Games

Something for Everyone.

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.



6 Comments »

>This isn’t any fault of Dr. Bartle since such activities weren’t even possible on MUD’s of the past

They were possible in many textual worlds. Some MUDs had levels of detail that graphical worlds have yet even to dream about.

>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

No, it doesn’t. The model looks at WHY people are doing things, not WHAT they are doing. Example: someone joins a guild, becomes a helpful, friendly player, always there when needed, always willing to lend a hand, who gets to become an officer and is the person trusted to lead a group of guild members into a dangerous, high-level PvP area which requires a lot of expensive preparation. Is this player an achiever? Maybe a socialiser?

No: they’re a killer. When the guild gets into the area the player leads them into an ambush, trains bosses on them, then teleports out taking a stack of potions and magic with them. Their entire playing pattern for 99 days looked for all the world as if they were an achiever, but their actual motivation was that of a killer.

So it is with crafting, creating content, or running a business. You have to ask WHY they’re doing it. Why are they crafting? Why are they creating content? Why are they running a business? From the answer, you can figure out what player type they are.

The 4-type model is superseded now, by the way. There’s an 8-type model which explains things a bit better, in particular how players change type over time.

Richard

Comment by Richard Bartle — June 24, 2006

Thanks for clearing that up. I wasn’t really thinking deeply enough when I was considering the models and just viewed them in adventuring terms. My own background with MUD’s is fairly limited. I spent the majority of my time on MUSHes so I was unaware at how much depth some of the MUD’s had developed.

I’d be interested in reading up on the 8-type model, especially since I think understanding how players change over time is important for increasing retention. Do you have any links you could refer me to?

I’d also appreciate any input you could give on the central concept of my post, that being that avoiding forcing players along activities that they don’t want to do is a good idea. On the surface it certainly sounds reasonable but I do have to wonder at what is lost. Sometimes a sense of achievement can be gained by having to complete unpleasant tasks to reach the goal. Is the loss of this sense of achievement among some players worth it? In the case of tabletop games where the GM knows the players, gets instantaneous feedback not just in language but in subtler messages such as posture and facial expressions, and the game can be adapted on the fly it can be a wonderful tool but in a larger scale setting with so many players I have to wonder if it isn’t better to play it safe and avoid such tactics.

Comment by Evan — June 26, 2006

>I spent the majority of my time on MUSHes so I was unaware at how much depth some of the MUD’s had developed.

Had and have – they’ve not gone away. Some of the Skotos and Iron Realms products are cutting edge, for example.

>I’d be interested in reading up on the 8-type model, especially since I think understanding how players change over time is important for increasing retention. Do you have any links you could refer me to?

It’s described in my book and in Massively Multiplayer Game Development 2.

>I’d also appreciate any input you could give on the central concept of my post, that being that avoiding forcing players along activities that they don’t want to do is a good idea.

I’m a great fan of the open-ended approach: give people a world, fill it full of rich and interesting things, and let their imaginations do the rest. Sadly, too many of today’s players seem to want to run on rails. Hopefully, with time, they’ll come to seek the freedom that’s on offer.

>Sometimes a sense of achievement can be gained by having to complete unpleasant tasks to reach the goal.

There has to be a challenge. If there’s no challenge, why play? Asheron’s Call 2 famously sold itself on the basis of removing all the things players didn’t find fun, thereby removing all the things the players did find fun; it wasn’t a success.

Richard

Comment by Richard Bartle — June 27, 2006

I completely agree there has to be a challenge for people to appreciate their achievement. I’m just speculating on replacing unpleasant tasks with options for other challenging, but more pleasant, tasks. What I’m wondering is how the two relate. If the players are given the option to kill goblins (a more pleasant but still challenging task) will their total enjoyment be as much or more than if they are forced to cook the dinner?

Comment by Evan — June 27, 2006

>If the players are given the option to kill goblins (a more pleasant but still challenging task) will their total enjoyment be as much or more than if they are forced to cook the dinner?

If they prefer combat, more than.

What’s interesting is whether they would still enjoy it more if they got 10% more XP for taking the cooking option.

Richard

Comment by Richard Bartle — June 28, 2006

That’s a very good idea. While giving different items at the end of the quest could lead to some player grumbling about being forced through this content or that, altering some of the more generic components of the reward (coins, xp, etc.) would encourage characters down certain paths while letting them take lesser alternate routes if certain choices were too disagreeable.

Comment by Evan — June 28, 2006

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