Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

1 April, 2007

Weekend Design Challenge: Dissecting the MMO
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:45 PM

Let’s continue thinking about MMOs, but let’s be nice to Neil Sorens for a change. :) This week’s design is to dissect MMOs and determine what parts make up an MMO. Pick one aspect of MMOs and discuss it; this can be either positive or negative.

I’ll start with some we’ve already discussed, below the fold.

There are two obvious answers here based on my previous post linked above:

Community. Other people. This doesn’t necessarily mean making deep connections or cybering with the priest during a raid, but the presence of other people in the game enhances it. WoW is fun, but if it were a single-player game it would lose a lot of appeal. Single-player RPGs do more to make the player feel like the center of the universe, whereas the other players and the social opportunities make that harder in an MMO. I still advocate that this is the core of the MMO experience, and without community you no longer have an online game, virtual world, MMO, whatever.

Persistence. Your cumulative character, as Mr. Sorens has pointed out. This is mostly why we get away with charging a monthly subscription. Without this, you might still be tempted to play a game, but most players would probably realize they’re “just wasting their time” sooner. (Note that most game playing is “wasting your time”. Having some figures saved in a file or database on a remote server that you have no access to isn’t really making it worth your time. But, I digress.) This is an important part of the game which gives you context from one game session to the next. In general, the more that is saved regarding your character and your play session, the more attractive the game is.

So, what are your thoughts? Perhaps there’s some subsection of one of these two aspects that you think it important to point out?


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10 Comments »

  1. Do you have any good links on the Novelty vs. Familiarity debate? That’s one I’ve been wanting to write about.

    Comment by Neil Sorens — 2 April, 2007 @ 1:21 AM

  2. I’m going to be cynical here, because this post is undersubscribed and it might get Brian some traffic, if it’s only telling me how stupid I am. Which is fine.

    Many games have a persistant entity. I play a lot of driving games (because i like them) and they too save session between games, save what vehicle you’re using, save your customisations, remember which races you’ve won. Linear games have save points so you can drop them and go back to the story when you get time or inclination to do so.

    So what’s special about the ability to do this online? At the same time, we may as well ask why the loot matters and why so many people like levels. So why?

    One answer: Dick-waving.

    If my character is a higher level than yours, i might be a bit smug about that. If my character and yours are the same level but i have better gear, i could probably beat you in a fight so i get to feel a bit smug about that. If you have better gear than me, i have an incentive to go get that gear or better to stop you feeling smug at my expense.

    Welcome to Keeping Up With The Joneses Online – Available in every single MMO.

    You also get some people who reject that kind of crazy consumerism, go with minimum gear/build and try to win PvP anyway which they get to feel really smug about – lern2playnub – but that’s quite rare because, well, it’s hard.

    Online games are games where you can get the equivalent of the ’63 chevy convertible and the house in the country and penthouse flat purely by virtue of spending time. You can be ostentatiously wealthy on an online game and you get to gloat about it.

    Gloating is what sells. Really.

    The res tof the “community” stuff is really about having people to gloat at.

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 2 April, 2007 @ 6:28 AM

  3. More games need less levels and loot, and more “achievements”. Give me lists of titles and doodads, give me a kill sheet that says I’ve killed 400,000 rabbits and 95,000 bears but only 28 orcs and a title that calls me a rabbit slayer, while the guy who has killed 120,000 orcs gets a different title because he doesn’t play with bunnies.

    Somehow, we’ve gotten to the point where every achievement in an MMO has to matter AND affect gameplay. That needs to change, or else we’ll just get more level grind fests and the cumulative character becomes completely focused on the “cumulative” at the expense of the “character”.

    Comment by Jason — 2 April, 2007 @ 7:27 AM

  4. One subsection of community that I’d like to hear game designers [you guys] comment on is ‘soloing with others’. That seems to describe my dominant playstyle these days. Single player games haven’t interested me for quite a while. On the other hand I probably only spend 20% of my time [max] grouped with other players. The rest is spent solo adventuring or crafting while chatting with guild mates and random strangers in area chat.

    Comment by JuJutsu — 2 April, 2007 @ 10:32 AM

  5. They’re to make life less boring while you collect gloatables ;)

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 2 April, 2007 @ 11:39 AM

  6. I think I would prefer to get more direct with the structure of the mmorpg before devling into more advanced game mechanics.

    Avatar representation is one thing an mmorpg must have, if you make it into an RTS, skillgame or some other alternative control scheme that fails to represent each player as an identifiable game piece you will be looking at another type of multiplayer genre.

    Distance, or maybe better put as space or location is another thing. If you make the game without giving players a physical distance from each others avatars you’ll be dabbling with another genre too. Various types of manager games do all the mmorpg things except for representing a physical location and they definately does not appear to have much in common with the mmorpg genre.

    Responsiveness, or maybe low latency interactivity is another important factor. A few seconds response time is fine but if you start batching the computer think side of the interaction circuit a few times per day or hour you will end up in the realm of another genre.

    Now considering you have these three basic parts of game mechanics you will find that more abstract game systems emerge as a function of the human psyche (if more than a tiny few people use the thing at least). One such abstraction is social game systems such as community, another abstraction is the “Keeping Up With The Joneses Online” type of deal (unless you decide to have zero advancement but then you wont have any users, social advancement can replace more ludological mechanics to make sure you get this part of the game anyway.)

    Further natural abstract game systems that will emerge are:

    - guilds, or whatever they will be called by those who make them

    - economy, if you don’t give people any trading mechanics they will trade their social statuses

    - ganking, people will try to socially murder other players if you don’t give them less destructive systems for conflict resolution

    And the list goes on to include most of the standard mmorpg deal. The thing you get if you make an mmorpg but refuse to build game mechanics matching the mmorpg standards is emergence where the players evolve their own mechanics for making time spent together in the game worth something. It wont be WoW or any other familiar game systems but it will carry many similar properties.

    Note that I left out chat, chat will emerge through the use of other channels much like ICQ was the chat client for UO players back in the days.

    Comment by Wolfe — 3 April, 2007 @ 1:00 AM

  7. I would just suggest that perhaps advancement should be separated from persistence. As other posters have noted, it seems to be a driving force, at least in the initial stages of play. (“Gloatables”… I’ve got to remember that term…)

    Clarification: is this about MMOs in general, or MMORPGs in particular? Doing a Sim City MMO, for example, where every one tries to turn their little Walnut Grove (warning: Little House on the Prairie reference) into the next Saint Paul or Chi-town, yields different core concepts than, say, Princess Bride Online.

    Comment by Craig Huber — 3 April, 2007 @ 4:53 AM

  8. Craig:

    I suspect that any game in which you can compare your stuff to that of other players will become about gloatables (i’m quite proud of that one), regardless of genre.

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 3 April, 2007 @ 11:13 AM

  9. It’s interesting to compare the player base of a game when it’s in beta and when it is released. In beta, people know that they aren’t going to keep their advancement, so the people who are willing to play at that point are usually more friendly/community-oriented. After release, it’s a different story, as the “achievers” dig in. You hear a lot of complaints at that point about how “the community was so much better in beta” and so forth.

    Comment by Neil Sorens — 4 April, 2007 @ 10:41 PM

  10. I know this was a while back, but I thought it was relevant.
    Time line. I’ve never played a MMO/MMORPG that allowed for multiple times to combat each other. I’m thinking much more along the lines of an MMO than the RPG part, but imagine a first person game where you would start with swords and such and, like in a timeline-based RTS, you slowly “evolved.” It was just a thought, and I see how complicated the gamplay would be, but Jedi Knight can combine swords with weapons, why not in an Earth setting? I just thought it would be cool having a level system in a first person MMO shooter, and if you had people from different time periods on each team… a timewarp type thing or something like that. Thats my two cents.

    Comment by John Kerr — 7 May, 2007 @ 1:06 PM

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