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.

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1 Comment »

  1. karl3d Said:

    It’s probably bad form to post comments to your own blog. 🙂 But I wanted to capture a couple of points that have been made on The Secret World forums discussing this topic. To see the thread, go to http://bit.ly/b2YigW

    Lodestar said:
    I can honestly agree. And would go far as to say to be truly good entertainment media as a whole would do well to take this on board.

    However, there is something that is undeniable. While not truly excelling at anything, they are in fact selling. And therin lies the crux of why despite the complaints in all these mediums getting critical mass. It continues. People are still buying them. This is all it takes in the eyes of the money men to call it a success. And once done they will cite their PR department on how those complaints are wrong and reasurre themselves they are right.

    I replied:
    I get where you’re coming from on the selling point. If they say “We’re not going to have PvP in this game” they’ve eliminated a segment of their potential consumers. On the other hand, if Funcom were to say “Our focus with The Secret World is on the deep storyline and a compelling PvE game experience. While we’ll have PvP and RP elements, that isn’t the primary driver for our game design.” Then people will have the right expectation going in. I think that trying to say “Oh yes, there’s plenty here for the PvP player” is setting the wrong expectation and is more likely to end up with a player who won’t trust your company again.

    Steeleye said:
    Trying to please everyone just make a mediorce game. I have always felt that the dev’s need to design the games they want and not listen to the fan base. As a consumer I could choose to play the game if I liked it or choose not to. If the dev’s wanted a PvP based game for example then they should make one, and just ignore the players saying they dont want PvP. The same goes with RP or any other style of MMO.

    Unfortunately mediocracy sells. Trying to make game that is focused on one style of play will fail because it doesnt attract the huge numbers of subscribers. You will get a niche game, and no matter how good it is it will not be profitable.

    I replied:
    @Steel: My opinion is that the current paradigm that says a game must have 100,000 … 250,000 … 500,000 players to be successful needs to change. The PvP oriented game that I describe in my blog could be created by a handful of programmers and artists. If you can get 10,000 people playing a game like that @ $15 a month, you can easily support the operations and development costs for a small dev shop and be profitable. Also by focusing your market, you’re more likely to keep your players happy since you don’t have to keep dividing your efforts.


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