Wednesday, May 18, 2011
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?