Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Formula

Massively Mutliplayer Online Role Playing Game.

The grand daddy of all games, in terms of potential. The hardest to design, the most difficult to balance, and the hardest audience to please. This is no easy task. But let us examine for a moment some of the fundamental designs of such a gargantuan product.

What motivation do the players, whether in a group or alone, continue month after month to play the game? What makes them want to come back for more?

Now, the only MMO I have played extensively enough to understand all it's mechanics and design, is World of Warcraft. So you're going to see a lot of references to Blizzard's design, which may differ somewhat (if at all) from , and spark rebuttal, However I think that most MMOs are designed enough like WoW that I can make general statements that stretch across the market as a whole.

Ok, with the background out of the way, /rant on.

In this post, I will often refer to Bartle's 4 MMO types, which he categorizes as the Achiever, Killer, Explorer, and Socializer. Having taken the test, I come out primarily Explorer, with a lot of Achiever, and almost no Killer/Socializer, which actually does fit my playstyle well.

Ok, now for a few opinionated percentages:

World of Warcraft, (X% of the content is aimed at Y)

1. 60% Achievers
2. 30% Killers
3. 5% Explorers
4. 5% Socializers

The majority of all content that was, is, and ever will be created for World of Warcraft, is trying to appeal to the Achiever in us. And those of us (like me), who have a reasonably strong Achiever side, will reasonably enjoy the game. Those who are all about the Killing, will soon get bored with WoW and move on to something offers a bit more... PvP. Heavy Explorers (like me) will get bored with WoW the more they play it, and eventually quit for good. Socializers will just seek refuge in Second Life.

Which brings me to my next point (just keep reading, the good part is coming, I swear :), PvP and PvE. In WoW terms, the game relies exclusively on these two elements. Think about it...

1. The Grind (Achiever) - OpenWorld leveling, soloing, heavy questing makes up the bulk of it.
2. The Raid (Achiever) - Instances, Raids, essentially what makes up the "end game"

So if the Raid is the "end game", and the Grind is everything else, what's there for the Killers?

3. The BattleGround (Killer) - A long time ago, WoW had stronger open-world PvP elements, and they are introducing a small injection of it again with Wrath + Cataclysm. However, PvP essentially boils down to the Arena, the BattleGround, and
4. The Gank (Killer) - open-world PvP.

Granted there ARE a few elements for the explorer and socializer... namely,

5. The Lore (Explorer) - books and quest text and things that give you background history.
6. The RP (Socializer) - RP servers and guilds.

The content of the game is geared almost exclusively to invite Achievers and Killers (mostly achievers). Thus, Achiever content has come to be known as PvE, while Killer content tends to drift towards PvP.

WoW (and many MMOs for that matter) are exclusively defined by:

quality_of_MMO_content = PvP + PvE;
which is running on the assumption that all MMOs must be designed off of the foundation of having PvP and PvE, just for the sake of having them. Now, I would like to point out a fatal flaw here.

This is going to sound terrible, I know, but:


Yes, the player. The focus is all on YOU. Your level, your progression (or the lack thereof), and your adventure. The formula works... to some extent. But it is arranged to keep playing because of your level. Because you want to achieve that next carrot on that ever-elusive stick. As has been stated a hundred times on the blogosphere, it's to "give the illusion of progression". Now this next formula may look a bit strange.

EvE + P

It's a bit of a radical rearrangement. You'll notice there's a part called "EvE" (Environment vs. Environment). This means that whether the player exists or not, the world is in constant conflict, and if the player doesn't take action, the world WILL! The adventure is still yours to enjoy, but it's not about you anymore. It's about you taking part of something much bigger than yourself (like your own level). Imagine for a moment, this world that is acting under the forces of governments, organizations, individuals that are constantly struggling for power. Now place that in a setting that is... explorable. A new world in which NPCs, as well as players are constantly unlocking new things (areas, events, items, civilizations). That's where the (P) Element comes in, as a part of a whole. Adding P will add to the world's quality in general. The more P, the better. But the P is just a part of the EvE, or the world.

What is the motivation of P in this EvE world? To advance the plot. Let's look at it from a different angle... you remove all levels from players and NPCs. And you put them on the world. Yes, the WORLD has a level. It's level 1. And now, your focus is no longer on yourself. Your little instance of your character, which no matter how high a level will not influence anything around you. Now, your focus is on the world. Everything you do to move the plot forward, will advance the experience of the world plot bar. All players everywhere are pouring their experience into it. You log in, as a group or solo, and try to advance your world. And when you log off, your efforts are felt worldwide. They matter.

Now make it a bit more complex, not just a world, but actually have a branching plot-line prepared by the developers (or for smaller events, generated by the engine itself). The players in this world are pouring their experience points into one of the two branches, and whichever one dings first, that branch is the plot-line that really occurs in the world. Permanently. History is made.

And it doesn't just have to be the all-consuming epic main-plot. You can contribute even as a newb. All player's actions (as well as the NPCs actions) are producing these great streams of plotlines, that influence the big rivers of plot, which eventually decides what happens!

*pants for breath*

Well, it seems that I've gotten quite a bit ahead of myself. This has been a mammoth post, and it's all very idealistic. But the reason I've posted it, is not just to put ideals out there.
"Of course we would love to see this as a game, but you can't actually make such a thing", shouts a few people. And I don't expect everyone even agrees that it's a good idea in the first place. But in my next few posts, I'm going to discuss the technical side. The nuts and bolts of how it will actually work. So for now, I'd like to hear your opinions. Anyone who has something to say, so let it be written. (and anyone who has managed to read all the way to the end of this poorly formatted beast, I congratulate you).

/end rant

1 comment:

Nick Carraway said...

Looking back, I should summarize and clarify:

EvE + P

Simply, this means that instead of a theme park in which the player is a customer, the game becomes a live, interactive world that has a story to tell, in which the player is simply participating.

It doesn't wait for you, but instead keeps going. Your actions change a little bit of the world, but so do the actions of NPCs. It's a more powerful experience.