9 December, 2004
Yeah, I took a bit of time off after a working Thanksgiving.
Anyway, I thought I’d talk about breadth vs. depth in online games. This topic deals with what most people call “content” in online games.
Many people scream out for content in online games. They want more levels, more items, more monsters, more everything! One issue facing new games is how to generate a lot of content. Older games have had years to add on more and more content. A new game can feel small and confined when players compare it to their old games.
You can generally divide this content into to categories:
[b]Broad content[/b] is content that is spread out and is measured in raw numbers. For example, large continents are broad content, because you have to spend time traveling around in the area to see it all. More races, more areas, more items, more monsters, anything that can be measured by counting.
[b]Deep content[/b] is content that is concentrated and tends to be a bit more abstract. Puzzles, secrets, emergent behavior, anything that can’t just be measured by numbers.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast these two types of content. Broad content is easier to market. The old Diku brag posts about “hundreds of classes, thousands of rooms!” is broad content. It tends to be very simple to create, but expensive since you have to keep generating it. It also tends to get used up easily. Players will chew through the broad content and ask for more.
Deep content is much harder to market. It’s not a simple number you can throw at people; “Our combat effects combine together in unknown ways!” sounds more like a bug warning than a marketing blurb. Deep content is harder to design (especially without introducing strange side-effects), but easier to implement once you have a proper design. Deep content tends not to be consumed so easily since it is often obscure.
Of course, this isn’t a binary situation. Content can have varying degrees of breadth and depth. So, you could have large mostly empty zones (broad but not very deep), a random keylock puzzle (deep but not necessarily very broad), and a world-wide scavenger hunt (broad and deep).
Current games tend to focus more on broad content given how easy it is to market this. Games and expansions to games brag about expansive new continents, new items, new monsters, new everything. Of course, players consume this and demand more, just in time for the next expansion pack to come out…. There also seems to be a trend towards simplifying gameplay so to be more approachable to new players. This usually means that a lot of subtlety and depth is lost in the design in this race for simplification.
In Meridian 59, we focused more on deep content. The world isn’t huge, but there’s plenty of interesting things to do in the game. For example, there are mana nodes hidden throughout the world. This is a bit broad, but the puzzles required to find many of the nodes means that there is a good amount of depth. We’ve actually avoided a lot of broad content because it tends to make the game less interesting and harder to balance. A large, broad world means that random PKers can escape justice after slaughtering newbies. A smaller, deeper world means that you can generally hunt down the random PKer and bring him to justice. Of course, there are other games that have focused on depth of the world besides just M59. :)
I think it’ll be interesting to see how games develop in the future. Will we continue to see broad content triumph? Will we see games that offer more depth, more interesting stuff in the game?