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The Zen of Online Game Design

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the don't-make-the-players-angry-they-bite dept.

Role Playing (Games) 57

The fundamentals of game design for Massively Multiplayer Online Games are beginning to become fairly well known in game development. Just the same, there is still a lot of argument about what is and is not a 'good call' when it comes to adding features to a massive service. The way to go about making those choices, and a good deal of attention to the concept of a game as a service, was laid out by Damion Schubert in his talk at GDC Austin on Thursday entitled 'The Zen of Online Game Design'.Damion Schubert is currently working at Bioware, but is known well for his work on UO, Shadowbane, and other titles. He's a very recognizable name in MMOG development circles, and maintains a blog discussing many of the issues covered in his talk at the website Zen of Design.

His talk surrounded the three experimental models for MMOGs he's had whirling around in his head for years. It also touched on general stray thoughts on the genre. They were based on his experiences, and his goal for the talk was to 'open source' his thoughts so that others could comment and amend them. The source of the name of both his website, and the talk, stems from an appreciation of Zen thinking. "True understanding is only possible via experience."

Many discussions of MMOGs go down unhealthy paths. Some view game design as 'Ant Farming'. These folks see game worlds as closed environment where they can do academic studies, looking from the outside in. "What happens if I poke a stick at it?" Some view it as 'Bean Counting'. Players are little more than walking wallets to these groups. "Let's pick up and shake our customers and see if they drop any loose change!" Then, there are the 'Crime and Punishment' types. These developers don't so much care about making money or learning, they just want revenge on the players. "My job became easier once I discovered I hated my players."

These approaches miss the point: MMOG design is about making fun. Massive games compete with movies, bars, television; you have to remember that you need to make a fun place to escape. In order to do that, it's imperative that you understand how players are approaching your product.

This brings us naturally to cupholders. The 70s was the origin of the window-clip cupholder, and it was a terrible design. But it was necessary because of the increasing suburbanization of society. Many auto designers now feel that the cupholder is a major purchasing decision in an car. The customer will have a long-term relationship with the car, and they need to know that they'll 'fit' into the car. The first thing a veteran car-buyer will do is just sit in the car, to see how it 'feels'. They know not to buy a car with the 'stereo blocker' style of cupholder, and aren't going to be fooled by poor design. You have to design a product from the customer's point of view.

The concept of long-term relationships is key. MMOG designers are in the same boat as car manufacturers. People approach a MMOG as the place where they'll be spending tens or hundreds of hours in a world. This is very unlike standalone, play-once games. Gears of War is a Playboy Bunny. World of Warcraft is the girl next door. You're looking for a little bit of sizzle, but you're looking for a lot of potential. You want to see bigger and better things coming down the line, where the game will go.

They also look for flaws. If they see a flaw in the first ten minutes, they'll extrapolate that out to have hundreds or thousands of flaws. Bug counts in released games are now actually quite low. That assumption is usually false. Just the same, designers aren't paying enough attention to first impressions. Damion asked the crowd, "What's the first thing you do when you get into a game?" The answer, of course, is: walk, and then jump. If you walk and jump - and it doesn't feel right - you're already put off. "They can't even get the first thing I do right?"

A helpful visualization appeared on the screen: a straight line, with an arrowhead on the far right side. The player's lifeline is simple: a player will keep playing until she quits. You can look for exit points, points in the game that would cause the player to quite, and you can try to avoid those. As an example, every time your credit card is charged, that's an exit point. Some are outside of your control as a designer. (Billy discovers girls.) Just the same, a lot of them are in the designer's hands. Some examples include: The Brick Wall - You realize it takes four times as long to go from 29 to 30. The Pimpslap - you spend 6 hours on a quest only to fail and have to start over. The End of Fun - you're 'done', you've hit max level, you've raided all the content. The Sudden Realization - I killed 2500 elementals to make this hammer, and now I'm going to replace it. All of these can make a player want to leave a game.

The three Rs, then, are required to keep the game moving forward. Recruitment, means new people into the game. Retaining, means keeping them there once they're in the game. And Reduction of costs and services. Of these, retention is the most cost-effective of the three.

Which brings us to the hardcore. Damion was strongly of the opinion that the word hardcore is overused and misused in the game industry. Mostly it comes from producers. It used to be that hardcore gamers were good; Quake 2 was all about the hardcore, for example, but now more games are aimed at the mass market. The producer asks, "Why can't you make this game for my grandma?" Hardcore is a relative measurement. It's not about whether you're hardcore gamer, it's whether you're hardcore to a genre, an idea, and then to a game. One game's hardcore market is not another games' hardcore market. It's a measure of investment. It's a measure of how invested they are in your game. People invested in your space can only be a good thing; invested people keep playing. Designers actually want to make people more hardcore.

Hardcore is not a binary thing. It's a sliding scale, and the goal of designers should be to nudge players down that path. A slide revealed Damion's mental model of investment: starting at casual, a player moves through the interested phase, to committed, to devoted, and to finally hardcore. The further you are down the chain, the more time it takes to get rewarded by the game. A casual gamer might be rewarded in seconds, and a committed player might wait hours for his reward, but hardcore players can wait for weeks between payoffs. Even if your game doesn't apply to the general model, Damion encouraged the designers in the room to try to slot the chart onto their game. What's the committed guy doing vs. the casual guys, vs. the hardcore? The big question: are there any gaps? If you ask someone to jump a level of commitment, that's hard to do.

Designers want to create investment in the game by making people move up the commitment ladder. Not everyone should be hardcore, but communities full of people are at their most interesting. The ladder should be as smooth as humanly possible. Mapping that back onto the lifeline, it is harder for a hardcore player to jump through an exit point than a casual player.

People aren't as hardcore as they think they are, and no one is hardcore on their first log in. With that said, why are hardcore players all that important? Hardcore player are the rockstars. People know who are in the top three guilds on their WoW server. These players provide aspirational models for more casual players. Seeing fully decked out players is not daunting, it's uplifting. It motivates you for future successes. Hardcore players are also evangelizers. They pass the word on to the more casual folks, and get them interested. Ala 'the tipping point', key influencers can make or break a game.

Your game is too hardcore if your hardcore players are ashamed to be playing it. That's not healthy. Also: don't build up your hardcore players in those terms. That terminology ends up being exclusionary. It's dangerous to make a martini bar. You probably want more to be the corner pub.

Damion paused before going on to a topic he obviously felt very strongly about: As a game designer of a massively multiplayer game, you MUST control your game's culture. It's important to try to keep the culture of your game as clean as possible. As much of a losing battle as it can be, it's extremely important that you try to keep the misogynists out. Damion quipped, "Never underestimate the damage a charismatic idiot can do." Keep the gamespace civil, for the sake of everyone from casual to hardcore. People take social cues from behavior around them. Compare the behavior exhibited in the Stanford prison experiments vs. the socially conscious culture at Burning Man.

On the concept of forming you culture, Damion noted that it's perfectly reasonable to apply that to gameplay as well. Matchmaking in-game is a great idea. Being in a raiding group is like being married to 50 people. Guilds are very ad hoc in most games. How much stickier would your game be if you could easily find a group with similar goals and mores? If you can get those people together, how much more powerful would the game be?

Damion then went on to his answer to the great game/world debate. The answer is something that's been in his head for 10 years. It's not new, but it's not finished. Both games and worlds have pros and cons. Worlds offer realism, simulation, immersion, and freedom. Games offer balance, limitations, powerups, and fun. Just as with the casual/hardcore dichotomy, it's important to understand that game/world is a sliding scale. No game is entirely game, and no game is entirely world. Damion then notes that there is a third leg to the scale, and that's community. They are MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER games.

Into the mix, community adds socialization, cooperation, competition, and interdependence. Any MMOG can be plotted on the triangle. The ideal, the sweet spot, is in the middle. If you're not there the community will move you in that direction, because that's what the vast majority of players are looking for. Quake was in the bottom part of the triangle (dead between world and game, but removed from community) when it launched, and the players moved it towards the center. Players created the concept of capture the flag all on their own, to encourage community. UO was in the lower left hand corner (very world-oriented), and community moved them towards the center with elements like beauty pageants. Early UO players even had the 'rule' that they'd recreate characters with guild tags in their names, because there was no other way to facilitate that at the time.

As a game designer, your goal should be to build a well-centered game. You want to aim for the middle of the triangle. You can turn the triangle into the 'rule of three': systems should strive to be good for at least two of the three aspects of the game. If you have a question about whether a feature is a good idea, just run it past the rule of three. For example: "Permadeath" - World says yes, it's realistic. Game says no, as it's not fun. Community says no, as it makes it hard to track friends whose characters are deleted. "Voice chat" - World says no, as it breaks immersion. Game says yes, as it makes it possible for more tactical combats to be run. Community says yes, as it's easier to communicate with friends. It's also a tool that can be used to turn a bad feature into a good one. For example, long travel times are often seen as a negative by players. The rule of three would tend to agree. World says yes, because it's immersive, but both Game and Community say no: it's not fun, and it takes longer to get to friends. What if the game were to add a profession with the ability to teleport players? Game still says no: long travel times is unfun. World still says yes, because long travel is immersive. Community, though, swaps to a yes; having to talk with someone to get teleported is an inherently social activity.

With that, Damion wrapped up the talk to enthusiastic applause.

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the zen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20509815)

Did you mean the tao?

Re:the zen? (4, Funny)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | more than 7 years ago | (#20510031)

That was zen, this is tao.

Re:the zen? (2, Funny)

russlar (1122455) | more than 7 years ago | (#20510303)

Read somewhere that "Zen is total bullshit. When you realize that fact, you have mastered Zen."

Re:the zen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20511283)

Hahaha ... almost. A better way would be to say that: you need zen until you realize that you don't need it.

Re:the zen? (2, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#20510691)

Since the 'Tao' is incompatible with intelligence, no. That doesn't make sense. You can't be intelligent and master Tao at the same time. The Tao basically spends a lot of time saying that people who like to learn are foolish, and people who have to struggle just to learn enough to get by are wise. It's completely biased and obviously written from the point of view of someone who can't learn and is trying to mask feel better about it.

I'm not saying snooty scholar-types that hold knowledge above everyone's head are wrong, but loving to learn is not bad in and of itself.

So no, if the idea is to create a better MMO, it's not Tao. If it's Tao, the goal of the book would be to make someone feel better about having made a shitty one.

Actually, after RTFS... Maybe Tao is right after all. While he professes to be talking about better design in the future, he spends a lot of time on excuses for past MMOs with statements saying that the number of bugs is exagerated, etc.

Re:the zen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20512073)

What they want you to stay away from is intellectualization of the world. Meaning that your not looking at the world for what it is but instead forming an abstraction in your head. We all create a certain level of abstraction. (Science for example.) So the reason they want you to stay clear of that type of learning is that a lot of people mix the two up. They begin believing that they're abstractions are reality.

So, instead of living in a mentally constructed false world, they want you to live it, such as it is. They teach that great inner peace comes from it.

Re:the zen? (2, Insightful)

jessecurry (820286) | more than 7 years ago | (#20512215)

I think that you may have seriously missed the point of Taoism... that or you're trolling. Taoism doesn't say anything about Intelligence being a bad thing, it simply states that one should not stray too far from their path. Since westerners are very goal oriented they often view this belief as lazy, but it is very much the opposite.
One who follows the tenets of Taoism actively seeks to find their path. For example, someone who is 8 feet tall and 500 lbs. probably won't make a great gymnast, but they might make a good football player. While Taoism wouldn't discourage someone of that description from attempting to become a gymnast it would encourage that person to try football(not the best example, but somewhat illustrative).

Re:the zen? (1)

Thangodin (177516) | more than 7 years ago | (#20517245)

Taoism is about going with the flow, and not imposing preconceptualised ideas and outcomes. It's perfectly compatible with being intelligent, and very compatible with science. In short, it is about exploiting existing currents to attain your outcomes, recognizing what is rather than what you would like it to be, and not trying to fight reality and wasting your energies in doing so.

Understanding where those currents are and where they are going takes a lot of intelligence. Understanding them at their deepest level, and riding them to go against what is considered to be the dominant flow, takes genius.

Re:the zen? (1)

Frozen Void (831218) | more than 7 years ago | (#20512755)

The Tao is "listen to the users" however its rarely followed.

Re:the zen? (3, Insightful)

king-manic (409855) | more than 7 years ago | (#20513263)

The Tao is "listen to the users" however its rarely followed.

Mostly because the users contradict themselves and often have no idea what their talking about.

User 1: Nerf Mages their over powered. See how much faster they kill then my warrior.
User 2: Buff mages their under powered. See how much more versatile shamans are.
User 3: Nerf Shamans, see how much versitile they are.
User 4: Buff warriors, look at how slow they kill compared to mages.
User 5: We should make All instance 40 man raids.
User 6: We should eliminate 40 man raid in favor of 10 man raids.
User 7: I R0xx0rs.
User 8: I think respecing should be free.
User 9: I think respecing should require a week long quest.
User 10: The whole game should be end game content!
etc...

It's hard to distinguish background whining from actually legitimate concerns and complaints.

Re:the zen? (1)

realthing02 (1084767) | more than 7 years ago | (#20514739)

But everyone agrees, the AWP is overpowered.

I Don't Know About Rich Game Designers... (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 7 years ago | (#20509935)

But when I need to purchase a vehicle, I look around in the paper for used ones. I find something that sounds appealing and go check it out. My concern is what kind of mechanical condition it is in and what kind of condition it will likely maintain. Obviously you want to take into account the body and if it is rusted or otherwise damaged. But really, for the approximate $500 I usually pay for vehicles, it's a deal if it only last several years. I certainly am not worried about color, stereo equipment, or how many cupholders are strategically placed around me. Vehicles are tools to merely get from one place to another, not a replacement for your living room.

So, take that as you will in comparison to the article's analogy...

Re:I Don't Know About Rich Game Designers... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20510897)

But really, for the approximate $500 I usually pay for vehicles, it's a deal if it only last several years.

If you're not willing to pay $100/year for a car, I'm guessing you don't subscribe to many $150/year MMOGs, and your opinion is likely of little interest to MMOG designers. I suspect Pong is more your speed.

Re:I Don't Know About Rich Game Designers... (1)

Bongo Bill (853669) | more than 7 years ago | (#20512959)

And if you've got several $500 cars to choose from, all of which are adequate to your vehicular needs, then you start deciding them based on more subjective factors, like whether you like how it drives, or cupholders.

Re:I Don't Know About Rich Game Designers... (1)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 7 years ago | (#20516281)

Damn those rich ass game designers! Also those uppity pizza delivery guys who've been known to flaunt their lucritive tip earnings by spending upwards of _1000 SMACKERS_ on cars made AFTER 1987. Some people, sheesh!

It is all so obvious (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20510163)

Funny how obvious all this stuff is to game designers now that World of Warcraft has fairly firmly hit the nail on the head. If I read one more article describing how to be successful that then just goes on to describe how WoW works I think I am going to be ill. If this guy had written this article 3 years ago it would have been innovative, inciteful, useful, now he is just stating the totally bleeding obvious.

Uh, no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20510429)

WoW is not perfect, and will be beat when someone figures out how to reduce the grind.

Re:Uh, no. (2, Interesting)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 7 years ago | (#20510909)

That's probably an overly simplistic answer. MMORPG players bitch about grind, but it's also one of the things that keeps them playing the game. It's the alcoholic husband that beats them but they keep going back to, if you will.

That being said, you're right, WoW isn't perfect. It does, however, get a lot of things right (from the perspective of 'most players will want it to be that way / will keep playing if it is that way') that other efforts in the genre didn't, and it polishes a lot of little details that previously weren't considered to be worthy of much effort.

It's not perfect, but at the same time, if you're going to try to have a successful game in the genre at this point, you probably need to either:

1) Go a very different direction from WoW. Make design decisions that most WoWers would hate and just flat out go for a different (and probably smaller) piece of the market. EVE is probably a good example of this, despite it predating WoW.

2) At least get right most everything WoW got right, as a starting point.

I think it's a safe bet that a lot more game producers are going the second route, and from that perspective it makes sense to talk about what WoW got right.

Re:Uh, no. (1)

sauerkrause (1152853) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511175)

That's exactly what makes games like WoW unappealing to me; the grind. The simplistic gameplay and static worlds are a lot less than I would expect from a company like Blizzard. They haven't done anything revolutionary for the genre, they just took a tried-and-true method and simply made it the most fun and addictive, but even that depends on the perspective. I tried WoW for a week and was bored after the first 10 minutes. I've been an avid Eve Online player for nearly 4 years, and it's depth, complexity, and sandbox-style of gameplay is exactly what makes it appealing. There's no other MMO out there that has even come close to matching the sheer volume of gameplay types available in Eve. The beauty of the game is that there's no 'maxing' your character. You don't hit Level 60 and decide 'ok, now I want to start a new character.' Your avatar is you as long as you play. The decisions you make affect everything you do down the road. You grow ATTACHED to your character, leaving your mark on the Eve universe as you see fit. With all of it's complexity, the game has a very steep learning curve, probably the steepest of any game I've played. But the game doesn't FORCE you to do anything. Don't want to kill NPCs for Isk (in-game currency)? Then don't. The individual player can decide how they want to play. I wish there were more MMORPGs with this type of formula out there. Eve's biggest draw is the large, persistent world. Everyone plays on the same server, regardless of location (with the exception of China). There's no switching to a different server if you do nasty things and ruin your reputation. It really forces you to live with your choices. More game designers need to focus more on open-ended gameplay instead of making 'large-scale coop games'

Re:Uh, no. (1)

sauerkrause (1152853) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511259)

and why is it that my post loses it's formatting (no carriage returns!) when I click submit! guess I actually need to use the break tag...

Re:Uh, no. (1)

hf256 (627209) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511341)

Or post as Plain Old Text.

Meh. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511509)

Every time someone says, "Well, WoW sucks, and Eve rules" I tune out the rest of it. It's like comparing pocky [wikipedia.org] to tuna fish...They're the same class of thing ("Things you eat") but anyone making the comparison isn't saying anything meaningful because they're so wildly different.

Re:Meh. (1)

sauerkrause (1152853) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511593)

My post wasn't so much of a World of Warcraft / Eve Rules post; try not to think of it in such black and white terms. It has more to do with my particular tastes in gameplay.

My personal opinion is that if developers that are active in producing MMOs would be more willing to differentiate themselves from the same basic power-leveling, grinding, hack-and-slash same old game experience that is so prevalent in this particular genre, there would be far more interesting games to play.

Designers nowadays are more inclined to stick to the tried-and-true methods instead of trying something completely new and refreshing.

Re:Meh. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#20512161)

Designers nowadays are more inclined to stick to the tried-and-true methods instead of trying something completely new and refreshing.
That's always been the case; there is only ever one original, everything after is a copy. Blizzard, for all their successes, has never done anything original. It's true, if you think about their successes. Diablo? No way. Warcraft? Uh-uh. WoW? Nope. Every single one of those games is a refinement of other games in the genre, and they refine like masters.

WoW is popular because it is (so far) the best of the traditional sword and sorcery MMOs (insert various disagreements from various fans of various other MMOs). Eve is a totally different animal, and it is stable and popular in its niche.

Re:Meh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20512457)

tuna fish
Just out of curiosity, how many other types of things are called "tuna" that you feel you need to clarify which one you're talking about by including the word "fish" after it?

Are you afraid that someone will see the word "tuna" and assume you're talking about the fictional city from the Tolkien books?

Re:Meh. (1)

JoshJ (1009085) | more than 7 years ago | (#20513007)

The city was Tirion, the mountain was Túna. Hence "Tirion upon Túna".

Re:Meh. (1)

Nick of NSTime (597712) | more than 7 years ago | (#20513417)

That was downright sexy.

Re:Meh. (1)

Wizworm (782799) | more than 7 years ago | (#20513553)

It's like comparing pocky to tuna fish
Have you been to Japan? They have a tuna(fish) flavor for Everything

Re:Uh, no. (2, Interesting)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 7 years ago | (#20514295)

The beauty of the game is that there's no 'maxing' your character. You don't hit Level 60 and decide 'ok, now I want to start a new character.' Your avatar is you as long as you play. The decisions you make affect everything you do down the road.

I'd argue that this isn't necessarily a good thing. A game with a maximum level is, in a lot of ways, easier to balance than one in which character progression is completely open-ended. It's also, generally, easier to produce quality content that challenges characters when you have a better idea of their limits.

A game designer is free to create character types that play more differently in a game that doesn't penalize restart as much.

A game that encourages restart also, to a degree, encourages new players. If my friends who have been playing the game for years occasionally go back and start a new character, that gives me as an interested non-player of the game a good jumping-in point; I can start playing at the same time and 'come up' with friends who know the game.

Ultimately, the market decides. Some people like either; I doubt we'll see either kind of game dominate the market to the exclusion of the other.

Re:Uh, no. (1)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 7 years ago | (#20516227)

Most people don't want freedom and complexity, they want fun.

Case in point.

Wii and WoW.

It's not the grind. (2, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#20512059)

The grind is easy as long as there is progression. You get that sense of satisfaction, that drug high, or whatever you want to call it.

The problem is when you hit a point where there isn't anything else you can do that's not going to require near-infinite grinding for tiny incremental rewards. That's basically a description of WoW's end game. In BC they released a bunch of 5 and 10 man content as a bid to make it more small group friendly. IMHO this was amazingly stupid, and I'll tell you why.

Pre-BC if you were in a decent guild that raided 40 man content, you could get into a raid, even if your gear wasn't super elite. There was no need to interminably run 5 and 10 man content until your gear was as good as it gets for that level, because with a larger group, you could afford more slack. This meant less drag in the end game, because you could skip over content that had loot that you were going to quickly replace.

Fast forward to BC. They added tons and tons of 5 man content, and, having done this, they then geared the 10+ man content toward people who had completely exhausted the 5 man content, and in order to exhaust the 5 man content you had to run it to DEATH; running the lesser 5 man stuff until you got enough faction to run the heroic 5 man stuff, until you got the gear to run the 10 man stuff. Not that much different from pre-BC, except that now, there is no room for slack in the raid content, so everyone runs eternal 5 mans.

Gone are the days when you could be a raid guild that had a mix of members...Now it's all hardcore, all the time, because the time commitment is absolutely obscene in order to get anywhere. Skill? Who cares about skill? Just play and play and play.

At that point, there ceases to be anything for me in the game. I refuse to spend time for no better reason than just spending time, getting gear whose only point is to be replaced.

MOD UP (1)

crabpeople (720852) | more than 7 years ago | (#20513383)

exact reason I quit. Wow is unsustainable unless they keep raising the level bar and dumping gear in with +1 better somethings. Its the same trap UO fell into once it killed off its pvp.

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

Evangelion (2145) | more than 7 years ago | (#20513389)

Agreement and disagreement.

The reason that they did that with 5-mans is obvious -- it's trivial to find a group at a moments notice now, because that's what everyone is doing. At most I've waited half an hour for a group (but then again, I'm a tank...)

I agree that they missed on the end-game content. Not just because it takes interminable 5-man runs to get there, but because the encounters themselves are so much harder. It used to be that you could /afk through all of MC but Rag, as long as you weren't like the MT or his healer. In BC raids, it's basically "one misclick by anyone in the raid is a wipe". It's was easier to get 7 40-mans a week pre-BC than it is to get 5 25-mans post BC, because it's much harder work now. Before it was just tagging along for the ride.

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#20514263)

Agreed. The 10 man raids were supposed to be more accessible, but the individual fights require so much coordination and such a precise group, that there is NO WAY to do anything like a casual run. You have to have a bunch of geared, committed, badasses, and that leaves even MORE people out in the cold, because there is no incentive to get more than the minimum group.

Used to be the super elite raid guilds limited their membership to 40. Now it's 25, because who needs more?

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 7 years ago | (#20516299)

Wasn't that the whole point.

PRE TBC:
"Waaah, we can't get 40 people to raid, waaah, we're skilled, honest, if you just give us a really hard small dungeon with raid quality loot we'll be happy"

Post TBC:
"Waah, the 10 man is to hard, give us free epixxxx"

Seriously .

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#20518047)

Eh. I don't complain because I want something for free, I complain because the new content isn't as much fun as the old content. In a 40-man raid, things go south, but you rally, show some skills, and pull it off. In the new 10-mans, if you sneeze at the wrong time, you're screwed. You have to farm far more potions for the 10-mans, but the repair bill is no better. Your character build is 100% stock, with no room for anything other than the absolute best raid build.

It's just tedious. And for what? Gear? Why not just do the equally tedious pvp until you get equivalent gear? And, when you've put forth the obscene effort, and maxed out your character, finished raiding all the new content, then they release Lich King, and your crazy epics are replaced by green quest drops.

What a fricking rat race.

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 7 years ago | (#20519151)

the new content is way more fun then the old content, seriously I once did molten core at the same time I played Warcraft 3 and still performed adequately. The new raids require a lot more attention and skill and that maeks it alot more fun, sure there is no room for slackers but why would you want to play with slackers anyhow. As long as everyone in your raid knows what they're doing you won't wipe particularly much. A lot of guilds currently have Karazhan on PUG.

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

Evangelion (2145) | more than 7 years ago | (#20577065)

It's a balance thing. Pre-BC raids were way on the side of being able to phone the raid in, because, well, they were just easier (assuming your gear is not shit).

In TBC, they tried to make harder, more challenging raid encounters -- but there are several instances (Mag, most notably) where they've gone too far, and the mechanic of the raid boils down to "one misclick by anyone is a wipe", with no chance of recovery.

It's much more exhausting for the people who run it alot, though, not for newer guilds. For guilds that are doing Mag regularly, wiping because someone lagged, or hit the wrong key by accident -- even if they knew exactly what they were doing -- sucks. It just plain sucks. They aren't learning anything, they're not interested in the encounter, it just sucks to wipe because of a random accident by one person.

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 7 years ago | (#20577929)

I agree that Mag seems a bit to complex and unforgiving for the place he is at, that complexity should wait until at least TK or black temple imo.

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

Nick of NSTime (597712) | more than 7 years ago | (#20513449)

BC also made epic gear way too easy to get. It's practically meaningless now.

Re:It's not the grind. (1)

pthor1231 (885423) | more than 7 years ago | (#20515037)

I refuse to spend time for no better reason than just spending time, getting gear whose only point is to be replaced.
Thats the whole point of MMO's and any game in general where you level up. Everything gets replaced.

Re:Uh, no. (1)

Incoherent07 (695470) | more than 7 years ago | (#20516551)

Exactly. I've been saying the exact same thing for a couple years now.

As another poster put it, what Blizzard does is refine. There's almost nothing original in all of WoW, but it's well put together and extremely attractive to players of all inclinations. People harp too much on how BC made endgame too easy/too hard/too time-consuming/too hardcore/too casual/too easy to get epics/too hard to get epics/too easy to get PvP epics/too hard to get PvP epics/too little PvP and forget that the reason they have 9 million players and EQ doesn't has a lot to do with the fact that they're damned good at polish.

So with that in mind, you have the two options given in parent.

Most game developers will go for #2 because it's easy: just find the things that WoW failed at (and they exist, certainly, especially if you're talking about 2005 WoW), improve on those, and sell 9 million copies. Right? Wrong. Where are those 9 million players coming from? Are they coming from people who hate WoW and quit beforehand? There aren't that many of them, and they didn't all quit for the same reason. Are they coming from people who currently play WoW? Then you'd better be as polished as Blizzard makes their games, which is a tall order, or else people will play your game for 30 minutes then abandon it. Are they coming from outside the genre entirely? How do you plan on reaching those players and bringing them into the MMOG model?

So if you're going to make a new MMOG, how about #1? Cater to a group which WoW doesn't adequately serve: say, hardcore PvPers. Now your problem is somewhat simpler, since people won't compare you quite as directly to WoW. Polish is still important, making good decisions is important, and reaching out to your chosen playerbase is important, and you sure as hell won't sell 9 million copies with a niche product, but you're already a leg up on Goliath. Again, EVE is an example of this. Guild Wars is another, and Fury is following a similar track.

The unfortunate part is that there's still no one actually innovating in the MMOG space... now, if someone actually managed to do that...

Re:Uh, no. (1)

Dolohov (114209) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511247)

I think that's the original poster's point: this sort of article almost never goes beyond what WoW gets right. It may be better or more insightful analysis, but it's not really anything new.

Re:Uh, no. (1)

Decado (207907) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511725)

Exactly, it doesn't matter if wow is perfect or not, what matters is that articles describing how to do what wow does shouldn't be masquerading as new and inciteful design ideas.

Re:It is all so obvious (1, Insightful)

moore.dustin (942289) | more than 7 years ago | (#20510521)

Blizzard has been hitting the nail on the head since Warcraft II. Every game breaks and old record set by itself for sales. Battle.net was a huge success and they have had nothing but success for over a decade.

If you're interested in this... (4, Informative)

merreborn (853723) | more than 7 years ago | (#20510921)

You may also be interested in the mud-dev [mud-dev.com] mailing list. Schubert and others contributed to the original list, the archives of which are available from Raph Koster's site [raphkoster.com]

The archives cover a lot of interesting ideas that largely have yet to find their ways into mainstream MMOs.

One of my personal favorites was genmud [sourceforge.net] , which featured a completely procedurally generated world, in which NPC populations battle each other for survival. By contrast, modern MMOs generally still use static "spawn points" to determine where new creatures enter the game world, which are usually inserted by hand by developers/level designers.

Re:If you're interested in this... (1)

coolGuyZak (844482) | more than 7 years ago | (#20519889)

Thanks for pointing this resource out. I was a lurker on the old list, and was quite disappointed when it died. It's great that the community resurrected it elsewhere :)

SWG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20511057)

> Then, there are the 'Crime and Punishment' types. These developers don't so much care about making money or learning, they just want revenge on the players. "My job became easier once I discovered I hated my players.

Ah, so he found someone one the Star Wars Galaxies team.

Real Zen : (3, Funny)

unity100 (970058) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511143)

1 - Establish a leveling structure and tie anything doable in the game to this
2 - Create a system that players will have to cooperate to go up the leveling ladder
3 - Allow disturbed individuals to be able to behave unsocially by a system of anonymity
4 - Continually take up the max level cap by new expansions
5 - !?!?!!?!
6 - Profit !!!

MMO Design is easy (2, Informative)

The Orange Mage (1057436) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511209)

Just copy the exact same collisionless, boring click and sit back melee combat, click to cast spells, etc. gameplay engine that's been around since UO and EQ, give it pretty graphics or base it off some nerdy IP, and MAKE SURE IT'S A GRINDFEST. An MMO is built upon the principle that "Time spent in game is proportional to your character's abilities. Actual skill is a minimal aspect."

That's the easiest part. Make the game so long and drawn out due to grinding like putting all the cool content at the end of the level ladder so people stay on and continue to pump money at you.

The MMO market is generally populated by and catered to this style of repetitive, "addictive" gameplay, which is why there's not a whole lot of innovation in the past ten years. People just continue to throw money at people to do "work" and mine for fish. (as in http://www.vgcats.com/comics/?strip_id=155 [vgcats.com] )

I always hated the Hardcore/Softcore bullshit (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 7 years ago | (#20511303)

Interviewers don't like it when you tell them Hardcore/Softcore players is just an imaginary thing. You need to make your game like they used to make board games: easy to learn, a lifetime to master. There is something to the Fan Boy though in that they'll play a crappy game if it is in their favorite fantasy setting.

Well then, let's talk about what WoW gets wrong. (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20512085)

1. PvP in WoW is crap. You're either ganker or gankee. Like training kids to be schoolyard bullies.

2. Economy needs to be taken to the next level. Kill humanoids to get cloth? Have to buy thread? Bogus.

3. Need a way to move characters smoothly between "realms" without having to pay stupid fees and wait weeks. The whole "realm" concept is a turd.

4. Servers need to be up all the time. Long weekly maintenance outages are bad.

Re:Well then, let's talk about what WoW gets wrong (2, Insightful)

IdeaMan (216340) | more than 7 years ago | (#20514843)

Instead of modding parent underrated, I think his points should be re-defined in terms of the talk given:

1: PvP in Wow is limited to ganking.
Community: Bad. Only ganking is detrimental to the community. Also getting ganked lowers the opinion of the community. Non-ganking PvP is helpful to the community.
Game: Bad. Detrimental too because this limits the gaming choices.
World: Assassins exist, so ganking should exist, however so does other forms of PvP.

2: Economy is simplistic.
Community: Bad. Simple economies means that anyone can supply a good or service, which means less interaction.
Game: Bad. duh... complex economies have more depth.
World: Bad. Doesn't match our expectation of a world.

3. Character transfers between realms.
Community: Depends on the size of the realms. Probably bad, because it limits your interaction.
Game: Good. Improves responsiveness for the game.
World: What... do they have parallel universes? You've just split one world and community into fragments... Bad.

4: Server maintenance
Community: Bad
Game: Good. Uhh.. server maintenance improves "Gameplay" right?
World: Bad.

I like his breakdown of Community, Game, World. It might be missing some concepts, but you start to see how the different tradeoffs made in game design were driven by the different needs.

Re:Well then, let's talk about what WoW gets wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20518269)

I know a lot of MMO players out there say that having a dynamic economy adds a nice layer of depth to the game, but I find it annoying. I'm sure it's great if you want to play some kind of economic meta-game, but for the rest of us who just want to play the actual game, it's kind of a drag.

I had this problem in Puzzle Pirates when I finally got to the point where we were just shuttling goods between islands to manipulate prices. It was profitable, but it wasn't exactly piracy.

Well said (1)

Monk Who Says Ni (1075173) | more than 7 years ago | (#20513133)

As a student of Game Design I have to say that this was a really good read. There are a lot of texts that are handed out in courses where the main subject is pretty much narrowed down to 'how to sell your game to suckers', which I don't like. The idea is supposed to be fun for the players which prompts sales and this does a great job in explaining it all without being so long winded that it comes in a book large enough for me to kill a man (or a boring professor) with.

Thank you for bringing this forward. I will be saving it to share with my classmates.

Re:Well said (1)

MiharuSenaKanaka (1080135) | more than 7 years ago | (#20521125)

I also am a student in Game Design ("Interactive Media and Game Development" at my school), and have forwarded this article to my classmates. Thank you for finding it.
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