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Feedback and Feedforward Loops in Gaming & Networked Media

July 15, 2011

Loops are a vital part of understanding how gaming works.  They are also important to understand around how networked systems work.

A feeback loop is where information is fed back into a means of control, allowing it to alter its parameters based on this information.  It is how we stop ourselves from walking into a lamppost (mainly, anyway).  Our eyes inform the brain of  the lamppost blocking our current route and so our brain tells our muscules to change direction to avoid it.  Feedback loops are about creating systems that self-correct in relation to their environment.

Games are based on open loops, e.g. we use a controller to move a character – as we move the controller, so the character moves.  Sometimes games add a feedback mechanism to this.  A great example is riding a horse in Red Dead Redemption.  It moves with you, but also feedback how far you push the controls, so when you try to do something beyond the parameters (going off a cliff, rising too fast for too long), it bucks you.

A feedforward loop is an amplification loop, as the input comes back it effects only an amplification in the system.  In many strategy games they have an amplification loop on success, so as you capture more resources, so you can build more units.  As you get more units, so you can capture more territory.

We also have loops in how networked media operates.  The iTunes store is a feedforward loop – the apps at the top of the charts are easier to find and so get downloaded more often and so they keep their position on the charts.  It’s one of the reasons why Angry Birds is still at the top.  It will remain there until its saturation point is reached and the number of downloads starts to drop.  But as new iOS devices come online every day, there are always more iOS devices looking for content. Feedback loops can be found in the comments section on the iTunes store, were positive and nevative responses are given by users, and smart developers act upon them..

Its not just in games and networked media.  Human’s are very loop-centric systems;

Local authorities had tried many tactics to get people to slow down. They replaced old speed limit signs with bright new ones to remind drivers of the 25-mile-an-hour limit during school hours. Police began ticketing speeding motorists during drop-off and pickup times. But these efforts had only limited success, and speeding cars continued to hit bicyclists and pedestrians in the school zones with depressing regularity.

So city engineers decided to take another approach. In five Garden Grove school zones, they put up what are known as dynamic speed displays, or driver feedback signs: a speed limit posting coupled with a radar sensor attached to a huge digital readout announcing “Your Speed.”

… And the Your Speed signs came with no punitive follow-up—no police officer standing by ready to write a ticket. This defied decades of law-enforcement dogma, which held that most people obey speed limits only if they face some clear negative consequence for exceeding them …

The results fascinated and delighted the city officials. In the vicinity of the schools where the dynamic displays were installed, drivers slowed an average of 14 percent. Not only that, at three schools the average speed dipped below the posted speed limit. Since this experiment, Garden Grove has installed 10 more driver feedback signs. “Frankly, it’s hard to get people to slow down,” says Dan Candelaria, Garden Grove’s traffic engineer. “But these encourage people to do the right thing.”

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