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What are good resources for MMORPG game rule design?

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I'm in the process of putting together a team and developing a MMORPG. However, I do not claim to have any prior knowledge that would make me a kick ass game developer, let alone able to design a successful MMORPG. So my question: Where can I learn more about MMORPG design, rule systems, and general theory? or an even more blunt question: where can i learn about the theory around create the most psychologically addictive MMORPGs? For instance, I know that in a lot of successful commercial MMORPGs, there is the general player aspect of "Tank, Healer, Damage Dealer" etc etc. Where did these concepts originate, and where can I find additional theory information on these and other concepts? Digging around on the internet, I found the following: Daedalus project: http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/arch_cat.php Chris Craford, Art of Computer Game Design: http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/fac/peabody/game-book/Coverpage.html The first (Daedalus) gives some interesting tidbits, are there more resources like that? The Chris Craford stuff is great, but more "general game dev" focused, so not really much help when trying to create the next "more addictive than crack" MMORPG. Additionally, I found some of the usual "why mmorpgs are addictive" online articles, which are great and all, but dont really get into the theory of creating games such as that. And please dont flame about me saying "I want to make an addictive game"... to me, saying "addictive" inclusively encompasses a wide scope of desirable attributes, such as "fun, easy to learn, long playability and replay ability, deep game play, etc etc".. Thanks, -JasonS

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There's a lot of variation among MMOs, so it's not like they operate according to any standard set of rules. If you're specifically interested in different strategies like tanking, denial, healing, etc. you might want to look into some of the very detailed analyses of Magic the Gathering play strategies. Probably the field as a whole could be considered game theory with a dash of military tactics, but if you try to look it up that way you'll get math and history, not the psychology you are looking for. If you just study psychology there's a lot of useful stuff in there (addiction, goals, motivation, rewards, audience psychology, token economies, etc.) but it's hard to know what will be relevant and what won't. The simplest place to start might be just finding a website which has reviews of different MMOs. Also read the Problems in MMOs thread I started a while ago.

Me personally, I have been playing lots of MMOs for about a year now, and writing down my thoughts about the virtues and flaws of each one. But my goal is not an addicting game (addicted people are often unhappy so it's rather unethical to try to get people addicted to your game) my goal is a game which feels satisfying and meaningful to play.

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Thanks for the replies guys.

That book "designing virtual worlds" looks to be an extremely good primer for the basics of what i'm asking, so we could pretty much end this thread right now until after I read that book :)

As for the "Addictive games are harmful" comment, yeah I actually do have a moral sense. I was using the word because, negative connotations aside, it pretty accurately encompasses all the positive aspects of MMORPGs people strive to put in their games.

using the word addictive is a bit inflammatory I admit though :)





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Yeah, it's an interesting issue. Some things are addictive because they're good - for example being in love with someone could be considered being addicted to them, as could having a favorite series of books where you eagerly read each new one that comes out. But it's a bad thing when the MMO designers start thinking, "How can I get players to pay me for as many months of subscription with as little work on my part as possible?" without caring whether the players are actually enjoying their play time or are frustrated and bored.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
"How can I get players to pay me for as many months of subscription with as little work on my part as possible?" without caring whether the players are actually enjoying their play time or are frustrated and bored.


That doesn't constitute addictiveness, just a cause for getting the players addicted. My team and I are in the process of desiging a series of games that players will want to play each one in succession on release. Not because we want to make money, but because we want the players to enjoy our game and WANT to see how our story continues.

I ran into this with, surprisingly, God of War. The story in it was compelling, and was enough to make me want to play the game again, just for the story elements I would unlock by beating a harder difficulty.

Addictions can be a good thing IMHO, as long as they are for the right reasons.

Cyprus

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Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
I'd recommend buying a copy of Richard Bartle's Designing Virtual Worlds. It sounds like that's what you're looking for.


I too highly recommend this book. I got a copy a while back and it's definitely one of the best investments I've made.

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Well, first off what is your genre for the MMO ? Sci Fi ? Fantasy ? Something else ?

An important concept to realise is that the tank / healer / mage concept is just that, a concept. The basic reason it works is because players have limited abilities and the various otehr classes or archetypes can do other things that a single player cannot. This creates synergies between different players that allow a team to function as a team by setting up roles for each person to play.

It is not the only method to use for creating player classes or abilities, and infact if you can come up with something unique that still allows players to team up and have fun you would probably be better off.

I'm a long time Magic player and I frequently read up about Magic design. I defintely agree that looking into how that game functions would be helpful.

Do you have any specific questions I / we could answer ?

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Quote:
Original post by vaneger
Well, first off what is your genre for the MMO ? Sci Fi ? Fantasy ? Something else ?

An important concept to realise is that the tank / healer / mage concept is just that, a concept. The basic reason it works is because players have limited abilities and the various otehr classes or archetypes can do other things that a single player cannot. This creates synergies between different players that allow a team to function as a team by setting up roles for each person to play.

It is not the only method to use for creating player classes or abilities, and in fact if you can come up with something unique that still allows players to team up and have fun you would probably be better off.

I'm a long time Magic player and I frequently read up about Magic design. I definitely agree that looking into how that game functions would be helpful.

Do you have any specific questions I / we could answer ?


For me, I'm still in the process of architecting the base mmo technology, so while i'm a bit far from creating a game system, i'd be a good idea for me to think about the direction i want to take it.

So that said, I'm planning on using the SRD (D&D rules) as the core game system, at least for prototyping purposes, because it's free, and has undergone about 30 years of play testing/revisions so far.

So from the basic game mechanics, I think i have a fairly good start. But when it actually comes to taking those rules, and integrating it into a MMO, all those nebulous questions about team cooperation, group member roles (tank, healer, etc), start coming into play.

What's even worse, is that I actually want to allow player bots, but me being fairly out of touch with modern MMO's (I played WoW 2 years ago, for about 5 months) I dont know how that will affect game economies and playability.

So, lots of stuff to ponder. I'm thinking I'll have to hire a creative designer a bit sooner than I was originally thinking.



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Well as far as bots go, it just comes down to how much control you want the players to have over their bots. You could have a City of Villains level of control, with only a few basic commands, or it could be more like Final Fantasy XII's Gambit system that lets you 'program' specific actions in specific scenarios.

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Quote:
Original post by novaleaf software
So my question:

Where can I learn more about MMORPG design, rule systems, and general theory?


I agree with recommending the Bartle book, although you'll find almost nothing on rule systems in there. I also think you should look through Raph Koster's articles and blog. Again, little on specific rule systems, but lots of good guidance.

As for rule systems, most of it really just dates back to Dungeons and Dragons. If you're going to use that system anyway, then much of the rest is irrelevant, although I doubt you're going to go very far if you don't have someone capable of creating a rules system.

Quote:
For instance, I know that in a lot of successful commercial MMORPGs, there is the general player aspect of "Tank, Healer, Damage Dealer" etc etc. Where did these concepts originate, and where can I find additional theory information on these and other concepts?


This is simply the Fighter, Cleric, and Wizard in Dungeons and Dragons. It's an arbitrary division of combat labour that fit the D+D world well. It lends itself less well to non-combat situations. Don't be misled into thinking that World of Warcraft (or Everquest before it) are following some lofty conceptual plan, when in fact they're just churning out the same old formula from old games.

Quote:
The Chris Crawford stuff is great, but more "general game dev" focused, so not really much help when trying to create the next "more addictive than crack" MMORPG.


I don't think you'll find many places specialising in making games addictive. The indie developers usually just want to make them more fun, and 'addiction' may just come as a side-effect. The major developers are usually looking for ways to get more money out of players while ensuring they actually log on less. Then there's the ethical side, of course.

There's some parallels between drops of rewards in games and addiction to gambling. Positive rewards, randomly spaced and with varying value, are considered to be more 'addictive' than more predictable awards, even though they magnitudes might work out the same over a long enough period of time. Look here and here, for example.

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Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
The indie developers usually just want to make them more fun, and 'addiction' may just come as a side-effect.


This is where I would urge you to focus your attention. Try to determine what makes games FUN, not what makes them ADDICTIVE (regardless of stigma associated with that word, it's still the end result for your hardcore MMO gamers). If you go in focusing on making a game that is fun for people that log in, then your big calibration factor is how to make the fun last longer, without stretching it out so much that the fun part gets lost in the "fun-over-time" tedium.

I can safely assume that people will continue to come back to a game that is fun, thereby creating a pseudo-addiction factor that you're looking for. Those that are truly addicted to an MMO go there out of repetition or "there's nothing better to do", that doesn't necessarily mean the game is all that much fun for them (i.e. the 30th time through a Molten Core raid for pre-TBC WoW players)

A good example of short-term addictive value is the tried-and-true "carrot on a stick" reward system, where you continually bait your players into playing more with incrementally stronger or flashier loot, but this burns out at varying degrees when your players notice the pattern.

A (imho) good example of long-term value might be a faction-wide metagame war where the PvP types are busy clashing on dynamic battlefield zones, the crafters are fulfilling various orders for weaponry and seige engines for said battlefield, and the PvE folks are out gathering required materials and completing quests that alter said dynamics of said battlegrounds. (Of course, typing that out was a LOT easier than it will be to design and implement ^_^)

</ramble>

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okay okay, i learned my lesson, never use words that you know will be taken in an inflamatory way.

so, please, instead of "addictive" please think of not just "what is fun" but "an analysis of what makes a mmog fun, and what can make it more fun"

As was recomended, I am currently reading (chapter 2 right now) "Designing Virtual Worlds" and I do find it to be a most excelent primer into the practical issues at hand.

That said, I am still very interested in any additional resources (online or off) into this subject. I'm trying to do this with as much fore-thought as possible, and since i have another month or so of coding ahead of me, it'd be good to have more game design literature to read during my "offline" hours.

Thanks again for all the posts people have put here.. extremely good information :)

[Edited by - novaleaf software on July 14, 2007 10:06:43 AM]

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The main thing you can do when building a virtual world is be mindful of what kind of community you are building and how the various parts work with or against each other.

For example lets take a theoretical MMO based on Pilgrims that have just came to America. They need to work together to build a succesful village. They'd need loggers, carpenters, farmers, blacksmiths etc. You could also have the militia, perhaps they might work against the settlers and try to use force to take charge of the settlement. Then you have potential for outside intervention via natives. They could be hostile or friendly.

Players have various roles to play, and potential to have multiple simultaneous roles even. They have ways to work together and ways to try and be top dog as it were.

Whats the driving force behind the community you are trying to build in your MMO ? Why would / do the players need each other ? How flexible or inflexible will your class system be ? Will combat be your big selling point, or non combat activities ? Will you cater to players that pefer PvE or PvP ? Both ? How ?

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Quote:
Original post by umbrae
You could investigae the Psychology side. There are various resources on response schedules in psychology. My favourite game design specific resource is Behavioral Game Design.

Here are some other resources that may be useful:

The Psychology Behind Games
The Psychology of Choice
Glory and Shame: Powerful Psychology


great resources, this is also the type of stuff i love reading up on :)

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Richard Bartle wrote a lot of good stuff and I think he wrote a book, 'Designing Virtual Worlds'. He's got a site up too. Not sure if anyone mentioned him. He's hails back to MUDs

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Having studied Psychology in school, I will refrain from commenting on the psychology aspects, as that would just be long, and potentially boring to some. I will, however, contribute what I have found over the last couple years of constant study on the subject of MMO design. Eventually, PW will open up its wiki to the public, so others can see, but until then, I will just post my sources.

Ready for this? Here goes:
Let me preface by saying that I could start a whole website for the information I have. I'll try to sum it up for you without going into a lot of detail on the particulars. If you wish to discuss more, just let me know. I am always game.

I started putting a list together on our site a while back. It can be found here:
PW's MMO GameDev links

IGDA Whitepaper on developing persistent worlds <-- Probably the most important read you will do for making an MMO. They are currently re-writing a more current one now, but its not finished yet.

DevMaster's Articles <-- Eternal Lands post-mortems are a must read for any indie MMO dev

Game Engine Anatomy article - its always good to know whats going on under the hood when designing mechanics. You need to understand what is possible and how it works.

GameDev.net's online games articles <-- I assume you have already found this, since you are here.

Mu's Unbelievably long and disjointed ramblings on RPG design<-- Probably the most in-depth discussion of mechanics for an RPG anywhere. Amazing resource.

Raph Koster's website -> If you dont know who he is yet, you better start reading. Raph Koster is the man.

Blog site of MANY authors on anything MMO -> Always has an interesting read abound

Man vs the MMORPG -> A great blog here about it

MMO Rountable - discussion of MMO design

A conference devoted to indie MMO dev

Good Article by Bartle

One of the big cores should be your economy. Check out these:
From Raph again
Sam Lewis' ideas on economy
Sam Lewis again
Thread here on economy
Mu's thoughts on economy
Topic on MMO Roundtable on economy

You also may want to check out other communities like Kaneva, Multiverse (http://www.multiverse.net) and Realm Crafter (http://www.realmcrafter.com/). Multiverse is probably the best place to find good info of those.

That should be enought to start on. Let me know when you are done reading those and I'll come up with some more ;). We haven't even touched technology yet. Don't think you can design an MMO without it. Cheers.

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Hmm, no responses yet eh? I assume that means that all interested parties are still reading. I think its time for round 2:

How one man made an MMO - A good interview
Part two of the interview

Anatomy of an MMO, by Jon Radoff

List of games and resources for design, among other things

Laws of Online World Design - Raph Koster once again

Thread on MMORPG design at IGDA

MMO Design pitfalls - blog entry

Enhancing MMOG world design with believability

A manifesto for MMORPG Design

Thread on MMORPG design on Gamedev.org

The use of architectural patterns in MMORPG's

VSW Design Principles (VSW's are Virtual Social Worlds, not MMO's, but you mentioned addiciton in your first post, so these apply)

And now, for the "coup de grace" of round 2,
Design Patterns of Successful Role-Playing Games - This is a 250+ page document which goes over pen and paper role playing games but is a veritable mine of information. I can't take credit for finding this one, we can thank Corman for showing it to me and, of course, John Kirk for compiling/writing it.

I suppose I scare people when I flood them with information, but for the love, someone at least acknowlege whether any of this is useful. Maybe its just a load of rubbish to some of you, but I sure hope it helps someone.

Oh, and I have more after this, should anyone want it. Baby steps.

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Well I missed it because I don't like MMO games. Others probably jumped over your response because they seen too many questions about MMO.
Basically a single player RPG would be better than MMORPG, because MMORPG can't be MMO, and still have reasonable interactions, and effects to the game world. They would need use similar methodology as with MUD with arithmetic coding, and limit amount of players to < 100 with hand optimized assembly code and int32/64 as main (packed) data type.

Now the problem with people that are trying to made them is, they often don't like to create an art, or at least game. They are trying to make themselves famous, or to have ability to affect theirs players.
Obviously these two reasons are not reasons that will be likely to permit them to finish the game.

I'll try to write micro reviews to your links until end of the week. I had birthday, and have nephew visiting here so no time for deep look.

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@Jerk: thanks very much for those resources, I havent checked this thread in about a week so didnt see the reply earlier. I'll definatly check every single one you posted.

and yeah, I'm still reading, but still reading "designing virtual worlds". I'll be reading your links once I'm done. :)

Thanks!

-Jason

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First a little warning if anyone would like to do a MMORPG, he should create working single player RPG first. He will learn some important aspect that would hit him from behind if he would start with MMORPG.


So there are that microreviews:

Quote:
Original post by Jerky
PW's MMO GameDev links

Actually not every link is about MMO, it would be helpful if each entry would have its keywords.

Quote:
IGDA Whitepaper on developing persistent worlds <-- Probably the most important read you will do for making an MMO. They are currently re-writing a more current one now, but its not finished yet.

They are too much messing with profit aspect, to give some readable reading about MMORPG design. In fact I expected they would talk about problems with generation of persistent breakable environment and changeable landscape (there are quite a lot of problems with that), however theirs view of persistence is simple save of player inventory, and other progress.

Quote:
DevMaster's Articles <-- Eternal Lands post-mortems are a must read for any indie MMO dev

Theirs biggest problem was they didn't decide on what they actually wanted. Chat room with images, or MMORPG. The worst thing was they didn't know why they would like to build one. It talks too much about theirs special case, so don't read into it too much.

Quote:
Game Engine Anatomy article - its always good to know whats going on under the hood when designing mechanics. You need to understand what is possible and how it works.
Great article about 3D engine, however somehow outdated. I tend to use modular design that separates a game engine from a 3D engine, and a world engine. AI, while requires tight coupling with game engine, could be asynchronous as well. Tightly coupling a game engine (place where are your game rules, and stuff with player/environment interaction is done) with 3D engine is often mistake in case a designer isn't doing extremely graphics demanding game (when a 3D engine would require BOTH cores of CPU, or all four of them).

Quote:
Mu's Unbelievably long and disjointed ramblings on RPG design<-- Probably the most in-depth discussion of mechanics for an RPG anywhere. Amazing resource.

Somewhat nice, and more importantly detailed. Note some design decision he's badmouthing are quite working in some game designs.

Quote:
Raph Koster's website -> If you dont know who he is yet, you better start reading. Raph Koster is the man.
Few nice essays with varying quality and depth. He has experience from industry.

Quote:
Blog site of MANY authors on anything MMO -> Always has an interesting read abound

Blogs. It takes time to find important things.

Quote:
Man vs the MMORPG -> A great blog here about it

It looks like a player looked at game play of current MMORPGs and tried to make someone that would have all cliché and development quirks.

Quote:
MMO Rountable - discussion of MMO design
Something like a blog.

Quote:
Good Article by Bartle
Game theory. It's quite interesting even for single player games.

Quote:
From Raph again
Sam Lewis' ideas on economy
Sam Lewis again
Thread here on economy
Mu's thoughts on economy
Topic on MMO Roundtable on economy

All of them are saying something in a way, a game shouldn't mindlessly copy an economy handbook for high school, and rather create some mechanisms that would feel right with gameplay. Majority of these problems could be found in single player games as well, especially if there are autonomous NPCs, working shops, and no scripting.
(For example shops in Bethesda games worked badly and would be disaster in majority of MMORPGs.)

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One thing I don't see much is numerical analysis of combat/stats systems in terms of balance and scalability. Many MMOGs seem to revisit past mistakes of other MMOGs in this department - resulting in rules changes and the dreaded NERF. Ask this to whoever is designing your combat system:

"Why were fast weapons in EQ so good they had to be nerfed, while in WoW slow weapons were so good they had to be nerfed"

[Edited by - FippyDarkpaw on July 31, 2007 10:58:18 AM]

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