I'm currently in the design phases for a new project of mine and I'm trying to narrow down the design issues of the game before I begin diving in to the specifics of the project. I'm not sure if I have two ideas that simply refuse to mesh with one another, two audiences that refuse to mesh with one another, or I'm just not seeing the ever obvious solution to the problem. I'll begin by describing the game portion of things, and then how I want to present it to the players. The latter part is where I'm having problems making my dream fit in to reality.
I'll mark my questions in bold italics as I type, since I have a lot on my mind in regards to this project.
The Core Gameplay
The game itself is designed to be one of many tycoon games, much like Roller Coaster Tycoon or Zoo Tycoon, where the player's goal is to generally run a successful business under area / time / technology / any number of constraints. Customers come and visit their establishment, and it is the player's job to make sure that their place is well staffed, well equipped for the job, and can keep the customers happy so that they spend money. Lots of money.
Unlike many other Tycoon games, what I want to focus on though is not only managing the business itself, but having a 'realistic' simulation of the environment as well. To clarify, unlike say, Roller Coaster Tycoon there isn't a whole lot of simulation in regards to the customers. They walk around, they get hungry and find food, they interact with your creepy mascots. In mine, you are running a sports business of sorts. So I can go in to more detail, let's assume my game you are running a Basketball Recreational Center. Your customers have not only the ability to play a realistic game of basketball (Forget the difficulties in coding such a thing, it could be theoretically trivial as a tic-tac-toe game center or something like that), but are all capable of playing the games in different ways. A taller player naturally has some advantage over a short opponent, and vise versa. More importantly though, is a focus I want on persistence in the world.
Customers exist in the world, and when they leave the center, they do not 'un-exist'. Sure, they may not be there, but it does not mean they won't ever return. Perhaps after a couple of visits (Determined on whether they had a good time or not, which will be determined by things like the quality of the courts / pricing / extra services your center provides ) they will become better at basketball and start stomping the newer players in to the dust. Other customers may arrive already a prodigy, or be a complete klutz and never hope to achieve any sense of skill. Games should be, in some sense, entertaining to watch. Players should have a vested interest in their players, and having dynamic interactions between the customers (and perhaps even employees) is how I hope to achieve this.
Does this personally sound like something that would be appealing to you? If the game was something you'd want to watch (Let's make it any sport for the sake of argument) and had a generally compelling AI, would you enjoy something like this in its currently described form? Maybe there's only one court that you manage along with the staff who deals with bathrooms and concessions and cleaning up seating and everything of that nature?
As customers become more and more vested in your business, they would have obvious desires. Some may want to form teams with one another, and with the right services and budget, you can provide a league for these players. A league that you as the player could then follow yourself and have a vested interest in. You can schedule these games, and then watch them play out, seeing how the competitive players perform on your courts, in your business. This is not only another revenue stream from a business perspective, but makes your business more well known. Say the league is finished and one team ruled them all? Why not sponsor that team, give them a name of your own. (Everyone loves making obscenity filled team names don't they?) Sure, they may transform from paying customers to paid employees, but the potential winnings from events they go to, along with the hype of having 'professionals' rise from your center would more than offset their pay (theoretically. That's assuming you don't sponsor a bunch of terrible players or something').
Disregarding the scope of such a thing, this is not personally something I've ever seen bar personal simulation games. Is there anything of this nature out there where the game play does not transition, but simply expands in a logical direction like this as you grow as a player both in, and out of game? I know there are lots, but are there any that do this in this particular fashion and does that concept alone appeal to you?
The Proverbial Wrench
Now here is where the problems arise for me in planning this project. If this were an entirely single player endeavor, I would have no issues sitting down and begin properly planning how I want to tackle this project. However, that's not the case. There is a lot to be gained from social aspects, but there is also a lot to lose, and I want to get others feelings for it.
I mentioned earlier that customers in your world are persistent and exist. Let's shift focus a bit and say this is a standard restaurant tycoon game for simplicity's sake. We don't eat at the same place every day right? Of course not! We try one place one week, then another later, and eventually settle on a favorite, going there far more often than others. I want this principle to apply to the world as well. I do not want this to be a barring feature for a new player (All customers in the universe love their places, you have no customers, game over before it ever begins!), but rather something to enhance the player experience, especially in regards to players who know one another. Perhaps you and a friend are competing for the most visitors, or to have the best team of players between the two. I'm imagining such a feature being akin to a restaurant having a brochure advertising another 'sister' store up front, or after a customer leaves telling them about it. (Back to basketball, sorry!) John Smith, the best shooter that's ever stepped in to your establishment is told about your friend's place. John then in the near future is introduced to your friend's game, who is stomped by his far superior squad of regulars. What implications this would have I wouldn't be sure. (Would John just stop coming to your rec center because the competition is pathetic? Realistically...maybe. Would that be fun? Probably not. But that's another design decision in and of itself as to how to handle that.)
One thing that you might be worrying about is, "Well what happens when you and your buddy Jake get together and your place is way better. No one would go to Jake's place!" This feature would not be designed to 'steal' visitors away from one another,but simply to give them more options, of sorts. If you cater to the exact same audience, then perhaps yes, there will be a little bit of a tug of war between certain guests, but company loyalty would certainly be an aspect of the game. To build on the differences, yes, two basketball courts if they're made of the same material are generally going to be the same, but you're going to want to play in the air conditioning with access to showers and free towels over having none of that, right? Not necessarily! Some customers might like the outdoors, and not care about such extras. Theoretically the outdoor center would be cheaper, and be targeting a different audience. Perhaps you have special short courts that cater to children, or different styles of leagues that players can be a part of. Maybe some of your courts are reserved for 3v3's, while Jake's are 5v5's or whatever else the customers want at any given time. There are, and should be opportunities for two businesses with the same goal to cater to a different audience, something that is simulated by the game.
So tying this all together, would this persistent world of sorts bother you? Let's say it is not forced, and customers can be generated in your own little world, but if you 'connect' you have access to not only viewing other people's creations and work, but being a part of a 'living and breathing' world of customers who simply want to have a good time and have different needs.
Real World vs Simulation
My final problem, and this one is a doozy. Tycoon games are typically not run in real time, and I don't plan on having mine function that same way either. However, one thing that I'm not sure how it should be handled is this sense of interactivity between players and the traditional 'sim through everything at 4x speed'. What if a player doesn't care about the games that are being simmed and just wants to make tons of money? Is this not a game for them? Should I try and cater to those players anyways? Is it feasible to please both groups at once?
My true vision for the customer persistence is that everyone's game is in psuedo-real time. Customers are in one person's game at once, and are assigned from a master database. Admittedly, this is not really feasible for a number of reasons. It becomes very hard if a player can simulate at X times speed and pass through days / months / years so much more quickly. Is this actually a problem I should care about in a game like this and a world like this, or am I worried about nothing and the 'player should be able to have fun and do what they want in an interactive environment.' It's no MMO, but I want that Massive, and I want that feeling of 'one world' if I can at all help it. Players can't grind through the quests at 8x speed because they're in a rush and bored.
Is this a problem of perhaps I'm worried players will become bored waiting for games to end? Do you think this can be avoided by giving the players enough to do other than simply working on the courts, then watching players for ever and ever play on them? What if they have a 'perfect' business? Would you simply watch the games and earn money so that you could spend it on, well, nothing besides perhaps some internet fame (or building another 'location') for procuring 10000 professional players in your corporation's life time?
Let's say each Basketball game is 10-20 minutes long, depending on the player's settings, and an in game day is 2 hours long. Few customers arrive early, lots mid day, then a few at night (Depending on lots of stuff of course.) In Roller Coaster Tycoon, you don't have to watch the visitors. You're either thinking about where to put that next coaster, building that next coaster, or watching it a couple of times to make sure it doesn't dump your riders in to the ocean or fall off the tracks.
I apologize by the absolutely massive wall of text there, but I would really really appreciate feedback on some, if not all of the questions I presented there. I might make my own remarks on them over time, but thank you for reading!