MMO Design Roundup: Types of Fun, Ultimate Sandbox, Rewards Are Bad

If you’re interested in the way MMORPGs are designed, you’ll be interested in our roundup today, as we look at some of the best posts of the last week looking at the deeper elements behind your favourite MMOs…

  • Spinks writes a great piece looking at types of fun in MMORPGs“I would argue that WoW offers all four keys, although the Serious Fun aspect of the game felt stronger back in TBC, and you have to look for the Hard Fun via Challenge Modes, Arenas, and hard mode raids, or making up your own difficult achievements. “
  • “My Ideal MMO” posts are pretty common, but veteran MMO blogger Keen’s vision of a very Minecraft-sounding idealised sandbox was both interesting and, I thought, quite plausible – “Gear would be important, but dieing would mean losing your gear and using it would degrade it anyway. It needs to be like the medieval times when there could be a special sword you value, but if you lose it you can pick up most any other sword and still be able to fight because YOU are the weapon.”
  • And Rowan Blaze looks at the counterintuitive way that attaching rewards to fun activities (like dailies) can actually diminish the fun for all involved” If I am doing something for fun and relaxation—say, gardening—then it is a hobby. If I am doing it for some other reason—say, to feed my family and keep clothes on my back—then it is farming, and work. “

Enjoyed today’s posts? Please let other players know about them!

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Why It’s Vital To Be Uncertain In An MMO

Think that a PvP tactic is dishonourable? Or an MMO zone’s not fun?

It probably comes down to one thing.

You’re certain what will happen.

That’s the thesis that Random Average is advancing today in a lengthy but fascinating essay on uncertainty in gaming, and just how big an impact it has on the entire gameplay experience

“Over many (many) years of gaming, I’ve managed to figure out (one situation at a time) when something I was doing was killing fun by making the results (good or bad) a foregone conclusion. (Sometimes this was a question of mechanics; sometimes it was a question of “the inviolate plot.”) It also helped me identify what was going wrong when I wasn’t having fun as a player, both at a table or online.

Slamming my head against the same raid boss over and over, when it’s clear we don’t have the right group or the proper gear to succeed? Not fun.

Fighting that same raid boss when we’re this close to pulling off a win, and every attempt might go for us or the bad guys? Exhilarating.

Farming that boss once we have all the best gear, know the fight backwards and forwards, and all the surprises are gone? Boring.

Wandering around the newbie starter zone with my max-level character, picking flowers to level my Herbalism? Boring.

Sneaking through a zone 10 or 20 levels too high for me, running for my life in an effort to get a specific location or find a special macguffin? Fun!

Getting insta-killed out of nowhere when you unknowingly walk your new character into a high-level PvP zone? Frustrating.

I think we get the point. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re running or playing a game in which you have any kind of input (usually tabletop, but not always). Are you bored? Add challenge to what you’re doing by changing the choices you make. Are you hopelessly frustrated by never-ending failures? Change things up, or take a break, right? ”

Random’s an EVE blogger, and the second half of his post deals with EVE – but in a manner that’s both accessible and interesting to the non-EVE player. He’s discussing the way in which many EVE players stay away from risk at all costs – and suggesting that maybe they’re shooting their own game experience in the foot by doing so.

From the central thesis to its ramifications for all gaming and gamers – highly recommended.

What do you think? Does it all come down to uncertainty?

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Is Free-To-Play “Inevitable”?

Electronic Arts’ Chief Operations Officer said yesterday that he believes a move to free-to-play, for all games, is inevitable.

Pretty bold and startling stuff, particularly coming from someone that senior in the industry.

Bloggers have been reacting to both that statement and Arena.net’s comments about Free To Play in the last couple of days – so, does the blogosphere agree that F2P is the only Way 2 Go?

  • The Mighty Viking Hamster considers the example of LoTRO’s F2P history as he examines the rationale for F2P games“Time and time again you see VIP players on the Turbine forums question the viability of sticking with their subscriptions when they could feasibly buy all the content they need with their amassed TPs. As time passes this conundrum will become more relevant to old time subscribers and it is something Turbine has to contend with sooner or later. “
  • Ben at Diminishing Returns examines Arena.net’s claim that F2P games are more fun“Few people have the money and interest to subscribe to 5+ different MMOs simultaneously, but if you are playing 5 F2P titles you can jump in to different games on different nights according to what content takes your interest and what your friends are doing.”
  • Keen argues that F2P games are driven by exactly the same non-fun business motives as subscription-based titles“That doesn’t mean the other teams aren’t hard at work coming up with ways to get you into that cash shop or earn money. Business is competitive, and there’s no such thing as a ‘nice business decision’. “
  • And Chris at Level Capped makes a very interesting point I’ve not seen anywhere else – that in F2P games, gamers really do get to vote with their wallets“When the revenue stream for a game comes solely from delivering a well regarded product first, and collecting money second, people have an actual, meaningful voice every time they decide whether or not to buy that expansion, that gun, or that XP boost.”

What do you think? Is F2P inevitable?

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Three Light Posts For The Weekend

Yep, once again Friday had an abundance of coolness, with the result that some of it has spilled over.

And, fitting yesterday’s Appreciation theme, a lot of it’s very light, cheery and fun. So, if you’re sick of arguments in EVE or SWTOR scandals, here we go…

  • Think you know UIs? Then play Syl at Raging Monkeys’ UI Recognition Challenge!
  • Matty at Sugar and Blood is parodying poetry, with The Quest Not Taken.
  • And completely non-MMO, but old RPG players like me may be interested to read about an ultra-oldschool, indie 3D dungeon bash game called Legend of Grimrock, which sounds Eye Of The Beholder-tastic.

Have a great weekend!

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When Tedium Makes A Game Better

With WoW being more and more streamlined these days, it’s very interesting to read a post from a game developer explaining why he’s deliberately building tedium into his game.

And that’s what Eric of Elder Game is talking about today – tedium. He’s been considering how to allow players access to all the different classes his game will have to offer, and has made the decision to let them switch role – but only when they’re in town, not in the middle of a dungeon.

One of his testers suggested that he should allow them to switch arbitrarily instead – after all, by forcing a town switch wasn’t he just artificially limiting his players from what they want to do? Well, it turns out the answer is not at all – and here’s why

“It’s also important to let players feel clever while they play. And I admit that if you could switch classes constantly, you would feel pretty clever for a while, switching to just the right situation for each battle… but you’d only feel clever for a while, because it would be more-or-less mandatory (due to the social pressure to keep up with your friends). Then it stops being “clever” and starts being “work.”

I want players to feel clever. I also want them to min-max, if that’s what they like doing. Remember that there’s a third set of abilities in the game, along with the two sets of class abilities you get. These abilities can be cherry-picked at any time, and doing so will let you min-max boss fights (and regular fights too, but not so much). I think it’s fun to carefully plan out your boss fights. I just don’t think it’s fun to have to plan out every fight.”

Every game designer has to make these choices, and it’s in choices like this that might initially seem obvious that the “style” of a game emerges. “Team B”, the current team in charge of World of Warcraft, have a very player-enabling, “let’s make it fun” style which directs them to streamline the content of the game. The LoTRO team, by contrast, tend more toward classic WoW’s mode of thinking – limitations are a useful part of building gameplay and a world.

Eric’s post is, as always, a fascinating insight into the part of the game we don’t see – the pre-release thinking about just how to craft an experience of a world.

Do you like a little tedium with your gameplay? Or do you believe that it’s a game, dammit, and if you want to do something you should be able to?

Quote taken directly from Eric’s post .

Find Elder Game at http://www.eldergame.com/ .

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Fun vs Fun

Ghostcrawler, the public face of the WoW development team, has been referring to “fun” rather a lot in recent postings. It would appear that “fun” is the new watchword for the WoW design team, and anything that they don’t consider fun quickly goes by the wayside.

On the face of it, that seems like a very sensible decision – after all, this is a game, right? It’s meant to be relaxing, entertaining – in a word, “fun”. But is it that simple? Oestrus Stories of O has been thinking a bit about GC’s recent speechmaking, and she’s not at all convinced:

“At the same time, not everything in life is meant to be fun. You don’t decide that you want to have a baby with your partner because it’s going to be fun. You don’t volunteer to give a speech in front of a room full of people because it will be fun. You don’t clean the cat’s litter box because it’s fun.

Sometimes you do things because they are necessary or because they are expected of you. It’s a means to an end, a way to get past an obstacle that you wouldn’t be able to overcome, otherwise. It could be something that you need to do, in order to get it out of the way, so you can have some real fun later on down the line. You do it because nobody else can or nobody else will. Fun has nothing to do with it.”

Her argument is essentially that the focus on “fun” removes many other aspects of the game – notably the willingness to work for a reward and interest in challenges. I can see what she’s saying, although I think that anyone who’s currently raiding hard-modes would disagree that there’s a lack of challenge in WoW at present – but on the other hand, as we heard yesterday, the lack of effort in the levelling and non-raiding game is starting to annoy some people.

Meanwhile, Eccentrica Jones is taking an entirely different tack – she’s seeing a lot of people referring to WoW as “work”, or “taking a break” from the game, and she’s asking whether we’re remembering that this is, after all, meant to be a game where overall, we have fun:

“I see so many posts and comments that use such terms as ‘quitting’ and ‘break’ and ‘have to’ and I find it rather odd that those are used in conversation about a game. Do you ‘quit’ playing Monopoly? Do you take a ‘break’ from Nintendo? When was the last time you said ‘I have to play..’ in relation to a non-electronic pastime?

The fact is that too many of us have backed ourselves into a corner. We ‘have’ to do our dailies. We ‘have’ to cap points for the week. We ‘have’ to do our heroics. The list of ‘have to’s’ could fill a blog post in and of itself, and you know them all so I won’t bore you by continuing. What I will do, though, is suggest to you this, and it’s a radical concept for some: You don’t have to do a goddamn thing; ever. This applies to your entire life.”

It’s interesting to see two posts take such very different tacks at the same topic. It’s very Greek Philosophy: Oestrus is extolling the virtues of stoicism, wheras Eccentrica’s taking a very Hedonist approach to the entire thing. It’s a refreshing debate where both sides have a good point.

What do you think? Is a game meant to be “fun”? Are the two articles talking about different definitions of “fun”?

Quotes taken directly from their respective articles.

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Are you a bear’s ass?

I know they’re not exactly an unkown blog, but I really like some of the writing on WoW Insider.

And today, Alison Robert has a great fun piece in her Druid column, offering you the chance to take a quiz to find out – which Druid spec suits your personality best?

A cool piece of gear drops, but you realize it might not actually be an upgrade. Do you roll on it?

  1. Ooh, math. Let me get my slide rule.
  2. I am a large animal without the capacity for abstract thought.
  3. I don’t care if it’s an upgrade. I killed and ate the rogue who was my only competition.
  4. Well, let me see … I’m actually pretty close to the next Wild Growth breakpoint, but I’d have to regem everything in order to make it. But is that really a good idea when I mostly tank heal, anyway? WG was only 14% of my healing on that last fight, and once I account for the intellect loss it … hey! HEY! I’m not finished! Don’t give it to the stupid priest!

Having spent a chunk of two weeks ago attempting to mash my brain into understanding Resto Druid haste caps, I really empathised with the last bit.

It’s not deep heavy thinking, but it is great fun, and anyone who’s every played a druid will recognise the stereotypes. If you fancy something light and entertaining, give it a read – and you might well learn a bit about Druids too!

What Drood were you? And did you think the stereotypes were accurate?

_Quotes taken directly from Alison’s column at WoW Insider.

Find Shifting Perspectives at http://wow.joystiq.com/category/shifting-perspectives/

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Roundup: Blogosphere Discussion On Optimization

Yesterday Tobold did what Tobold does best. He set the blogosphere alight. Not literally, though we have hidden the matchbox. Nope, he posted an article about fears of optimization and loads of people around the blogosphere have jumped in on it. Many of them are disagreeing with him, some are wandering off into specific points about optimization, but all of them are passionate and thought out.

So here they all are for you to make your own mind up – can optimizing your character be a bad thing?

  • Optimality – Rohan at Blessing of Kings talks about why optimization is crucial, and how and why it’d be very difficult to get rid of it.
  • Fun Builds: Not That Fun In End-Game Content – Syncaine says that optimization is a content-based problem: at end game there’s simply no middle ground for those who want to experiment with their playstyle.
  • The Enemy Is Not Optimization – Nils argues that optimization itself isn’t a bad thing – crowd sourcing (i.e. crowds of other people determining optimal ways to play) is. A simple but brilliant argument.
  • Combat Meters – Nils has also split off from the main topic to talk about combat meters permanently measuring your ‘performance’, relating to inefficiency/optimization. For me he’s summed up combat meters in one word: sinister.
  • Playing Without Recount – Shintar talks about how playing with and without recount’s made her feel in the past, and wonders if players would get less stressed without those numbers constantly on screen and in our heads.
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Is it better to be single?

I love to follow topic threads as they wander around the blogosphere. An off-hand comment on one of Gordon’s posts at We Fly Spitfires prompted him to write further on the topic, which in turn prompted Klepsacovic to weigh in at Troll Racials Are Overpowered (which, in turn, is prompted the post you’re currently reading).

Gordon asks if MMOs have affected the success of single-player games. It’s an interesting question. I don’t think Gordon’s speaking of the actual, quantifiable sales figures; he makes the point that MMOs take up so much of his available leisure time that he rarely has time to dip his toe into any other game’s waters. I think that’s a feeling that a lot of us would share.

Klepsacovic’s follow-up asks what it is we’re actually paying for when we renew the subscription for our MMO of choice. For him, a single-player game has a higher “fun per hour” ratio than an MMO. The ace up the MMO’s sleeve is the social factor; being able to interact with, cooperate with, or compete against your friends (or, more often, random strangers).

I can empathize with both of them. When I first started playing World Of Warcraft, I treated it effectively as a single-player game. I barely interacted with other players at all. I simply leveled my character on my own, in just the same way as I would have done if WoW was a single-player game and every other player was an AI bot. At that stage, I still had time for other games.

Once I joined a good guild and started end-game raiding, it all changed of course. I’m still a pretty casual player by most definitions, but I rarely find time to play other games. I haven’t even completed Fallout 3 yet, and if you knew just how much I loved loved LOVED Fallout 1 and 2 you’d understand what an extraordinary thing that is. In fact, come to think of it, I’ve played Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 right the way through several times. Of course, that was back in my BW days: Before Warcraft.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have my Dragonmaw dailies to do.

_You can find Gordon’s We Fly Spitfires homepage here

You can find Klepsacovic’s Troll Racials Are Overpowered homepage here_

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Beru Calls For A Fond Farewell For Righteous Orbs

Shuffling the posting schedule round a bit today to squeeze in an emergency quick post. Y’see, there’s been some sad news over the weekend.

No, Tirion Fordring hasn’t been found dead in his holiday retreat (that would be more of a yay, anyway). Neither has Guild Wars 2 been cancelled (thankfully) nor WoW’s Love Is In The Air holiday event that started this weekend been buggy.

All right, maybe the last one has happened. But what else has happened is that Tamarind and Chas at Righteous Orbs have decided to close their doors and move on to other things. It’s a sad thing: they were a pillar of the community. I wasn’t going to dedicate a whole post to it, sad though it is – I’ve said my farewells to them and usually include blog closings in roundups. But it’s worth a post, especially when someone else in the blogosphere has posted in honour of the sad occasion.

I’m not going to harp on about it. I am going to prod you towards Beru’s post with either a pitchfork or a packet of cookies, whatever works for you. Beru’s post is in memory of their blog but most importantly, she’s asking you to remember one crucial thing: fun. And if you’re a blogger, she has a rallying call for all of us to help make this a special send off for the Righteous Brothers Orbs.

Go read, it applies to us all so long as we’re a gamer at heart, regardless of being a blog reader or a writer. GG, as the kids say, Beru – and safe travels Tam and Chas.

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