UC Santa Cruz’s Prom Week is a different kind of ‘social game’

Prom Week, a game developed by a team of students and faculty at the University of California Santa Cruz, is now available on Facebook. The game is a simulation of social interactions between high school students based on a sophisticated artificial intelligence system. None of the stories which the player can experience in the game are pre-scripted, leading to a wide variety of potential outcomes.

Prom Week’s gameplay initially seems very similar to The Sims Social, with players choosing various actions for the on-screen characters to perform and then watching the outcome. Unlike The Sims Social, however, all available activities involve interactions between two characters, and rather than simply playing a short animation, a short scene — complete with procedurally-generated text-based dialog — is played out in front of the player. The player is then given a summary of the outcome of the action, which may affect three “relationship” statistics tracking how characters feel about one another as well as providing more short term feelings.

The structured part of the game revolves around selecting a character and having to fulfill a series of goals by the end of the school’s prom night. The player has a limited number of “turns” in which to accomplish these goals, but they can be completed by taking command of any characters present in the scene, not just the one who is ostensibly the “protagonist” of the story. In fact, many characters’ goals require the subtle social manipulation of other characters in order to accomplish tasks — in the story where the “geek” character wants to become Prom King, for example, he doesn’t stand a chance of befriending the head of the Prom Royalty Committee unless he shows he is enemies with her big rival.

Prom Week is based on a set of 5,000 social considerations or “rules” that govern the characters’ behavior in various situations. The team at UC Santa Cruz studied social interactions in movies and television shows, so the game’s social model is skewed towards popular media’s depiction of what high school life is like, not necessarily reality. This does, however, mean that most players who have seen movies and TV shows such as “Mean Girls” or “Sex and the City” will be familiar with the way these situations work — and the game also includes an “energy” mechanic for predicting and manipulating characters’ responses to various interactions, allowing for scenes to play out in wildly different ways with a bit of nudging from the player.

The game is a fascinating demonstration of what is possible with the use of artificial intelligence. Despite being Facebook-based and revolving around the concept of social interactions, however, the game features no viral social features outside of posting to the Games news ticker when players are playing, and nor does it feature any monetization. It does, however, serve as a bold advertisement for the possibilities on offer at UC Santa Cruz’s Games and Playable Media and Expressive Intelligence Studio departments, both of whom display prominent logos on the game’s canvas.

Prom Week is unlikely to enjoy widespread, mainstream success or profitability for the reasons outlined above. However, what it does show is the exciting possibilities artificial intelligence provides to online games. There’s no reason why elements of Prom Week’s innovative mechanics couldn’t be incorporated into a properly monetized, virally promoted social game, and for that reason alone, it’s very much worth the time it takes to explore.

At the time of writing, Prom Week has just 200 monthly active users and 200 daily active users. It only launched on February 16, however, so it will be interesting to see how the general community takes to it. To follow the game’s progress and observe its usage trends, be sure to check out our AppData traffic tracking service for social games and developers.

Play

A lack of monetization and social features mean Prom Week is unlikely to be profitable or find a wide audience, but it demonstrates some highly intriguing possibilities for possible implementation in future games.

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  1. This week’s headlines from across Inside Network says:

    [...] UC Santa Cruz’s Prom Week is a different kind of ‘social game’ [...]

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