Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 01, 2012
 
Your friends as pawns

Modern MMORPGs are built on a system which lets you advance solo up to the leveling cap, and then requires you to group with other people for further, gear-based advancement. This forced grouping end game has inherent disadvantages: You need to find people who are online at the same time as you are, who are motivated to do the same content that you want, and who are geared and skilled enough to actually be a help. The two most frequent solutions are guilds gathering players of similar gear/skill level and motivation to organize play sessions at specific times, and random groups you can find any time. Neither of these solutions is perfect, which is why we have guild drama, and "pickup group" is a swear word.

A reader recommended I look into a new PS3 game called Dragon's Dogma, which has a very different solution to the problem: You have a main character and a main NPC which you can "level up", equip, etc., but you can also invite the main NPCs of your friends into your group as "pawns". This enables you to play with the help of your friends who leveled up their NPCs for your use, but without having to rely on your friends being online, or them having to be skilled to be of help to you. Instead of synchronous multiplayer, Dragon's Dogma has asynchronous multiplayer gameplay.

Of course Dragon's Dogma didn't invent asynchronous multiplayer gameplay. Most Facebook games are based on the same principle. Some don't limit that to friends just sending you gifts or clicking on your cows, but you have games like Dragon Age Legends, where your friends RPG characters serve as group members in your party.

Using your friends as pawns in your game is a very shallow and indirect social interaction. But it avoids players considering each other as obstacles on their way to advancement. An AI-controlled NPC created by somebody else lets you profit from your friends leveling up that NPC, without you having to wait for your friend to come online, or getting into a shouting match over why your friend didn't step out of the fire fast enough.

In an age where Facebook and online games have very much diluted the term "friend" into meaninglessness, asynchronous multiplayer gameplay with your friends as pawns is maybe not the worst possible solution. I could imagine a MMORPG where groups and raids were using AI-controlled pawn characters of your friends. What do you think?

Comments:
Modern MMORPGs are built on a system which lets you advance solo up to the leveling cap, and then requires you to group with other people for further, gear-based advancement.

As it's been posted endless times and repeated endless times and quoted endless times: it's only a minority of players who participate in the progression endgame, the majority does not....

You seem to be proposing a solution to a problem that is relatively insignificant.
 
It's a fun gimmick but no replacement to writing interesting NPC companions with some depth behind them.
 
It wouldn't work as people would mark each other "friend" based on the NPC offered. The interaction wouldn't be any more friendly than buying and using the yellow crossbow he farmed in Diablo 3.
 
Shadowrun Returns is planning the same thing.
 
I have argued here before that the AI in Left4Dead is a good balance model. The AI controls "open" slots until a real human joins. They function adequately to fill out the group so you can play, but are clearly not as good as any decent human. You would rather have a real person, but the AI works well enough if you don't have a full group.

This allows you to start a game without waiting for a full group, and lets the group keep playing if someone leaves as you wait for a new human to replace the AI.

And if you are really anti-social, you could play by yourself with bots. However, the harder difficulty levels are essentially impossible this way.

I would also say this system eliminates a lot of the negativity. Some elitists might look down their nose at an "inferior" player, but they can't deny that player is better than the AI.
 
Interestingly, there is a pen and paper rpg in which you can select a character for you who can be told to do stuff by others if you cannot attend a gaming session. The GM oversees that the character does not do anything which is harmful for him. You can have your character adventuring and advancing levels while you are "offline", if I may use that term.
 
A couple of applications come to mind:

1) crafters could claim a certain number of people on their friends list as "apprentices" who receive a certain number of skill points in a given craft whenever the crafter raises his crafting skill as long as they have less skill points. Perhaps gatherers could send a small portion of what they gather to their apprentices.

2) Why not have a sidekick system where the lower level member of a partnership receives a small amount of xp whenever the senior partner levels? (This might replace rested xp as a way to keep leveling friends around the same level despite different time played).

2)
 
I would be happy to involve in a game NPCs designed by the few friends I game with; it would add some relevant personality and humor to the right game. I would not want it in a game like Dragon Age, but L4D would be appropriate. Think XtraNormal scripting and Mii customization.
 
As it's been posted endless times and repeated endless times and quoted endless times: it's only a minority of players who participate in the progression endgame, the majority does not....

Maybe the majority aren't participating due to the difficulty of access. The relevant statistic is not participation, but desire to participate. If there are people who want to participate but cannot, that is a problem. In fact, if there is such low participation, that could mean that it's actually a huge problem: there are a majority who want to but only a minority can.
 
Isn't this (somewhat) similar to how Guild Wars (the original) works? You have hirelings and followers you can fill out your party with, or you can invite actual humans to the same slots. Or, for that matter, SW:TOR. Just not your friends companions.
 
Isn't this (somewhat) similar to how Guild Wars (the original) works? You have hirelings and followers you can fill out your party with, or you can invite actual humans to the same slots. Or, for that matter, SW:TOR. Just not your friends companions.
 
This post seems to try to answer the conundrum: how can I play a team activity without actually having to be on a team?

Your barrier to entry Is that you don't like playing on a team, then you propose changes to team games to remove that barrier.

A conundrum indeed.
 
As it's been posted endless times and repeated endless times and quoted endless times: it's only a minority of players who participate in the progression endgame, the majority does not....

A. Because some people don't participate end game does not mean they don't want to.

B. Progression endgame is not the same as wanting to raid. Regardless of the level of difficulty of a raid it requires other people.

Yes a very small minority of MMO gamers are what would be considered progression endgame raiders. That does not mean people don’t do raids other than them. I played WoW at Cata launch and got a druid ready to off tank raids, I then quit because I couldn’t find a stable group that I could raid with on my schedule. I did a couple of raids, nothing difficult, but my schedule didn’t work out with the people I knew. I wont lie, I could have probably tried harder to find another guild to raid with but my real life friends are in my guild. I didn’t want to raid THAT much that it would require switching guilds and meeting a new group of people and trying to find a place. Again with my limited play schedule I would have been lucky to find my place in a new guild.
 
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