Saturday, April 30, 2011


I wanted to write about trade for along time by now. Trade in a MMORPG without item teleports, in fact without character teleport, either. Trade in a MORPG with a player-run market; that is buy-orders and sell-orders that can be used by the casual player to buy and sell easily while also rewarding the dedicated player with a deep experience.

But the obvious problem with trade is that it is boring. While the thought might be "romantic", the actual process involves nothing but walking. This might be fun for the first few times, but then it becomes really, really repetitive. Or, does it?

Some time ago Bhagpuss commented on Tobold's blog:

I play MMOs for many more reasons than "fun". For example, I play because MMO gameplay includes a lot of repetitive actions and repetitive actions are soothing and reduce stress. I also play because I stand up all day at work and my feet hurt so although I'd like to go walking in the evenings I'm too tired; traveling through a virtual world works well to negate my conflicts over staying in or going out.
I have scores of these reasons for playing, few of which I would label as "having fun. I'm pretty certain that the success of MMOs relies heavily on satisfying other needs and desires than the simple quest for a fun time.

I like to use the word "fun" differently than he does. For me "fun" is everything I want to do in a MMORPG. However, his main point is of utmost importance, I think.

In the past, many people have thought about how trade can be spiced up. But that would be a grave mistake. One can never make trade as action-oriented as combat. Even if one could spice it up to be as action-oriented, players would probably still rather do the combat. The important thing to understand is that many people play MMORPGs for something else than challenge and action. More than any other genre, people play MMORPGs also to relax. Repetition is not detrimental to this, in fact repetition supports this play-style.

To advance your character or help your guild, doing something useful while you relax is a rewarding experience. Challenge or action are unnecessary and even harmful. That doesn't mean that MMORPGs should have no challenge or action. It just means that there can, and should be activities that are not challenging and do not focus on action.

Of course, trade can also feel very tense if the trade routes are in dangerous territory. And there is a demand for this kind of trade. But simple repetitive trade can also be feature. To allow players to choose how they want to trade, different routes should be available; dangerous and safe routes. Obviously, the safe ones need to take longer. That would be an interesting decision.

Added "The road much less traveled" and "How to recapture the wonder of MMOs" to the link storage on the right

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Switching off the Mob Indicators

Since I am lazy I will paraphrase one of my own comments.

A mob indicator is any gamey indicaton of the location of a mob. For example a box or red text. It floats above or below the mob. In the case of text its function is not so much to be read, but rather to give you a fast tactical overview.

The main information a player needs when entering any new area is how many mobs are where. With mob indicators active, you start to scan the screen for red text. It becomes very natural and most people don't even realize doing it. It also, however, is largely responsible for not watching the scenery. It makes 'natural stealth' impossible in PvE and PvP.

Have you ever noticed that you went through a dungeon, but couldn't remember what it looked like? Or, have you ever looked at the art in the dungeon on your 20th run and wondered, why you haven't seen that before? It was, because your brain scanned for red text. Switch it off and you suddenly start to look at the scenery.

It can also make the game a bit more annoying, of course. Especially the WAR/Rift engine is not very good at contrasts; so you will sometimes find that you have no idea how many mobs are attacking you. Whether that is more fun is really a matter of expectation. If you expect to see all mobs at one glance, switching the indicators off will not suite you. If you expect gaining a tactical overview to be part of the challenge and part of the simulation, you will enjoy playing MMORPGs without mob indicators a lot more.

Developers should know that if they plan to disallow mob indicators, the graphics need to support this. A bad example is a fire rift in Rift with fire creatures on top of the lava. They are generally impossible to localize without mob indicators. Also, a developer should know that although you can make indicators optional, players don't have a real choice if the content is too fast paced and challenging, like PvP typically is.

Last but not least, the indicators are necessary, because in modern MMORPGs players and creatures can move very rapidly. It is considered cool to jump and charge and blink through the battleground. In the case of such a furious gameplay, the human eye and brain were incapable of following the events without the gamey help of mob indicators.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

WoW is dead, long live Rift

The title says it all, doesn't it?

My relationship with Rift was problematic from the beginning. I first watched a video at Keen's place back in August 2010. I saw trainers, instances, the guy talking about that they have all what nowaday's MMORPGs have; he meant World of Warcraft, of course. In the presentation, I also saw him jump from stairs some 100m down into water just to be quicker; a total turn-off. If even the developers themselves don't use stairs, don't play like being in a fantasy world ..
I decided that Rift was a WoW clone - probably a bad one.

Many months later, in February, the hype machine started. Bloggers all over the planet found Rift to be quite polished and with some interesting quirks. I had played WoW: Cataclysm from November until February, with a long Christmas break in between. At the moment Rift came up, there was no MMORPG in my life. It's a little bit like not being in a relationship, I guess (OMG! :).

So, a week after launch I got Rift. I disliked and still dislike the general intro video. (Much worse than WoW's orginial one that focused more on atmosphere and less on combat.) I also didn't like the Deviant’s introduction video very much. My first session was about 2 hours and left a bad taste. It was 100% WoW, with more "cool stuff" like 20m jumps as a racial. I stopped playing for a week.

Next weekend, I gave it another try. A Guardian this time. I really liked the Guardian introduction video! I also liked the tutorial. Nothing special; but nice. Most of all, I liked the music! Especially when you finished the tutorial and get put into the real world. Holy shit, literally!

For about three weeks I made some six characters on two servers. I leveled all of them to about level 20. While it felt a lot like WoW, the invasions were nice. It was great to see mobs in the real world that I couldn't defeat by mashing my head on the keyboard. What was even greater: There were mobs that I couldn't defeat alone, no matter what I did! Nothing special, you might think, but Wow has patched these 'inconveniences' out of the game a long time ago.

I like the public questing. It makes sense to help a fellow Guardian at whatever he does. From a simulation point of view, it isn't always necessary to talk. We all know we are Guardians and what we are here to do.

However, after three weeks I stopped and let the subscription run out. My cleric was boring. As a healer he couldn't do damage as the mobs grew tougher and he went oom. As a tank he couldn't die no matter what I did; but he also took forever to level. As a spellcaster DD he died too easily. Did you just see me admit that I quit the game, because it took too long to kill mobs? I'd say it is more complicated. It's a problem of expectation management .. anyway. The questing became boring. I really forced myself to read all the quest texts, but found that even though I "read" them, I couldn't remember them. I still didn't know why I killed what I killed.

Also, the whole time I didn't really feel at home in Rift. It was responsive. It was polished. The user interface made sense. Still, I felt uncomfortable. Were the icons a little bit smaller than in WoW? Maybe. They didn't feel right...
I decided that I was suffering some kind of diabolic WoW curse; probably engineered at Blizzard and eating up all their money, so they cannot spend it on the game.

I made a break for several weeks, exactly waiting until the world event was over. Then, during Easter weekend, I grabbed an old level 20 toon: a guardian mage. I leveled him to 37. And I had a blast!

Now, let me tell you: Rift is so much better than WoW .. while leveling 25-37 at least. You ask why?

I have helped out several dungeon groups by now at healing. I have been invited to a nice guild. I have a friends list of about 20 people and I am probably on even more peoples' friends lists. I have explored dangerous caves with groups of enemies that I had to leave out! I have explored hidden quests. For example that giant tree, where we needed to first claim it for us and then catch leaves. Five players happened to have some quests there, too. They stopped and started to help me; just like that. We finally figured it out (took about an hour). There was no complaining, no efficiency drama. Nothing. It was simply fun.
I have fought back random invasions of a monastery of sorts, testing my new AoE specc.

I have spent hours on figuring out how to play another specc. This is nothing for kids, trust me. My brain still hurts from trying to figure out how to play a Dominator. Imagine: at level 35 you get a new specc. This specc includes about three bars full of complicated(!) abilities and now you need to organize yourself and play it efficiently. Not easy, not easy at all!

Rift also uses a better map technology. There are many, many, many caves. All different .. how many different WoW-caves are there? You can see a mountain side and decide to go there. Many minutes later you are where you had set out to go. Compared to Rift, WoW's maps are just flat and boring. And there are even mobs of different strength all over the map - not one kind of standard mob with standardized HP and normalized damage output!

Generally, you can say: Rift has brought back the world into World of Warcraft .. erm into Rift .. whatever. Leveling 1-20 isn't fun as a long-term WoW player, because it's all too similar. But 20-37 are phenomenal. You appreciate anybody out there who would like to help you. You help people yourself, because playing together is fun. Killing the occasional elite by kiting him around the world or by healing my own tanking elemental with a heal/elemental specc is just pure fun.

This is not a review of Rift. There are a lot of things I don't agree with. I don't agree with the entire concept of no-consequence gameplay. I miss trade and a meaningful economy. The open-PvP is a joke. The equipment-achivement-mindset and "rewards" out of nowhere alienate me. I am certain that balance will be a hell of a problem. I am not sure whether I want to do an item treadmill at maxlvl. I really cannot figure out what is so good about artifacts; six years of WoW have turned me into a cute-pet hater! These fireworks that people pull out of their pockets to celebrate me are silly. Rift could be so much better with a compressed CPP! In the future, I hope Trion focuses on the open world and not on instanced "boss mobs" ..

However, there is this theory that you will always like your first MMORPG more than any other. It has been proven wrong: I'd prefer the Rift leveling to the classic WoW leveling anytime.
Rift, level 20 upwards, is what WoW could have been if the developers had went into the right direction! It is not even a big step forward; it just appears big, because the competition made so many steps into the wrong direction over the years.

Have you ever tried to switch off the text on top of enemy mobs? It makes the world really come alive! You suddenly watch the screen and don't just scan it. I'll make a blog post about it eventually ...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Careful with Brenda's Quote

Tobold tries to justify him only playing Rift for about 10 hours with Brenda's quote

Focus on second-to-second play first. Nail it. Move on to minute-to-minute, then session-to-session, then day-to-day, then month-to-month (and so on). If your second-to-second play doesn’t work, nothing else matters. Along these lines, if your day-to-day fails, no one will care about month-to-month, either.

If you want to review a game completely you have to test every aspect of it. In the case of Rift that includes all dungeons, quests, tutorial, raiding, BG-PvP, open-PvP, etc. That doesn't mean however, that you are not allowed to have an opinion before you tested it completely. If the first 10 hours weren't fun, that is certainly valid and interesting information. It just isn't a complete review. In Tobold's case that is perfectly alright. He isn't a professional game tester, after all; he's a blogger.

Now, you should be a bit careful about a final score, of course. Saying that you tested a game for some hours and claiming that it isn't fun (I am talking abstract now) is not acceptable. What you can say is that the aspects you tested weren't fun (for you, but that's obvious).

About Brenda's quote. It doesn't apply to this situation. Brenda gives an advice to developers. She knows that players stop playing very fast if a game isn't fun on even very short time scales. That is the reason for rogue-likes being so unpopular today. They are still a hell of a lot of fun once you managed to get into them. But to get into them is really hard, because the graphics are so much worse than what we are used to.

The quote cannot be used as justification to not test a game for longer than a few minutes. As a developer you have to fear that if your game is not fun for the first 10 minutes, players stop playing forever. As a player, however, you have to fear that you quit a game after 10 minutes, although it could have offered hundreds of hours of fun once you have played for 10 hours. And this is exactly the kind of information I want the tester to give me: Should I invest a lot of time, because the game becomes really, really fun later on?

Moreover, don't interpret Brenda's quote in a way that every single individual, isolated activity has to be fun. Fun Fallacy, you remember? Millions of players got to level 60 in classic WoW, because the second-to-second and minute-to-minute gameplay was fun. However, it wasn't fun if you looked at it isolated from the rest of the game.

If you, as a developer, had employed some testers and given them the second-to-second gameplay without a world, without talent trees, without other players. Just the pure, isolated, immediate gameplay and if you had asked them whether they looked forward to do this for 300 hours /played...
Well, you get the point. The second-to-second gameplay has to be fun, but must not be looked at isolated from the rest of the game. The fact that you can explore a world, access higher levels, explore your character's abilities, meet other people and, yes, even gain equipment, is essential.

Humans like to invest much more than to they like to consume. The feeling of building / creating something is the most powerful incentive in MMORPGs. It gives the game more (subjective) meaning than single-player games. The anticipation of future fun is fun in itself.

In no way should the quote be used to design games as a chain of seperate, inherently fun pieces. Take the WoW-LFD. Even if you ignore the social consequences of the anonymity and the immersion-breaking teleports, the LFD has a fundamental problem: It is just too much candy all at once. Dungeons in WoW are (were?) fun; unless you run 10 of them in a row - or one every day. By cutting out the supposedly unfun elements, Blizzard allowed the player to get as much candy as he wants whenever he wants. This leads to players grabbing as much as they can and then throw up.

Just like cooking is fun due to the pleasant anticipation of eating, the dungeons were fun, because you looked forward to do them. It is the same with shopping: Buying the 20.000 € kitchen in itself is not fun. The pleasant anticipation (of showing it off ?) is.
We need some time between fun events to appreciate them. Chrismas every day is not fun. Chrismas every 365 days, is. For most people, Christmas is also the perfect example for anticipation of an event being much more fun than the event itself.

Pacing of fun events and variety make a fun game. Even the most fun thing in the world becomes tedious and boring if you do it again and again in short succession. Developers should not trust players to know this or even hold themselves back. (They certainly should not offer cookies for chain-eating other cookies!) It is the developer's responsibility to create a fun game, not the player's responsibility to play it in a way that is fun. At least, for your own sake, that is the point of view you should assume as a developer.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rift, stupid. And, Facebook ?

Dear Trion, there are two ways to have mobs dismount you: always or never. Anything in between encourages players to try their luck and be annoyed if they fail. Either you force players onto the roads. That is very good for immersion - make mounts faster on roads if you want. Or you accept the already gamey nature of the whole feature and, while mounted, make players immune to aggro of mobs that are x levels lower. Everything in between is the worst of two worlds.

Usually I hate facebook-like features in MMORPGs. But earlier today I came up with something, and I quite like it: Every player can rate any other player. They can either be neutral, like him or dislike him. Now, before you start flaming me, wait a second.
From a simulation point of view this actually is very good. It makes sense that you have some fame in the world and this system allows other players to create that fame in the most simple and elegant way. And, in contrast to facebook, the "dislike" button is very useful: It allows you to dislike players that molest you in any way (e.g. open-PvP). And if that player continues to offend you, you can ask your guild to dislike him, too.
Player groups that are at war don't count in this system, for obvious reasons.
Make somebody, who is liked a lot, have more influence in this system. So, if you are liked by a lot of players it has more impact if you (dis)like somebody. This is also a reason to want to be liked.

Now, calculate some reputation from the likes/dislikes and you have a perfectly immersive reputation system. In a really big world you can have players near you count more towards your reputation. Anyway, this is a hard number that the designer can use for a lot of stuff. For example, upon death, disliked players could respawn in the wood (outlaws) with very bad equipment, while liked player could spawn in holy places and are supplied with relatively good equipment by the priests.

Merchant prices can be adjusted. Really hated players could be attacked by city guards. Really, really hated players could be hunted by head hunters. Make life hell for them; they wouldn't want it any other way.

Now combine this with an one-account-one-char-system (no twinks) and things like open-pvp become much easier suddenly, don't they?

Not enough time, but

"When we asked for randomly-generated content, we didn't mean our party members!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sthenno's Comment

Every once in a while somebody writes such a wonderful comment that I feel like making a post about it. Sthenno just wrote a comment that deserves nothing, but to be quoted in full. I decided to put it on the front page.
I don't agree completely. But this is very well written and he certainly has a point.

I haven't been here for a while so I just read all the PvP posts at once, and I think a very important point has been missed regarding why people do and don't kill each other in games and why they do and don't kill each other in real life.

In real life, everyone is living a life. If you think that you are playing a game instead of living a life then you have a mental illness. The primary reason we choose not to kill each other is not the punishment we'd get (stronger and weaker punishments don't affect murder rates), and the fact that nearly everyone agrees that killing is wrong cross culturally suggests that it isn't really just a cultural thing. We see other people as being like us, and we know that no one wants to die.

In a game there are two equally valid points of view on the matter of killing other people: 1) we are playing in a virtual world and so we treat our character as having a life for the purposes of the game; and 2) this is just a game.

When you create a persistent virtual world you want to encourage the former way of thinking. Allowing PvP seems to do this because it makes the world more like life. However, nearly everyone who actually wants to run around ganking random people is playing the game purely as a game. They probably are just as appalled and terrified by the idea of murder as you are in real life. But this is game, not life, and for many of them the fact that someone on the other end of the internet is upset by being killed just makes it more fun: after all, that person is overly emotionally invested in something that is "just a game."

You can't put in restrictions to prevent these people. If they kill someone they risk punishment from the community? Who cares, it's just a game. Anyone who has played Grand Theft Auto for long enough has at some point gone on a murder spree to get the army after them so they can try to steal a tank. The penalties imposed on these people by the community are not going to be any different. It may scare away some people who aren't that great at games, but a lot of these people will probably just relish in the challenge.

Part of your solution is to make it not that bad to get ganked by making cheap starting equipment serviceable for most purposes. That just means that it isn't that bad for the ganker to get killed back, since they can readily run out and kill people in cheap starting equipment. The difference, again, is the gankee suffers both in game and emotional loss when they die. The ganker suffers only in game damage since it is emotionally equivalent to falling into a hole in Super Mario Bros.

The reason to disallow open world PvP in a virtual world is because this kind of PvP attracts the sorts of players who would rather play a game than a virtual world. The greatest possible threat to a virtual world is to have a player base full of people who don't want a virtual world, but would rather just have a game to play. If you attract these people to your game, no system of punishments and balances will fix the problem. Just tell the would-be gankers to go play counterstrike.

Added "Eat your Tanking or you won't get your Ice-Cream" to the Link storage.

Monday, April 18, 2011


There are two (subjective) ways to beat content:

- using your ingenuity,
- doing what you are supposed to do.

The latter feels a lot less fun. But the latter is also the trap designers necessarily run into when designing perfectly tuned challenging content. There is no way to design very challenging, but still beatable content without having a way in the back of your mind about how the player is supposed to beat it.

The feeling of having overcome an enemy not by use of your ingenuity, but by doing it the way you were supposed to do it, is disillusioning. You are not free, but bound to an artificial fate.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

PvP in Sandbox MMORPGs ?

There have already been three recent posts on this topic. So check out (1), (2) and (3), if you're interested in a bit of context.

Gordon from WeFlySpitfires comments on his blog
Nils pontificates the place of PvP in sandbox MMOs, something I have often pondered myself. One day I’ll come up with the perfect concept for mixing PvP and PvE in sandbox games, I’m sure. !

And he's right. In fact, he got it very right. Reading this I suddenly understood something that you might have understood from the beginning, but for me it was kind of a revelation: The problem with PvP in sandbox MMORPGs is not so much to allow it and then deter players from doing it. This is trivial. Simply punish players who score a killing blow against another player with experience/skill loss. Alternatively, if you like a less gamey solution: Put a reputation penalty on the player killer that prevents him from interacting with shop keepers for 1 week. Any player he trades with inherits this penalty. Problem solved.
Most systems have a bit of trouble distinguishing the bad guy from the good guy, but if the behavior is disincentivised enough, this isn't much of a problem.

The real problem is much more difficult to solve: The designer (and the community) need to make up their minds according to how much PvP they actually want! Roq has pointed it out before: Being surprise-attacked by your neighbor while mowing the lawn is not fun - nor is getting attacked while you do (most) PvE content in a MMORPG.

The point is that we (at least me) want players to be able to attack each other for simulation-purposes. It just doesn't make sense if you cannot. Also, I think that open-PvP can enrich the game world. The transport of supplies to a castle under siege can be a hell of a lot of fun.

As Gordon says, the problem is the right mix. We need incentives that are freely scalable and make sense in every situation. Every extra rule detracts from the goal to make it as little gamey as possible.

That having said, I think that a PvE Sandbox would be a great success. The Mankind vs. Nature theme can very powerful and creates strong bonds in the player base; which is exactly where the market gap is nowadays. The one elegant gamey decision to disable all PvP might be worth all this. So, if it were my decision I'd probably run for a PvE Sandbox. Open-PvP and the balancing it requires (!) just isn't worth the trouble. If you want revenue and profit, go for the PvE Sandbox!

But if you are a die-hard open-PvP fan, like Max, I'd suggest to write down all those situations in which open-PvP occurs. Then make up your mind: in which situation is it desired and in which is it undesired? Then use the tools discussed in the last few posts to design incentives accordingly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Let's Blog about Blogs

Third post this Saturday. I've learnt a lot about PvP rules so far, but I also feel that I should have thought more and posted less. Anyway - let's have a little break from the serious stuff and talk about blogging itself.
First I'd like to encourage you to check out two new blogs by Max and Gilded. While Max is a long time commenter on my (and many other) blogs, Gilded joined us some weeks ago.

Max's blog: Armchair Design
Gilded's blog: Alt Notes

Now, about this blog. I officially started in September 2009, but had a break from from Januar 2010 to April 2010. Tobold had encouraged me to stop overtaking his blog and put my thoughts into my own blog. A good advise. We're not exactly friends *smile* and disagree on more than we agree. But, for what it's worth: Thank you, Tobold. :)

The first few tries were rather disappointing. Although I got a HUGE jumpstart thanks to Tobold, it waned off just as fast. Also, I wasn't exactly sure what to blog about. The first try was to write down my perfect MMORPG split up into many, many blog posts. It failed miserably. I deleted that blog soon after. MMORPGs are extremely complex. Writing a complete design document is a full-time job. One that shouldn't be undertaken alone. You need people to discuss things with; intelligent people.

So I concentrated on picking specific topics. Which worked. Often I got the creative impulse from another blog. With time I learnt that breaks come and go - as do those periods during which you write and write and write and write. Like today. I'm not restricting myself in any way. The aim is not to make a successful blog, but to blog as much as I want and get a successful blog by the way. So far it works.

So, how popular is this blog exactly? Fortunately there is Google Analytics. I started to use it about a year ago in June 2010.

Here are five graphs:

A Counterattack

Introductory remark: To understand the context of this post it is helpful to have read the previous two.

When trying to make the players behave in a specific way there are two basic methods.

- The elegant one and
- the messy one.

The elegant one consists of a few very-easy-to-understand rules that make players behave in the desired way. The messy one consists of a lot of rules that mostly exist to close loopholes and side-effects that wouldn't even exist without them.

Obviously, if anyhow possible a designer should always use elegant rule sets. An example for a non-elegant one would be World of Warcraft's arena rating system. Look it and its history up, if you are interested. I cannot explain it here, because it is too complex. Which is exactly the point.

Sometimes, unfortunately, there is no elegant solution, but you still want players to behave in a specific way. In these cases you can try to keep a messy rule set as un-messy as possible; how? By trying to have rules that work independently from each other. Never try to fix loopholes with rules that potentially open up other loopholes. This is most often a race to the bottom. In the end one loophole found out by one IQ:164 student, with enough time at his hands, is enough to destroy your entire system.

If there are some loopholes left, always consider to use a “It's not a bug, it's a feature” strategy. Be warned that any try to keep rules hidden will only work for a few weeks – if your game is successful.

So, let's get to the meat: An open-PvP, full-loot MMORPG that makes players police themselves and makes them want to be nice to each other. *taking a deep breath*

The approach uses a lot of independent features and rules that each stands on their own. Each of these measures is meant to decrease the significance of the problem without solving it completely. What remains of the problem will be declared “not a bug, but a feature” and will be dealt with by expectation management.

Here's the list:

- Accountability: Just one character per account. You want another one, buy another account or delete your previous character. Paid name/appearance change possible once per account. Just one world-server.

- Strong horizontal character power progression. A very powerful player is at best 2x as strong as a relative newbie.

- No teleport.

- Restrictive weight limit. To take with you all the belongings (especially armor) of another player, requires that you didn't carry with you anything, but armor and weapon to begin with. If you want to transport more, use a cart (slow, requires a street/path).

- Impossible to figure out the 'power level' of another player before attacking him.

- Impossible to know who somebody is, unless he introduced himself to you or you recognize his face / shape (modern graphics ftw).

- Basic armor and weapons are cheap – especially the ones used for open-world resource gathering.

- Special mercenary/bandit skills to better track down players in combination with specific equipment that needs to be used to access and improve these skills. This equipment is expensive.

- Players don't automatically kill you. They first defeat you. To take your stuff, however, they need to kill you after you have been defeated. If they don't, you revive five minutes later with low health. If you want, you can kill yourself in that time.

- Should you be killed by a mob, it takes all your stuff / eat your body / tear you apart. You won't be able to get your stuff back.
Explanation: There's no hoping to not die by the hands of a mob. Mobs are meaner than players. Also, you are used to lose stuff. Mobs always attack non-defeated players first.

- Looting another player takes time during which you are very vulnerable.

- No teleport, except due to death: death means you resurrect near a holy place. You respawn with basic equipment.

These are the basics, now some special features:

- Parts of the map can be claimed as influence regions of groups of players. These regions are tied to central player-group-owned buildings, like castles. Within the influence region, the members of the owning-group receive a 10% combat bonus; enemies receive a 10% penalty. The leadership of the group can declare an infinite amount of players / other groups as "not-welcome", persona-non-Grata. Should one of them enter the influence region, all members of the group in control that are in the vicinity, are notified about who entered their region where. The whereabouts are broadcasted repeatedly while the intruder is in the region.
Player-employed guards attack non-welcome players on sight.

- After having been killed by a player in defeated mode, players can mark any player in their vicinity as "murderer". Marking a player 'murderer' has a seven-day cooldown. The mark is removed after half a year. You can remove the mark before half a year is up. Once somebody has been marked a murderer, he emits a frightening aura whenever he is in the vicinity of the location where he was marked. You cannot mark a player of a group that your group is at war with. You can only become member of a group once per week. (little race to the bottom, once again ..)
Effect of the aura: other players are notified that somebody scary has entered their vicinity. Nearby patrols are attracted to a marked player that enters the vicinity of the marking. These guards are hostile and not to be joked with.

- Guards in NPC-cities and other important places. In NPC-cities and many other places you need to sheathe your weapon / caster staff / etc. If you draw your weapon the guards give you a 10s warning. If you don't sheet the weapon in time, they attack you. Guards are about as powerful as a very powerful player. Guards can call for reinforcement that spawns quite far away. Players survive long enough that no single murderer can possibly kill another player before he has been killed by the guards himself. The guards snare the player and knock him down. The best option is to just not do anything if you are attacked.

- Expectation management: new players run through an extensive tutorial that explains the world and the consequences of one's actions.

So, what do you think? Overkill? Or still not enough? Do you see unwanted side-effects / loopholes? Or do you have an idea of an additional feature to fight Lunatic-PvP?

This was a non-iterated brainstorming. I've already found two ways to abuse these rules. But I also have a few more nice ideas. For what its worth: I'm still interested in as much feedback as possible ;)

Deterrence and Culture

Last post I wrote that a lot of the PvP that a happens in an open-PvP world is not the kind of PvP the players or the designer wants. Everybody agrees that a simple full-loot, open-PvP world where everybody can attack anybody any time and with no additional rules or features is not going to work. It turns into a death match. But opinions deviate on whether this is a problem one can fix and if so, how.

Let's first find out why this is actually a problem in a MMORPG. After all, it seems to work quite well in real life. You can very easily murder a lot of people iRL, if you are cold-blooded enough. You can take their stuff and live in their houses. But society employs specialists to hunt you down. These specialists use features that we cannot possibly implement in a MMORPG. A Sherlock Holmes simulation might be fun, but inside a MMORPG it would be too demanding for nowadays budgets. Also, death penalty is extreme iRL. The murderer has a lot to lose: his entire life. Wheres in a MMORPG the most somebody can lose is some time invested in the game. This runs both ways, of course. To be murdered in a MMORPG isn't as bad as iRL, either. But this doesn't reduce the frequency of it happening.
What is important to note, however, is that iRL you are not prevented from going on a killing spree by some invisible force. You can do it if you really want. What keeps you from doing it is deterrence and culture.

To make a good simulation-heavy MMORPG, one should therefore try to find similar mechanisms of deterrence and culture that prevent people from going on a killing spree. To do that two issues must be discussed:
1) In what circumstances do we actually want players to attack other players and in what circumstances do we actually want to prevent it from happening? How can the system distinguish between the two?

2) How do we deter somebody from killing another player in a situation defined in (1)? Is there a way to determine players that are likely to behave in a non-appreciated way and can we thus prevent them from being able cause harm in the first place?

(1) is hard enough, but (2) is even harder. The central question is: How does the system know who actually attacked whom? Especially in a MMORPG with friendly fire and area damage, systems can easily be gamed. Working with thresholds can help. For example you define a group of players attacking a player, if they do some x% health damage to him within y seconds and didn't receive this amount of health damage by the supposedly attacked player in z minutes before.

Another approach is to use the knowledge of the player and empower him to e.g. set up bounties. The problem here is that this approach works completely independent from whether PvP has actually happened. The system requests some sacrifice (gold payment) from somebody to encourage players to harm another. Problem is balancing the system in a way that the “sacrifice” and “harm” are of a meaningful magnitude to new players and rich players. Consider the possibility that a rich player can support a new player with e.g. gold.

Do you know a game that gets it right? Or do you even have a specific suggestion?

Friday, April 15, 2011

PvE Sandboxes

Hardcore Casual has a great series on PvE Sandboxes in his blog. And The Noisy Rogue asks whether PvE Sandboxes are the way to go for the industry.

I sympathize with this idea. Open-PvP in MMORPGs is a lot of trouble. The reason is that there are three different versions of PvP.

- Immersive PvP: It just doesn’t make a lot of sense that you have a sword in your hand and can hit all kinds of stuff, but not the player in front of you. That doesn't mean that you attack the player in front of you. It just means that you could.

- Competitive PvP: Sports. From a simulation point of view, people die when you ‘kill’ them. But competitive PvP doesn’t look at it like this. Players don’t really die, but rather are defeated in a (hopefully) fair fight.

- Lunatic PvP: Players enter the world, see something attackable and attack it just because they feel like they are supposed to do it.

Now, I am a supporter of immersive PvP. I don’t think open-PvP is the correct environment for competitive PvP. And I don’t like lunatic PvP at all, but I see that it inevitably happens.

I remember some years ago when I had convinced a good friend to join me in WoW. The first Alliance player we met was attacked by him. Later I asked him “Why?”. And he was just like “He was Alliance. He was red. .. he might have attacked us. Isn’t it natural to attack your enemies”.
For this guy, who couldn’t hurt a fly in real life, it was completely natural to attack another player in a MMORPG, because he in no way considered himself to be in a virtual world. For him, it was a big Counter Strike map. Since there was no serious death penalty in any way there was no reason to not attack a player from the opposing faction. The fact that we outnumbered our enemy 2:1 was just a matter of luck.

So, the question is: Can we make a game with sufficient incentive to do immersive open-PvP only, force competitive PvP into in-game arenas, and eliminate lunatic PvP?
I’m not sure. The easiest fix would be to simply disallow open-PvP. Of course, this is a major hit to the simulation aspect.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just a Quote

Another rather cheap post. This is just a quote from bbrathwaite's Applied Game Design Blog.

Focus on second-to-second play first. Nail it. Move on to minute-to-minute, then session-to-session, then day-to-day, then month-to-month (and so on). If your second-to-second play doesn’t work, nothing else matters. Along these lines, if your day-to-day fails, no one will care about month-to-month, either.

It's not exactly new. But it's nice to see it written down and explained so elegantly.

The World feels Dead

Please have a look at "The World feels Dead".

It is a highly rated post on the WoW-EU forum by the hunter Dergas. The title says it all. You can read comment after comment on this. It is remarkable how many intelligent people share his view. And these are just the players who can still post at this forum - that is, they still play WoW!

I ask you to rate this post and add your comment over there, if you still have an active account. Most of us don't at this time.

Of course, you won't see a developer response. They are too busy thinking about how to bribe players to behave the way they should. The most recent iteration: If you walk around the world for 1 hour every day for 1 week you get a pet. /irony

Edit: A video was posted among the comments. Do you remember players just doing stuff for fun in that awesome engine that WoW was at that time? This should have been built upon.

Also check out Raging Monkeys, We fly Spitfires and Player versus Developer, MMOMeltingPot, Dead Good Tanking or a lot of other bloggers I probably forgot.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A World without Borders

MMORPGs have zones. They need them so that players don't get bored by the surroundings. At least that is the theory. The zones are usually separated by impassable terrain: mostly mountains, sometime oceans or trenches. And all MMORPGs have external limits on the world. If you start going straight you will eventually find some border.

Can this be improved? I am thinking about a world that does not abruptly (hard) end, but rather has a soft end. Of course, there still needs to be some hard end eventually, but before players realistically reach this, it should be possible to have them stop for other reasons; like too powerful mobs, for example.

So imagine you start going and you pass all this beautiful terrain and you pass rivers and hills and fields and maybe even a cave. And at some point you realize that this land is completely wild. There's nobody around here. Just animals big, small and monstrous. At some point the birds begin to make sounds that are slightly distorted to what they used to be. The land is vast - and boring. It is, of course, procedurally generated. Then suddenly you are attacked by something really big. You barely manage to fight it off. The air is foggy, but in the distance you see shapes. Many shapes. You return home. (Because the game disencourages dying).

A week later you convince a few friends to come with you and explore. After some hours you eventually reach a similar place to where you have been earlier. (Don't explore if you don't have the time or are easily bored. The game offers other activities, too). The shapes on the horizon look less dangerous in the company of your friends. So you start to move. Many minutes later you find out that the shapes are actually statures. There is a ruin of some sorts. Beneath it you find a (procedurally generated, that is rather boring) labyrinth. You invest some hours and are finally able to find some exotic items. They are not powerul, but maybe their looks make them valuable on the player-run market. You focus on the light ones, as there is a serious weigth limitation on your chars and there was no road to have a cart come with you. A cart would also have been too risky (=expensive) for exploration. You return home.

A week later you manage to convince your friends again to go explore. This time you really want to find the end of the world. So you travel for many hours (while talking about other things - the travel is boring). Eventually you reach those ruins again - or are this different ones? Hard to tell, because your map doesn't cover the outer regions of the game world. You continue to travel. The fog intensifies. Suddenly you are attacked by several creatures. You manage to fight them off, but need to rest a bit before continueing. About 10 minutes later you realize that you are followed. Several rather slow creatures. Instead of fighting you continue. And then, finally, there is a desert in front of you. The game tells you that going in there is certain death. Of course, you ignore the warning. After a few minutes in the desert (that is even more boring than the land before), you start to take health damage. The sand pierces your body, you are thirsty. You try to turn around, but die before leaving the desert. Congratulations! You discovered the end of the world. (No, no achievement in my games :).

From a game designer's point of view:
The regions that are meant to be played in are surrounded by lots of cheap procedurally generated content. It is boring, but has some quirks that can make exploring interesting - yet not required in any way. There are some unique mobs there, but since you use fog and sand storms and heavy rain, the mobs don't need to be graphical masterpieces. If players really travel too far, they need a group to fight the mobs. If that group travels too far, the players are eventually warned that they are going to die (due to credible reasons). Finally, if they still continue traveling, they, well, die.

The point is that this shouldn't really increase the production costs all that much. But it is a dream for explorers and, generally, far more immersive and interesting than a steep mountain-wall; or even an invisible wall. Isn't it?

Additional questions:
- Is the minimap really worth the space it requires on the screen? What about a minimap that is toggled off by default, but can be toggled on?
- What about a spherical world - you know - like the one we inhabit in real life?
- Are different zones really necessary? Would it be possible to i.e. concentrate on mastering a central european climate and perfecting this, instead of having your graphic guys come up with 20 different climate zones?

Added "No one cares about my forth pillar ?!" to the link storage to the right.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tanking is easy, Being tank is hard

I've been on vacation the last few days. And .. woa! Blizzard starts the next step in their endless experiment that is WoW. Players are now officially bribed to play a tank in the teleporting, anonymous dungeon finder. Will it work?

Yes. Of course not on everybody, but there will be several people who just needed a little bit more incentive to tank - like a non-combat pet. Of course, there are also the very few people who would consider such a thing another reason to quit, if we hadn't already. We are a minority, anyway.

Bribing people works. But will it achieve more than its direct goal: Will it not only reduce wait times for non-tanks, but actually add to a fun game? Will the new tanks have fun?
In some way: Yes. Working for something is fun. Grinding heroics as a tank - even if you dislike tanking - can be fun. Until you got what you wanted or burn out.

On the other hand, there already is a very strong bribe: waiting 30-45 minutes or not at all. I am not certain the additional bribe adds much here. Especially for casuals an instant queue must be a enormously strong incentive!

What might be interesting, is the question what the effect will be on those players that already liked to tank? External incentives reduce inherent fun. Long known fact. Blizzard knows. They seem to consider this sacrifice worth it.

Now, about that tanking problem. Why don't people want to tank? Is it too hard? No. Tanking itself isn't hard. Don't believe me? Try it! Tanking in a reasonable group is easier than dps and easier than healing. But what about an un-reasonable, bad, group? Well tanking is hard there, but so is dps and healing!

The problem with tanking is not that the process of tanking itself is hard. The problem is that tanks do much more than just tanking in WoW. Tanks also are exspected to lead. For good reasons, by the way. But this is the root of the evil.

Leading is challenging. In a bad group it is quite difficult if not impossible. You remember Blizzard talking about extra rewards for the 'lead' role? In the end, they didn't do it for a lot of good reasons, but they know very well that leadership is a real problem.

Leading, even if it were simple, is no fun for most people. Leading means assuming responsibility. Casual players hate this. You ask what's the difference between hardcore and casual? The harcore are willing to lead, the casuals want to be lead. And there is nothing wrong about this. I, for example, always hated leading 25-man raids. I wanted to be lead. I also never liked to lead any raid on workdays.

Leading requires more knowledge, more time investment, more disappointment if you fail, more stress. And what for? Well - usually for a rewarding emotional response by the ones you lead. Like, "Well done!", or "Thanks!!".

Ask yourself: How often have you lead people in real life? How often did you lead strangers iRL that you knew you would not see again, ever? Perhaps you have done it for money before? Have you ever done it without being much better informed about the 'content' than the ones being lead? Have you ever done it without having more authority?

See, an anonymous LFD is just not a good environment for leadership. Most humans don't like to lead. They may claim that they want to be the boss, but really, they do not. Why do you think managers get paid so much more in a market economy? Well, partly because our market economy isn't really as efficient as we'd like, but also, because being the boss isn't fun. And playing boss in front of strangers that demand to be lead, but also consider themselves as smart as you (or smarter); no thanks!

The only way to have fun tanking in a WoW LFD is to ignore the other players. But then, Blizzard wants you to communicate to beat challenging content! So tanks downloaded addons that told people what to do. And if the group screws up two times in a row; well, bye. You don't want no emotional involvement with 4 strangers that exspect you to lead without respecting your authority. ("I pay as much for this game as you do!!!")

The usual reward for assuming responsibility are emotional reactions. Direct or indirect. Leading other people is stressful. Leading other people in an anonymous environment is a completely thankless thing to do, because there cannot be meaningful emotional reactions. The only reason people might lead in an anonymous company iRL is external rewards: prestige with other people on their level. A Ferrari perhaps or another title.

You know how much you have to pay someone to do an anonymous management job? $200k+. And there still is a shortage.

Concluding, if Blizzard wants to solve the tank shortage problem long-term, without sacrificing the rest of WoW on the way,

- they need to reduce anonymity to make leadership more rewarding. Leading a team of 1-20 people can be great fun iRL, 1-100 can still be ok. Leading four random people out of a pool of thousands is unfun. Leading strangers who don't even respect your authority is more like a punishment, than like a game.

- they need to separate the tank role and the leader role. They need to allow those who want to lead to lead. And they need to allow those who don't want to lead to be lead; irrespective of the class/specc they want to play.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why do I log in?

Yesterday I was thinking about why I log in – in any MMORPG. What is the exact reason? I came up with these things:

Exploration, but not just the exploration of a landscape. The focus of nowadays MMORPGs is your character and it shows with me. The most powerful reason for me to log into a game is curiosity. You could also call it learning. I like to find out how it feels to be able to do a blast wave, or a mortal strike, or what it is like to fly a battle-cruiser. As long as there is something interesting to explore, I am almost guaranteed to log in. During the hot phase in the beginning of a MMORPG, exploration is what drives me.
It is a good idea for a game to not offer content too fast. As long as there is still something to do that feels remotely reasonable (achievements do not, titles sometimes work, gaining abilities is a classic), there is a high chance that I am going to try.
Exploration is also the reason why I might like to grind for many, many hours. And, yes, I occasionally like that.

Meeting friends is an obvious reason. Once a game has managed to integrate me into a nice community it is a winner.

Gated content, like dailies or managing my learning queue. This is the kind of reason to log in that is a trade-off for the game. It works for a time, and it gives the other motivations an opportunity to enthuse me. But it also makes me feel stressed and pushed - and I might end up associating these feelings with the game.

Idealism. I play MMORPGs for long enough by now to have very strong emotions about some features. If you make a game that is great in (my) theory, I will try really hard to like it. This one doesn't work with new players, obviously.

Competition, to show others how damn good I am. This is honestly not something that works all the time. But sometimes it can be quite encouraging.

To kill time with something that matters. This is actually pretty damn important. Of course, MMORPGs don't really matter, do they? You play them for fun, just like having dinner with your wife or watching that soccer match.
There is a difference between fun and fun. I am easily bored by games that feel like I am not creating something meaningful. When I am bored I sometimes play a game of chess against the computer or do a round of Civilization. These are fun games, but I always feel like wasting my time. I am not in it for the long run. It is 'just a game' to me. This is the deciding difference between MMORPGs and single player games.

Can you come up with other reasons?

Friday, April 1, 2011


After watching the recent Extra Credits video, I decided that the danger might be bigger than I had thought. So I should add my part if fighting it.

The term itself is offensive.
If anything, it should be called achievementification. As it stands, gamification implies that games are about leaderboards, points and achievements. Here's a surprise: They are not. I agree that the skinner box is powerful. I see that it is behind the success of Diablo as well as World of Warcraft. But achievements, in any form, are like salt in the soup. Sure, it tastes better with it. But a good soup doesn't require salt to taste good. The term itself defines games as being about skinner boxes. I abhor this idea.

It doesn't work the way you think it does.
At first you might think that what is most important for a school kid is to exercise and spend time to be able to earn money later and make sure that your country is not taken over by the Chinese. ... Honestly, sometimes I feel like that is a credible fear to some people. At second thought, you will realize that reliable access to drugs works much better at keeping people happy. Yes it does! But life is not about trying to achieve and maintain a specific composition of chemicals in the brain, is it?

If you incentivise a human to do something, he will do exactly that and nothing else. Humans are really good at gaming systems and I guarantee you that any generation raised by such a dishonest and corrupting idea will revolt against it - after they gamed it to their assumed advantage.
Means: They will find a way to do the 25 math exercises without remembering them. Just like I don't remember a single thing from my diploma tests: Because at that time I couldn't care less about the real issues. I was busy trying to beat a system. Which taught me completely different things than intended.

More important than doing something is doing it for the right reasons. Once you are doing things for points and not for what they are really about, who stops you from doing *placeholder*?

Concluding, I have no doubt that achievementification will eventually fail. I am just concerned about how much damage it will have done when it finally does.