Friday, January 21, 2011

Immersion and Annoyance

Muckbeast has an interesting topic today. He askes: "But how do you strike a balance that maintains immersion without being needlessly annoying?"

I already commented on his blog, but think this is important enough to make an own blog post here. A lot of players think that immersion and annoyance are somehow the two sides of one coin. And partially they are correct, of course.

But for a developer there is an entirely different question to answer.
What gameplay mechanics do I need to allow my game to be immersive without being annoying?

Example: Just removing teleports from WoW would make WoW more immersive, sure. But it would also be annoying as hell. Better to also add a few new gameplay mechanics: Long range trade, Caravans, enough content in your local vicinity, rival city states, exploration, …

The reasoning doesn't go like "Distances are annoying, how do we get rid of them?". Instead it goes like: "Distances are annoying right now. How do we make them more fun and meaningful?"

You see, gameplay and immersion are not foes. A good game uses and invents gameplay mechanics that allow for immersion to be fun.


  1. There are quite a lot of ways to make travel interesting.

    One that Eve does very well is to offer the danger of pvp. It's possible to be attacked even in safe space making it a little tense to travel in Eve at the best of times (and downright terrifying at the worst - like a mouse toptoeing through a lion's cage).

    Another possibility is trade. I played a game about 20 years ago based on Marco Polo where the player had to move goods from East Asia to Western Europe. It was a fascinating game even with no more to it than trade routes and ever fluctuating supplies - it would be a fabulous element in a MMO.

    Many of the annoyance factors can be mitigated or eliminated if designers think outside the box. For example instances were basically invented because camping a spawn competitively sucked. An alternative and more immersive solution is to do away with static spawns. In the real world rare and wondrous beasts don't spring into existence on the site where you killed the last one.

  2. I think you right on point about making distance more useful .Though the traditional approach like in eve
    or darkfall is simply boring

    I think solution could be to delegate boring task of actually crossing long distances to NPCs -trade caravans and such. Players should still be able to fast travel wherever they want ( i think the rule should be it should take no more than 10 minutes for a player to get to action, and average should be less than 5 minutes)

    In that case you make sure caravans travel at predetermined paths with known schedule so players can ambush and attack them. ON the other hand defending side can defend them

    That way players can get all the fun from ambushing dynamics while not actually forced to endure boring travel times.

  3. Thanks for the toughts, Max. This post is more about the fundamental idea that gameplay mechanics can use immersion to be more fun than gameplay mechanics that don't make use of it.

    However, I think I have several toughts by now about the special case of in-game travel. Thanks.

  4. I agree, Stabs. We have come a long way of "how can we get rid of this immersive, but annoying thing" instead of "how can we make this immersive thing a fun part of our game world?".

    Instances are another example. Instead of static spawn timers you could think of several other ways to prevent camping. Out of the top of my head:

    1) Mobs don't spawn if too many people are in the vicinity (they would be stupid, wouldn't they?)

    2) Mobs use more AoE effects, so too many players on one spot is dangerous.

    3) Mobs actually spawn unpredictably and travel on their own to one location. This can take up to several hours. They try to circumvent any spot that is full of players. A little AI can't be that hard today, can it?

    4) Loot is not mob-specific.

    5) ..

  5. Stabs mentioned doing away with static spawns:
    " In the real world rare and wondrous beasts don't spring into existence on the site where you killed the last one."

    What an excellent idea! However, it already did exist in Azeroth, until a few months ago. The world dragons. They used to turn up every now and then in Azeroth, at a fairly random time. What a great thing to do! You're wandering through Duskwood, and there's a huge dragon! Get the guild! Tell nobody else! Let's take him on!

    Gone now. For reasons of lore? I don't think so. If Blizzard had wanted to keep them, they would have, and they would have fitted the lore around that. Why then? I don't know.

  6. Dàchéng, trying to guess Blizzards motivations I'd come up with something like his:

    - From a pure gameplay point of view the world dragon were inferior to other content.

    - It was technically difficult to teleport players there and todays WoW players exspect to be teleported to group content. At least with a 'meeting stone'.

    - On PvP servers, and depending on the encounter, even on PvE servers, other players can harass the group who tries to do the dragon. That's not fun.

    - What itemlevel should the dragon drop? Surely, they have to drop something? If they drop too good, they become necessary to be farmed, which makes hardcore raids do them at 3:00 in the morning. Adjusting respawn timers is not easy, as some players play on servers that have a different local time. If they drop badly, people would ignore them and it wouldn't be worth the effort.

    - Generally Blizzard suffers the programmer's curse: They love to make new stuff and scrap old stuff. They just cannot stand the idea to have old content play a significant role without at least reworking it. There was no time for that.

    Now, obviously, I do not agree with this and have some problems trying to understand Blizzard. but I guess these are the kind of arguements. Scraping them entirely was just the easiest solution.