posted: June 23rd, 2006
MMO’s need to be fun. This stunning insight has been brought to you thanks to my keen grasp of the obvious, but it’s true. If the game isn’t fun then no amount of artwork or advertising is going to get people to stick around, and since MMO’s make a large amount of their money off of customer subscriptions this is a Bad Thingâ„¢.
The only problem is that different people have different ideas of what’s fun. Dr. Richard Bartle lists four different play styles that occurred on MUD’s in his seminal paper Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDS and this is a good stepping off point. However, it is based off of an examination of people who were already engaged in playing MUD’s and rather than trying to determine what it is that different players would like to do it focuses on what players were currently doing.
This means that a lot of possible player activities (and the archetypes associated with them) aren’t discussed because there were no players conducting those activities, activities such as crafting, creating content, or running a business. This isn’t any fault of Dr. Bartle since such activities weren’t even possible on MUD’s of the past but it is still something we need to be aware of.
One of the big problems that I see with a lot of MMO’s right now is that they tend to take an either/or attitude. The game will either work this way or it will work that way. A good example of this is the argument between scattering quest giving NPC’s about or having fewer quest giving NPC’s in more centralized locations with more quests to choose from.
For some players finding the quests is part of the enjoyment. They want a world in which they don’t keep coming back to the same few spots to pick up new quests. For other players having to search about for a new quest giver every time you exhaust your old one is a hassle they would rather do without.
But why are the two ideas exclusive of one another? Certainly there will be certain aspects where players will have opposite visions of how the game should be (such as whether a mage should do more damage than a rogue) but in matters like this the ideas are only exclusive to one another because we decide upon a model of either/or. When we really think about it there is nothing wrong with having NPC’s scattered about dispensing quest while having other specialized NPC’s who stand in the center of town with long lists of quests to choose from.
When you go with an either/or model then you are cutting out the fun for some people. Since we want the game to be as fun as possible for as many people as possible this is almost always a mistake.
The other problem that I’ve seen, and a more subtle one, is the assumption that since something is fun for one person it will be fun for everyone. A great example of this is the old PvP argument; some people enjoy PvP so games should have PvP versus some people hate PvP so games shouldn’t have PvP. At first this seems to be mutually exclusive, but since most MMO’s these days run multiple copies of the world in order to prevent over crowding is there any good reason why you can’t have some copies be PvP and some be non-PvP?
Of course the PvP versus non-PvP is a fairly obvious example of designers often forcing players in directions that are un-fun. A slightly more subtle but still moderately obvious example of this can be seen in Adventuring and Crafting. It is fairly common to have adventuring quests in which the player is forced into some aspect of crafting.
Before the old man of the mountain will tell you the location of the orc camp you will need to make him a dinner from one of the nearby deer, complete with a crafting section where you cook the deer. If you happen to be one of the people who hates crafting and who simply wants to beat up orcs then suddenly this quest has gone from fun to un-fun in a hurry. If it’s a task that only requires a quick dip in the crafting pool then your displeasure at crafting might not be that great but if it requires you to spend several hours to develop cooking skill then what might have been a fun quest has suddenly become a major drag.
Even more common is the counterpoint to this quest; the crafting task that requires adventuring. Usually this is because the materials to do the task have to be gathered by the crafter, often by killing a certain type of monster. This may work for some players but for others who want to do ‘pure crafting’ what should have been fun is now a real pain.
Of course hybrid quests are interesting for a lot of people so we probably shouldn’t just do away with them in favor of only ‘pure’ quests. Having nothing but those would limit the abilities of designers to craft stories and would leave the world feeling a bit flat. So what are we to do?
The easiest solution is to simply create a large enough number of quests of each type that players don’t feel inconvenienced at passing up quests with elements they don’t enjoy. If the adventurer has plenty of other quests to choose from with similar pay-offs then they won’t mind telling the old man to take a hike while they do some other quest.
The downside of this is that doing this will require a lot more quests to be created. Also the payoff will need to be identical between them or the designer will be back in the position of ‘forcing’ people along certain paths (sure, I can get the +2 Sword of Pwnage without any crafting but what I really want is the +3 Sword of Pwnage), and once the rewards are balanced the designer runs the risk of being second guessed by the players on Risk verses Reward if one quest is deemed easier than the other.
A better solution, I would think, would be to have options within the quest that let players do what they feel is fun while avoiding the things that aren’t. Hate crafting and don’t want to make the old man’s deer dinner, maybe you can convince him to tell you the location of the orc camp by eliminating the pack of wolves that have been killing his chickens.
Of course you don’t have to have options for every play style, just the play styles that would be undertaking the quest in the first place. If there’s no reason for a crafter to be seeking out the Valley of Unfortunate-but-non-fatal-events then there doesn’t need to be an option in the quest for crafters.
In the end it isn’t really a matter of making everything for everyone. It’s all about options. As long as there are options that players find fun then they can have a good time.