Archive for September, 2010

Something for Everyone?

Something I have been pondering lately is whether the traditional model for an MMORPG is serving the needs of the gaming community today. Thanks to WoW, the number of MMO players has grown significantly. It seems to me that with that growth has come a diversification of interests.

Traditionally, an MMORPG offered some of everything. They had quests and hunting for the PvE players, special zones or servers or mini-games for the PvP players, gathering places and social clothing for roleplayers, etc. The problem that I’ve seen is that when an MMO tries to do all of these things, they are trying to please everyone; and the inevitable occurs … they end up not pleasing anybody.

I think that in the coming generation of online games we need to see more specialization. Rather than a huge game trying to cater to a wide variety of players, we need to start seeing smaller more focused games targeted at specific audiences. The meta concepts here aren’t tied to fantasy, modern, science fiction, or any other milieu, they could be applied to whatever setting the game designers had in mind. To provide some examples, here are three ideas that I’ve been turning over in my head…

Player-vs-Player

Current MMO’s tend to add “mini-games” to their world to attempt to satisfy the PvP player. These typically mirror FPS style games in that they feature things like capture-the-flag, resource node capture/control, etc. The issue I see with these mini-games is that they are almost always tacked-on to a PvE game. While there is usually some attempt to integrate these game-within-a-game into the world setting for the main game, there isn’t any crossover from what happens in a mini-game to what happens in the rest of the world.

PvP players also tend to have some rather specific needs. Once you add PvP to a game system, game designers find that powers which worked just fine for PvE (where the player is expected to be able to win) are overpowered for PvP play. Thus begins the never ending cycle of “rebalancing” powers or separating the game so that when you’re in a PvP fight the powers work differently.

What if a game were developed which just focused on the PvP aspect. Maybe it could look something like this:

The Arena

From the four corners of Carollon, the greatest warriors of the races of Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Ogre are called to test themselves against each other in The Arena.

Characters would still have races, classes, powers, etc. The method to become stronger would be by competing in one of several mini-game style combats. Advancement points would be earned through these battles, which could be assigned to skills. Also combatants would earn coins which could be used to purchase equipment.

A ladder or tier system would stratify the players so that a new player has a chance of having a decent chance of victory.

Common social areas and separate guild halls would give players somewhere to gather while they were waiting for their next battle. Guilds could use color and badges / uniforms to identify themselves.

No quests or raiding or anything involved. Just pure PvP action. The game would therefore require a rock solid combat system. Player skill should have a more important role in determining success than the powers / equipment they’re using.

Player-vs-Environment

Right up front players will know there is no PvP content in this game. This game is about the story. It has a deep storyline that keeps getting extended by periodic updates. This concept would be close to a single player game played out online. The writers / game designers would need to have the long term storyline in mind to maintain continuity, but it would be revealed to the players in smaller chunks at a time.

To encourage long term players, alternative origins / starting points (ala Dragon Age: Origins) would allow people who wanted to roll alts experience the game differently. Perhaps the storylines from various races would intersect from time to time, but for the most part they have separate quests.

Raiding could have a purpose in this sort of a game, but I think it would need to be well thought out and woven into the story.

Roleplaying

Roleplayers want a world they can be part of. Although many things were flawed about the game aspect of Star Wars Galaxies, the ability to create your own cities, to decide to spend all your time and energy on tradeskills or in becoming a master of dance was very appealing to players who don’t necessarily want to spend their time mucking around in sewers chasing rats.

A game designed to appeal to roleplayers would need to have a rich world, that felt alive. The setting would have to be well thought out and the players would need options to make them feel like they are part of it. Player housing, social clothing, proper emotes (like sitting in a chair) are all part of what makes the roleplaying player happy.

But you can’t make this Second Life. Roleplayers want to have the context to play in. They want to have a world setting that they can base their character’s background on. They probably also want to have aspects of a PvE game (and perhaps some PvP options as well … as long as they are integrated into the game world). Roleplayers very quickly identify when a world feels too shallow for them.

The other item that is really important to roleplayers is that they need to feel like the world is alive. They want to see things changing regularly. A roleplayer would get all giddy when they save a village from a dragon attack, but still see the burnt buildings that get repaired over time. This means that repeating quests and events would need to be avoided.

For this sort of a game to work, the game system would need to be designed for content to easily be created, replaced, removed, etc. A live event system and staff to man these events would also be important to making the world feel real and alive. A game system where adding new buildings or changing the topography of a zone required extensive testing and debugging would prove to be too unwieldy to support this over time.

Summary

Well, this turned longer than I expected when I started it. The short of the idea I’m trying to get across is that I believe that games need to start focusing on doing 1 or 2 things really well instead of trying to be everything to everyone and ending up disappointing most of their players.

Advertisements

MMORPG Players

I’m continuing to lay the groundwork for some of the thoughts I want to share about how I see computer games in general and MMORPG’s in specific. Today I thought I’d talk about my experience with MMORPG players and how to categorize them.

Let me start by acknowledging that trying to create buckets or stereotypes of people will almost always fail in the specific. Stereotypes are useful, however, in compartmentalizing and analyzing things. If I talk about PvE gamers, we know that we’re talking about people who on the whole prefer to play against computer controlled opponents. That doesn’t mean that someone who is in the PvE “bucket” would never fight in a PvP battle, it’s just a way to group players who have similar tendencies in how they play.

The groups I tend to use when I think about MMORPG players are:

  • Player-vs-Environment (PvE)
  • Player-vs-Player (PvP)
  • Casual
  • Dedicated
  • Solo Players
  • Group Members
  • Roleplayers
  • Social Gamers

For many of you, these terms are self-evident, but I’ll go ahead and define how I see them so that when I talk in coming days about PvE game design you’ll understand the types of players I’m talking about targeting.

Player-vs-Environment (PvE)

These players prefer to fight against computer (AI) controlled opponents rather than other players. They are usually highly focused on the quests and the storylines of an MMORPG.

Player-vs-Player (PvP)

PvP players like to test themselves against other players. They get a thrill out of competing against an opponent who thinks and acts unpredictably as opposed to AI controlled mobs which are known quantities with specific behaviors.

Casual

A casual player is someone who has more limited time for playing. Many times these are older players who have jobs, families, etc. which also require their time. They may be just as driven to succeed, reach the end-game, etc. as the Dedicated player. But they also know they don’t have large blocks of time to spend on the game every day.

Dedicated

I prefer the term “dedicated” to “hardcore” because the latter can have other connotations in how serious a player is about the game. A dedicated player will spend many hours a day / week in the game.

Solo Players

The solo player is often (but not always) a sub-category of the casual player. These people like to play MMORPGs because of the size and breadth of the game. But their adventuring time is typically spent on their own.

Group Members

Grouping players tend to login and immediately ask their guild or the “LFG” channel for teammates. They prefer to work with others, often because the more difficult goals (along with the richer rewards) in MMO’s are geared toward groups accomplishing things that individuals can’t on their own.

Roleplayers

Roleplayers are people who like to play in-character. The term roleplaying can mean a variety of things to different people. For my purposes I’m going to a core definition that the player knows who their character is, they know their motivations, and they make an effort to play in-character at least in some situations.

Social Gamers

Social gamers are a different breed all together. Social gamers may login to the game for a month or more and never fight a mob or take on a quest. For them the game is their social gathering spot. They would prefer to sit with friends somewhere and talk or have their characters dance in a nightclub than to go out and fight something. At the same time, they enjoy the game world of an MMO. Which is why they don’t just sit in chat rooms somewhere outside of games.

Hybrids

Like I said when I started out these broad categories work to classify gamers as a population, but typically break down when you try to apply them to individual gamers. For example, I have been a “dedicated solo” player myself.

Karl as a Gamer

I typically joke with my compatriots in gaming forums that I’ve been playing games longer than most of them have been alive. I’ve been blessed to walk this planet since 1965; so I have a few years behind me.

Roleplaying

I started roleplaying in general when I was 12. My dad gave me a copy of Basic Dungeons & Dragons (the original Basic D&D with the blue & white cover) for my birthday. I had no idea what it was or how it would affect my life. Although it’s been some time now since I had a regular gaming group, I played pencil & paper roleplaying games pretty much ever since then. Because I enjoy the creative process, I typically found myself to be in the Dungeon/Game Master role.

Computer Games

The very first computer I ever messed with was a Sinclair ZX-81. We typed whatever programs we wanted and didn’t have any way to save them. Then I moved up to a TRS-80 Model 1 where I could type my own programs and save them on cassette tape (buying software was a foreign concept at the time). Moved on through the Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga 500, and then finally broke down and got a PC-compatible.

The main reason I had any of those computers … playing games of course. I laugh a little at kids these days who say you can’t have immersion in an RPG without being able to sit in a chair or some other silliness. When I started playing games like Adventure, there weren’t any graphics. You had to read things like:

You’re on a road near a woods. There’s a mailbox next to you and a path to the north.

> Go south

You can’t go that way.

> Go West

You can’t go that way.

> Go East

You can’t go that way.

> Get mail

You can’t get that from here.

> Open mailbox

Mailbox is opened. There is a letter inside.

> Get mail

You pick up the letter.

> Read Letter

You get the idea. And it was easy to get immersed into that world that you could only “see” in your mind.

MMORPGs

My first MMORPG ever was Anarchy Online. I started in August of 2001. So just after the notorious launch events. I can still easily remember the feeling of stepping off the pad for the first time in West Athen Backyard 3 (WA BY3 to the AO vets out there). Realizing that the other people walking around me, killing reets, running from rollerats, etc were other real people was pretty amazing. I played Anarchy Online pretty much exclusively until about 2005.

Since then I’ve played several other games. Games that I’ve spent more than 3 months of solid playing are:

  • Everquest II
  • City of Heroes
  • Star Wars Galaxies
  • Aion
  • World of Warcraft
  • Age of Conan (my current game)

Playing Style

I’m a casual solo pve roleplaying style gamer. I don’t have time anymore for hardcore MMO playing. I just don’t have the hours. Because I never know when I might get called away from the keyboard, I don’t like to team up with others and leave them hanging. Although I enjoyed Aion’s player-vs-player combat system, I’m not generally a fan of open world free-for-all PvP. And my roleplaying background still finds a need to escape to another world now and then.

Personality

In addition to being creative, I tend to be very analytical. In other words, I don’t just play games, I like to think about and analyze them as well. I try to figure out what I like or dislike and why. Over the years I’ve become as interested in the process of designing games as I have in playing them. I like to figure out why a design decision was made and try to see if there might be a way to improve it.

Why Should You Care?

I have no idea. I’m posting this stuff because I need to get it out of my head and off somewhere else. 😉 If others enjoy what I write and it makes them think, that’s all good with me. Feel free to comment as well. What I’m posting here are my thoughts and opinions. I’m not saying I know it all. Just that I think I know something. Learning that you don’t know everything is the first step toward wisdom.

New direction

I’m going to re-purpose this blog to not just talk about my 3D stuff, but also games and life in general. To that end, I just created a new page with my 3D artwork gallery.

3D Artwork

Journey ended?

Not sure. Definitely postponed. Several things happened over the last 6 months that kind of sucked the joy out of 3D graphics for me.

I keep working to learn Maya. But many of my other ‘big plans’ aren’t important to me right now and so aren’t getting my energy.