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MMOs - Longevity vs. Tedium

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This is my first post, so I'll begin with a little background before getting to the point. I'm a long time gameplayer and a student that is studying programming and graphics design while coding small demo games in order to learn and some day create a killer demo in order to get hired by a game company. I'm 26 and do not yet have a degree due to wasting much of my early life as a club kid in Dallas, Texas. My first career as a paralegal was pretty good, but I'm single and don't have kids, so I'm shooting for my dream job. Okay, on to the post! One of the more recent game design concepts is that of the massively multiplayer online game. They've been around for years, but the total number of games produced in the genre remains relatively low within the industry. This is one of the reasons I am compelled to play all of them. Name an MMO and I can tell you all about it's game mechanics. But I never stick with them longer than three to four months, and I think I know why. MMOs offer up gameplay similar to that of console or one player RPGs. The player takes on an avatar and builds that avatar up in order to unlock the story. In console RPGs this can take up to 70 game hours. The most successful RPGs succeed by telling tons of story and giving the characters interesting new ways to develop their characters. On the other hand, MMOs try to supply a similar amount of storyline and character development but they attempt to provide it over a much longer period of time. The "endgame" usually slows down the character development process greatly by making it incredibly time consuming to level the player's avatar. MMOs must be careful to balance their need for longevity (and monthly fees) with the tedium of character advancement. At some point, I lose interest. If someone offered me pizza for climbing Mt. Everest, I'd say, "To hell with your pizza!" I'd only climb Mt. Everest if I enjoyed the climbing. . . the pizza at the top would be nice, but the reward is not balanced with the effort in acheiving the goal. This is the problem with MMOs, the experience of gaining experience is not very fun after you've done hours upon hours of it, and so the reward at the end becomes unbalanced by the challenge. This is exacerbated by the fact that the challenge does not increase. . . only the time needed to beat the challenge is increased. Character development does not require more skill to obtain. . . just more time. How to fix this? Make the leveling, the battle system more strategic. The MMO I played most recently was Final Fantasy XI. In this game, players have a TP gauge that fills up when they successfully hit mobs or when they take hits from mobs. Whenever their TP gauge is over 100, they are able to unleash special weapon skill associated with the weapon they are using. Players can chain these weapon skills together with other groups of their party in order to produce special effects. Additionally, magic users can cast spells associated with the element type of the skillburst (the special effect resultant from a skillchain) for extra damage. The skill chain is limited by what weaponskills the players are capable of and only certain skills fit together to renkei. This element alone gives the battle system so much more challenge than that seen in other MMOs where the cheif strategy is to be able to control aggro in order to be certain that the healers can heal more damage than the mob can inflict within a fight. How to improve on this concept? This is extraordinarily clever, but the problem lies in that the game rewards the same objective over and over. Kill mob X and get Y xp. After a while, even this neat concept becomes routine. I think to innovate MMOs in a way that battling becomes as rich in gameplay as the classic games that have such grand replayability (chess, for example) is to change the player's objectives. Instead of killing mob X for xp, why not have the players work for a larger goal. I'll get back to this but let me expand on some of the other problems facing the group-based, mob killing design concept repeated in so many MMOs. In addition to this concept being repetitive. It forces players to play in certain zones that are popular due to the difficulty of finding balanced groups. In order for a group to be successful they must have a tank (an avatar that excels at taking hits and keeping the mob's damage focused on that player) and at least one healer. The rest of the group are there to kill the mob more quickly to make the healer and tank's jobs easier. Groups are also limited by level. Groups containing players taht are too high in level mean less xp for each mob killed, while groups with players that are too low in level suffer from those players being unable to fill their role competently for the mobs being killed. Many players complain about the difficulty of obtaining groups. I've known several players that have waited several hours to finally get a group. When the player leaves a safe zone (town), why not give them the ability to join an ongoing battle much like those found in player vs. player (PvP) battlegrounds in Dark Ages of Camelot, but with the enemy base defenders or attackers being non-player character (NPC) enemies? Xp and loot could be rewarded for the player community in the area taking over the objective and holding it. The design I imagine would have moderate difficulty in obtaining a keep with a moderate reward and then increasing difficulty from the NPCs as they attack in waves. The easy waves would give small rewards, while holding a position against difficult waves could give great rewards. Additionally, I would like to see healer players be able to set up in mage circles. Melee players could then bind to these circles and automatically become grouped with one of the whitemages in the circle. The whitemages could then monitor the bars of those players under their domain and offer buffs and heals as needed. Additionally, melee players could see the MP of the white mages and those of the other party members so that they could gauge whether or not it would be "smart" to lead an attack or whether to pull back their defenses. This would make grouping "seamless" and avoid one of the larger complaints of players. There are some problems with the concept. One being the technical difficulty of shifting the camera for the helping so that they can see the effects of their heals or just be able to watch the fights that they are helping. Another would be the need to monitor player activity so that idle players did not share in the rewards as much as those who perform masterfully. However, both are obstacles that can be overcome. What about questing and storyline elements? Well, I wouldn't get rid of these at all, but I would put the reward on the completition of the quest rather than on the killing of the mobs. Quests would unlock as the players develop their characters and go on special missions. The majority of quests can be tailored to be beatable by solo players as they should rely heavily on puzzles. Most of the quests in MMOs at this time either pit the players against incredibly difficult mobs that require several players to beat, or they are Fed-EX missions that require lots of travel, or they are drop quests (kill mob X until you get drop Y and return with drop Y to the quest giver). I'd like to see the difficult mob concept that requires several players to beat placed in the whole objective defense idea above. Fighting off several waves of invading NPCs could unlock a wave that is a boss monster, or the boss monster and his minions. Then you have players that are already set up to meet the challenge instead of players who are clamoring to get that perfect group that is barely capable of winning together in order to proceed with the quest. Enhance Fed-Ex quests with puzzle games and throw drop quests in the trash where they belong. Games should not reward players for being patient with boring design concepts. The goal MMO designers should have before adding all the other things (I'm aware there are so many parts of MMOs that have nothing to do with battle, xping, and questing) is to make the battle system rich in gameplay and replayability. When an MMO comes out that excites the player every time they go into battle, it will be tremendously successful. [edited by - dink on January 25, 2004 10:04:29 AM]

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Okay. . .

Can someone tell me what I did wrong? I read the FAQ and it says not to discuss your great new idea for an MMO, but this is not about an MMO idea, but about gameplay across the entire MMO genre.

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Both teamplay fps and MMO games extracted concepts from existing games that would appeal to players who want that kind of thing. Quake3 gave you shooting and jumping, two activities you don''t do often in a single player game. The MMO extracted leveling concept and battle system. So if you only like those activities then you buy those kind of games. Others prefer varied activities and opt for games that give that to them. I like to have a good story and feel like I''m the hero in a game so I buy single player games that will give me that. Multiplayer games are not going to kill off single player games and vice versa. They all fill their niche.

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Why do you think you did something wrong?

If no one has responded...speaking personally it''s because I got as far as the 1st two paragraphs before starting to skim. Nothing wrong with what you wrote, you just wrote a lot - and I''m at work. Can''t sit and read it all, so I''ll print it and read it later when I have some down time.

Odds are pretty good everyone else is doing the same.

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Hi Dink,

Very interesting post. As a developer I find MMO''s a very intersting phenomena so your thoughts as a longtime MMO player is very useful. As EricTrickster pointed out your post was very long and I was not able to respond right away.

Although your battle-system is probably good I do have one objection. My notion of MMO''s these days (correct me if I''m wrong) is that few people dare to really think outside of the box. Why does all MMO''s have to be centered around slaying/killing stuff for XP? Even if there are other stuff to do (quests etc) why do we have such a huge focus on the battles? Almost everyday there is a new post here about someone that is creating a new battle-system for their RPG.

Maybe I''m missing the point and a good RPG *needs* battles, but if thats the case, I think the RPG''s are missing the point of what makes a good game

Surely there must be a huge market for MMO''s that focus on more complex issues, like creating dynamic social structures and dynamic gameplay. This instead of just focusing on battles as the central point of an MMO would create some really interesting gameplay.

Anyway, enough criticism. Please post more of your thoughts/insights on todays MMO''s, I would be very interested in hearing about them!

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JD - Hmm. . . so your saying that innovation in MMOs won''t appeal to different markets? They is as they is? If that is the case, I disagree, but I may be culling your post unfairly.

ErikTrickster - Thanks! I''m new and I waited a day before I complained. Seriously, I thought I must have done something wrong. Forums often have hidden rules and I''m always wary when I post the first time.

usser - I hear what you are saying, and I love the idea of a game that is not centered around battling, but I also love to get togheter with other players and battle monsters. ^^ The Sims Online was built around the concepts you invision and it has not proven commercially successful. I might go on to do a postmordem on why below.

As far as thinking outside the box, I think that is what I''m trying to do! Slaying/killing stuff is an element of the battle system I envision, but the killing stuff is just an obstacle you face on the road to your objective. The real objective would be to "take the castle" or "hold the cstle". Players that are not interested in "killing stuff" could help out in other ways. If they did not wish to fill the role of a healer, perhaps they could work at a minigame that allows them to reinforce barriers or create amunition that is fired by NPC ballista or catupults?

If your question is how to take the emphasis off of killing stuff and put it on other objectives, then I think my system fits the bill, but if your question is how to make an MMO that does not use violent conflict then I think the answer lies in finding other types of conflict to excite the gamer.

The Sims Online (TSO)attempted to do this, but they were largely unsuccessful. In TSO, players developed their avatars by repeating tasks ad naseum until they "skilled up". Then they could use these skills to click on other objects and perform tasks that netted them money and allowed them to build their own homes. You could earn money by having a popular house, or by performing these tasks.

Most players skilled up rather quickly and performed the tasks to get money and then built their homes. At that point, they were left with a graphical chat and a month long wait for new and (hopefully) exciting content. The game failed because players ran out of things to do that were fun.

I think a game like this COULD be successful though. The key would be to take the focus off of character development and put it on the gameplay of the things they did to skill up and to gain money. Instead of having your avatar sit at a computer to skill up in logic, why not have the players compete against one another against a trivia bot? Instead of standing and watching their character skill up in charisma while practicing a speech in front of a mirror, why not attach the charisma skill to a /clap emote given by other players? Fun and interesting chatters would gain charisma this way and the avatar''s skills would grow to reflect the skills of the players who played them.

In the end, I think MMOs that have violent conflict will be more successful. MMOs appeal to a market that loves the grand story and their avatar''s part in it. The key is to make the gameplay fun all of the time, and not just some of the time. Make grouping seamless and easy. Get rid of travel down time and camping. I think players would respond well.




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Basically, nothing in the original post is new. It might look it, to someone who has played all the MMORPGs on the market, but if you listen to the developers, they have all given good reasons why they don''t do this.

quote:
How to fix this? Make the leveling, the battle system more strategic.


eg. replace character skill with player skill. Bad move. Now you have less reward for long-term play. This means less incentive to spend many months on the game, which means reduced income. In fairness, I don''t think your example (Final Fantasy special moves) goes very far down this road, but then I don''t think it would add much to the gameplay for many people either.

quote:
When the player leaves a safe zone (town), why not give them the ability to join an ongoing battle much like those found in player vs. player (PvP) battlegrounds in Dark Ages of Camelot, but with the enemy base defenders or attackers being non-player character (NPC) enemies?


This sounds hideously difficult to balance, and doesn''t seem to offer anything interesting in the long term over the usual ''monster harvesting''.

quote:
I would put the reward on the completition of the quest rather than on the killing of the mobs.


Again, this rewards player knowledge over character ability; you can get the hints for the quest off a website and advance more quickly than someone who tries hard in the game for a long time. This will reduce the amount of investment in the game required by some players.

quote:
Fighting off several waves of invading NPCs could unlock a wave that is a boss monster, or the boss monster and his minions.


The implication of a ''wave'' is that there is some sort of event in progress. To make this feasible would require a lot of intervention on the part of the game staff, which I don''t think is practical in terms of time. Maybe you had something else in mind.

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quote:
eg. replace character skill with player skill. Bad move. Now you have less reward for long-term play. This means less incentive to spend many months on the game, which means reduced income. In fairness, I don''t think your example (Final Fantasy special moves) goes very far down this road, but then I don''t think it would add much to the gameplay for many people either.



Not at all. Characters with greater stats from leveling and loot would be more successful than those without such benefits. Have you played many MMO''s? MMO''s lose players a lot more quickly from boredom than they do from players reaching the level cap and feeling like they are "done".


quote:
This sounds hideously difficult to balance, and doesn''t seem to offer anything interesting in the long term over the usual ''monster harvesting''.


What problems do you see in game balance? I can think of many, but I can also think of solutions.

The system I am proposing helps in many ways:

- gives game designers the ability to create waves of monsters to alter the challenge with increasing steps of difficulty and different types of challenges so that fighting does not become repetitive or boring.
- makes grouping seamless.
- eliminates long travel times.
- eliminates mob camping and kill stealing issues.

Basically I''m designing around the flaws and frustrations of many MMO players. If you don''t think these are true complaints, I would suggest you read MMO boards, if you don''t think this system would do the above, then you either think it is technically impossible or you don''t think the system as stated would acheive these goals.

quote:
Again, this rewards player knowledge over character ability; you can get the hints for the quest off a website and advance more quickly than someone who tries hard in the game for a long time. This will reduce the amount of investment in the game required by some players.


This is the case in MMOs already. Eliminating frustrating time sinks like mob camping for quest items is a plus. Gamers should be having fun when they play, not cursing bad game design. My friends and I are gamers, and we nearly never use guides on single player guides. However, online quests are so tedious, poorly explained, and difficult to access that the entire guild uses guides before ever even starting any of the quests. Easily accessible quests with fun puzzles would be a godsend. We could actually play them and be rewarded for our efforts instead of just our time.


quote:
The implication of a ''wave'' is that there is some sort of event in progress. To make this feasible would require a lot of intervention on the part of the game staff, which I don''t think is practical in terms of time.


Nah. No staff needed. When the objective is under mob control then X mobs defend it. After it is seized, Y mobs attack and Y spoils (xp and loot) are distributed among the defenders. A small amount of time passes while the xp and loot distributes. (Another idea I had that seemed to get off task: Give accolades to the players that did particularly well. This can be tracked in a variety of ways and will be difficult to balance, but it could be a lot of fun for the players). After this short period of resting, chatting, etc. Z mobs attack (the Z mobs are slightly more diffiuclt than the Y mobs) and Z loot drops. It''s just a matter of having shifting mob spawn tables and giving them sufficient AI. Archer mobs move to within archer range and begin firing arrows. Melee mobs attack in groups, etc. The timing of each wave could be put together by the devs to give the players a truly engrossing experience each round. Once the AI is sorted out into clusters for each mob type, then you could even random spawn different clusters and only assign the number of clusters and their difficulty as parameters for each wave.


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quote:
Original post by dink
Not at all. Characters with greater stats from leveling and loot would be more successful than those without such benefits.

The key here is ensuring that the stats are high enough to always make a difference. If they don''t, and the player is not bright enough to work out some new tactics, then the player will get disillusioned.

quote:
MMO''s lose players a lot more quickly from boredom than they do from players reaching the level cap and feeling like they are "done".


But that is not very relevant to designers, who know that most gamers will never complete a game anyway. They know they can''t stop some people from leaving mid-way because the vast majority just don''t have that kind of attention span. That''s not lost revenue. However, if someone reaches the max level/skill cap/whatever, and then leaves out of boredom, that''s a problem because you''ve just encountered someone who was willing to continue playing your game but was unable to do so. That is lost revenue. Therefore designers worry a lot about the end-game because they know it''s the place where they need to improve the most.

quote:
What problems do you see in game balance? I can think of many, but I can also think of solutions.

The system I am proposing helps in many ways:

- gives game designers the ability to create waves of monsters to alter the challenge with increasing steps of difficulty and different types of challenges so that fighting does not become repetitive or boring.


Heh. ''Giving game designers the ability'' is a bit of a euphemism. What you really mean is "forcing game designers to have to". An idea does not empower them, an implementation does.

quote:
- makes grouping seamless.
- eliminates long travel times.
- eliminates mob camping and kill stealing issues.


Could you elaborate on these points in turn? I think you''re too rooted in your own experiences of MMORPGs to see the theoretical side. In particular, all of the above can be solved in simpler ways but often designers choose not to.

quote:
Basically I''m designing around the flaws and frustrations of many MMO players. If you don''t think these are true complaints, I would suggest you read MMO boards, if you don''t think this system would do the above, then you either think it is technically impossible or you don''t think the system as stated would acheive these goals.


I am merely saying that reacting the complaints of some disgruntled players is not always the best way to a better game, nor is it the most financially viable approach for a developer.

quote:
Eliminating frustrating time sinks like mob camping for quest items is a plus. Gamers should be having fun when they play, not cursing bad game design.


Time sinks are there by choice. Nobody forced the developers to make the Chastity Belt of Cthulu only appear once in every 40 respawns. They chose to do so in order to make it more valuable and to give people a long-term goal. Long-term goals = retention, retention = cash. On my online game I banned such items because I, like you, disagree with the principle of it. But I don''t bill customers periodically. For a standard MMORPG with standard billing, they''re pretty much forced to suck up your time.

quote:
We could actually play them and be rewarded for our efforts instead of just our time.


In such a game, the developers might be tempted to charge you on a per-quest basis rather than a per-month one.

quote:
Nah. No staff needed. When the objective is under mob control then X mobs defend it. After it is seized, Y mobs attack and Y spoils (xp and loot) are distributed among the defenders. A small amount of time passes while the xp and loot distributes.


How does Y relate to X? And won''t this just be Reverse Camping, except that the monsters come to you? What about when the Z wave arrives, the players get beaten, and you now have a large mob of angry and tough creatures gathered at that spot? Do they get bored and wander off to give the players a chance? I can see some merit to this idea and it certainly adds some variety but I''m not convinced it''s really any different from the normal gameplay.

[ MSVC Fixes | STL Docs | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost
Asking Questions | Organising code files | My stuff | Tiny XML | STLPort]

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I say do away with the tedious level system, and im one of those people who hate the fact that all games are about is killing NPCs.

Where is the fun in that?

Go with a skill system that I can raise with just my friends, like the old days of Ultima Online. Create a character, spar for awhile, and catch up with the rest of the people, then I enjoyed just adventuring with my friends. Treasure Hunting, etc...





-AfroFire

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