23 June, 2016
One big lessons I’ve taken away from MMOs is having multiple paths of advancement. This is so fundamental that “have multiple paths of advancement” is one of the first of the Laws of Online World Design.
Let’s take a look at what this means in practical terms.
Advancement at the core
Modern MMOs mostly focus on Advancement, as defined by Bartle. Achievers want to be admired by others for their accomplishments and mastery of the game. In most games, this is a focus on power in the game. For raiders this means tackling the hardest content and getting world firsts. For more casual players, it might include getting some really rare item as a sign of dedication and perseverance.
Even here we see the multiple paths start to emerge. A raider has to find other like-minded people and do organized content that usually requires a high level of competence and execution. The more casual achiever needs to put in the time and dedication to get something that few other people have. Each can do what they find interesting enough to play.
But, what if you don’t want to go out and bash mobs? Is there some other way you can compare yourself to others? Why, certainly! Almost every modern MMO has some sort of crafting system, and crafters can gain levels and collect rare recipes to make. Crafting also often has an element of being a merchant, usually selling items at an auction house. It takes some savvy to sell items to accumulate money, which can be another way to measure yourself against others.
Most modern MMOs have done a good job of this. You can raid, you can hunt for rare stuff, you can craft, you an play the market, you can PvP. If one interests you more than the others, then you can focus on that to the exclusion of others. Love crafting? Do that. Want to have the biggest bankroll? Figure out how to work the auction house to maximize your profits. You can often do these activities in games without having to step outside town to lift a weapon against even the lowliest rat.
But, what if you do? What if crafting required you to go collect drops from monsters yourself? What if you could only post items on the auction house that you crafted yourself? Is this a good idea?
Personally, I don’t think so. Forcing people to do something they’re not interested in so that they can do the thing they are interested in tends to make people grumpy in games. It feels too much like “eat your vegetables”. Even if from a design perspective it makes sense to get your players to branch out into other areas, you need to do this carefully so that you don’t frustrate them.
So, for example, if you make that person who just wants to spend time grinding to find that rare item go raid in order to get the item they desire, they will often get upset by this requirement. They just want to go grind, not do group synchronized dancing! In the end, this type of requirement can only end in crying for the casual player as well as the raiders who get stuck with the person in the raid finder.
Do different paths have to be on different characters? I don’t think so. I think you can let people do everything on one character, assuming there’s some cost.
FFXIV does a pretty good job of letting you do everything on one character, for the most part. My FFXIV character has all classes, both combat and crafting, at the current caps. I find it fun to swap between different classes depending on my mood or requirement. I mostly play spellcasting DPS, but I can heal or even tank in a pinch.
Of course, getting to cap takes time. And, you still need gear. Most of my combat classes are fairly well geared, although I don’t have the absolute best gear you can get, not even for my main classes. My gear is mostly “good enough” to do the repeatable content with friends. I don’t feel the need to be on the bleeding edge since I don’t do bleeding edge content. My crafting classes, on the other hand, are pretty meagerly equipped. One of my good friends in the game is much more enthusiastic about crafting than I am, so I let him take the lead there.
In FFXIV, changing your active class has a cost. It takes some time to do so, and if you swap away from a “sanctuary” (safe zone like capital cities, etc.) then all your abilities go on cooldown. And, you cannot swap classes in dungeons; once you enter a dungeon as a class you must stick with that class until the end of the instance.
FFXIV also has a lot of other stuff to do that can tickle the achievement desire, mostly in collecting and playing. You can collect minions (non-combat pets), mounts, cards for the game Triple Triad, etc. Pursing these collections gives someone another way to brag about their achievements. And, the game has tournaments for in-game mini-games, although these seem to fall prey to manipulation more than honest competition.
Not to say that requiring people to play alts is a bad thing, but allowing a player to pursue multiple paths on one character seems fine. In fact, I think it makes the barrier even lower for the player who wants to do so.
Find your fun
In the end, it’s about letting the player find what is fun for him or her. Providing different paths of advancement makes sense to let people find something they can sink their teeth into. So, even if they aren’t interested in all aspects of raiding, grinding, crafting, playing the market, or PvP, they might find one area they do like to focus on. And, they can talk to other players in the shared space with shared experiences to form social bonds.
What do you think? What is your favorite advancement path in a game? What advancement path did you find that surprised you that you liked it?