Tuesday, June 28, 2011

There is Value in Scarcity

Before I played MMORPGs I was a very active player of VGA Planets 4 by Tim Wisseman.

VGA Planets is a play-by-email strategy game in a Sci-Fi-fantasy setting that mixes themes from all major Sci-Fi IPs. One game usually takes half a year, often one year. Some games never really end. VGA planets requires someone to start the game. To that end he can either use standard universe maps or custom-scripted ones. After having played for many years I eventually decided to make my own games with my own maps.

What had annoyed me ever since I had started was the abundance of resources. Games would often end in players having hundreds of ships and thousands of objects to manage. One turn could take hours to play through and often the real brilliance was in coming up with ways to speed up the process and focus on what is important. Still it was unfair, because those players who spent massive amounts of time a week on one turn had a huge advantage.

While I did spent massive amounts of time each week on one turn, I didn't like so many objects for another reason: the emotional bond to your starships and planets became worse the more you had.

That's why I scripted "The Last Bastion of Life". I made each planet have so little resources that players had to fight over every single piece. Every starship mattered. No race could afford more than one of the dreadnoughts. Whether to build one at all was an interesting question.

Up to that point there hadn't been a game with so little stuff. The game was a success. Players loved it. A lot of other games were started with ultra-poor planets.

Today I find myself in the same situation with MMORPGs. With the added problem that scripting my own game isn't all that easy. Scarcity is what engages humans. Abundance is boring and makes players apathetic. It is bad from a gameplay point of view and it is bad from a simulation point of view. If a ball of fire that engulfs an enemy does major damage, but doesn't happen often, it's more impressive than enemies that are constantly engulfed in fire.

When I look at the most recent Guild Wars 2 gameplay video, that's what I worry about. There is value in scarcity, but MMORPG companies rather compete for the most fancy graphics. There's a difference between good graphics and fancy graphics. Do you care when you are engulfed with fire in an MMORPG? Nor do I.

If you start with normal fireballs that engulf entire players, there's no way to make an impressive fireball. But impressive fireballs would be fun!


  1. > Do you care when you are engulfed
    > with fire in an MMORPG?

    Would that be the normal fire or green fire?

    I don't get how you switched from scarce resources to ... scarce graphics? I've expected the scarce resource discussion to go into the direction of scarce gear or something like that. Like how an item matters more that you're going to keep for 2 years then one that'll be replaced every 3 month.

  2. Kring, sending the 14th Dreadnought into battle feels like throwing the 14th opponent-engulfing fireball at the enemy. It feels like too many cookies.

    And, most importantly, it prevents you from every throwing a really impressive fireball at the enemy.

  3. >>> most recent Guild Wars 2 gameplay video

    Maybe they could tone down some of the AOE fire and "fog" effects a bit, but in general I find the skill animations good, in that they don't all blend into each other and you can make out what each character is doing.

    The engineer is a somewhat less obtrusive than I was expecting, which is good.

  4. "When I look at the most recent Guild Wars 2 gameplay video, that's what I worry about."

    I have to agree with that. I actually worry about it in a lot of games. Yahtzee wrote a pretty thorough post not too long ago about this topic. Perception is a relative thing, and when you make something the norm you are reducing it to being normal.

    This happens in a lot of games where there are things that should be "epic", but they are thrown in with such frequency that they all lose relative value.

    I think devs get into a mindset of trying to make everything epic and explosive in an effort to outdo themselves and previous work. Knowing the value of pacing and absence is something that the game's industry would generally benefit from as a whole.

  5. Small tangent here, but I'm reminded of my time as a roleplayer in World of Warcraft. Bear with me for a moment.

    Through BC and WOTLK, you saw a good amount of Horde/Alliance teamwork in the story in taking down the big bads. As a result of that story decision, many roleplayers chose to play characters that were sympathetic to the Horde. In fact, almost all of them did. In terms of the story, this was silly, but in practice the exception became the norm.

    It drove me insane then, but it can be applied here as well. Magic users can be toned down from flinging fireballs at level 1 to using smaller spells and allowing them to build up to awesome things. Especially in MMORPG's, you are already working with a crowd that is willing to devote a serious amount of time to a game. Why not take advantage of that? Throwing out epic things so early leaves you nowhere to go when epic becomes the norm, and then it becomes boring.

  6. I think that's in part due to how skills work in Guild Wars and I assume this is how they'll work in GW2. Skills don't have ranks in the original, but scale based on your attributes. Additionally, your skill acquisition is limited solely by the trainers and in the case of Elite skills, of your ability to down a boss and capture it. You could even convince someone to run you through the wilderness to the next outpost and get access to the trainers there.

    There are also no throw-away skills. Something that seemed completely useless a while ago, now combos magnificently with that brand new Elite you just capped off that Boss.

    My point: Guild Wars 1 was all about horizontal character development (after you reached a very short plateau - level 20) and I expect GW2 to be more of the same. It makes no sense to have a player throwing a tiny fireball when at level 1 and a magnificent one at 15. What I do expect though, is starting the game with 10 skills and eventually having 150+.

    In that essence, every skill needs to be on par with "opponent engulfing fireball", because nothing gets thrown out as you progress through the game.

    We are just too used to classes using 10 skills during their career and in that case, yes, using a "nuclear blast" for the 1000th time while killing wolves gets old fast. When the mesmer class alone has 165 skills to use, though (not counting cross-profession combos), can you honestly state that 1 of them will get old any time soon?

    Ehh, sorry for the wall of text

  7. I remember VGA Planets, Trade Wars and L.O.R.D.

    Good ol BBS days

  8. ZOMG, I loved VGA Planets, circa 1993-94 timeframe (done via BBS).

    OK, wistful flashback over...

  9. Also loved VGAP. Nothing brought shear joy to my cerebellum like planning out a wolfpack attack/theft. Oh, the days.

    I agree with your assessment - but it seems, well, very old school in an MMO world of limited (if any) death penalties and limitless epic weapons.

  10. Anyone else remembering the Dragon Ball series? The 25th planet explosion just wasn't awesome anymore. And they just kept getting stronger!

    Contrast say Inuyasha. The characters never really get much stronger. It's boring as heck.

    Not a huge anime fan or anything but i dabble, and i find it makes for a great example here. Not like the MMO genre is diverse enough to provide counter examples lol.

    On that note, Runescape did manage to make magic expensive and thereby limited it to the rich. Not the best way but if you wanna use the killer spells you're going to pay for it.

    God i still remember burying every bone i found just to level prayer. Sometimes I'd just take the scraps of other players. Clever mechanic if you ask me. But that's not really here nor there lol.