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Posts Tagged ‘content’

Apparently raiding is fun.  But only some players can do it, despite efforts to open the raid gates to the unwashed masses.  Even though “accessibility” is a swear word for some, and the true Achilles Heel of World of Warcraft, if hyperbole is to be believed.  (Never mind the newbie hose, newbies don’t want to raid.  They would probably do it wrong, too, or maybe they just don’t care about the endgame that they either haven’t heard about or have no hope of ever seeing.)

My solution is simple:

Make raids soloable

Yup, soloable.  If Blizzard is so concerned with getting players to see their content, let them see it already.  (Tangentially, they really aren’t selling content, they are selling access.  If content is important, they should sell content like Guild Wars does and drop the subscriptions, but I digress.)  DDO lets players solo almost every dungeon, and GW does something similar by letting players have computer-controlled associates.  (Notably, both of those games sell content, but I digress again.)

Maybe this means “Battle for the Undercity” buffs.  Maybe it means NPCs shepherding players.  Maybe it means no experience gain or loot drops from these soloable raids, so they are truly just content tourism.  (Speaking as a soloist interested in content, I wouldn’t mind losing the XP potential or loot, since that’s not why I play.)

Of course, I’d also make raids at all levels, not just five man dungeons.

If raids are so important that the game is designed around driving players into them, let’s put players in raids already and stop making it an elite activity that you have to play for months and find a bunch of other players to get into.

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If we’re going to lean in the direction of players being content in MMOs, and if we’re going to try to incentivize that with kickbacks, discounts or perks, we should probably get rid of levels and other barriers to playing together… and actually let the players generate content in a dynamic world, in addition to facilitating their ability to play together.

Incidentally, Whirled does this pretty well, though under a *gasp* free-to-play system that lets players generate their own content that can then generate revenue.  Weird, I know… but another illustration of how the fantasy-steeped level-then-raid two-game paradigm isn’t the One True Path to MMO design.

Of course, since people can also sometimes be the worst part of MMOs, and many aren’t all that interested in good game design, there are dark sides to opening the floodgates.  Still, if the goal is to encourage player interaction, even going so far as to bribe them, that would probably work best if the moment to moment play of the game supported such a goal.

Oh, and this is a good excuse to bring out one of my favorite MMO developer quotes again.

Daniel James of Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates being their incredible flagship) as quoted by the Penny Arcade guys:

Every player, free or paid, adds value to the community and excitement for other players. Free players are the content, context and society that encourages a small fraction of the audience to willingly pay more than enough to subsidize the rest.

Edited to add:

Incidentally, there’s an interesting discussion raging over on the Escapist forums about Valve’s theorizing that kicked this discussion off.

Escapist thread on this

This comment stuck out to me:

I kinda like the idea, maybe I’m a little impartial because I have a really magnetic personality and general can get a dead silent server to chatting like best friends in 10 minutes. But I would definitely love to get benefits for just being myself in games.

What about the intangibles of being social and liking what you’re doing? As in so many other things, if you try to engineer good behavior with extrinsic rewards, you might get it, but the rewards have to keep coming and even get better. The gravy train can’t stop or you get withdrawal and bad behavior.  People aren’t doing the right thing because it’s right, they are doing it because it benefits them. Once again, it’s a selfish motivation, not a selfless one, a completely mercenary approach to socializing.  That’s one of the big problems with forced grouping in MMOs, by the way.

Syp wrote nicely about this over thisaway:

The Selfish Gamer

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Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a great little game.  Disgaea DS has also been a blast.  I’ve clocked 45 or so hours in the former, and 200 or so in the latter.  The “main story” of the former took about 30 hours to go through (chasing all side quests), and the “main story” of the latter took about 20 hours (doing some side dungeoneering).  I find I keep playing both well past the story’s end, albeit for different reasons.

The core gameplay of KH:358/2 is all about missions.  These are bite-sized chunks of the standard KH gameplay, an action-platformer-RPG… thing.  Missions range from recon to target hunting to simple baddie smashing (complete with small baddies, medium-sized baddies and Big Bad Boss baddies).  None of it is too taxing, but several missions require good timing, quick reflexes and/or knowledge of the terrain.

The core gameplay of Disgaea DS is all about tactical turn-based combat in closed square-grid arenas.  Players build up a cast of characters and field combat teams to take down a range of weird enemies.  Cutscenes tell a story between fights.  The ability to revisit missions and an optional Item World dungeon system provides combat on demand to earn more experience, money and items.  None of the tactics are all that demanding, but there are several that provide a more puzzle-like experience, rather than a simple tactical brawl.

The “post-game” is fairly different between the two.

In KH, I’m replaying missions to explore early missions with new abilities, chase tokens and treasures, or even play with alternate characters.  (Some are fantastic, some are awful.)  The core gameplay really doesn’t change much in the endgame, though, and the missions are exactly the same, only your approach changes.  The ends are the same, in other words, but the means change (fairly minimally).  I’m still chasing achievements and better loot, not new ways of playing the game.  (OK, OK, I can still unlock Sora as a playable character, but that’s not much, since he will play much like Roxas anyway.)

In Disgaea, I’m playing through the storyline again (yay for “New Game +” mechanics!) to see a different ending, but I spend most of my time in the Item World.  Item World levels are procedurally generated, and often a great playground for the geopanel system.  Every level I go to in the Item World is different.  The team I have is pretty static by now, but the stage that I’m playing on changes constantly.  I’m constantly tinkering with new content thanks to the procedural floor generator.  Sure, the ultimate end goal is always the same (defeat all foes or sneak to the exit), but the path through each level is different.  The ends are still the same, then, but the means change considerably more than they do in KH.

This is the difference between 200 and 45 hours logged.  I’ll play each more, I’m sure, but in the end, I spend a lot more time playing through the procedural content in Disgaea DS than I do playing through static content in KH.  To be fair, procedural content only works in certain formats.  The lovingly crafted beautiful 3D worlds in KH don’t lend themselves well to procedural content generation.  The procedural content in Disgaea DS is tile-based, with some larger multitile structures, but certainly nothing as carefully presented as KH worlds.

So, if there is a balance between pretty graphics and playability via content generation, I find that I fall squarely in the camp of gameplay.  I’m more interested in means than ends, at least when I’m playing games.

It’s not too surprising that I feel much the same way about MMOs.  To be sure, the content generation there will naturally be more in line with the KH model, being in 3D and requiring more assets.  I’m still most interested in varied, dynamic, interesting gameplay, rather than chasing loot through the same dungeons.  Raiders have told me that the dynamics of a group can provide some of that, so I can see myself dungeoneering a little while learning a dungeon, but once it’s on farm status, just going through the motions for better loot or arbitrary Achievements does nothing for me.

No, I want a living, dynamic world that I can influence and mold.  I want to color outside the lines, ignoring the ends.  I’d be content tinkering with the means, because once I get to the end, that’s all that you have to keep me in your game.

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