I got caught up in my rant last time. I forgot to mention the triangles that I wanted to get to. That’s what happens when I try to multitask too much.
Obviously, one triangle is the Game/World/Community triangle that was mentioned towards the end of the previously quoted article. This one is important from a design standpoint. It’s also why I think that “virtual worlds” will probably never truly live up to the imagination. There’s too much call for a Game, and too many idiots in the Community. Still, it can’t hurt to stretch out a bit. MMOs will never be all things to all people, which isn’t a bad thing. Since they tend to live or die based on massive numbers of people, however, it’s important to understand the dynamic.
Another triangle is the Cheap/Fast/Quality triangle for business. You can optimize two of the three, but never all of them. It’s tangentially related to MMOs, inasmuch as MMOs are typically made by businesses who like to operate for profit. Players can’t demand quality content at a high rate of release if they aren’t willing to pay somehow for it. That isn’t a tacit approval of the subscription model on my part, it’s just pointing out the realities of business. This also explains, in part, why “free” MMOs often don’t have high levels of quality control (or design) or are slow to update.
A third triangle is the oft-maligned Tank/DPS/Healer trinity. This one is something I didn’t really know much about before digging into the mechanics of WoW. Most of my gaming is offline, and while the concept of a “meatshield” is relevant to several Tactics and RTS games that I’ve played, the WoW version seems to be built around the artificial Threat mechanism of the NPCs, rather than truly intelligent tactics. It does have the advantage of giving different classes of players things to do, but it does so artificially, rather than organically. In and of itself, it’s not really a bad mechanic, but a step back does prompt a “huh?” from me. The baddies just aren’t applying intelligent battle tactics.
The famous Rock/Paper/Scissors is another important triangle. Pure attack/counterattack can get boring, so the variety of a RPS system with variable counters can make for more interesting dynamics, both at the single character PvP level and in larger strategic concerns. Pokemon took that relationship to further lengths than most games, and I think it’s a huge part of why the IP has had staying power. The impulse to “collect ’em all” appeals to the greedy little consumer in us, but the strategy of the weakness/strength relationships kept the gameplay itself interesting.
I’m sure there are other triangles that I could explore, but I’ve gotta rush. In the meantime, Saylah over on Mystic Worlds has written about what she called the “holy trinity” of MMOs; three specific games that have encompassed the lion’s share of the market. It’s a good read: