Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
 
Timescales

Consider for a moment some of the actions we regularly do in a MMORPG, and compare how much time they take in the virtual world, and how much time they would take if that world was real. It is easy to see that MMORPGs work on an accelerated timescale: Traveling by boat from one continent to the next takes only minutes. So does crossing a continent on foot. A feast takes 30 seconds. That accelerated timescale is a design decision based on the realities of players' available time: Most players only play a few hours per day. But like all design decisions, this has consequences.

One of these consequences is that wars in MMORPGs are often getting quite silly, especially if the developers try to depict any sort of territorial conquest. If you only have 2 hours a day to play, you don't want to spend those 2 hours guarding a keep on the off chance that some invaders stop by. And the other 22 hours you aren't available for defense anyway. So instead of conquering and holding territories, there is a merry back and forth, with both sides attacking whatever point isn't defended. And even the weakest faction can always take a keep by attacking at 3 am, when there will only be NPCs to defend it. Not to mention that in many cases attacking is better rewarded than defending, so the two sides engage in win-trading instead of warfare.

And it's not only MMORPGs, but many other forms of online strategy games which suffer from the same problem: You get attacked while offline, and you attack when online. I don't know any game which has a realistic looking war of territorial conquest in a massively multiplayer online world.

One interesting discovery this year was playing Minethings, and seeing that games which a much slower pace are actually possible. If you move from one city to the next in Minethings, it takes hours, even a day if your transport is slow. And I was wondering if that much slower pace wouldn't result in much better strategy games of territorial conquest. Imagine you control an army which moves at the speed of an actual army on a continent the size of an actual continent. And lots of other players also controlled little armies, divided into several factions. Because the pace of the game would be very slow, it wouldn't really matter how many hours per day you are offline. The outcome of combat would be determined based on the strength of the armies encountering each other, geography, and strategies set up in advance by the players, and wouldn't change whether the players are online or offline. In such a game you could have meaningful territorial conquest. Players could communicate by in-game mail as well as chat, and try to arrange great strategies together.

The fast-paced action of modern games is good for many types of gameplay. But I do think that strategy games would profit from being made a lot slower. If you play a game for several months anyway, then why not slow the game down to a pace which avoids being impacted by players' online hours?
Comments:
But those offline battles will simply be stats against stats.

You could have that now if the owners of a keep could buff up the NPC defenders, based on stuff the players have done. Things don't need to be dragged out to have that.
 
I generally agree, but this sort of time scale is feasible only for strategy games, so I don't quite see how this would be applied to MMORPGs, beyond a "territorial conquest in MMORPGs is silly" kind of way.
And if we are instead talking about MMO strategy games with a persistent world, in my opinion the main problem wouldn't be the pace, but the issue of player elimination. Either players can be removed from the game (be it outright or just "de facto" by way of having your home city/planet/colony regularly razed by far superior forces), which might discourage potential players, or they cannot, which leads to even more absurd situations than an overly fast time scale.

A game with a far slower time scale certainly works and certainly allows for far greater strategic and diplomatic depth, but I am not convinced that it would work all that well on a massive multiplayer level. Or, put differently, I find Neptune's Pride to provide a far better playing experience than OGame.
 
This is an area where the PvE/PvP distinction is very important.

I do not believe that PvPers will tolerate being on a slowly losing side for months on end, as their territories are gradually captured. They will faction-change or quit.

PvErs would be happy to collaborate on the longer-term projects, but would probably not tolerate failure. The risk of fewer rewards after months of play will necessitate players to optimise the strategy out of the game, in effect undermining your aims.
 
Couldn't you have different goals with different timescales? ie. keep conquests could be done hourly. Victories from those and player gathering/crafting would count toward strengthening the defenses of the realm, which would be an over-arching goal with a longer time scale. You need variance to appeal to different player types.
 
I've been playing minethings, through your link as it happens, you should have had a few credits from that as I've bought 2 mines - evidence of the impatience of the MMOer. I also find myself checking the findings far more often than is necessary at work, and I've got it linked on my phone.

I think I like it as its a kind of a placebo for more involved gaming. My real love atm is Darkfall and has been for 18 months or so and the similarities are surprising.

Its actually quite slow paced too if you're a trader/crafter - like in minethings you can mine away all day for not much return, or you can pvp for quite good return (or not) and there is plenty of trading to be done. It also takes an hour to ride on a mount from one corner of Agon to the other which is not much compared to minethings, but a lot slower than other MMOs.

Territorial empires rise and fall over periods of months in Df too, and alliances wax and wane over time in a similar manner to Minethings.

If you removed the griefing from Darkfall (I see very little of it now as experience obviously makes it avoidable) the similarities would be even more apparent.

I think the old school UO would like Minethings as it has localised banking of a sort (Apart from the gold) something else that slows the game right down and something that many in DF would really welcome.
 
If it was possible to speed real-life activities up to take no longer than their MMO equivalents, don't you think the majority of people would choose to do so?

There will always be a market for doing things the slow way, be it real or virtual, but it won't be the mainstream choice.
 
The guys over at Rock Paper Shotgun did a play through of a strategy game called Neptune's pride that kind of worked in slow motion, as in it takes a few hours for your army to get from one place to another.

My recollection is that it didn't make for all that pleasant a game. You had folks getting up in the middle of the night to set evil plans in motion.

Play through available here: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/03/18/the-complete-pride-and-falls/
 
Eve Online has sort of solved this problem. It's not enough to attack a system and destroy its stations. You have to hold the system for at least a day, often a week, before truly taking it over. This gives the defending alliance time to rally and fight back. It also makes the territorial battles longer and more majestic.
 
I have to agree with you, Tobold.

The very first online game I played was Empire. For those who don't know it, Empire was the clear ancestor of the Civ series.

Gameplay is extremely slow. There is no point in logging in more than once daily for 10-30 minutes or so. It is the only online conquest game I've played which really worked, and the slow speed was the fundamental reason why.

(Link to Empire at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_Classic_(computer_game) )
 
The obvious way to get interesting or sophisticated or complicated or unpredictable or unrepeatable is to have dozens or hundreds of people to interact. The current state of computers and networks means you can't have good 3d graphics with real-time tactical combat. But a slower paced game allows hundreds of players to interact, even if they are from different time zones.

As soon as you don't have everyone interacting "real-time", you greatly reduce the scheduling hassle. Perhaps your weekend guild has a couple of east coast people do something at 3 EDT while some second shift west coast people do something at 23:00 PDT.

I keep coming back to an extension of my favorite PvP: the WoW AH.

Picture if there were buy as well as sell orders which could last for more than 48 houts. Maybe throw in some puts/calls, get Goldman Sacks or some Icelandic banks to come up with some derivatives.

I can log in whenever I want. There is some benefit to logging in more often, with diminishing returns. But if I don't log in for 24 hours, my strategy keeps on.

Note also that a PvPer selling their loot does not have to know there are gold blogs and strategies when they visit the AH.

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The fact that existing MMOs, designed for real time play, would be lousy with time dilation does not mean that all slow games are bad. In particular, games where I "am" a single person are more problematic than if I am controlling a fleet and I can send various people/shops to do certain tasks. ( TOR companions may be a way around this. ) I.e., if ship17 takes 16 clock hours to get to sector12, but if in the interim I can send ship4 out or rebuild ship2, then there is still stuff to do.

Without insulting hyperactive, stupid, short-attentenion span people, not every game appeals to every human. Some people want to "fight the floor"; some want strategy.

A game does not necessarily be one or the other. One could have strategic and tactical parts of the game with lots to no effects from one to the other.

@Bernard - yet this is how EVE works now. And the cohesion of the alliance determines how much and hard they want to PvP for their alliance, especially when things are going against them.

Note that non-realtime interactions are required if you are going to support global realms (or a single world.)
 
@Tobold: The type of RTS MMO you describe currently exists in EXACTLY the format you describe by way of Heroes of Might and Magic: Kingdoms.

...It's a browser game, but it seems you aren't averse to those.

They're currently in their end-game season at the moment, so new players are at a serious disadvantage and all the big-boys are sending out armies which are taking 2-3 days to reach their destination, then a further week to complete a siege. (Reduced if you use magic or launch extra assaults and send further reinforcements from other cities to your siege.)

It relies very heavily on having large alliances, but to keep things from turning into a battle of one or two SuperAlliances there is a hard cap on how many players can join an alliance.

It's an interesting game.
 
I'd agree; there are more than enough niche-players out there who would gladly take part in a strategy-friendly game with a realistic timescale.
 
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