Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Central Game

This post is partly encouraged by Tobold's posts on the distinction of end-game and leveling-game.

I want to discuss the 'central game' inside a MMORPG.

A long time ago, when MMORPGs first used graphical representations, the selling point was to have a technically working virtual world. Not much thought was spent on the central game inside that world. This worked well - until the next generation of MMORPGs appeared. These had a central game.

In WoW you have several central games. During leveling this is the exploration game. You explore the world, the quests and the possibilities of your progressing character. During endgame the central game becomes an itemlevel hunt for most and an organisation challenge for some. The itemlevel hunt manifests itself in raiding and dungeon running. Sometimes in doing professions. WoW also has a second, mostly seperated, endgame that is PvP. PvP is loosely connected in battlegrounds and arenas. Some people also play a very simple economics simulation.

The 'central game' is the answer to the question: "What does the player actually want?" or "What motivates him to do what he does?".
Sidenote: "What does the player actually do?" would be wrong! In chess you move pieces, in soccer you run around and kick a ball, but these are not the central game. They are just what you do while playing the game.

The central game(s) is a defining characteristic for any MMORPG. The character power progression, for example, is usually just a feature of the central game. In the case of WoW's endgame, however, it has become the central game for most players. And if I had to guess, that's one of the reasons WoW is having problems right now.

Most importantly, however, there are a lot of central games out there that can be used to make MMORPGs. Most can be found inside the simulation aspect of the MMORPG. Warhammer and Age of Conan tried to implement different central games: players fighing over castles. One reason this didn't work as well, was that these games lacked focus.

If you make an MMORPG you need to know your central games and focus on them. What you must not do is clutter your MMORPG with many different minigames and no focus. Even one central game can be enough for a great MMORPG. More than a handful will usually be impossible to sustain without isolating them from each other (see WoW: PvE / PvP or leveling game / endgame).

Some central games in MMORPGs that I would like to see in the future:
- trying to defend a vast land against a PvE enemy
- competing for resources against other players
- trying to explore an endless dungeon
- trying to create a perfect dungeon
- trying to gain fame in piracy (on earth or in space)
- trying to build great fortresses / palaces
- trying to move up the ranks in a military (star)ship
- trying to survive in a PvE environment
- trying to survive in a PvP environment
- ...


  1. I think you missed the obvious central game of wow :) - combat . It is pretty much center piece of majority of games out there and is the core gameplay, with everything else being layers of metagames on top if

    I also think quality of wow combat is a very large , but often overlooked part of its success.

    It becomes very obvious if you play game like wurm or xyson that game without combat is really lacking in well ... gameplay

    As much as its fashionable to talk about other aspects , imho in 3d games if you dont have this piece right chances are not many will bother to stick to see other pieces

  2. I agree completzely. I forgot about it. But, after thinking about it, you are right.

    Combat in WoW was fun for a extraordinary long time. I grinded for years in WoW. And no, it was not like work. I did it because I enjoyed it.
    I still like throwing fireballs at enemies in WoW and see them burn.

    Combat is clearly a 'central game' in WoW (or most MMORPGs) that is very well connected with the other games. Especially, because it works on a much shorter duration.

  3. "What you must not do is clutter your MMORPG with many different minigames and no focus."

    I still think all these layers and "central games" can, and must exist in the same game for another MMO to have the staying power of WoW.

    One platform would serve as a base for most of the social aspects of the game including the economy and an access point for all the central games you mentioned. That platform should be quite detailed and immersive; maybe a city or a zone with housing opportunities.

    Then you would have access to political and influential type content or "games", combat content, exploration, tradeskills, huge PvE and World PvP events that are scheduled in prime-time slots, creative areas which have permanent impact and that might reset periodically, seasonal events, etc.

    In other words I think that WoW's success and longevity IS because of the complexity and multiplicity of "central games", not despite it. The WoW-killer will do complexity better, and allow for expansions to not only add content, but to add a different focus.

  4. In other words I think that WoW's success and longevity IS because of the complexity and multiplicity of "central games", not despite it.

    Bristal, I do agree with that. WoW suffered when the central games became less interconnected and less complex. For example, when PvE/PvP whan seperated. Or when all PvE central endgames were replaced by a single one: itemlevel hunt.

    What Blizzard, however, also was very good at and still is, is to keep the central games focused. You won't see player housing unless Blizzard finds a central game for it. Maybe you will never see it in WoW for that reason.