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Do Licensed MMOs Inherit A Disadvantage?

simoniker posted more than 10 years ago | from the nothing-like-the-movie dept.

PC Games (Games) 70

Thanks to Stratics for its editorial discussing the problems faced by the licensed massively multiplayer game. The author points out: "Star Wars, The Matrix, Middle Earth - these are just some of the pre-existing worlds that are making the MMOG leap", and goes on to lament: "One of the problems is that you have to create an entire believable, explorable world. This is hard enough as it is, but then you have to cater to pre-existing notions of that world. Fans are your main target group here, and they have that world all locked up tight in their heads. Prepare for Foaming-at-the-Forum disease, my illustrious developers, prepare well." We've previously covered other aspects of this dilemma, but do licenses bring excessive expectations to a persistent world where everyone wants to be the hero?

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70 comments

Do Gay Niggers Inherit Fried Chicken? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567150)

Thanks to KFC for its editorial discussing the problems faced by the licensed secret recipe for nigger pleasure.

Hmm... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567154)

I have a penis!

WHY BOTHER WITH VIDEO GAMES?!???!??!?!??!???!!???? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567165)

LICKING ASS IS BETTER

But they are the shape of things to come. (4, Insightful)

will_die (586523) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567170)

The big licened MMORPG are the things to come after SWG. Here you can release an extremly poor MMORPG with extermly stupid design(thanks raph) yet sell 300,000 because of the name attached. Then you can expect to keep less then 1/3 but while you are being paid to develop the game after which you try to get people to sign up.
As for how to do it, you have to set up a world that feels like the movies or books and allows them to interact with areas mentioned in the book.
Middle Earth looks like it is taking a good view of it, they have said that the areas from the movies will be in the game but after the ring bearer or whoever the important person/event passed through/happened so that you cannot modify the even of the story, and no climbing over the characters.

LOL FAGGOT (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567175)

nobody posts serious posts on Games.fagdot.org. Please go back to playing SWG and never getting laid, k, thx, bye.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (5, Interesting)

Dragoon412 (648209) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567631)

The problem with the idea of just selling boxes for an MMOG is the cost inherent in developing the game.

I don't have any hard numbers to support it, but it seems to be that with development times on MMOGs taking so much longer than other games, selling them at the same price point, which is the current practice* as other games would mean less profit, or possibly even taking a loss per unit sold.

And I know, more box sales will ultimately lead to more subscriptions, but at this point, the MMOG market is largely cannibalizing itself. The market for MMOG games with non-skill based combat systems that require hundreds upon hundreds of hours of tedious monster-slaying, with game engines that handle like a 14th-hand rip off of Chainmail is completely saturated. To that end, I think the idea of pulling off what SWG did is only going to work for huge titles. Middle Earth Online may be able to do it too, but aside from WoW, I really can't think of another title that's even been announced that'll have enough clout to pull that off.

The future of MMOG design is going to change drastically. There's an absolutely massive untapped audience of more casual gamers that want more action-based games and don't have thousands of hours to invest in a game, and don't want to be alienated from their friends because they went to bed early one night, missed an awesome experience grind group, and now they can't group anymore because there's a 3-level difference.

Planetside, conceptually, was a great stab at that market. Unfortunately, the fuckups at SoE mismanaged it into the ground. They ruin everything they touch...

Anyways, without getting into a rant about what's wrong with MMOGs, just watch: the first person to make a more skill-based MMOG (be it FPS-style, or more sim-ish) that appeals to casual gamers (i.e. no systems like "levels" that only fragment the player base, or absurd time requirements to advance) will be a very, very wealthy individual.

While I was unemployed, I actually wrote up some design documents for such a game... got a 'real' job before I had the chance to pitch it, though, and I haven't had time to work on it since.

*At least until they realize they're about to tank and start offering free downloads of the client online.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567806)

And perhaps... because of Planetside's fuckups... no publisher is all that keen to go close to another MMOG that tries to appeal to the casual gamer.

It's a cut-throat business, and nobody wants to back a loser, and it's easy enough to site Planetside as being a reason *not* to invest!

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (2, Insightful)

Dragoon412 (648209) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568790)

So the action-based MMOG genre is zero for one. What's the boring non-action market?

See, I can understand why Planetside's comparitive failure is off-putting for some (stupid) investors, but what's the success rate of EQ-styled games? For every one successful game, a handful of others tank. The only ones that've enjoyed any real commercial success at this point are Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Dark Age of Camelot. That success can be mainly attributed (at least it would seem) to being the first MMOG to the market, being the first 3D MMOG, and being the first MMOG to feature organized PvP, respectively.

AO's barely hung on, and its spectacular failure of a launch nearly destroyed it. Horizons, Asheron's Call 2, Earth and Beyond, Shadowbane, and many other games have been major losers.

Others, like SWG and Asheron's Call have been moderately successful. And then there's Final Fantasy XI, which, while doing well worldwide, is not exactly a sweeping success in the United States, and has a freakishly high rate of cancellations (anecdotal evidence: I started playing with a group of 30-some people on release day, and currently none of them have active subscriptions anymore, and haven't for months).

The risk isn't necessarily greater with action-based MMOGs than traditional MMORPGs. Certainly there have been more flame-outs amongst traditional games. And on top of that, the potential revenue from a very large, untapped market is much greater than the current, competetive market.

Besides: think of it as a good thing. The supposed risk will frighten off the likes of EA and other penny-pinching investors that are more interested in rushing some shovelware EQ clone out the door. When such a game does get made, it'll most likely be free of the types of people responsible for bug-addled crap like Horizons and Earth and Beyond.

Asheron's Call 2 (2, Informative)

cgenman (325138) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569673)

I have it on good authority that Asheron's Call 2, while not a tremendous success, did break even. The company who created it, Turbine, had enough free cash to buy back the rights to Asheron's Call 1 from Microsoft, which should be considered a very successful MMPORPG (still going strong after all of these years, first MMPORPG with larger, ever-changing story archs). They've even announced an Asheron's Call 1 expansion.

These are now the people working on LotR and DnD. They've learned that a flexible presentation in their engine allowing for tremendous dramatic plot changes is far more important than having the highest resolution textures (At one point during development they bragged that the texture on the wall of one of the houses was the size of Asheron's Call 1's entire displayed texture budget). While they may not be able to do anything dramatically different with LotR, this should give great freedom to the DnD team to come up with original experiences for players. Like when they teleported 1/2 of the Asheron's Call 1 players into an undersea disco for an evening of boogying down, then denied any knowledge of having done so. Or the giant menacing figure that appeared in the sky one day, only to land a month later.

I agree that action-based MMPORPG's are the future. Lag isn't as bad as it once was, but it continues to cripple our designs. There are, of course, ways around lag. You could have players enter an X like shell when attempting to fight with another, effectively going from a MMPORPG to a somewhat lag-free standard FPS and back again. X, in this case, referring to the Anime. You can offload more of the processing to the client side, allowing for more cheating (at least you have a game worth cheating on). You can predictively process on the client, and Re-synch the game world as needed. You can limit movement to a square-by-square tile world, making processing calculations very simple.

Yahoo's Puzzle Pirates is a good example of where the genre is going. Light games somewhat divorced from the click-click-click nature of their predecessors, removed of the 3D graphics which can easily sink a project, and (so far) tremendously successful. Gunbound, ostensibly a MMPOAC (Massively Multiplayer Online Artillery Clone), is really just a Artillery Clone with a good lobby.

Point and click isn't the future. Drama is the future. Gaming is the future. Lag? Lag is the rural electrification on the phone bill of the MMPORPG designer's notebook.

Re:Asheron's Call 2 (2, Informative)

Mprx (82435) | more than 10 years ago | (#8570487)

Three Ring's Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, not Yahoo's. You're not the first person I've seen who misread the name, maybe they should rename it to just "Puzzle Pirates".

Re:Asheron's Call 2 (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 10 years ago | (#8572079)

And all this time I thought Yahoo! was getting wise.

Thanks for the correction. It would explain why I haven't been able to find the link on Yahoo! Games. A subtitle would clear things up... Puzzle Pirates: Yohoho!

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (4, Informative)

Mprx (82435) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568687)

Such a game already exists. Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates [puzzlepirates.com] is completely skill based, with no real levels (levels exist but have extremely minor gameplay effect), and does not require any great time commitment. This is an ideal game for casual players, and still has enough in-depth content (eg. player run economy) for the hardcore players. It's also written in Java so it's crossplatform, and it doesn't require great hardware or internet connection. You can try it for free and subscription isn't too expensive.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

Dragoon412 (648209) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568853)

I'm thinking of something more along the lines of like a RIFTS or Robotech MMOG. Maybe something like an MMO Armored Core meets Savage.

No doubt Puzzle Pirates is a good game; I've heard many, many good things about it. But it's a puzzle game. That's not the same sort of skill as, say, an FPS, or any other real action game. Besides, it's too cutesy. Not that it has to be dark and bloody, but the game looks like ass, and based off my initial impressions, it feels a lot more like one of those budget Asian MMOGs like Priston Tale or Fairyland than anything that's going to appeal to casual gamers at large. :P

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

*weasel (174362) | more than 10 years ago | (#8570202)

the first person to make a more skill-based MMOG (be it FPS-style, or more sim-ish) that appeals to casual gamers (i.e. no systems like "levels" that only fragment the player base, or absurd time requirements to advance) will be a very, very wealthy individual.

Playing devils advocate:

This of course assumes that casual gamers of a persistent world exist.

How do we know there is demand for persistent games that can be played a few hours a week?

Where are these gamers who don't play any persistent world now, but would like to?

What do they play now, and how would a persistent game appeal to them?

If we remove meaningful character advancement, do we obviate the primary benefit of persistence (growth)?

Skill-based MUDs have come and gone, so perhaps there's a reason level-based, timesink ridden MUDs are as dominant as their commerical, graphical, offspring?

Are casual gamers just hardcore gamers who haven't found that one design that they're willing to pay $15/mo for?

What benefit does a persistent design bring to skill-based games that currently have free multiplayer gaming modes?

Remember, I'm just playing devil's advocate here. I fully believe in persistent world designs that embrace the casual player [blogspot.com] .

But is the quest to cater to the casual audience going to far? If we switch too many systems away from the tried-and-true, do we alienate everyone searching for an audience that may well not exist?

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

Dragoon412 (648209) | more than 10 years ago | (#8571131)

How do we know there is demand for persistent games that can be played a few hours a week?

Where are these gamers who don't play any persistent world now, but would like to?

What do they play now, and how would a persistent game appeal to them?

I think there's fairly strong evidence of a player base for one main reason: the box sales of MMOGs relative to their subscription numbers. Even the most successful games, such as EverQuest, tend to have dismally low suscriptions to sales numbers.

Additionally, take a look at game populations as newer games come and go, and how MMOGs cannibalize each others' players. There are obviously large number of players who enjoy the genre, but can't find a game they enjoy enough to stick with.

Skip to anecdotal evidence: I can't tell you how many people I've heard complain about the lack of customization, the lack of uniqueness, the lack of purpose, and the lack of skill in existing MMOGs irritates them. Couple that with the absolute ridiculous popularity of FPS, platformer, stealth, RTS, and shooter titles... People aren't just playing one genre; a lot of those people drifting from MMORPG to MMORPG are also pre-ordering UT2k4 while they play MOHAA and Warcraft 3.

You see, it helps to think of MMO as less of a genre of its own and more of a value-add to an existing genre.

And in that regard, who wouldn't want to play an MMO game? MMOs can add depth to virtually every genre. From truly meaningful, interactive wars with living people to a constantly changing political environment. It's all the allure of playing any traditional game online, with added freedom, added interaction, and most importantly, added depth.

If we remove meaningful character advancement, do we obviate the primary benefit of persistence (growth)?

Well, that's sort of a loaded question. Are levels really meaningful? I would argue that they're not. They're shallow, contrived, and serve no real purpose.

There are other methods of advancement that don't involve a bunch of sociopathic, serial-murderer 'heroes' run around, waging genocide against the local bat, rat, and snake populations. For example, skill-based advancement could be used. Ultimately it still favors the more hard-core players, but that could be solved by addressing the problem of scale, which is as simple as removing some of the rampant stupidity of design decisions.

Take, for example, the grizzled veteran against the newbie squire. Obviously, the veteran is tougher. He's more experienced, more aware, and more skilled than the squire. However, in practical terms, you can take the rustiest, nastiest piece of shit sword, and if you gut either one of them with it, he'll die. However, according to traditional MMORPG convention, the grizzled veteran could be unconscious, hog-tied, and naked, while the newbie whacks away with 1337 Sword of Ass Sniffing and the newbie wouldn't even manage to hit the veteran.

Can someone offer any rationale behind that design decision? Is there a reason a longsword made from steel hits five times as hard as one made out of iron? It's all a bunch of bullshit, borne of that sickening concept of levels D&D saddled all RPGs with. They were originally designed to be an indicator of a characters' ability in primitive RPGs, but skill-less MMORPGs have co-opted the concept to be some sort of status symbol for a bunch of e-penis waving troglodytes, thriving in an environment that requires little more than simply being there.

And that's the problem of scale; striking the balance between realisim, where a newbie can kill that veteran almost as easily as the veteran can kill him, and still allowing for enough advancement that the player feels like he has something to accomplish; to grow his character.

The solution is very simple: lateral advancement.

Are casual gamers just hardcore gamers who haven't found that one design that they're willing to pay $15/mo for?

That's certainly a possibility. I know of a lot of gamers, personally, who say that DAoC sounds great in theory. But the execution has been so poor... the bar has been set so low for MMOGs that there's nothing compelling people who aren't already involved in MMOGs to try them.

But is the quest to cater to the casual audience going to far? If we switch too many systems away from the tried-and-true, do we alienate everyone searching for an audience that may well not exist?

But it's not turning away from what's tried and true. It's about choice. Currently, there aren't any good action-based MMO games. There's no choice. Making a great MMO action game can only be a good thing. It's not like it diminishes the enjoyment of EQ for people who like that sort of tripe.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (2, Interesting)

*weasel (174362) | more than 10 years ago | (#8571716)

the box sales of MMOGs relative to their subscription numbers

This is the main support I keep coming back to. EQ is a multi-million selling box, but never got much past 400k subscribers. But perhaps the people who left were merely powergamers of a different flavor? Perhaps those who tried EQ and quit went on to be non-casual gamers in AC, DAoC, or SW:G.

Box sales vs subscriptions is strong evidence, but it's not quite conclusive. At this point, I think only the non-subscription rate for players who tried playing a persistent game casually and quit would be conclusive evidence. Of course, only a few big publishers would have that data (SOE, MS, EA), and they're not likely to share :)

However, SOE's focus on that potential market (with the friendlier-than-EQ Planetside and SW:G), and EA's focus (with the friendlier UO:X) are pretty good indicators for those of us without direct data.

MMOGs cannibalize each others' players

In my experience, (thankfully for the genre) this has not yet happened. Players come, players go - but no persistent game to date has stolen large numbers of players from its predecessors. DAoC has grown not by taking active players from EQ/UO/AC, but by catching the attention of players who had already left those games.

Are levels really meaningful? I would argue that they're not. They're shallow, contrived, and serve no real purpose.

Devil's Advocates have the advantage of asking the occassional loaded question :)

truly I agree with you: (time investment) + (repetition) != (meaning) || (achievement)

Still, there is no denying the attachment that hardcore players place on their irrationally-uber-characters. They will pay monthly fees for games they hardly play anymore due solely to the attachment to those bits. That's a dependable revenue source that I'm certain publishers consider when thumbing through design docs.

Lateral advancement is a noble goal - but how do we strike a balance between new and old players? What happens when a community of the 'old guard' suddenly encounters 'fresh meat', who very quickly, change the entire way the game is played due their new tactics and skill. EQ is largely future-proof in this regard, as player skill plays such a minor role.

A true multiple-axis advancement system would constantly be under fire though. Does the ability for a new Hero to spring up overnight lessen the feeling of achievement?

I tend to think not, but we don't exactly have a live example to study. ... the bar has been set so low for MMOGs that there's nothing compelling people who aren't already involved in MMOGs to try them.

This is certainly an accurate, albeit sad, assessment of the genre. New MMO players are joining the genre to be sure, but fans from other genres aren't. Perhaps it's because of how hard level-based design makes it to indoctrinate a new friend (picking the right server, levelling, etc). Or more simply: watching someone play EQ is less fun than watching paint dry.

It's about choice.

Adding choice, is turning away from the tried-and-true.

It's not that you're undercutting the fun people find in EQ - it's that a company has to be convinced to invest millions in a game targetted at an audience that arguably may not even want to play an MMO, instead of churning out an incremental improvement in the proven style.

As for action MMOs... there may yet be technical hurdles keeping publishers away. World War 2 Online has a distinctly non-massive 64 unit visibility limit, and Planetside does client-side hitscan (not surprising there are/were hacks).

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

Dragoon412 (648209) | more than 10 years ago | (#8572288)

DAoC has grown not by taking active players from EQ/UO/AC, but by catching the attention of players who had already left those games.

That's sort of the same effect I was speaking of. I've never necessarily seen a population drop off because of a new game's launch. But in the same vein, I've also seen populations drop ostensibly because there are so many new games out, and most people don't seem to keep subscriptions to multiple MMOGs. So I guess it's not so much cannibalizing as it's sort of a swingers club for gamers; there's a pretty static population that's sort of just shuffled around.

Still, there is no denying the attachment that hardcore players place on their irrationally-uber-characters.

I'd be interested to see what the actual numbers are. I agree, it's probably a fairly significant number of people, but is that something that can really be quantified ahead of time?

What happens when a community of the 'old guard' suddenly encounters 'fresh meat', who very quickly, change the entire way the game is played due their new tactics and skill.

Honestly, I believe a perpetual shift in gameplay would be a really good thing. Constantly evolving warfare would be awesome; a hook to keep the game challenging and at least somewhat innovative.

And quite bluntly, screw the old players. I don't think action-based games cater to the old codger crowd, anyways; the level 50 guys in DAoC with a dozen master skills who think they're automatically entitled to beat the living snot out of everyone who has even a single less skill. You don't see that in UT; you don't see so_and_so raving that he should've killed some_random_newbie01 because so_and_so's been playing longer. So_and_so may be (hell, he probably is) raving, but at least it's not for that reason. ;)

It's actually funny you should mention that, because I had planned to (in my game that while almost assuredly never see the light of day) perpetuate such an effect by regularly updating technology, and having weather effects and a host of variables that not only reward the experienced players, but the smart players.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

*weasel (174362) | more than 10 years ago | (#8577393)

there's a pretty static population that's sort of just shuffled around.

For the most part I'd agree - though I contend that when hardcore gamers find the game design that truly speaks to them, they stay. The guys who are playing EQ right now don't honestly consider playing other games, and are even iffy on EQ2. They've been playing EQ for 5 years and never left.

Similarly with the other games -- when persistent world players put down roots in these games, they don't leave lightly. Many of them have yet to put down roots - but that, I feel, may be more an effect of personal preference not being beared out in the currently available designs.

To be honest, slight balance problems are the root cause of my leaving every persistent world I've played. If any one of them made a handful of changes, I might be just playing their game right now instead of having these discussions.

is that something that can really be quantified ahead of time?

not directly, no. What can be quantified is the resubscribe rate given modest attempts at 'upping the bar'. If you promise a new expansion and a few new levels every so often, how many fewer players will leave?

The strong attachment to the characters makes these hardcore players much more likely to 'tough it out' for fixes/patches/expansions. Publishers will be able to look at their data and see retention rate when there are no plans for 'something new', and when they plan a release an expansion that will allow players to 'advance' further.

a perpetual shift in gameplay would be a really good thing

Again, I agree wholeheartedly.

However, the key is how the current powergamers would react. These guys will dedicate hours to these games like a part-time job. They are the core of a game community, and largely determine its tone. Shifting the design in such a way that they are effectively never rewarded for having been there since day 1 might put them off.

I'm not saying they should be rewarded with gameplay dominance -- anything but. The reward though, has to be considered. There has to be benefit to sticking around, and currently - I don't know what that is.

But without a solid, dependable, core of online personas a casual-friendly game will be a community of strangers. Without community - persistence itself has little-to-no advantage over large-scale, free, one-off servers.

In every persistent world I've played, from small MUDs to commercial graphical MMOs, to small persistent NWN servers -- the hardcore players do form the community. In the MUDs (and nwnMUD, briefly) I've run, I see the same effect.

They might not be an inherently social core - but, well... they're always there. They know enough to be able to help others. They have enough to always be in a position to trade for goods.

Servers with predominantly casual players results in no-one recognizing anyone, no-one taking ownership, no-one setting consistent tone -- most people feeling alone in the crowd.

That's probably the most 'controversial' idea I have regarding casual-friendly design. At least, as applies to the casual-friendly design types. I do think powergamers are an absolute necessity for a persistent world, which seems to be Anathema to others who favor 'leveling the playing field'.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

Dragoon412 (648209) | more than 10 years ago | (#8578029)

They've been playing EQ for 5 years and never left.

As I understand it, though, EQ's tone, so to speak, is entirely different from just a couple years ago. Granted, it's 3rd-hand knowledge; I certainly won't touch the game, again, but a friend plays, and says that the days of whiney uber-guilds that dominate entire servers are largely past. The players seem older, more mature, and more laid-back. That definitely wasn't the case when I last played, shortly after Luclin launched.

It'd seem to indicate that the player base has undergone a fairly significant change since then. I agree; the remaining old-timers are probably pretty stalwart holdouts. But it would seem that it's not the same population of whiney, selfish, loot whoring pre-teens and adolescents I remember when I last played.

That this is case makes me think that even the hard-core populations will change from game to game, and over time.

Many of them have yet to put down roots - but that, I feel, may be more an effect of personal preference not being beared out in the currently available designs.

I couldn't agree more. I think the large problem is that the current MMO experience panders to one crowd alone; every game is fundamentally the same experience with some new, minor gimmick to set it apart. It's little wonder the market is so stagnant, and players are so nomadic (for lack of a better term).

The strong attachment to the characters makes these hardcore players much more likely to 'tough it out' for fixes/patches/expansions.

I know it comes across as excessively idealistic to say, but to me, this seems to be a mechanism for companies that know they have uninteresting gameplay, and need a hook. It's almost like an admission of their failure at the design table. I can just hear the pitch to the publishers now: "Yeah, we know our gameplay sucks; it's not compelling, it's not interesting, and it's not innovative, and has few, if any redeaming qualities. And we don't feel like putting forth the effort, or even bringing on some creative talent to change that, so instead, we're going to compensate by turning the entire game into a Skinner Box. We'll make it as psychologically addictive as possible!"

I think the whole addictiveness factor is a crutch for extremely weak gameplay. Maybe if any of these games had even remotely interesting combat systems, it wouldn't be so necessary.

And I know, it's being semantic, but to me, players' attachment to their characters seems repulsively superficial. Games like typical MMOGs that don't required skilled input from the user turn every player into a power-gaming munchkin. Characters are characters, they're poorly-animated, walking spreadsheets.

Shifting the design in such a way that they are effectively never rewarded for having been there since day 1 might put them off.

I've actually had some ideas for dealing with this, but I'm hesitant to speak about them. As, like most of the ideas I've had, there's really nothing like it in existing MMOGs...

There has to be benefit to sticking around, and currently - I don't know what that is.

Community. Ostensibly, players interested in MMO type games are more interested in social interaction than someone sitting at home playing the latest excersize in androgenous character design gone awry that Japan has crapped onto the PS2 and called a role playing game. So, I'd say, give 'em what they're there for: better social interaction. Design a game that facilitates community and comraderie, not loot whoring, bickering, and class whining.

Servers with predominantly casual players results in no-one recognizing anyone, no-one taking ownership, no-one setting consistent tone -- most people feeling alone in the crowd.

That's why the game needs to be designed from the ground up to recognize characters' accomplishments. You might not have met J_Random_Pilot before, but you know he's the guy that lead a commando unit in a suicide attack against an enemy resupply depot and won. Likewise, K_Random_Pilot may be some guy that you've never squared off against on the battlefield, but everyone knows that he's the guy that lead the team that leveled a large border city and destroyed your team's largest armor fabrication facility.

People are chatty by nature. They'll take care of the notability aspects, they just need to have an environment where their actions have meaning. I'm not saying that everyone gets to be a hero. I am saying that dynamic and player-driven environments are technologically possible (or will be within the next few years, anyways).

I do think powergamers are an absolute necessity for a persistent world, which seems to be Anathema to others who favor 'leveling the playing field'.

I agree. I talk about leveling the playing field, but I honestly mean creating an environment where casual players can learn without be griefed right out of their subscriptions by the hard-core gamers.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

*weasel (174362) | more than 10 years ago | (#8580881)

EQ's tone, so to speak, is entirely different from just a couple years ago

That may well be. Like you, I am on the outside looking in, with the added distance that comes with never having had a character over level 25.

AlThough my weekly-movie crowd contains several EQ players, and their discussions about current guild 'politics' indicate that many of the 'dynamics' which I consider core problems, still exist. But we're well off-topic here :)

every game is fundamentally the same experience with some new, minor gimmick to set it apart

I think largely the same will be true when casual-friendly design hits. The big problem now is that the core experience now is only seen as 'fun' by about a couple million gamers.

I've actually had some ideas for dealing with this, but I'm hesitant to speak about them. As, like most of the ideas I've had, there's really nothing like it in existing MMOGs...

Please, share. Most of my ideas [blogspot.com] are thoroughly off the wall already. Actual 'new' ideas are what I thrive on, and the only ideas worth talking about :) do share.

give 'em what they're there for: better social interaction.

Is better social interaction a reward then? Or by facilitating better social interaction do they get over the fact that new competition can spring up overnight?

That's why the game needs to be designed from the ground up to recognize characters' accomplishments.

I agree wholeheartedly here as well. Recognition of actual accomplishment (not XP gain from doing the same thing over and over) is a core requirement for rewarding players in a game with a level playing field.

The question then becomes, how can we recognize through mechanics, the types of accomplishments that depend largely on subjective assessment? In-game communications media rely largely on being verifiable (given the amorphous nature of the community). It will work more fluidly if we have a way to allow players to verify claims of 'who's a good leader'. How do we let players determine in-game if J_Random_Pilot is a better leader for the current mission than K_Random_Pilot?

Do we create an official 'leader' label that is applied through raid participant voting? Do we create systems so that there exist certain 'official' objectives for raiding, and the elected 'leader' carries a persistent success rate at achieving assigned objectives?

I am saying that dynamic and player-driven environments are technologically possible (or will be within the next few years, anyways)

I think player-driven content and dynamic environments are a technical possibility now. The bulk of static-content decisions are all rooted in the same 'tried and true' business decisions.

Level-based design pretty much requires such massive quantities of content that content must be static, and predominantly Player vs Environment.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 10 years ago | (#8574616)

I don't have any hard numbers to support it, but it seems to be that with development times on MMOGs taking so much longer than other games, selling them at the same price point, which is the current practice* as other games would mean less profit, or possibly even taking a loss per unit sold

MMORPGs don't inherently take longer to develop than other games, nor take more development resources. DAoC, for example, took 18 months, with a total budget of $1.5 million, which is quite similar to single-player games developed around the same time.

There are interesting postmortems of many recent games, written by the developers or producers of those games, at Gamasutra, which give development times and budgets. That's where I got the numbers for DAoC, and that's where I compared it to several single player games.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

Dragoon412 (648209) | more than 10 years ago | (#8575309)

I'll have to check those out...

Although, in all fairness, DAoC was very small, game-wise. The land masses were small, animations and art very simplistic, there are very few abilities, and there just plain wasn't much content. Even class design was very simplistic, with each class being a slight variant on the other realms' analog. Even with both it's expansions, it still pales compared EverQuest at release (once again, in terms of content).

Not to bash DAoC, but there really doesn't seem like there was all that much to develop. I'd be more interested in the development times and budgets of the likes of FFXI or EverQuest, or even AC2.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

L7_ (645377) | more than 10 years ago | (#8575829)

Yeah, and I believe that DAoC used a canned engine and middleware server code while most other games wrote thier graphics engine and server protocols from the ground up (which isn't neccesarily a good thing!).

That could be why the development cycle was so short. ;-)

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 10 years ago | (#8575540)

Actually skill based games tend to discourage casual players. It takes about the same amount of time to learn tricks, techniques and skills to become a better player in skill based games as it takes to "level up" in RPG type games.
RPG style MMORPGs are very popular with casual players because you can take breaks do other things, relax, watch tv, cook and still "level up"

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (1)

jafuser (112236) | more than 10 years ago | (#8581315)

Anyways, without getting into a rant about what's wrong with MMOGs, just watch: the first person to make a more skill-based MMOG (be it FPS-style, or more sim-ish) that appeals to casual gamers (i.e. no systems like "levels" that only fragment the player base, or absurd time requirements to advance) will be a very, very wealthy individual.

See Second Life. The name is kinda corny, but it is exactly what you describe. There are no skills other than your actual RL skills at creativity. On top of that, the users create nearly all the content, and have a lot of flexibility, including access to VM-oriented scripting for anything you create.

Best yet, this is the only online "game" I've seen that has a non-recurring (one time) payment option ($10), and only admits people 18+ in age. It's nice to enjoy a mature MMO environment for a change.

I joined back in November when /. ran an article about when they announced you own everything you create, but I wish I had joined sooner instead of wasting my time with SWG. There's nearly a zero probability that I'll go back to another online game where "crafting" is "creating objects which have already been modeled, textured, and scripted for behavior by the game developer". I'd rather do that myself, thank you very much.

Re:But they are the shape of things to come. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8595346)

Middle Earth Online was done by the same people who made Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings.

It was a bug ridden crap fest with no creative gameplay elements and tons of "Monster=Tougher=more Hitpoints=Longer2Kill"

Frankly, I dont see anything good coming out of Middle Earth for MMORPGS.

intellectual property owners have the last say. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567204)

I'd like to add that very often developers don't have a choice with what they can do with a licence.

As an example, look at the licenced properties in racecar games. Until recently, licenced car brands weren't even allowed to *take damage* in a race. The car companies thought it was bad that the representations of their products might get broken when the player ran into a wall at 150mph. The car companies have now started to lighten up as they get used to working with developers - but it's a similar thing with MMORPGs - or any other game that uses licenced intellectual property.

The owner of that property doesn't want it acting in any way that would be contradictory to their valuable image. This inherently hurts any game that you try to build using the licence. You can't do anything unpredictable, and certainly can't kill off a well-known non-player character for the sake of furthering an original plot. For example, say you were adapting the Lord Of The Rings to a videogame. Here's my take on it:

Act 1, Level 1, prelude cutscene: Sam dies and nobody cares.

I think it would make a much better *game* to eliminate the whiny characters to build dramatic tension (or comedic relief), but the licencing rules would probably say that Sam must make it through to the end of the game because the story has to follow that of the book and movies. And in a MMO game, it gets worse. Because:

(1) There was only one Han Solo - duplicate characters are kind of stupid. If there were thirty people walking around all claiming to be Darth Vader it would just be silly.

(2) Even if I could play Han Solo, I'd want to hunt Ewoks - but this goes totally against character. As such, George Lucas would not want to allow me the choice of doing this because it will tarnish Han Solo and just look wrong to the eyes of the other players.

So if you cut out the major characters, this leaves you with playing the background characters that nobody really cared about in the movie. You've got the world - environments, cultures and the physics of how that world works - but that's pretty much it.

Re:intellectual property owners have the last say. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567456)

There is a relevent anecdote about a Lucasfilm Indiana Jones License dictating that Indy was not allowed to die at /any/ point in the game.

Good luck with that.

Re:intellectual property owners have the last say. (5, Insightful)

notamac (750472) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567730)

I think the best example of getting around this kind of stuff is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Whilst not an MMO at all, it was still a decent RPG in its own right, and it was interesting because it placed you as a major character in the Star Wars universe... just not at the same time as the trilogy (and its lacklustre prequil trilogy) occured: instead it placed you 4000 years before hand.

In doing so, it gave the game designers great freedom in how the developed characters, whilst still holding true to everything that is Star Wars (the force, light side, dark side, sand people, jawa, etc...)

Methinks this is the way that future MMO's should go in adapting licenses to games.

Dont expect... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567310)

...licenses to be a problem. Matrix in itself is a problem for a game.
"How did you just go through that wall?"
"I don't know, I pay $40 a month just to play this crap!"

Not just with licenses (3, Interesting)

MMaestro (585010) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567441)

do licenses bring excessive expectations to a persistent world where everyone wants to be the hero?

Yes and beyond that. Technology today is allowing people to do things in games better than we could've imagined. Nowadays simple press releases have to be carefully worded since the simple mention of an "online world" could mean MMO, or "mature theme" could mean a survival horror type game. Its not just video game licenses that can be tagged with huge unattainable expectations, a company could also generate the same (or more in some cases) amount of hype which ultimately leads to a bad game or bad reviews.

Re:Not just with licenses (4, Insightful)

Ayaress (662020) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567697)

It's a different kind of problem, though. This isn't just about expectations in gameplay and quality that hype builds up - this is expectations in the game design and content that years of reading books, watching movies or TV shows, and following an immense existing body of "knowledge" on how Middle Earth or the Star Wars universe or the Matrix works.

When we first heard about, say, the Elderscrolls games, or everquest, we had no preconcieved notions of how the world behind the games functions, because it's new to us.

With non-MMO games based on licenses, there's a step up. Fans of the previous works already have some knowledge of the game world, but a single player game is easily constrained in ways to make it work.

Now, the step up to a licensed MMO game. First, you can't constrain them, since the game world has to be functional. Second, you have to have a LOT more content in the game, and it still has to fit the existing concept of what the world is like. Star Wars is probably the worst of them, since the book series has set forth a storyline from before Episode I until several decades after Episode VI.

Plus, in these game worlds, the fans have always known them through the eyes of the Great Hero. That works good in a single player game, because it's ok if you have 50,000 players out there all playing as Legolas or Luke Skywalker in that case.

But an MMO game takes place through the eyes of a slightly above-average person for the most part. Who the fuck is this Wookie named Sheyan, and why is he dancing? Everybody wants to be the hero, they all want to be Jedi, but that's not the way MMORPGs work.

Licensing can suck (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567654)

Licenses also work against games that I'd otherwise play, but hate the license.

I was looking for a good RPG to play a few months ago, right around when KOTOR came out. I absolutely despise Star Wars, so I didn't pick it up until just recently. And, barring all the Star Wars crap, it's pretty good.

Re:Licensing can suck (1)

robbway (200983) | more than 10 years ago | (#8570335)

I feel the same way. I always assume a licensed title is just some game engine that has the license "worked in." This is especially with newer movies, since the games come out simultaneously--they couldn't possibly be done in the timeframe of shooting the movie unless very buggy or very generic.

World Design (3, Insightful)

xanderwilson (662093) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567736)

There's an great old AD&D book, called "World Building" or something like that, and it helped me immensely as I was doing stuff like this for fiction. It talked, I believe, about the difference between top-down world creation vs. "create as you go" creation. It's easier to create exciting and new landscapes and situations when you use the latter, but you might run into problems. You eliminate those problems by creating, say, the ecosystems and weather and geography first, and then the politics and histories, etc. But that might lead to less exciting stuff at first and it might be a lot of work in vain if you never get a chance to use more than a small patch of grass before you realize nobody's interested.

Alex.

Re:World Design (1)

gauauu (649169) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567989)

I think you're talking about the "Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb guide" which was the stupidest name for the best book about DM'ing and world creation.

Re:World Design (2, Informative)

bluemeep (669505) | more than 10 years ago | (#8570207)

No, I'm pretty sure it's the "World Builder's Guidebook [amazon.com] " he's talking about. Which really is a pretty darn handy thing to keep on-hand if you need to build a believable kingdom/town/planet every now and again.

Resident Evil (2, Interesting)

ronfar (52216) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567752)

Resident Evil was an unlicensed video game adaptation of Zombie which, I believe, is the overseas name for Dawn of the Dead (the 1970's version). The creator acknowledges he was inspired by Zombie but of course the idea of zombies are in the public domain and he didn't have to have any kind of IP license from the people who own Dawn of the Dead. (Who would have had less chance of prevailing in court than Universal did when they took Nintendo to court for the similarities between King Kong and Donkey Kong.) Now, if they come out with a video game based on the remake of Dawn of the Dead it will have limitations that Resident Evil didn't have to put up with.

Resident Evil has all kinds of stuff that wasn't in Dawn of the Dead, Hunters, zombie dogs, sharks, ravens, etc... If they had had to follow the movie license exactly, they wouldn't have been able to put all that stuff in there.

Re:Resident Evil (1)

John Gaming Target (721410) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568235)

While there are plenty of similarities between Resident Evil and the Night of the Living Dead series, I really don't see how it's even an indirect adaptation of anything.

Zombies are a universal monster and just because you use that for a story doesn't make it connected in anyway to the most popular version of that character.

But if you've got a cite I'd love to read it.

licences (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8567769)

remember all the hype for star wars? the frothing fans? how much do you hear about it now?

in many cases a licence is a development roadblock. look at the numerous movie to game conversions. take that already difficult senario and add thousands of players, and economy, government, social system, and hundereds of items and you have a train wreck waiting to happen. add to that the players preconceived notions, and it turns into a snowballs chance in hell situation. i'm amazed they have done what they have, but they won't come close to the leaders in the genera.

it would probably take and effort 10 times or better than the famed goldeneye to game conversion. i don't envy these designers in the least...

Villainy (3, Insightful)

1WingedAngel (575467) | more than 10 years ago | (#8567938)

"[D]o licenses bring excessive expectations to a persistent world where everyone wants to be the hero?"

Actually, from what I've seen, the difficulty would lie in the number of people who want to be the villain. It is a very popular role, but, unfortunately, one that the game developers never really flesh out. Villains, by nature, do dastardly, nasty, things that game developers (and the companies holding the license) don't want to give the characters freedom to do.

Re:Villainy (2, Funny)

UrgleHoth (50415) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568159)

Existing MMORPGs DO have villians, and plenty of them. They are called griefers.

Re:Villainy (1)

TiggsPanther (611974) | more than 10 years ago | (#8577813)

Villains, by nature, do dastardly, nasty, things that game developers (and the companies holding the license) don't want to give the characters freedom to do.
Existing MMORPGs DO have villians, and plenty of them. They are called griefers.

Again, that's part of the problem. Not only do the designers/license-holders not like people to play the real villains, it seems that neither do the other players.

But how do you deal, otherwise, if you're trying to play an evil character. And/or if rather than trying to me a Famous Hero, you want to eb an Infamous Villain.
If you go about it, it seems pretty much like all you'll do is raise the irritatin of your fellow-players. Being the Evil Git just won't work out - but sometimes it should, y'know?

After all, if you're in an RPG where Alignment counts, surely you're actually role-playing and in character (apparently important things to do in these RPGs...) - well somehow I think killing off a weaker character is going to be more realistic than helping or even ignoring them.

In a way, it's a double-edged drawback to these games. Most have a monthgly subscription, but you'll probably never be the Real hero, and aren't allowed to be a Real Villain. I'd rather same the money, and buy another offline game instead.

Tiggs

Re:Villainy (1)

UrgleHoth (50415) | more than 10 years ago | (#8589512)

I made a terse comment which was interpreted as funny, but I was actually serious.
I mostly agree with what you say.
As we've seen, ignoring bad behavior has not worked, therefore MMO game designers have a tough choice, either insulate players from "villians" or incorporate villainous behavior into the game mechanics, allowing players to act maliciously at will, but with consequences. I see it as an example of the "freedom to" vs "freedom from" dichotomy. It's not totally mutually exclusive, but close enough for some basic analysis. If the players are protected from other players, they gain "freedom from" but lose "freedom to."

The protectionist policy is by far eaiser to implement and seems so far to appease the most players, hence better to the bottom line. But the incorporation policy provides a much richer environment. I see two basic ways to implement game balance to allow malicious players the "freedom" to grief, but also protect weaker players from them. Both involve some sort of policing. Given that there are only npcs (including mobs) and pcs, the police have to be drawn from either. Player character policing requires a strong stable player community and probably an effective justice system. MUDs do well here as there is a small tight knit community, but it breaks down when the population grows.
NPC policing is more effective in a larger community, but the rules have to be incorporated in the game "AI," which has it own problems of maintaining balance and fairness.
One option is to have the game system record griefing behavior and have kill or capture.

This could be localized to race/alignment. Orc griefing Elf would increase the danger of the orc villian in elf community, but not in the orc community. Orc griefing orc would increase danger.

So the penalties for griefing are built into the game. The players can do it, but at increasingly severe consequences in guarded regions. Perhaps there could be bounty hunters scouring the wild lands for griefers to kill or capture, making the hunters the hunted.

To conclude, I think the current MMO developer community is being unimaginative in implementing game balance. These are just some options. There's got to be plenty more, but what is needed are more creative carrots and sticks to shape player behavior and interaction, ultimately allowing a richer gaming experience.

Just don't be the hero. (5, Interesting)

LNO (180595) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568081)

It sounds so simple, doesn't it?

I currently play SW:G with two good friends. We group together occasionally, and they're steadily grinding through professions to unlock their force-sensitive slot (that is, to have the ability to make a Jedi character). Being a Jedi holds absolutely no interest for me.

I can't be Han Solo, and I knew that going in. Instead, I'm Jawbone Mandible, owner and proprietor of McJawbone's Golden Mandibles, fast food to the galaxy. I can't even kill a crippled Ewok, but I can whip up some bio-engineered food that's in high demand. Want to take absolutely no damage from the next five attacks? Drink some Flameout; I'll sell you a glass of 6 drinks for only a couple hundred credits.

There are many players who desperately want to become the hero, have their lightsaber, pretend to be Darth Maul that they spend hours grinding boring professions to do it. There are those who want millions of credits so they can buy their way through some professions, and so they try to sell food at inflated prices.

I'm able to undersell them (fun for me!) and get a pile of money (more fun still!), and since I have absolutely nothing to do with it .. I've hit a wall.

If I wanted to be a Jedi, I'd burn through those tens of millions in a heartbeat. Since my friends want to be a Jedi, and they gave me some seed money to start when I created Jawbone, I give them a couple million credits apiece each week as 'investment dividends'. With the rest of it ...

Well, want 100,000cr to jump into the Sarlacc pit and take a screenshot? Here ya go.

1,000cr for each second you can spend alive within melee range of a Krayt dragon?

500,000cr to the first player to race from Mos Espa on Tatooine to Jaxian Bay on Naboo, get an item from my friend acting as the relay point, and get back to me?

The list goes on. Basically, if you want to rewrite the saga, it ain't gonna happen. Everyone's gonna want to rewrite the saga. Barring a player lottery in which one lucky person gets to be Main Character Foo, you're relegated to a background character. Make the most of it, or play a different game.

Re:Just don't be the hero. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8568291)

Dude - that sounds as boring as hell. Why don't you just work at McDonalds doing the exact same thing and make actual real-life human dollars?

Re:Just don't be the hero. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8568530)

the fact that hes paying real money to do this makes it even sadder

Re:Just don't be the hero. (1)

inkless1 (1269) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568796)

>Make the most of it, or play a different game.

Deal! Truly, that has to be best description of why I'll never, ever play SW:G.

Re:Just don't be the hero. (5, Interesting)

b0r0din (304712) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568920)

Being a Jedi holds absolutely no interest for me.

I'm glad you feel that way, but unfortunately you're in the minority.

If you ask me, there are two inherent problems with any MMORPG: the heroism dilemna and the villain dilemna.

How do you create a game in which each individual desires to be a hero? And how do you create a game in which villains are more rare?

Now as far as the heroism dilemna goes, it's very simple. You've got thousands of people on one server, the competition to be #1 or even legendary is very fierce. In a FPS, there's maybe 4-8 people in competition with each other, and it's more even a battle. In an MMORPG, you've got maybe 50-100 people all vying for top dog, all wanting to be the hero of legend, in some cases taking names like SirLanceslot or something similar. People want to be noticed, to be famous.

Well it's just not possible. Most (and not all, as in your example) don't want to be a simple security guard. They have those jobs out of game, it's called working in a cubicle farm or Walmart. They want to wield the sword of destiny or be part of a moving plotline.

Personally, I don't think MMORPGs will ever solve this dilemna. They can't devote enough time to be personal to each individual player and remain profitable. Possibly in the future, someone will come up with a ruleset that solves this problem, or maybe AI will become so good as to solve it. But I'm fairly doubtful. Smaller non-masive MORPGS would be ok, but we've yet to see a really good implementation. (I don't really consider NWN that although it's close, the graphics and worlds need to be better and less Lineage-like.)

The other dilemna is the villain dilemna. This one isn't so much a problem, it can be reasonably handled. But it applies to griefers. How do you prevent people from being complete jerks, stealing kills, killing other players in a PK environment, etc?

The answer is pretty simple: a self-policing society. But how do you self-police a society when everyone wants to be a hero and not a security guard? Maybe a few people would want to be the griefer-slayer, but not many.

Now, you could do a couple of things for both of these.

The problem with most people is wanting to be the hero without doing anything heroic. There's nothing heroic about slaying foo 20hrs/day like every other MMORPG that rewards the person who spends more time on the game. What is heroism, anyway? In the chivalrous sense, it's putting your life in danger for another. You have to risk something to be a hero. In a lot of examples, you have to die or be horribly maimed. Well, how to apply that to an MMORPG? Realism wouldn't hurt - or would it? Maybe people lose limbs, are horribly disfigured, or die regularly. Permadeath. Maybe that's what the society needs. That's skill-based, it forces players to be strategic and careful in combat. But it's not popular.

Now, let's use this in a society, let's just say medieval-fantasy since that is overdone right now. You are a local blacksmith. You don't fight, you just make really nice swords. You are rewarded for your swordmaking with lots of money from players who rely on your ability. You don't die so your skill level increases. Every once in a while, you make a masterpiece. Maybe only once or twice in the game, sort of by accident. This sword is so special that you can only give it to the right person. Maybe you're fitting into a bigger game plot that you aren't aware of. You're a part of that world's history at that point. You fit a niche. And you aren't dying.

Now, the other people who want to be heroes can go ahead and fight for fame and so on. But they die and permadeath takes hold and they don't retain their hero status. The real heroes would be revealed in this sort of society because of their skill. Maybe instead of level, there are certain incarnations of heroes. You may die a lot, but if you are smart and become a hero through certain deeds and then die, you retain some of what you had even though you are dead again. Maybe that's stats or money, who knows?

Money is of course a whole different issue. Let's just say there aren't good means to making the game a money sink.

Anyway, I think permadeath, if implemented correctly, would make for a much more interesting game with less level 50 warriors with Swords of Doom running around doing the same thing over and over and not risking anything. I'd rather play an unpopular and interesting MMORPG than a fscking Skinner box. But then, Skinner boxes are profitable, right? So what would change that?

Re:Just don't be the hero. (1)

JohnLi (85427) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569367)

Some ideas:

I have been playing the Knight Online beta for a few weeks now and am to a point where I have nothing new to do. There may be new areas to explore, but I wouldn't know or care. I've already reached the point of boredom...sure I can kill bigger monsters, but those monsters are just like the ones that I was just killing...stupid hamster wheel.

Anyway I got to thinking about what would make it better. The first thing I thought of was to get rid of the teleporting in the game. Town portal spells are ok, but general transit just takes away from the locales.

Next I was thinking about quests. Every quest for every player is the same. Most are just collecting an amount of an item and delivering it. Pizza boy quests are boring. Why not, once you are in a party, have an npc generated that comes looking for you...to ask for help, or pay your party to do something for him. Make it so there was a reason to visit the towns other than dumping goods or buying potions. Having clan or personal structures for those npcs to visit would help that too. quests could even involve a smaller clan bringing a message to a larger clan... "there is a big bad xxx in xxx and we need uberclans help". Maybe make it so that the monsters/npc's/items for the quest are only viewable to your party...to avoid uberclan stumbling upon your target and wiping it out before you can.

Make things more personal in the game instead of treating each player the same. make the quests unique enough where there is a story to tell others. "Man you should have seen what we did the other day!!!" More important may be permanent world consequences for actions. If your quest is to go find and destroy a group of xxx's camped somewhere in the woods like you were asked, some sort of proliferation should take place if you fail..more come...they move closer..increase the ammount of cause and affect. that could generate other quests...

Overall there needs to be less "random acts of violence" and more personal involvement.

The idea of weapons needs to change too. why does everyone get an uberweaponofdeath? fantasy? it just makes it boring. make it so that monsters don't drop unrealistic things... why does a large doglike creature carry 2k worth of money? or a worm creature with a full plate helm +3 super fire attack? make it so that if you want cash you have to find a quest where money is involved. let the npc's pay for more stuff. and not in the way they do now. more services need to be generated that players want to buy. in most of these games you cannot sell your services, or even buy them for that matter. If I need to get a specific item from a specific place, its hard to pay a group of ppl to help you. maybe its because the money if not that valuable.

Anyway...endless rant. id like to hear others ideas.

Re:Just don't be the hero. (2, Interesting)

miyako (632510) | more than 10 years ago | (#8572977)

I've been working on designing a persistant world for Neverwinter Nights, and I have been considering many of the points that you brought up.
The first thing I thought of was to get rid of the teleporting in the game. Town portal spells are ok, but general transit just takes away from the locales. Teleporting is definitely a double edged sword, I think the best way to handle this, and what I have been working on is to allow players to travel to specific locations they have already visited. Essentially the way I am handling this is that in most of the interesting locations, there are mages who run teleportation booths. Sometimes they are out in the open, sometimes they are hidden in secret areas. When you run accross one of them, you can buy a warp coin which will allow you to teleport back to that location a set number of times. The cost and number of uses depends on how exotic the spot is.
Creating seemingly personalized quests is at the top of the list of "Hard Things To Do", the trick I have been using is a series of branching quests to make the quests seem more personal.
While this might not scale well, in this persistant world which will have about 60 people max, there will be 3 or 4 initial paths that a player can start out on, depending mainly on their alignment. Within each of these paths, there will be some branching depending on what quests have been completed. For example, if someone has already completed the "Kill the bandits in the forest" quest (just an example), then the next player would find a "Kill the troll under the bridge" quest. The plan is to have these 4 main paths and their branches intertwine and cycle in such a way that what previous people have done will effect the game, and will start back at the previous point at such a times as the players who have already completed earlier tasks will no longer have much to do in the areas that the quests they completed are starting over in.
Timing is going to play a big part in this and will require a lot of testing, but hopefull it will end up working for most players.
Weapons and monster dropped items is another area I've had a large focus on. Essentially I plan to eliminate "random treasure" and focus instead of collecting sellable items. For example, if the party goes up against a pack of giant spiders, they will be able to collect venom from the spiders to sell to alchemists and potion makers, or to use in magically enchanting their items.
One thing I hope to do is add the ability for players to specialize in creating items out of some of these materials. For example a mage merchant character might be able to pay a group of fighters to escort him into the ruins of an ancient library infested with undead so he can obtain scrolls that will teach him to make a powerful bone wand out of the bones of a lich. Or perhaps a blacksmith character is willing to pay top dollar for junk parts of a mythril golem in order to forge one of a kind weapons.
I think though the reason that these types of things are not present in games like EQ is that companies looking to make money on a game are afraid to take a gamble that people will want to play the part of a blacksmith, or that people will get mad they missed out on part of the quest.

Re:Just don't be the hero. (1)

JohnLi (85427) | more than 10 years ago | (#8575141)

What about the idea of assigning people to particular things? maybe another player(newb trainer, battalion commander) who would act as a semi-uniuqe home base...maybe have one leader per 10-20 players, or separated by class. this way they could be "auto paired" to get interaction going in different instances. this would also allow players to be assigned tasks by the characters or people near his base(creating more unique quests). make it so that a player who is one of these trainers could have a feeling of accomplishment...maybe even put them in a mission creator position thru some predefined menu or something... make an area for mass communication, and make moving to another "base" an option that can be granted easily.

I like what you said about mission/world items being used in more complicated, combigned ways. helps to esablish an economy.

the other thing to consider may be the Level situation. with predefined lvls granting predefined points to skills you have a situation where older players that should be playing with and teaching newer players are distanced dramaticly. there needs to be another way to signify strength/experience/knowlege and still keep people attached to one another. perhaps a more litteral training method. if you completed more study activities....represented in a non redundant way....you would raise your int. did workouts, more strength. in turn use that to gain your lvls.

I have more ideas but as i thought of them they seemed to have some holes..need a bit more thought.

Re:Just don't be the hero. (1)

miyako (632510) | more than 10 years ago | (#8575749)

One of the things I want to accomplish with the branching storyline is to having unique roles for players in the story. Instead of having players told "you will be playing the part of x in the group y" I want the many levels of branches from each of the stories to create those niches so that the player feels like they are choosing that predefined role.
Doing this is one of the biggest tricks in game design, crafting the flow of the game in such a way as the player chooses to follow one of the only few available paths, thereby creating the illusion of limitless possibilities in a limited world.
The level situation might not be bad for a new game, but for a D&D based game levels are a requirment. The thing is, finding a way to balance the level system out. The way I plan to handle experience is a task based system. Killing creatures may give you a little experience, but if you are a good character at least, your alignment will probably change before you ever gain a substantial number of levels just slaughtering random creatures. Instead, characters will be awarded for completing tasks.
Items that raise specific ability scores will also be given, but they will tend to be more rare than they are in most games of the type.

Re:Just don't be the hero. (1)

deanj (519759) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569341)

I'm able to undersell them (fun for me!) and get a pile of money (more fun still!), and since I have absolutely nothing to do with it .. I've hit a wall.

That's exactly why I quit SWG.

Well duh... (1)

inkless1 (1269) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568766)

that's true of any licensed game - unless it's medium is so far removed from myth/fictional world that nobody can object. I don't think even the biggest LucasGeek looks to be jedi if they're playing "Attack of the Clones Tetris", but they're expecting more from "Jedi Knights VS Capcom" - but even then not as much as anything with RPG or FPS in the title.

Add in a persistent world and 1000 other geeks, and surely you have raised the bar of expectation.

Excuses (0)

Hythlodaeus (411441) | more than 10 years ago | (#8568952)

This sounds like a lame excuse for MMOG developers.

Can't think outside the Everquest clone box? Blame the license and the fans.

MMO != best use of license (2, Insightful)

t1nman33 (248342) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569169)

The MMO is a good format for a game, but it is not always the BEST way to get large numbers of people playing together at one time. MMOs are best-suited to worlds where there is little or no prexisting fiction, where players themselves create the epic battles--like the recent Everquest adventure when players banded together to kill an unkillable monster.

Part of the problem with games like SWG is that everybody wanted to play as Boba Fett, or Luke Skywalker, or Han Solo. Nobody wanted to play as Stormtrooper #4 or Rebel Soldier #17 or Young Shopkeeper or Man on Bantha.

The action revolves around a few heroes. Why should players go through the trouble of inventing backstory and drama and their own adventures when those things have already been created for them?

IMHO, if the same framework for SWG had been used as the framework for an anonymous Sci-Fi MMO, with none of the trappings of Star Wars, I think it would have been more successful. There are GREAT tools in that game for creating communities, for making up your own adventures, for running a fun, playable world.

But when everybody knows that the "greatest" adventures have already been had--the Battle of Yavin, etc.--there's no incentive to try to do better, because the fiction has already established that it can't be done. In this situation, then, the fiction turns out to be a limiting factor, not a building one.

Re:MMO != best use of license (2, Interesting)

Marc_Hawke (130338) | more than 10 years ago | (#8570650)

This is how I feel. There were two things that made me never even concider SW:G.

1. The official site required you to make an account and log in just to look at the RESULTS of the poll on their front page. I can understand logging in to vote, or to post on the forums, or even READ the forums in extreme cases....but to log in just to look at the results of a poll was insane. I wrote to the webmaster saying that I would never go back to his site again. (And only broke that twice that I know of.) (I'll admit, I was being petty, but dangit...I'm allowed to be petty with my own time. :) )

2. The main reason I didn't care to follow SW:G was because it was Star Wars. The bits of information that I did glean sounded good. The artwork was excellent. It seemed like a high-quality product. BUT!! It was Star Wars. There was no way I wanted to spend my time with a million fruit-cake fans. The 'gamer maturity' (that has nothing to do with actual maturity, just with how well you play games and interact in a gaming environment) level was instantly cut by 75% simply because of that license.

Not to mention the message boards. There was ONE!! topic. There were 30 million threads, but ONE topic. "Being a Jedi" There were no other conversations. It was incredible. It was disgusting.

They should make another one. SoE should take the technology, the game systems, the CS departments, ie and make another game. They could use the same code-base, just spend a while making all new artwork and nomeclature, and make a new 'non-Star Wars' mmorpg. They could use the same CS staff, and the same infrastructure.

They should at least make a pretense of doing it as a different company though. Think of the money they'd save in development and maintanence. They'd also have much more freedom of expression on this 'alternate world.'

Anyway... It was specifically Star Wars that chased me away from SW:G....and I LIKE Star Wars.

Re:MMO != best use of license (2, Interesting)

t1nman33 (248342) | more than 10 years ago | (#8571508)

Sure, I know what you mean. I hung out on the SWG boards for a year or more, I beta tested, I signed up for a year and played the game pretty hardcore for awhile.

But in the end, the problem for me was that all the really exciting parts of Star Wars had to do with either grand battles or being a hero, and you have trouble doing that in an MMO.

Frankly, I get far more enjoyment playing Unreal Tournament and pretending to be part of an army fighting to capture power nodes than I did in weeks upon weeks of roleplaying and crafting and exploration in SWG. After awhile, all those beautiful trees and sand dunes and creatures just became eye candy with no real excitement or sense of accomplishment beyond grinding and the occasional interaction. And I find that I feel more interaction with members of a random team playing a round of Onslaught.

Re:MMO != best use of license (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8575969)

Meh, I want to be Stormtrooper #4... and looking at games like Ragnarok Online, there seems to be plenty of shopkeeper-types, and from what I remember of Neocron, plenty of gunsmith-types, and even implant doctors.

To me it seems like the main problem with licensed games (assuming that this is the overabundance of people who want to be "special" {hero/villain}) would be bad for any game, but mostly seems to arise primarily because it's licensed. People don't necessarily always want to be the hero in other games.

Although the fact that the problem arises may be resultant from design defects common to licenced games. In Neocron, at least, it was pretty easy to specialize in a non-combatative position...

Lisenced games can be a bigger advantage. (1)

ssand (702570) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569775)

Personally I feel that a lisenced game with a preexisting world, like middle earth, can add alot more to the game. With such a well developed world, game designers already have story, detail, and world outlines to follow, making it easier for the producers to design a game, and allow gamers to feel a greater connection to the world, from other sources of media.

I can't help remembering... (2, Insightful)

freeBill (3843) | more than 10 years ago | (#8570068)

...all the people who said this same kind of thing about "The Lord of the Rings."

Even Tolkien himself suggested that all the fans had their own visions of the trilogy in their heads and any attempt to put it on film was going to fail to meet those expectations.

Then along came a guy named Peter Jackson.

Re:I can't help remembering... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8575849)

Even Tolkien himself suggested that all the fans had their own visions of the trilogy in their heads and any attempt to put it on film was going to fail to meet those expectations.
And he was right.

All Laid Out (1)

robbway (200983) | more than 10 years ago | (#8570437)

In theory, the games with licenses should be easier. Let's say you're a blank slate. Now you're to write a game of commercial quality. How about you have a theme already picked out like Star Wars. Not you suddenly know all of your main characters, your fictional science, your real science, your subplot, your main plots (if you're allowed to use them). Can't use the main plots? Change the characters and settings.

So they should be easier! However, the micromanagement of the license holders and the businessmen giving you "Bible compliance" and deadlines when they don't understand programming at all? There's the problem.

Re:All Laid Out (1)

TiggsPanther (611974) | more than 10 years ago | (#8596896)

This is what I personally liked about Enter the Matrix.
It certainly wasn't the greatest game ever made. It wasn't even that ground-breaking, gameplay-wise. But it took what must have been a pretty risky step. Rather than focusing on the main characters, you played a couple of otherwise minor characters. But, they were certainly involved in the plot.

Yes, the game could have been better. But if they'd gone the standard route of You Play The Main Characters And Follow The Movie Plot As Closely As We Can then chances are it'd have been a lot worse.
And I guess it's the same with License-based MMO games. If you can't play The Heroes, then a game has to make sure you really feel like you're a contributing part of the world.

Tiggs

Depends on the License (2, Interesting)

NedR (701006) | more than 10 years ago | (#8571092)

Whether or not a license would be more difficult to turn into a MMOG seems like it would sort of depend on the license. For example, take two different Sci-Fi licenses that are being turned into MMOGs; The Matrix and Dune. On the one hand, you have The Matrix, which is relatively easy to recognize, because it's based for the most part on the world we live in right now, with a few changes. Also, part of the beauty of The Matrix is that it's all about breaking the rules, and as a result, many of the smaller ideas are left to the imagination, and can be tweaked by developers for gameplay purposes.

Dune is just the opposite. Frank Herbert meticulously built a completely alien universe from the ground up (though he borrowed liberally from many different historical periods). People who have not read the books and are just getting into it may end up a little overwhelmed, and even worse for developers (although fantastic for fan boys like myself), Herbert chose to write about almost every single aspect of the universe in meticulous, almost obsessive detail, meaning there's a lot that would have to be packed in to please nitpickers.

Re:Depends on the License (1)

bugbread (599172) | more than 10 years ago | (#8576887)

Good post. I disagree completely, but I don't think your opinions are invalid.

The problem with a Matrix game is that it is based on a movie with, essentially, one real hero and a few sidekicks. Although it would be interesting to try to be another great hero, the license is one that will attract people who want to be Neo. This parallels with SWG, where one might decide to be a Jabba type smuggler baron, but instead everyone wants to be jedis. It's not that the license is one where there is only one path, but that people who like the license will probably want to go with the path of the main hero/heroes or the main villain/villains (For SWG, I'd wager that the big goals are Luke, Han, maybe Chewie, versus Darth Vader/Maul and Boba Fett).

Dune, on the other hand, follows generations of heroes, of vastly different types (only read the first few books, but Paul is extraordinarily different from his kids). Also, the fan base, though superhardcore, is relatively small, so many players won't know who they are "supposed" to want to be. The world is also different enough that many occupations would be new and interesting, while in the Matrix, any occupations other than "hacker", "hero", and "ship pilot" would end up being really close to ordinary jobs ("firearm manufacturer", etc.).

Maybe it's just me, but in Dune I could see someone trying to be a Freman, Bene Gesserit, an Atreides hero, etc. just because they are so unusual and different from eachother.

And apologies about any Dune based misspellings or inaccuracies. It's been over a decade since I read a Dune book.

Re:Depends on the License (1)

Ayaress (662020) | more than 10 years ago | (#8579338)

I hadn't heard there was a Dune MMORPG in development, but I always thought it could work.

Dune is almost designed for an RPG incarnation, even. I've only read the first two books, but I can think of a dozen character classes you didn't mention (Mentat, Bene Tleilaxu, Sardukar, Guild steersman, whatever it was they called the imperial conditioning Yueh had), all with clearly defined skills and roles. How well they would translate into an MMORPG, I don't know, but the system certainly deserves a more comprehensive single-player RPG than what it got a long time ago.

Also, since it doesn't have an immense fanbase to the point that many of its ideas are common knowledge in society, it only needs to draw in a good number of people who haven't read the series who will pick a class because it sounds cool, not because Muad'dib was one (Although, a character class that adaquately describes him would be one of those serious game-unbalancing things - Fremen, Mentat, Bene Gesserit, prescient oracle, etc).

Self creating worlds! (1)

CarrionBird (589738) | more than 10 years ago | (#8572914)

The problem with these games is that you end up finishing them.

Anybody remember Federation? It was (is?) a text based online game that was on Genie then AOL then the net proper. The coolest thing about it was that after you gained a certain status in the game, you got to create your own planet in the game. Complete with it's own economy (sorta, each player was like a corporation).

If you advanced far enough past that, you got your own fiefdom of planets to control (the players in your system had to pay tax or something like that, it's been awhile). The majority of the world created itself as a function of the game, so it was impossible to "finish" the game.

Look at the Sims, the thing takes on a life of it's own.

If someone can figure out how to do an everquest/SWG/diablo type game, with unlimited player created worlds, using even a third of the graphics abilites availabe.... That would be sweet!

no one wants to play a nobody (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 10 years ago | (#8574688)

The big problem with games based on things like Star Wars is that the movies focus on a small number of heroic figures who make a major difference to the world. You come to the game, that's what you want to play. As I put it in a long post on usenet [google.com] , you want to play Han Solo, not Han Solo's hair stylist or Han Solo's pistol maker.

The MMORPGs that have really worked have either used totally made up worlds based on generic fantasy (Everquest, for example), generic science-fiction (Anarchy Online...yes, I know the game didn't do well, but that was because they totally botched the launch), or existing mythologies that people know enough to find familiar but not well enough to identify too strongly with specific mythological characters (Dark Age of Camelot).

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