Sunday, February 1, 2009

I, Loot Whore

As usual, Tesh's blog has stimulated interesting thoughts about MMO game design. This particular post and the comments discuss the difficulty and rewards systems for these games we all love (but can't quite figure out why we love them sometimes). Go and read it all now!

Are you back? Excellent. So, it's pretty evident that alternate difficulty levels are required in all games, and that includes MMO's. The problem is that people will only be motivated towards the path that gives them the most loot per unit time invested (and then bitch because they can't complete the hardest difficulty). This means that we must steer the game design away from fostering a 'loot whore' system, and to do that we need to understand why items drive players so much. I think that there are a few reasons:

1) Power in an MMO is largely dependent on items, and the best items are made very hard to obtain due to their great rarity. There is this retarded 'power creep' whereby numbers become bigger and bigger and bigger as you progress through the game (really, my sword is actually 1000x more dangerous than the starter sword? Was the starter sword constructed entirely out of kitten fur?)

2) MMO combat is kind of boring, so just beating an area is not particularly interesting. Compare this to pretty much every non-MMO game, and ask - why do you play it? It's because you enjoy the experience itself.

3) Playing with other people fosters feelings of inferiority if you're not as far along as they are. So there's a strong pull to rush through content to catch up, which means that the story in these games is often skipped. It then loses its pull as a motivator (one of the reasons I am skeptical of SW:TOR's claims of the magical fourth pillar in the MMO universe).

This pull renders the 'side-quest' (non-story related quest) especially useless. And these things take up, literally, 95% of play time in MMO's. Why introduce so much of this artifical kill ten rats content? To keep you playing and therefore paying your subscription, of course.

4) Leveling up makes things more interesting, however the leveling is slowed down so much in MMO's since, again, they want to keep you paying subscription money. This is not a problem in Guild Wars - levelling is very fast, such that most of your time is spent playing at the cap.

These problems each need to be addressed if the field of MMO gameplay is going to move forwards. So we need to:

1) Diminish the dependence of player power on items. Guild Wars does this and it ruined me for WoW. Don't worry, grind is still present in the game - but only for fluff, not for power.

2) Spice up the combat. Whether it's turn-based tactical, or an fps, or anything in between. Current MMO gameplay is just so.... unstimulating. It's great to counteract lag, but that's about it.

3) This may sound odd, but the traditional story-based structure of most games should probably be removed (other than a single player pseudo-tutorial area - AoC did this and it was one of the few celebrated features of the game).

What to replace story with? Easy, it's an MMO - social interaction on a massive scale. Players should be able to work with and against each other to completely alter and immerse themselves in the world - a true sandbox. HOWEVER. Sandboxes are historically very inaccessibly designed games, because new players simply don't know what to do, and because of rampant griefing.

These are not easy options to overcome. However I've given you the means to doing it: you don't have to spend development time on making a story. You instead have to work out good ways for players to make their own stories (yes, this can and should involve bucketloads of user-generated content, to make your game awesome and to save you development costs at the same time).

4) I'm going to develop a new acronym for this one: PYOFG. That's play your own...sunshine....game. If you, as the game developer, find yourself bored grinding through all that lovely 'content' you've created, then your players will too. Don't take the easy way out and just throw in a vegas loot-whore system to force them through it - make it fun, or scrap it from the game. Yes, this may mean that players don't keep paying subscriptions for as long - this is a good clue that the subscription model is incompatible with good gameplay, and since you're not a corporate asshat you actually want to make a good game.

So come up with a new business model. A good example of this is micro-payments for each area (thanks Tesh), allowing people to progress at their own pace and not making them feel as though their money is being wasted if they don't rush. It also still allows you to release mini-expansions at a regular pace.

Vive la Revolution!

4 comments:

Tesh said...

'Tis nae my idea, laddie. The folk behind Wizard 101 came up with that one (Access Passes), I just happen to really like the idea. Thanks for the link, though. :D

Great article, by the way. The unhealthy focus on loot is definitely one thing that needs to be overhauled if the genre is to move forward. I expect we'll bat ideas around here for a while in that vein. ;)

Anton said...

Very good comments, I especially liked how you targeted inferiority to other players of higher level as the reason why story just doesn't work in MMO's...

The whole notion of making players make their own story is what I've been yearning for. Some ways to do that:

Take out NPC's and give players the roles of the NPC's.

Build their own cities.

Create their own governments.

Farm and harvest the plants and animals of the environment.

I understand Darkfall is supposed to have some of these elements. I think Eve Online does some of these things right, too, there's still a lot of fine-tuning, and of course, most people just want a game that throws them into action, so some of these things might just make the game slower and lacking excitement.

Melf_Himself said...

As usual my response is so long I'm just going to make a new post :p Basically, I like the idea of giving players the role of NPC's Anton, and I think it can be taken to an interesting place.

Wyrm said...

Hi,

Aren't you speaking of Second Life? 100% user content? Non-linear progression. Player-created events and so on? Free to play? Non-loot driven?

:)