Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
What are these other players doing in my game?

It is said that developers make the games they personally would like to play. I don't know if that is true. But I did observe that apparently many MMORPGs are designed from the perspective of the single player. Game companies strive to create games where you being the only player on the server would work perfectly well. In fact many games actually have features which work BETTER if you are the only player on the server, like timed monster-killing challenges which other players in the area would mess up. But if I would be as well off, or even happier, as the only player on the server, then why would I want to play this game as a multi-player title in the first place? Give me an offline, single-player game and I would have to pay less and have less trouble with login queues and the like. So if developers are making massively multi-player games, why aren't they designing them for a multi-player experience from the ground up?

Note that this doesn't only apply to quest-based MMORPGs. Whenever I see those beautiful screenshots of wonderful buildings created in EQN Landmark, I ask myself: And what now? How do these buildings play a meaningful role in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game? How are they integrated into gameplay? I have trouble imagining players in a MMORPG just running around as tourists to look at player-created buildings around the virtual world. So where is the multi-player experience of such a sandbox game?

As an article on Massively recently remarked, developers often have very limited imagination of how multi-player interaction in a virtual world could look like. After giving players the ability to kill each other, the devs run out of ideas. I recently read some blog posts about DayZ, and couldn't help but remark that in any realistic simulation of a post-apocalyptic world, many people would work together against the outside dangers. But if you make a game in which there are simply no or too few options for players to help each other, but there is a fully functional combat system, then players will end up killing each other. Simply because there isn't much else to do.

But even non-violent actions can become problematic in a multi-player game. I am currently playing an indie sandbox game called Craft the World, a mix of Terraria (2D Minecraft) and Dwarf Fortress. Great fun! But I'm not sure I'd like to have another player around me in that sort of sandbox game: Hacking down trees or digging mines has consequences, and in a multi-player environment the other players' actions are likely to have consequences for me. In a sandbox MMO the game would need to make sure that players can't deplete resources in a way which would make the game impossible to play for their neighbors.

The only sandbox MMORPG I know which is not about people killing each other and which gets many multi-player interactions right is A Tale in the Desert. And that isn't exactly a triple-A title, and is missing the whole adventuring side of the game. I would very much like a game in which there is some sort of player economy / ecosystem which supports both adventuring heroes killing monsters and other players just building stuff and living meaningful virtual lives. EQ Next might promise some of that, but I am far from sure that it will actually deliver.

I do believe the key approach is first to design the way in which players interact, before even thinking about the single-player experience. First make sure that people will WANT to have other players around them in that new virtual world, and not just as victims for killing. If it is clear from the start how the game is built up on the interaction between players, the single-player experience will follow naturally. If you can't do that, design a single-player game instead and don't slap a monthly online subscription on it.

I don't see why resource management can't be a part of the actual gameplay. Sure, the tragedy of the commons does create major hurdles, but no more than the proverbial bullet to the head, which is usually the only means of interaction between players. Ideally, the game would also adjust monster spawns, so that players could inadvertently recreate the Moria scenario and leave behind picturesque and monster-filled ruins for others to find. I don't know whether anyone would take the risk after that idea failed in Ultima Online, though.

One of the more interesting experiences that I had in multiplayer Minecraft involved a server where several kilometers around the starting area were already stripped bare (sometimes literally), and finding even the bare essentials proved to be a challenge. So I started playing as a druid-like character, trying to restore some kind of an ecosystem into an otherwise inhospitable post-apocalyptic hellscape. Or at least a resemblance of one; it was Minecraft after all.
" I have trouble imagining players in a MMORPG just running around as tourists to look at player-created buildings around the virtual world."

Might that not be a problem with the range of your imagination rather than with the possibilities inherent within the game, do you think? You might well find the idea of traveling about just to visit other people's houses and admire them but I can assure you that is already a well-established pattern of player behavior in EQ2. There are chat channels and forums dedicated to it. Since EQ2 doesn't easily facilitate server-hopping the way Landmark does players who like this sort of thing have to make characters on every new server where they hear about a new house worth visiting - and they do.

It's worth re-iterating at this point that Landmark is going to be a full-function MMO with housing in it, not a housing MMO, because that's currently a hotly-debated point on the Alpha forums, where a minority seem to believe it will be nothing more than a glorified tool-kit. That said, building is a core element of gameplay and will be supported by Leaderboards with a voting system and achievements, just in case the sheer aesthetic thrill of seeing someone's fine craftwork isn't a sufficient motivator.
When you sy Single Player game, I suppose you also speak about Coop games.

Adding friends create a lot more fun that only single player,and avoid the unwanted consequence - as they are manager through real-life interaction. And most MMORPG are in fact CORPG (Cooperative Online RPG).

But it is true that few MMO are more than Coop/single player games.

From what I know, GW2 is one of the best effort in this direction - I am sure Eve is even better but I have never played the game.

In GW2, interaction with stranger is always easy, and positive. One of my best memory was the first Scarlet massive attack. In those attacks, an army of enemy start to swarm one random map, and player from all the server had to unite themeselves to defend it. Seeing an unorganized army of player fighting an army of monster was just exhilirating.
In this game, a random stranger is always a welcome addition to the game.

About Landmark : it is true that for now, I have more an impression of playing a big single player game with stranger that a MMO. I hope there will be more interplayer interaction, and if possible inter-stranger interaction.

That would be a good definition of rel MMORPG : RPG with interaction with stranger. Guild/Friend interaction count only as CORPG !
Reminds me of an exercise we did at one of those annoying corporate "team building" away days.

We all had to inflate a party balloon and tie it to our ankle with a piece of string. The event organiser then said he was going to time us for one minute and blow a whistle at the end.

"Whoever still has an inflated balloon at the end wins ", he said.

I stood back and shouted at everyone to stop..... But as I'm sure you can guess, no one listened and there were no winners that day.

I do wonder why people fight in EVE. No one is going to starve. They can all easily afford a ship and explore the galaxy in peace. Sure you could fight to control enough resources to buy a huge ship....which would be useless albeit for the fact that the world is full of d*cks fighting each other for no apparent reason.

Even in games where you want to create conflict it would be good if there was a strong reason for it other than just people wanting to be d*cks or farm tears or just earn "points" /XP.

I'm getting bored of "it's a game, that's just what you do in games".

I don't want contrived reasons for killing other players anymore (points etc) and I don't want contrived reasons for cooperating either (due to an arbitrary group size etc).

I rent a minecraft server that my brother, friends and I play on. We could kill each other but never have. Yet we have no contrived reason to cooperate either. But we do cooperate and it feels natural. We have absolutely no desire to fight. We don't even have a gentleman's agreement to not fight.
I think it is the players not the designers who have pushed MMOs towards being single player social games. Maybe the economics of players voting with their feet force them, but I'm sure the designers are well aware that instant teleportation, PUGs that can't fail etc. are beinging about a degeneration of the vision.

Maybe the future for real gamers is in niche games, with a few big flashy and trashy MMOs for the majority who want nothing better.

Okay "real gamers" is provocative - in an MMO context I mean games where a large part of the game centres about player characters who become your allies and/or opponents, and your allies and opponents are vital in determining your success and failure. I don't *want* to play with RL friends - I want everyone in the game to be a persistent character played by an anonymous stranger.
Other people require commitment. Commitment is not available to players who do not set asside regular. The only type of multi-player content that remains is PvP and economic impact.
Mechanics which reward cooperation are the way to go....but the trick is how to make it actually feel like a reward, rather than a punishment. My MMO experience as a mostly casual soloer has been that MMO content aimed at multiplayer ends up feeling like a punishment for not grouping rather than providing an incentive to want to group. I don't think this is the devs fault, however....the truth is, a fair percentage of gamers out there just don't enjoy the game in the same way as other players, and lack the time or will to plow through until they find other like-minded cohorts t group with. My wife is of sufficient determination and has a stable core crowd that can play these games as they like, but I only had that for a brief, shining moment back in 2005 in WoW, and never before or since; asshats as far as the eye can see have made the MMO element of the MMORPG a less than stellar experience. How do devs "fix" the multiplayer problem? The solution they embraced was to make their games as soloable as possible, or to make grouping a convenient and mostly anonymous experience....but at the expense of the charm that the MMO element brings to the environment.

As someone who is technically the target for games like GW2 where soloing and grouping flow seamlessly together, I have to admit while its nice, it also reflects just how severely removed from the old style of grouping the experience is. I've played a fair amount of GW2 now, and have not once talked to another human being in the game, outside of some basic guild interaction on exactly one occasion. Even I as a mostly solo casual concede that perhaps the anonymous auto-grouping approach in a game like GW2 is just a placebo, and that it has done nothing to foster actual interaction between players.
I've always felt that basing a game around social interaction is just lazy of developers. It's a declaration that they're not going to provide a fun experience for you, instead just a big chat box for people to entertain themselves.

If there are enough non-player-interaction activities for the game to be entertaining, then it's probably also entertaining playing solo or with a partner, so you'd call it massively-single-player. If there aren't enough non-player-interaction activities, then it's all a glorified chat box, and there isn't enough game in this game to hold my attention. Can't win.

FWIW, the most solo friendly mmorpg I've played recently is GW2, and the game where I spend the most time playing with other characters is also GW2. GW2 is so awesome, it's the only game I've played where if I'm doing a quest/event and see another player, I immediately perk up and am glad to have another player around, rather than resisting cursing at them for taking my spawns and nodes. It's one of the few games I've played where damn near every open world interaction is either very positive or at least not negative. Such a well designed game.
Isn't this partly a MMO monetization complaint? MMOs don't need to cost more than SPG (servers are cheap; advertising is expensive, if I proselytize enough people to play the game, the server has paid for itself.) MMOs certainly don't need a subscription.

I enjoy crafting and auction house PvP; it is currently cheaper to use people rather than AI for this. In 20 years I am not sure how much people will know/care how many of their interactions are with AI NPC vs players (e.g. EQN storyboards point the way)

I come back to my point that I read the player forums and do not understand why I would want to interact more with them.

Second Life at least gives hope there can be virtual worlds without owpvp.

I think an under-discussed point is that people affecting my world does not mean that I have to "play with others" real-time. Other people, who may never be logged on at the same time as I, effect me on eBay, the NYSE, or the WoW AH.
You need a good balance of *both* positive and negative interaction with other players in a MMO. Too much of any of those thing will make the MMO very boring.
>You need a good balance of *both* positive and negative interaction with other players in a MMO.

Can't imagine why you'd want to have negative interactions. If I'm running around talking with friends, I don't see the value of every fifth guy randomly punching me in the face.

I'm already forced to spend time with people I don't like. That's called work. No need for that in play.
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