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Dreddnafious Maelstrom

MMO's and the disillusioned gamer

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I think every serious designer, or game developer has probably read Players who suit MUDS one section of the article really stands out to me.
Quote:
Ways to emphasise ACTING over INTERACTING: * provide a game manual * include auto-map facilities * include auto-log facilities * raise the rewards for achievement * have an extensive level/class system * make commands be applicable wherever they might reasonably have meaning * have large puzzles, that take over an hour to complete * have many commands relating to fights * only allow building by top-quality builders
this section describes almost fully, every commercial MMO available today. the author previously states;
Quote:
ACTING If the graph is redrawn to favour doing-to over doing-with, the game quickly becomes boring. Tasks are executed repeatedly, by rote. There's always monotony, never anything new, or, if these is something new, it's of the "man versus random number generator" variety. People do need to be able to put into practice what they've learned, but they also need to be able to learn it in the first place! Unless the one leads to the other, it's only a matter of time before patience is exhausted and the players give up. Without depth, you have no MUD.
in my view this is the state of the union of existing MMO franchises. A lot of people's first experience with an MMO was Ultima Online. So many that started on this game have claimed that no game to follow ever encapsulated the feeling and enjoyment that UO provided. many former MMO gamers still buy a new MMO from time to time but quickly burn out, stating boredom or an aversion to the "level treadmill" During the haydays of UO many people washed out stating "playerkillers ruined the game for me." but very few boredoms or "level treadmill" complaints. It is possibly due to the lack of alternatives in the market at the time(although MMO gamers that quit today dont often migrate immediately to another), another view is that there is "something in us", that is, some type of experience that you can only have once, and once it is sated you no longer need it.(this is a popular view among the "UO was the best MMO ever" crowd.) Another reality is that of an aging market. Many MMO players today have a house and children, bills to pay, a full time demanding job. During the UO days its constituency was primarily high school and college kids, with more time than responsibility. Lets examine(in my narrow view) some of the prime difference between UO and the existing MMO franchises. To me, the first but not necessarily foremost difference is player killing. Many of todays MMO's disallow or allow only "opt-in" player killing, with very neatly defined lines that is impossible to confuse. Balance this with UO, where there were only a few "safe spots" and these were actually only places where player killing would likely result in your own death as well. The lines where player killing was safe were very gray. Inside of a town? - not very safe to PK , if a guard sees you youre toast. A dark alley in town? - probably get away with it. The edge of town? - 50/50 depending on the guard placement. The middle of a forest or dungeon? - a good place to PK, unless some higher level player with a well developed sense of justice spots you.(see toast) Its easy to focus on the player killer vs no player killer question(which is somewhat the thrust of the MUD article) but it seems that the larger question is the question of fairness, and perceived equality. THE ENFORCED FAIRNESS DOCTRINE-(or, you're no better than anyone else and we'll be sure it stays that way.) Stated bluntly. Todays MMO franchises enforce "fairness". Mobs or Mobiles(the reference to NPC creatures) generally have a consider system, telling you whether you can likely win or not. Games that allow player killers generally have the same consider system for players that they have for mobs. Mobs are visible long before you are visible to them.The common implementation is an aggressive range, or aggro range. Once you get a feel for a creature's aggro range you can walk around him in circles and never be attacked, so long as you don't violate that hidden circle of aggression. This leads to the concept of "farming" mobs for experience points. its not an encounter. its an "opt-in" in exchange for experience points. This allows you to walk around and choose your targets. it eliminates any form of sneak attacks that aren't caused by lack of dexterity or attention. It allows you to navigate a higher level zone by simply dodging about out of range of the mobs range of aggression. This may make sense for a Rhino or a Lion, but not a roving band of goblins or an evil wizard. However it IS very, very, FAIR. THE CONCEPT OF ZONES-(or, the world isn't round it's a bunch of islands seperated by load times) due to implementation limitations and the need to scale, a game world is often broken into zones, which correspond to server hardware in real life. The division of zones are commonly done in a level hierarchy, and at times access is restricted to a person until they reach a proper level. you can expect to find level appropriate challenges in your level appropriate zone, with any exceptions to be well denoted with a flashing neon sign.(or at least a warning in your consider system) LEVEL IS KING-(or, virtual pie for the masses) not only does level often determine your access to certain zones in the game, but it is the undercarriage of the type of actions you can expect to take. this in and of itself is to be expected. the problem becomes "what determines a players level?" again, using the enforced fairness doctrine, the answer becomes ; "applied time in productive work" , meaning, how long you have killed mobs productively. A player with a level 50 warrior is not neccessarily a skilled player. He need only to have played for a long amount of time in a productive manner, or have played for an even longer time in a semi- or pseudo-productive manner. This means that "levels" are a badge of time spent, not necessarily of achievement. Couple this with the often monotonous nature of gaining levels and the term means only that you have access to level restricted abilities and zones. So the reward for your time and effort in building your level equates to access to new zones and perhaps equipment and powers. Here's the rub... every creature you face in the new zone with your new powers will be balanced to assume that you will employ them. netting you nothing but a new graphic effect to the same old goblin genocide. Again.... VERY FAIR. To further irritate the symmetry of scale and enforce fairness. your actions in the new zone have little, or no effect on any other zone. Kill a million monsters? The guys in the zone lower wont know a thing. your ability to affect the world is negligible. sure you can summon hellfire and blow up a goblin from a thousand paces but the guy in the zone below you is still having to defend the town from the same inferior baddies that you defeated days ago. this brings us to the next issue in Bartles' article;
Quote:
Ways to emphasise PLAYERS over WORLD: * add more communication facilities * add more player-on-player commands (eg. transitive ones like TICKLE or CONGRATULATE, or commands to form and maintain closed groups of personae) * make communication facilities easy and intuitive * decrease the size of the world * increase the connectivity between rooms * maximise the number of simultaneous players * restrict building privileges to a select few * cut down on the number of mobiles
in todays MMO you can chat with people on other servers, in other zones or in some rare cases in other games. player on player emotes is the "big thing" in this generation of MMO's server zones being encapsulated effectively cut the size of the world to that single zone. the concept of travel has been largely eliminated, especially after you hit some trivial level.(e.g. travel powers in City of Heroes, Griffins in Everquest 2) due to the lack of suprise required by the ENFORCED FAIRNESS DOCTRINE, life isn't about the journey, it IS about the destination. this makes travel tedious, and thus unnecessary. it is downtime, to be avoided. the author previously states;
Quote:
PLAYERS Putting the emphasis on players rather than the game is easy - you just provide the system with lots of communication commands and precious little else. The more the scales are tipped towards players, though, the less of a MUD you have and the more of a CB-style chatline. Beyond a certain point, the game can't provide a context for communication, and it ceases to be a viable virtual world: it's just a comms channel for the real world. At this stage, when all sense of elsewhere-presence is lost, you no longer have a MUD.
let's combine the two statements by the author; PLAYERS-ACTING
Quote:
If the graph is redrawn to favour doing-to over doing-with, the game quickly becomes boring. Tasks are executed repeatedly, by rote. There's always monotony, never anything new, or, if these is something new, it's of the "man versus random number generator" variety. People do need to be able to put into practice what they've learned, but they also need to be able to learn it in the first place! Unless the one leads to the other, it's only a matter of time before patience is exhausted and the players give up. Without depth, you have no MUD. Putting the emphasis on players rather than the game is easy - you just provide the system with lots of communication commands and precious little else. The more the scales are tipped towards players, though, the less of a MUD you have and the more of a CB-style chatline. Beyond a certain point, the game can't provide a context for communication, and it ceases to be a viable virtual world: it's just a comms channel for the real world. At this stage, when all sense of elsewhere-presence is lost, you no longer have a MUD.
sound like any MMO you've played? PAPER, ROCK, SCISSORS- (or, how i turned my million dollar MMO into a game you can play using only your hands.) This is an allusion to the Tank, Healer, DPS, syndrome. Almost all MMO's suffer from it. By using a paper rock scissors model to create roles for your classes you hinder both imagination and creativity. Lady Locke doesn't have to be the mysterious beauty from the northern lands that worships a powerful barabarian goddess, she can instead just be. "teh he4ler" "We have the meatshield?", "We have the healer?", "We have some damage per second people to reduce downtime?", "Great, let's go farm some mobs for experience and loot." class identity becomes player identity. The classes are balanced to fit these roles, and the biggest mistake then is allowing player vs. player interaction because you must then strike a balance between the classes against each other and against the environment.(THE DOCTRINE OF PERCEIVED EQUALITY) This invariable requires another step towards tedium. YOU BOUGHT A MULTI-PLAYER GAME SO YOU'D BETTER WANT TO PLAY IT THAT WAY.(or, game experience may change while online) specializing and balancing a class-type into a predetermined role for a group also complicates a players ability to play on his own. Imagine playing rock paper scissors using only scissors every time. it wouldnt be long before the game lost its appeal. this leads to the necessity of grouping to be even moderately effective, and in some instances to play at all. Taken all together and you get the following zone-wide broadcast. ("12th level wizard looking for group"), or more likely ("lvl 12 dps lfg") a wizard is no longer a master of the arcane knowledge that lets him combine words and symbols to evoke lightning from his hands. he's a squishy target that can't take a hit against a proper foe and thus gimped on his own, but if a strong warrior tanker will join up with him he's rather good at helping him conserve his mana bar and thus gain experience at a faster rate. Todays MMO's are sorely lacking in the other two aspects of a balanced multi-user environment. WORLD , and INTERACTION. PARDON ME, BUT IS THAT MY +5 FLAMING LONGSWORD OF DESTRUCTION OR YOURS?(or, the non-descript boot that slayed the dragon) this is a direct issue regarding the lack of interactivity. first lets identify the technical problem that causes this to be. how does one create a persistant world that is interactive for the first thousand players, but remains fun and fresh for the next thousand who enter it at a later and post-interacted time? thus far the industry has offered up two answers. First instancing, which in essence is a single unique pocket existance for a particular player or group. this way everyone can attempt the quest to stop the marauding orcs of the Lost Valley. In fact, you can do it again with your buddy tomorrow. If you decide you like the +5 flaming longsword of destruction the chieftan drops, heck just round up another guy that hasn't done the quest and kill him again. Once a few people see how nice a weapon the chieftan drops then you'll have to be sure and do this quest for every time you have a character of appropriate level otherwise you'll be lacking a "must have" piece of equipment. so i hope you enjoy the quest. The industries second answer to the question of interactivity is simple, you dont have it. you have a player based world where you act. the world is a nuisance that must be navigated and interactivity would ruin the game for the next guy that played it. Most games employ a combination of the two. for some the basis of the world is instanced conflict, for others the instanced conflict is the exception. KILL, GAIN EXPERIENCE, LEVEL, REPEAT(or, how to spend 6 hours on a treadmill without breaking a sweat) This section refers to the dreaded "level treadmill". The concept of a level treadmill is caused by a convergence of many factors. The most obvious factor is the tilt of current generation MMO towards PLAYERS ACTING. Bartle spells out exactly what one should expect when a game is skewed too far in this direction and his analysis is dead on. The level treadmill is the industries response for the need to have a long term subscriber base to justify the massive expense a first tier MMO requires in capital expenditure. The larger the amount of upfront investment, the longer the treadmill, and larger the number of subscribers must be to be profitable. The second business component of an MMO is content, and content consumption. It is physically impossible to custom generate content fast enough to present every player with a fresh amount of action on a per play basis. If one could present an endless amount of content to consume then the level treadmill would be less a treadmill and more an elevator. But in order to change the perception of a treadmill, the content must be compelling enough to be the reward in and of itself. LET MAGIC BE MAGICAL(or, if everyone can slam dunk shouldnt we raise the hoop a bit?) There is a dearth of goods, or so says Adam Smith, the conceptual founder of modern capitalism. When this is untrue then an object looses value. So if everyone has the +5 flaming longsword of destruction it becomes a commodity, a staple. so you may be substandard for not possessing one, but only become standard when you have one. Such is the nature of equipment in modern MMO's. The absence of unique items follows the ENFORCED FAIRNESS DOCTRINE, this particular manifestation is caused by instanced encounters and the lack of interactivity with the world. the world, in all but name being a static entity. Not only does any item of value trend towards a staple, but magic; spells weapons, armor, creatures, components, cease to become magical. how amazing is your flaming sword when everyone has one? Where is the magic in your thermo nuclear fireball of excloration when everyone in your class gets it at level 40? If you can judge a book by its cover, then why bother reading the book? Fantasy should be fantastic. When we say "awesome" today, are we truly awe-inspired? Is it possible to revere the commonplace? Should we be expected to? THE DEATH OF DEATH(or, dying is such an inconvenience) When adventure becomes rote, when death becomes an inconvenience, when the many eyed creature of the deep represents a three and one half minute jog back to your smouldering corpse instead of a mortal enemy, how can the developers hope to inspire you? When you consider risk vs. reward you begin to spot something that should have been obvious from the start. The risk is inconvenience, the reward a staple that everyone has or will have. Shouldn't we be allowed to play for bigger stakes? It is boorish to pound your chest and proclaim yourself a master for completing the commonplace. But what are your alternatives? When everything is a function of time played, isnt the only true competition the race to the end? Again, we are not seeing the journey, only the destination. Much ado is made of the "end game" for the popular MMO's. Very few games have a satisfactory top end for those that have fought every bad guy, saved every damsel in distress, and recovered the nicest loot. The absence of content allows you two options. Explore the exact same content with a new character, or find another game to play. SUMMARY(or, i got tired of typing and decided to get some feedback) the current generation of MMO's have been found lacking by the market. Although there are several popular and profitable games being played as i type this, the industry has failed to engage or retain a huge portion of the game buying public. I have raised just a few of the common issues seen today, and i have some ideas to address a few as well. However, i'd like to get some feedback as far as additional issues and possible cures for what ails them. [Edited by - Dreddnafious Maelstrom on November 29, 2005 6:29:55 PM]

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Very Good!
But it's all what the 'player' would want.
Companies don't really care about all that (unless you can prove them it would raise the number of players greatly). They just want you to keep playing as long as possible and slowly leeching your money.

They won't innovate when the current 'recipe' works just fine.

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Nail on the head there really.

My MMO experiences begin and end with UO really. I came to the conclusion that the MM part was largely over-rated, sure there was a lot of people playing, but I'd only ever interact with a handful. When I fancy a multiplayer game now, I tend to play against people I know, it's far more satisfying to beat someone I know, and be able to go and tell it to their face :)

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Thanks for this, man.I'm attempting a small( 25 or so only) multiplayer game, 3d rpg of course, just for those 25 or so friends i have on a certain yahoo chatroom.



This will be the guide I go by.....(P.S.---I know i'll never , by myself, create anything near even the first EverQuest, i use a 3d rpg builder called well...3d rpg builder.heh.)

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Definatly agree that this is how almost all MMO's currently are today. But the question we should ask ourselves is how can we make it better?

I personally despise level based combat/grinding. For this reason I fell in love with the insane open ended player skills in EVE Online. I was devoloping something similar to this in concept for my game.

I do not think we can ever truly be rid of the treadmill leveling as long as the overhead and investment of creating and running and MMO remain at there current levels.

The let magic be magical topic caught my interest because I hadn't thought about it before, but know that I have it is so obvious.

I wish I could add more, but you covered pretty much everything.

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As much as we'd like to blame the companies, aren't the players themselves at fault? Every time I see a game that attempts to stretch the boundaries of the treadmill, the forums are immediately clogged with whinging from all the players who's short-term expectations aren't met.

The problem is the faults you mention actually appeal to the newbie -- no one wants the quests to be "used up" by previous players or to watch their more experienced brethren get items that they won't have a crack at. So they clamour for all the "fairness" you mention, unaware of the fact that this will eventually kill their enjoyment of the game.

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Bloodspear has been designed for interaction with its world. (Actually because of a lot of the procedural stuff in the background it relies on it).

I'm trying to develop ways to abstract some of this behaviour into the libraries I'm developing (in addition to the million-and-one other tasks) - I think given a decent toolset, a better level of interactivity (and multiple solutions to problems) can be introduced to the market.

Dreddnafious, drop me a PM, I'd like to talk to you privately about some concepts for this sort of thing.

Edit: Bloodspear is my current game project, built on some custom libraries that my team and I are developing. See http://www.bloodspear.co.uk/

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wow, that did nail every problem with current mmo's. but here's the thing, you go and fix all those problems and now what? you may just find yourself with a list of other problems to fix.

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