common as this type of Reward, either in the form of training or through purchasable Tools. Other possibilities include opportunity to recruit Companions or that the NPCs owes players Favors.

For each Faction used in a game, there need to be a set of Diegetic Social Norms define which regulate what is actions are acceptable to the members of that Faction. For Factions to have identities of their own, unacceptable behaviors by members typically need to have Penalties, i.e. Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences; in some cases the consequence can be the Penalty of becoming a Outcast. In addition, memberships in Factions imply Loyalty, either as a Predefined Goal or as a Committed Goal (in the latter case, the memberships needs to have some benefits). While Loyalty can be disregarded through inaction, Internal Conflicts and Social Dilemmas can give players causes for Betrayal and thereby provide an active option to break Loyalty. This can lead to them not only becoming Outcasts but also Traitors. Somewhat less destructive, Internal Rivalry can be used to provide more Challenging Gameplay, and can be regulated by the Diegetic Social Norms. The Internal Rivalry can either be achieved through static goals (often combined with the Predetermined Story Structure) but can also become a part of the game system through the use of Information Passing as generic game events. While Faction politics can be controlled by the game design in Single-Player Games this may be impossible to do completely in Multiplayer Games, so these may develop Internal Conflicts, Internal Rivalry, and Social Dilemmas despite if they were part of the design intentions or not, especially for games with Persistent Game Worlds. One way to provide the norms of Factions in broad strokes is to tie them to Character Alignments.

Advancements in Factions require Hierarchical Fractions and typically require the completion of specific tasks, and can therefore easily take the form of Quests which form a Goal Hierarchy. While advancement may be Optional Goals and independent Predetermined Story Structures, they can also be integrated into the main Predetermined Story Structure of a game.

Diegetic Aspects

Depending on the level of diegesis in the game, Factions can consist of players or their Characters (and NPCs). The diegesis typically also determines if Factions are Hierarchical Fractions or not.

Narrative Aspects

Factions can function as important components in Predetermined Story Structures, and given the resource necessary to create Factions they are usually part of Main Quests. For hostile Factions they allow Conflicts that contain more than one person on each side, and thereby avoid the resolution of the Conflicts as soon as an Eliminate goal of an Enemy is achieved. For neutral or friendly Factions the Character Development of NPCs can instead be an important part of the story told. The use of Internal Rivalry makes it possible to have Enemies within players' own Factions to force the use of other means than Combat to complete Overcome goals.

For all types of Factions the Quests associated with them can easily form Goal Hierarchies explained by the developing story line. These Quests can also be the basis for giving them Open Destinies and the outcomes of these can be used to create variations in Multiple Endings.


Which Faction an agent in a game belongs to is a Characteristics of that agent. For Multiplayer Games, Factions offers a natural reason for Teams and Alliances. This in turn often leads to Social Interaction since the Factions function as Social Organizations. While Teams may still occur with Algorithmic Agents and thereby also in Single-Player Games, Social Interaction is less likely since it would require that a player considers an Algorithmic Agent as a social individual. Many times making the joining of a Faction is a Reward in that it can provide access to information, training, and trading of specific Tools. By doing so, becoming a member of a Faction can the requirement to complete a Gain Information, Gain Competence, or Gain Ownership goal, but more likely it will be a Supporting Goal to one of these goals since it may be part of Goal Hierarchies or require Trading. When players have had the chance of choosing whether to join Factions or not, the different goals provided in this fashion support Player-Planned Development.

Factions create simple social constructs that can be used to introduce social interaction to gameplay. While joining Factions may require befriending with or making favors to Social Gatekeepers, keeping ones status may require the Continuous Goal of Diegetic Social Maintenance and advancement may support Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses and Narration Structures through the use of Goal Hierarchies. Given that Factions typically have Penalties for breaking Diegetic Social Norms, and advancements within Factions may provoke Internal Rivalry, the use of Factions in games typically has the consequence of Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences. These consequences imply that players have to choose between complying with an Enforced Agent Behavior, that can include both a Limited Set of Actions as well as requiring actions at certain times, or placing themselves in Risk/Reward situations through by doing actions that are not acceptable by Faction rules. Both joining and being cast out of Factions are examples of Persistent Game World Changes.

Given that Factions can make goals, Rewards, and Penalties apply to all members, the pattern is often modified by Mutual Goals, Shared Penalties, and Shared Rewards. Since players may need to live with the effects, having Factions in Persistent Game Worlds tend to strengthen the effects of all the consequences mentioned above.


Can Instantiate

Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Alliances, Characteristics, Committed Goals, Conflicts, Continuous Goals, Enemies, Enforced Agent Behavior, Gain Competence, Gain Information, Gain Ownership, Goal Hierarchies, Internal Conflicts, Internal Rivalry, Loyalty, Predetermined Story Structures, New Abilities, Overcome, Outcasts, Penalties, Persistent Game World Changes, Player-Planned Development, Predefined Goals, Quests, Rewards, Risk/Reward, Social Dilemmas, Social Interaction, Diegetic Social Maintenance, Diegetic Social Norms, Social Organizations, Supporting Goals, Teams, Trading, Traitors

with Goal Hierarchies

Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses, Narration Structures

with Penalties


Can Modulate

Characters, Companions, Eliminate, Improved Abilities, Multiple Endings, Quests, Tools, Trading

Can Be Instantiated By

Guilds, Hierarchical Fractions, NPCs, Social Gatekeepers

Can Be Modulated By

Algorithmic Agents, Betrayal, Character Alignments, Character Development, Enforced Goals, Internal Conflicts, Internal Rivalry, Loyalty, Main Quests, Mutual Goals, NPCs, Open Destiny, Optional Goals, Persistent Game Worlds, Self-Facilitated Rules, Shared Penalties, Shared Rewards, Social Dilemmas

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Faction, first introduced in Lankoski 2010[1].


  1. Lankoski (2010). Character-Driven Game Design - A Design Approach and Its Foundations in Character Engagement. D.A. thesis at Aalto University. Publication Series of the School of Art and Design A 101.