Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Evolving from game to world

The recent discussion about tradeskills revealed that there is a part of the MMORPG player base who consider the fighting of monsters to be the only important part of any massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Other activities, like crafting, decorating your house (if your game even has that), or hanging out in taverns to chat, are seen as waste of time, or money-sinks. Their worth is only defined in terms of how they advance your adventuring career, like crafting giving you access to potions needed for raiding. In that model you only need player housing to store your gear, crafting only to make you weapons, armor, and consumables for fighting, and visits to cities only for the necessary trips to your trainer or the auction house. But this model wastes a lot of the potential of online worlds. It turns them into single-purpose, nearly linear, simple games of character advancement. That certainly works for many people, but isn't necessarily the most attractive model for everybody. And by being so linear, this model also has serious problems of longevity.

Now experience has shown that virtual worlds without any sort of game aren't that popular. Second Life has a lot of hype, but very few paying customers. Even A Tale in the Desert, which has game parts, but no monster killing, only has a very small player base. To appeal to a mass market, the classical monster-killing, -looting, and character advancing has to be part of any successful game.

But that doesn't mean that the game couldn't have alternative occupations and advancements. There was a lot of buzz around Vanguard offering alternative careers in either adventuring, crafting, or diplomacy. Too bad the execution and balancing of that was flawed. And the balancing of the crafting system in LotRO isn't looking promising either, although at the base there are a lot of good ideas.

What a future MMORPG needs to offer is different ways to spend your time, beyond fighting either monsters or other players. If any game manages to create alternatives that are executed as well as fighting monsters is working in World of Warcraft, that game could well become the "WoW killer" people have been waiting for. A virtual world in which you could besides adventuring also spend time to decorate your house, to go shopping, to dress in clothes you buy for looks instead of stats, and where you could have jobs other than monster-slayer, has the potential to attract a much larger player-base. Only 16% of WoW-players are female, for example. Only 13% of male WoW players are over 35 years old. Killing stuff will always be highly attractive to young, male players, but game companies would be stupid to limit themselves to just this one target demographic.

But to be attractive to other types of players, the alternative occupations in the game must be independant from adventuring. There should be connections between the different systems, but few or no absolute dependencies. It doesn't help that Vanguard has a wonderful system to decorate your house, if the type of player who would like to decorate houses is forever unable to get there, because you first need to kill 1 million monsters to buy the house. To tailor clothes in World of Warcraft you need to increase your player level, and the only thing you can tailor in different colors is shirts. The diplomacy system in Vanguard starts out brilliantly, and then fails to lead you anywhere.

If I am currently playing with the farming tradeskill in Lord of the Rings Online, it isn't just because I can make more money farming than killing monsters. It is because I've killed enough monsters in WoW and other games, and killing them in LotRO isn't so different. But sowing fields, harvesting and processing plants, cross-breeding seeds, and advancing my farming skill, is a completely different and independently viable system. The reason why I'm so angry about the nerf is that it destroys this viability and independance. I'm just not as interested in a farming tradeskill which you only do because you need buffs from cooked food, but which you need to kill monsters to finance. Crafting as just a money sink in MMORPGs just isn't that attractive.

I am dreaming of a game where I could play a crafter who wouldn't be forced to kill monsters, if he didn't want to. A game where I could have my own house, decorated if I wanted to, and run my own proper shop and business from that house, with hired NPC vendors like in UO or SWG. And beyond that lots of other alternative lifestyles could be possible in a fantasy MMORPG. A diplomacy system that is self-sufficient and viable, where you travel between different places to talk with people and do politics. Or a system where you could play a sage, gathering information in libraries about ancient secrets, and the location of treasures. I'm dreaming of a virtual world, a MMORPG that is a collection of games, and not just one monster-killing games with a couple of useless side-quests. With violence in video games being hotly debated and under attack, it would be wise for game developers to try to offer something else than this violence. As long as any other activity in a MMORPG is subsidiary to combat, these games fail to live up to their potential.
And by being so linear, this model also has serious problems of longevity.

I think that is WoW's problem now. They try to solve it with reputation grinds, long attunements, and have a habit of making each new dungeon just a little too hard then lowering the difficulty. All of this is to slow down players, but still only along that one linear direction of advancement.

If there were more options, if crafting and customization were a viable alternative, or even other alternatives I can't think of, then there's be more to do, more to occupy people, and people would stick around more. I, like many, quit WoW after deciding raiding was not for me. And even though I would love to see the inside of Karazhan but there's nothing new ahead.

I see the whole road ahead for my characters and realize it's the same - the same as every linear game I've ever played going back to Defender and Space Invaders and Galaga, it's just kill lots of trash then kill a boss, get power ups, rinse repeat. It's an old model.
I've never played an MMO that had player housing in it while I played it (though some may have added it after I stopped, I'm not sure), so I'm not 100% sure if I would enjoy those types of pursuits. I do like the thought of tradeskills that offer other paths than just combat related gear. I still have my tuxedo pieces in my bank that I pull out occasionally for guild meetings... Having more options there would be interesting in fun.

I personally wouldn't mind player housing in WoW (but I think Guild halls would be really a cool addition, personally), but I do think that you should have to pay for them in some manner... Nothing comes for free... And it increases the enjoyment of it if it actually takes progress to get. Though, it could be earned through means other than just killing 1 million rats.
Tobold: "virtual worlds without any sort of [dikumud-alike] game aren't that popular"

Raph: "I’m perpetually astonished by the general ignorance of the phenomenally successful Habbo Hotel in the US. Habbo’s got a real claim to be the biggest MMORPG in the world, with (last I heard) 6 million users in the trailing 30 days — given typical figures for the percentage of a userbase that isn’t as active as that, this may put it above WoW in terms of total users worldwide."
I agree with you 100%, Tobold. One of the reasons that WoW is attractive (to me) is precisely the non-linear elements. The crafting, the instancing-vs-questing, the exploration, etc....

The market for a game like you describe would be significant. I would take as a partial model the Civ PC-game franchise. It has a very tangible goal-line, but leaving that part of it aside for the moment, they have developed that game to the point that you can really approach it with a variety of different styles for such a limited objective. Combat, culture, diplomacy, science... all can provide viable approaches to how to play the game.

And the beauty is that none are mutually exclusive. A crafting profession -- like your Tailoring example -- that led to high level items that didn't have particular combat application would still be a fantastic in-game thing.

I really like the idea of a diplomacy system as well. In a past life, I worked on a game that included a full-blown political structure sub-game within a combat game, but it never got off the drawing board. I am curious though: what do you envision a diplomacy system might affect within a MMO game?
You're pretty much describing UO, at least how I played it back in the day. In the later years I rarely fought any monsters because my character was a fairly peaceful sage who spent most of his time interacting with the various groups near my tower. The shadowclan orcs were nearby so there was always trouble of some sort to deal with.

Now, I realize that UO did not have a huge amount of game mechanics fueling this behavior. But what was there helped greatly. Namely, a skill-based advancement system (no linear level-based progression) as well as well-developed crafting & housing systems.
I've played two titles so far with player housing. SWG and Neocron. When I first jumped into SWG I thought, yeah whatever, why do I need a house, I'm just logging in, doing some quests and whatever then logging out. Then one day I had the spare cash to get a house and said sure, why not? It's amazing how your mindset suddenly changes as you look for just the right location to place the house, and how much time and effort you put into decorating it with your collections and trophies. Neocron, well everyone had an apartment, I don't recall any decorating or anything else going on there, just grinding for enough money to be able to afford a bigger more luxurious apartment in a nicer part of the city.

SWG is also the only MMORPG I've personally played that had any non-combat professions, which was an awesome change of pace and also an awesome main character for those people who just didn't like all the combat. They were perfectly willing to pay a monthly fee to stay in town or in a cantina or hospital and chat with everyone while increasing their skills so they could assist and buff anyone who came inside. And they made a lot of money doing it too! No other game has really given that playerbase, however small it may be, the option to exist. The only way to do anything is to go out and fight, and apparently some people just prefer not to.

Crafting in so many games is such a huge disappointment. WoW especially really let me down. Crafting was nothing but a time sink and money sink, and only a few items in any given tree were useful or in demand, other than alchemists who were in demand for raid potions and transmutes. If we're asked to devote that much time and effort into "mastering our art" then it is so much to ask that our "masterful creations" are the items in demand, rather than placing the uber loot in some raid bosses' pockets with a random die roll and astronomically low drop rates determining if the item in question is even available, not to mention having to go through whatever system the raid has in place for loot distribution. I don't mind having to work for the uber knowledge to create the uber stuff, we're all adventurers in these worlds after all, and nothing should be a free giveaway. But WoW (and most others) don't even give me that luxury. They make me work really hard to get a pattern that in the end, only a few want the item it makes, if anyone wants it at all.

Combat is all good and fine, but it gets old if that's the only game mechanic for progression. But right now, we are given little, if anything, else to do. We even have to fight/grind our way through mobs to the herbs/ores to craft. The quest-givers have us fight multitude of mobs to get a new pattern, leaving me with a bumbling Milton feeling as the Lumberg-like NPC puts me in my place. "But but but sir, I, I, I just don't see how killing 63 murlocs to bring back 10 murloc heads [Note: they all had heads when I fought them!!!] has any bearing on being able to sew a new leather tunic." "Yeeeeeeaaaaahhhh, look, do you want the pattern or not? How about you just... run on out there and bring me those murloc heads, eh? And don't forget those TPS reports on your way back. Oh, and uh... we're gonna have to ask you to go ahead and come into work on Saturday... yeah... that'd be great..."
I completely agree with you, Tobold, and I too would dearly love to find an MMO game that catered to the crafting crowd. I've spent a few days scouring the internet looking for one that had player housing, a nice crafting system, etc. but pretty much came up empty. I've lamented to my husband before about how I wish we could have houses in WoW -- I'd love to decorate it, put things in it, and show it off. I also want a better crafting system. :/

If anyone ever finds an MMO game that comes close to what Tobold wrote ... please for the love of all that is sweet and true, do spread the word! I'd like to know too. :)
I wanted to add: I don't mean an MMO game that caters ONLY to the crafting crowd, but one that does a better job at it. I like going out adventuring and questing and slaying monsters too, but I also love doing crafts and advancing skills and ... well, doing SOMETHING to customize the character I have.
Its because farming is lame, they should have built the MMORPG game and called it space farmers or sumthing shit.....The game is called LoTR, and thus should be about fighting your way through middle earth against killer orgers and dragons, leveling and advancing your toon that way. Not sitting in some field and making money, you probably haven't even seen half of the game yet......Potentially turbine has created fields for people to plant seeds at the moment.....And posting about it is even worse, why the hell would I want to even try LoTR after reading the only thing to do in the game is plant seeds atm......

I wanna hear epic stories of your character fighting dragons, and seeing wonderful scenery that hasn't yet been discovered. Then I may be interested in trying out the game.
The real issue, though, is not that of adventuring vs crafting. Both have their place within a game system and I think both appeal to more than just the standard young, male population. Indeed, there is a lot of player peer pressure to actively join in such endevours rather than just being an adventurer or crafter.

The primary issue is that of social interaction. Instead of rewarding people for being good adventurers or crafters, make diplomacy or socialization a way of advancing within the game.

WoW has this to some degree with reputation but that only serves to advance either adventuring or crafting, so if you're not into either of these two areas, you don't really care about reputation. Or you treat it as if it were a necessary evil to get better at your primary goal.

In Asheron's Call 2, when you gained "followers", whenever they levelled up, you would get a % increase of the xp. In return, you were meant to help them out, because if they levelled up, so would you.

This essentially meant that players stopped being a means to just level up and actually became players to socialise with, which in turn creates a mythical but apparent community - instead of what we have now: disparate guilds working for themselves to get "phat lewt".
And posting about it is even worse, why the hell would I want to even try LoTR after reading the only thing to do in the game is plant seeds atm......

I wanna hear epic stories of your character fighting dragons

In the first week of the game??? Remember that most bloggers play on the US LotRO servers, which until the 24th of April still have a level cap of 15. You won't hear anything about fighting dragons for a long time.

And even then, you might just be in the wrong world. Tolkien's lore is about how a initially peaceful world is threatened by evil, and some unlikely heroes gather up the courage to fight that evil. I'm still in the "initially peaceful" phase. Slaying orcs or dragons just for fun and phat loot isn't really part of the Tolkien lore. Even slaying Smaug in The Hobbit was more about reclaiming an ancient dwarven kingdom and revenge than just grabbing his treasure.
If you are only interested in killing stuff, why even bother playing an on-line game? You can buy a million shoot-em-ups to play off-line.
Take a look at the game charts for PC games. Chances are you will see some version of The Sims in the top 10 games at any time.
People want social interaction (at least, the more mature ones do) that goes beyond 'lol, you suk'.
The endless grind of killing, killing, killing really does drag after a while.
I love my WOW character, but so often I log on, look at my quest log, and just don't feel the urge to go out kill another 50 creatures, to get some quest item that is worse than what I already have.
As for LotR being about killing dragons, I'm afraid there were no dragons in the book, whatsoever.
I agree with you 100%. My fondest gaming memories are from when I played UO. Most of my time was spent decorating my house, crafting, and shopping and other people's vendor NPCs. I would love to see LOTRO include player housing and better crafting so that it would appeal to a broader audience. One of the reasons I've pretty much abandoned WoW is that I'm tired of having nothing to do but grind rep or kill stuff.
I love you Tobold!
LOL I LOVE YO TOBOLD! lol you seem to nail it everytime ^^. your like me man. I gotta have all this shit in game in order for me to stick around. After playing SWG/ FFXI / WOW/ D&D/ GW/ EQ/ VANGARD/ NWN 1&2/Anarchy online/ an millions of free mmorpgs lol/ seriosly ur all right d00d. they having got it all down yet rofl. it draws more people than what pplz say bad about houses etc and all teh good elemenst of mmorpgs which gave all players something to do. im dreaming of that mmorpg today. I am extremly hardcore man and im QA tester floater atm. worked at activision 2kgames square enix.. Im trying to go for deleopment and lvl design man.. trust me a game i want to oe day be a part of developing wold be this.. i think pplz need to check out elememnst form all these games an look for improvemnts and just stack stack stack stack to make 1 insane game.. would be jst AMAZING. BRING ME THE HOUSES crafting dilpomacy.. it all ties in nicely the of course combat or else it trns it to hack an slash for me :P. I watched ur blogs very veyr well said an plotted. KEEP up man maybe some devs will take these ideas into effect man ;) i truly hope so 1 day....

Cash Russell III
aka. Wizyear2099 (detoxic)
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