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<  Design concepts  ~  MMOs - Longevity vs. Tedium

bean
Posted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 3:53 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 25 Jan 2004 Posts: 4
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 and 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.
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Michael
Posted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 10:44 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
My main question is and will always be, why do so many games have to be about fighting? I'm bored stiff with fighting, especially with strategy and warfare. If you wouldn't have fighting, there would not be any battle engine problem to solve! Evil or Very Mad
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bean
Posted: Mon Jan 26, 2004 7:56 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 25 Jan 2004 Posts: 4
Um. . .

Do you think an MMO that was built soley around non-violent interaction could be successful? The Sims Online has attempted this and it's tanking badly.

I respect your point, but violence is jsut another form of conflict that makes stories more interesting. Why limit content to that fit for small children? There are games that can be made that are non-violent and wonderful, but why avoid violent games? My favorite games include more violent games than non-violent, but that may be because the industry makes 20 violent games for every non-violent one.

Actually, the only non-violent game in my top 10 games of all time is Dance Dance Revolution. Unless you count Space Channel 5 as non-violent. Then I have 2.

If you count games that are not graphically violent, like Final Fantasy, then I have about 5.

Still that leaves half of my list with really violent games.

There is certainly a market for non-violent games, but why limit yourself?
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Michael
Posted: Tue Jan 27, 2004 9:41 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Why limit yourself should be my question, shouldn't it? It seems that most games limit themselves to violence!... And you are mistaken if you think that non-violence is for children. The sick truth is quite the contrary: game publishers consider violence as the main attraction to games for children.
I agree with you that violence is a cheap way of introducing conflict. I am willing to accept that some sort of conflict is required to make entertainment, not because I believe this but because this has been done over and over again in history. But there are many possible conflicts and many ways of resolving them.
I think violence can be a powerful ingredient of a fiction and I am not advocating banning violence. Quite the contrary, I think the violence in most games is lame. Violence is such an extreme thing and yet in most games it is portrayed as something banal. I think a game author could use violence much more effectively than is being done now. (Have a look at how Shakespeare used violence...)

The only violence in games that I have a moral problem with, is the violence carried out in a more or less military situation. When the player is told to commit violence by his superiors or when violence is justified because you are fighting an evil enemy. I think planting or nurturing this seed of "good versus evil" and "doing what you're told is good" in people is morally despicable.

My criticism concerns the artistic and creative aspects of game design. I think "resorting to violence" is done too quickly by designers. I think they should think a bit more and come up with more originality. (And I don't mean more weapons...)
If violent games would just be one kind of many, I wouldn't be talking about this. It's just that almost all games are violent. And it's boring. And in my opinion, boring is the last thing that games should be. All I'm asking for is a bit more variety.
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Michael
Posted: Tue Jan 27, 2004 9:53 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
bean wrote:

Do you think an MMO that was built soley around non-violent interaction could be successful? The Sims Online has attempted this and it's tanking badly.


Define "succesful"...

If you mean commercially succesful, of course not. But not because of violence itself but because, according to the view on reality that marketeers seem to have, all that the public wants is the same and more of it. If the trend would be a certain type of non-violent action, then that would be what the marketeers would have designers work with. And the public would be buying it because there was nothing else or because they really like it and the marketeers are right that they are creatures of habit who are afraid of anything different.

If you mean artistically succesful, or providing good entertainment for a broad audience, most certainly. But it's not easy. And the reason why it is not is easy is because it hasn't been done before. I think current MMO's are like the car that the dog was chasing. Once it caught up with the car, the dog had no idea what to do with it. But I think a little bit of creativity can go a long way. I just wish that there was more stimulus for this creativity.

And for the one non-violent game that was unsuccesful, I can name dozens of violent ones that weren't either. And who can tell whether any game was succesful or not because of it's presence or lack of violence? We're so stuck in a rut that we can't even imagine another reality.
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Michael
Posted: Tue Jan 27, 2004 10:06 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Sorry to have taking your thread in a different direction. You're welcome to go back to it.
I have nothing to say about your issues because I think they focus on details of a larger framework that I don't even believe should be there. And if it has to be, I have no interest in it. But I'm sure other people do.
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bean
Posted: Wed Jan 28, 2004 12:40 am Reply with quote
Joined: 25 Jan 2004 Posts: 4
Hey, no problem. Your anti-violence statements are interesting.It would be neat if an MMO that was non-violent offered good gameplay.

In The Sims Online (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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Michael
Posted: Wed Jan 28, 2004 8:53 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Exactly. MMO designers need to think about what they can do with the feature that makes their game technology unique: the fact that people are playing it together. They need to design activities that allow people to do things together.
Another "Golden Rule of Game Design" is that you should make sure, as a designer, that the thing players do most in the game is also the most fun to do. If the game involves a lot of walking and traveling, this walking and traveling should be fun and not just a way to connect two other "fun" activities. If the walk takes two hours and the puzzle five minutes, the walk should be the most fun.
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K-Sin
Posted: Wed Feb 16, 2005 1:47 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 16 Feb 2005 Posts: 2 Location: New Zealand
Just going back to the gameplay design you have bean, I think some of the ideas you have there are great for an MMO game. I esspecially like the idea of revolving most of the objectives around quests. I havn't got the most experiance and the only MMO game i've played is ragnarok online but what I feel your MMO layout is missing is differentiation in battle, like turn based battles against NPC's will always get a little boring and tedious. I'm not a pro designer, or even studying to be one and I won't pretend to be but I like to design game mechanics in my spare time (I may never know if they would work or not but I try to be as realistic as possible). One Idea i had was pitting players against players in vast ammounts (almost war like) and to do this you set up different servers and let the players start off and get to a reasonable stage then have servers challenge each other. I'm not sure if this has any chance of working (you may) but i thought it would make for a completely different way of playing a violent game. I think this could only work with non-turn based fighting. But like i said your ideas to make MMO's something more than repatiton are good and I hope to see them come through in future game's.
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Michael
Posted: Wed Feb 16, 2005 11:54 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I think The Saga of Ryzom features some massive battles. Sadly, I stopped playing before I could find out if they were any fun.
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K-Sin
Posted: Thu Feb 17, 2005 5:14 am Reply with quote
Joined: 16 Feb 2005 Posts: 2 Location: New Zealand
I'll have to check it out then, it may help me with my ideas. Thanks
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rinku
Posted: Mon Apr 10, 2006 1:34 am Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
"Do you think an MMO that was built soley around non-violent interaction could be successful?"

The MMORPG "Second Life" is quite successful and (although I haven't played it, so I'm going off of reviews and reports) completely non-violent.
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Hoborg
Posted: Mon Apr 10, 2006 6:44 am Reply with quote
Joined: 05 May 2005 Posts: 73
I dunno, I tried it once, I wouldn't call it very successful. Players can create their own objects and the result is just an orgy of random polygons smeared about the place and everything is buggy. I never saw any point to playing it after two days. I'm sure theres more to it but its hidden in a bunch of garbage.

Also the first thing i obtained in the game was an AK-47. Granted, you couldnt kill anyone with it, you could only use it to push stuff around as long as there wasn't a bug. which there was 90 percent of the time.

Puzzle Pirates is an example of a good non-violent MMO. Though nowadays i avoid the co-operative pirating part and just play card games =p
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