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MMO: Spectrum Of Design - Part 0 Introduction

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Spectrum of Design 0, 1, and 2 were originally published on MMOsite.com

MMO: Spectrum Of Design
a blog series by sunandshadow
aka Mare Kuntz


Blog #0: Introduction
Welcome! This series will look at the many choices involved in designing a game, and how these choices result in the wide spectrum of MMOs there are today, and possibly some new hybrids we might see in the future.

I've been involved with hobby and indie game design for over 15 years now. I've been very excited to see that in the past few years it has become easier than ever for gamers to get into game content creation. Some of you have supported the development of games to fit your tastes through Kickstarter. Some of you have modded games for the enjoyment of other players, or supported modders with donations or other help. Some of you bought the recent Humble Bundle of game development tools, or have supported various open-source projects from freeing Ryzom's server and client code to game-related art tools like Blender, Gimp, and Inkscape. Not to mention open-source games like The Mana World, where player voting affects how the game is developed. And many of you might be looking forward to the new crop of MMOs where player-created content will be the meat of the game, like Shards and Project Sansar, the planned 'spiritual sequel' to Second Life. You as game players will, more and more, have the chance to participate in creating the games you and I will play!

This series of blogs is for you - anyone interested in some free and easy education about how game design works, to help you get started doing your own game design and development. Whether your ambition is designing your own dream MMO, building a small location within a game that allows player content creation, joining someone else's game development project as an assistant designer or content creator, or going to school to learn about game design and development, this blog series should be able to give you a foundation of knowledge. Specifically, I'm going to talk about what types of MMOs there are, and how a few small decisions made when starting to design a new game result in the many different genres and subgenres of MMOs that exist. Chances are, you love some of these types of games and hate others - why? What type of player are you, and how do games please, or displease, the type of player you are? What other types of players are there, and why do they like different types of games? I'm also going to talk about how contradictory design decisions can result in something that annoys everyone. ^_~

The first interesting design decision I'd like to take a look at with you is the decision to make an MMO game. It's actually the second design decision made - the first is to make a game at all. But the decision to make a game is usually a tangled, impossible-to-verbalize mix of loving games, being frustrated with games, feeling the urge to experience a particular story or a particular type of gameplay, wanting to be part of a creative team, and wanting to see others reacting to one's creation. Like other artistic callings, either you want to create games or you don't. But assuming that you do, let's talk about why you might feel compelled to help design or develop an MMO, rather than some other kind of game.

MMOs hold the dubious honor of being the genre of game that people are most likely to discourage each other from making. Why? Well, MMOs are inarguably one of the most difficult types of games to bring from a concept to something playable. There are some exceptions - a text-based MMO would be less difficult than a 3D single-player RPG - but most MMOs start with a game genre that's already complex in a single-player version and then 'level up' the complexity by adding issues of player interaction and networking functionality. Massively, Multiplayer, Online - the defining traits of the genre are the ones that make it difficult to develop. It's a general rule of game design that the simpler the concept, the higher the chances of a playable beta ever existing. Coming at this question from the opposite direction, MMOs account for a large and growing percentage of hours spent gaming among teens and young adults; the same ages when people are likely to first decide they want to design a game, and also likely to want to design something similar to what they are playing. Coincidentally, the age when people are the most ambitious because life's failures haven't yet beaten into them the lesson to 'aim small'.

Personally I love MMOs, and I have fun working on MMO designs even though I know I don't have the drive to lead a game development project or a funding campaign; in my humble opinion, armchair game design is a perfectly good hobby. Maybe someday I'll find a motivated leader who wants me to help design their game, or maybe I won't; either way I have at least as much fun making up game designs that probably won't become actual games as I would painting along with Bob Ross and the hanging the painting on my wall where hardly anyone but me will ever see it.

But anyway, and more importantly, MMOs are AWESOME. Why? Because they have the potential to include every other genre of game. Because they have the potential to be entire worlds that players can more-or-less live inside. They are 'real' worlds because you interact with real people in them. This virtual world aspect is one of the things that inspires the most genre loyalty from MMO gamers, and what motivates many of us to want to create our own piece of virtual world, whether within a game by doing some landscaping and house building, or out here in reality by participating in envisioning a new game or modding an existing one. So, now that I've briefly defined MMOs and why we might enjoy trying to design an MMO or a small part of one, tune in next time to figure out what kinds of MMOs there are for you to make!

Now, for your first chance to participate! If you have a request for what game design choices you would like to hear about in future blogs in this series, please comment! (For example, future topics might include avatar-focused games vs. non-avatar-focused games, sandboxes vs. themeparks, PvE vs. PvP, solo-focused vs. group-focused, or combat types and combatless MMOs. What do you want to hear about? What interesting possibilities aren't listed here?)

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