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Mar 15, 2004

Comments

1.

As a GM/DM (actually just the one running the world) in ftf RPGs for a couple of decades I have used a number of ideas for explaining this new, high level character showing up (a new player joining the group):

1) Important Captive Held for Ransom by [insert evil-doing NPC character/group here]. This one gives the player a chance to create a high-level, but plausible background of one who had opposed the evil-doers and had been captured and held for ransom. Note that character's equipement is part of the 'loot' from successfully confronting the evil-doers. Most players accept this and will allow the new player to reclaim such equipment as to properly outfit him/her/it-self and be an asset to the party.

2) Depending upon setting the new character can be of slightly higher level and be a 'lone survivor' of a previous expedition. This again allows for the creation of a plausible background and can help give some immediate information to the rest of the group on happenings in the area.

3) Help sent in answer to prayers/summons. Yes the higher powers *do* listen, but don't have time to give you a lot of help, so the new character was drafted to help out the one(s) who asked for help. Usually good for individuals that will only be around a couple of sessions as once the immediate help is given, they get recalled home... Also in this category are inter-dimensional travelers, which allows for non-setting specific characters to show up.

4) A straggler of decent level/capability who is just now catching up to the party after *just* missing them in town... has braved parts of the mission alone, etc., etc. To be used only when the party has put up postings to gather their group together, of course.

5) High-level turncoat from the opposition! Not only of immediate help, but a source of long-term paranoia for the other players. Is this Benedict Arnold a good or a bad thing? Even better if this is a mission where the party has been told they will be getting some undefined help along the way...

6) Resurrected/Reincarnated individual that the party has brought back from nearby burial ground/cesspit/kitchen. Can either be someone that they have all heard of or heard about... and getting killed to get there does prove the bona fides of the character. Equipping *can* be a problem, however...

7) Cowardly monster turned pet. Actually not only giving a player a chance to stretch their playing skills, but introducing an element of humor to the group.

8) And as I have had a tendancy to run for small groups there has always been an NPC or two that can quickly be turned into a *real* PC by handing the stats sheet over to a new player. While not in the narrow definition of this question, it is one worth considering.

9) PARANOIA only: the computer will *always* get a clone to the party... even if it is the *wrong* clone... airdrop, teleport with new equipment, delivery tubes... the computer *is* your friend! Unfortunately surprizes in PARANOIA tend to bring out the trouble-shooting best in everyone, so adding a new player usually means stepping up everyone by one clone generation...

10) Mass Amnesia. Everyone forgot that the new character was with the party until they remembered he/she/it was always with them... actually a great way to add in a new storyline as it would take some pretty hefty powers to do that!


The thing to realize in ftf gaming is that it is usually amongst a group of friends wanting to extend the group to someone at least a few people know. This is also true in MMOs but is a bit more fluid as everyone understands time constraints for participation for real-life needs of players. Also in ftf the introduction of a new character gives a chance to introduce a new part of a storyline, even if it is only background, that background material can prove to be vital to follow-on adventuring.

Enough verbiage from me! I am not a professional in this area, but I do play one in real life...

-Kurt

2.

Kudos to Kurt with regards his comments on to different methods of introducing a PC into a game.

However, I think that Dr. Castronova's comments on internalizing the eBay-ing industry are rather interesting.

At present, it seems that the current eBay model is quite close to a perfectly competitive market, with prices for 'high-level players' governed strictly by supply and demand.

However, an internalized model governed by the game administrators would be a near-monopoly, which is almost wholly opposite to the current eBay model.

Even if the introduction of new characters were somewhat explained by the use of story techniques, it still seems that game players would be worse off with a game-company premium-content monopoly, simply due to the huge loss in Pareto efficiency.

3.

The problem, imo, is that level-based design never really translated well to the persistent multiplayer arena.

Pen-and-paper gaming is a hand-tuned experience run by a live GM who constantly tweaks the experience to keep players engaged and entertained. Players don't complain about their friend Bob who gets a 'free' character in the middle of a campaign -- partially because he is their friend, but also because the campaign was fun to this point.

Contemporary massmogs however, are comparitively much less fun. Getting to, say, level 12 in EQ requires hours of patently un-fun gaming. There's less context, less impact, more repetition, and it's inherently less expressive. The result can be 'cool', and comraderie during 'the grind' may make the play less boring. But camping static groups of monsters is not fun the way saving a town or foiling a diabolical plot is in pen-and-paper gaming.

So long as advancement and gear acquisition is the product of sinking time into un-fun activity, players will have a quite strong distaste for people 'buying in' late in the game.

This is only amplified when so many of our resources (raid loot, 'good' camps, 'rare' spawns, etc) are artificially rare, yet incredibly important. From that angle, the new person not only hasn't 'done the work', but they're instantly new competition.

I don't think that breaking the fiction is even much of a concern to the players -- certainly not in comparison.

4.

I'm like Kurt with live FRP, but... MMORG and Character Backstory? Character insertion rationale? LOL! Who are we kidding?

I'll bet that I've played Asheron's Call with several eBayed characters, but I never noticed. How would I know?

Typically I started interacting with previously unknown high level characters like this:

My Friend/Patron/Monarch: "This is TankKor. He's an uber Item/Creature/Melee. Can he tank for us in the Maze of Twisty Little Passages All Like The Others?"

Me: "Sure. Glad to have you with us, TankKor."

TankKor: "W00t."

---

Or, more often, my little group would catch up with some poor overmatched solo-er trying to crawl through this month's patch:

Me: (Healing the stranger who is about to die.) "Dude, you need help?"

Option 1)
Dude: "Yeah!"
Me: "Ok, Fellow me."

Option 2)
Dude: (no comment, fighting and dies.)
Me: "Oh well."

eBay doesn't enter into it. :-)

Randy

Randy

5.

> See, one claim among MMORPG RP-ers is that you can't have eBaying because it breaks the immersion. I've said that myself, but I am having doubts.

Probably rightfully so, although there are other ways in which it destroys immersion, apart from the sudden appearance of a character.

Which, really, doesn't happen because of ebay: Buying a char on ebay doesn't make the char 'suddenly appear' - someone played it up to that level before you bought it.

Logging in, however, usually makes a character appear out of thin air. No one cares. Players ignore that, no sweat.

eBaying provides an incentive to behave in ways that 'destroy immersion', but the greater problem is that those behaviors 'destroy gameplay'.

e.g. "You're on a quest to kill the dude for the thing..." But oops, you can't kill the dude because this farmer is standing here killing him over and over in order to sell the thing on ebay. In order to complete the quest, you'll need to go to ebay and buy the thing from this guy.

It also encourages people to search long and hard for every possible item-dupe and money-dupe that they can find, exploit them as much as humanly (or machine-assisted cyborgly) possible when they do find them, because that's going to pay off in real cash money. That sort of exploiting is not so good for the game, either. Simultaneously inflating the price of things to the point that you can't afford anything in-game (unless you purchase gamecash offline), and rendering what are supposed to be rare or uncommon or difficult to obtain items as common as your pocketbook will support, as easy to obtain as an extra shift at Taco Bell.

It is immersion-breaking in the sense that stuff should cost some odd number of in-game currency units, rather than, "No, no... this is $5 U.S.! You have paypal?"

6.

This is a prime example of how PnP RPG's and MMORPG's are totally different environments. When the GM is a human making decisions for a handful of friends (>20.. and wouldn't that be a hellacious group for a GM to try and run) he can afford to fudge to put everyone in the same story at the same place and in the same adventure. A static computer GM cannot do the same for several thousand players... many of whom have never played an RPG before and still think RPing is stupid (which makes one wonder why they'd buy an RPG.. but that's a different thread).

Personally, I don't see MMORPG's as actually having a GM. MMORPG's are more the equivalent of sitting down and running yourself through a game module.

With a real GM the PnP RPG world is custom adapted to your characters actions.. if you say something to an NPC that NPC will respond to whatever you say depend on who you are... if you complete a quest that quest is done.. if you kill a king the populace mourns and a successor must be found (unless you appoint yourself successor). The RPG world exists without the players and the GM guides the story of the players travel through it.

In an MMORPG if you say something to an NPC you only get a certain set of pre-scripted responses IF you use the right keywords (depending on game - some use Monkey Island conversations)... if you complete the quest it resets so other players can complete it and frequently you can do the quest again... if you kill the king you lose some faction and he simply respawns to be killed again later. Players have zero impact on the state of the world. The world is built around the players and without them it doesn't move. The players have to tell their own story of their voyage through their static environment ("Sure, I'm the hero who defeated Emperor Crush... I've killed him at least 20 times... as has everyone else).

Now naturally no company could hire enough GM's do keep up with everyone’s activities nor has any company been ambitious enough to come up with a "world AI" that keeps track of player activities and modifies the world based on them (assuming it's even possible with today's technology)... but I'm getting way off topic.

Suffice it to say I think comparing MMORPG's to PnP RPG's is like comparing whales to elephants…

7.

"See, one claim among MMORPG RP-ers is that you can't have eBaying because it breaks the immersion. I've said that myself, but I am having doubts"

I'm with Randy here, I don't think e-bay 'breaks the fiction' at the character entry point. We all pop in and out of the current MMORPGs by magic, and in some we can actually instantly teleport right in the middle of an infested dungeon where another party is crawling and join them. That's not the point where fiction breaks.
As stated by others here, the breaking point is when you actually bump into the farmer online, or when those activities actually alter the game to the point of crippling you unless you join the Lonely PayPal Club. We can always 'fiction our way out of a fictionary problem'. But there is more than just fiction at work here....

"So long as advancement and gear acquisition is the product of sinking time into un-fun activity, players will have a quite strong distaste for people 'buying in' late in the game." .

Weasel put it really well here. People view it as paying your dues.
In a tangential way I'm always somehow reminded of that 'Back to School' movie where the grown man sends his assistant to take notes in class instead of going there himself. This is all exacerbated if there is any sort of competitive aspect to the game.

8.

DivineShadow> Weasel put it really well here. People view it as paying your dues.

I'm persuaded by this. With MMORPGs, it's just unfair for someone to get the juicy content without doing the same work that everyone else does.

In face to face gaming, that extra person is an asset. In MMOGs, she is a competitor.

That having been said, I really enjoyed Kurt's backstories. I'm going to keep thinking about how to solve the hours-imbalance problem in MMOGs, which leads to the demand side of the eBay market. Casual players are time-starved but they want to access endgame content. But getting them into the world, I guess, is not a matter of immersion-protection, it is about justice.

Makes me wonder: why is it that gamers think that paying your way on eBay is a lame way to get ahead? Isn't sacrificing money just as hard as sacrificing time? Of course, if leveling a cleric to 50 is a sign of skill, that's one thing. But if it's the case that just about anyone can XP grind - and I have heard that said more than once - then it really is just a matter of sacrificing time versus sacrificing money. Maybe I'm becoming Julianizied.

9.

Edward Castronova wrote:

"Makes me wonder: why is it that gamers think that paying your way on eBay is a lame way to get ahead? Isn't sacrificing money just as hard as sacrificing time?"

What if it isn't the sacrifice per se as much as it is about the loss of a little non-fungible fiction about a shared experience. The fraternity/sorority club thing.


10.

The solution is to log onto the Discworld MUD, where your 3-year-old character, armed to the teeth and dripping with bling that would make Mr. T cry, is worthless because he pissed everyone off yesterday.

Make graphical MUDs as social as text-based MUDs like Discworld and your economy will take care of itself. Screw immersion.

"Second Life" and "There" basically followed this plan, and now they're the only currency worth trading on the Gaming Open Market.

11.

Ted> Isn't sacrificing money just as hard as sacrificing time? [. . .] Maybe I'm becoming Julianizied.

Ah, Ted, join us on the dark side :-)! We have gone round on this topic before, after all. Users who don't have the 40 hours a week to run the treadmill are screwed out of the good content unless they have some way to short cut it. However, I think that this thread does echo some previous good points about figuring ways to allow those short cuts to happen without breaking the fiction (if the fiction is critical to the experience).

12.

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13.

I think the meta-knowledge of eBay affects gameplay, but does not break immersion.

Each game world have distinctive gaming culture with distinctive views on unconventional methods of game advancement. The idea of immersion is viewed throught individual and cultural lenses.

If we can have a "Chinese menu" quest system, we can also have a "Chinese menu" background system.

A sense of humor can add to the fun and game immersion too.

*bing*

Zugor as just popped in from daycare duties! He's a pre-gen 4th level tank with flaming lips.

*bing*

Migham is back from potty time! She's a pre-gen cutie!

*bing*

Igor is out cuz, Spot the RL pet is on his leg! Igor is done test-driving his 3rd level pet trainer.


People in general do not take equilibrium shocks (ebayed characters) on established systems (treadmills) so well. So creative ways to ease the pain can be both helpful and profitable :)

Frank

14.

"Isn't sacrificing money just as hard as sacrificing time?"

Edward: Yes. But... There is something much-much deeper than even that. Its about maximizers and 'satisficers'. Bear with me here... Beyond the 'not paying your dues' these things are not on the same scale. One hour of my time working buys kit that would take around 10 hours in-game. Imagine if 1 million UO gold still took a few hours to obtain, but it would cost today $10,000, instead of $15, the perception of the buyer of that 1 Million gold pieces as a despicable player looking for a quick way out would tilt much more towards someone who is paying his dues in a different manner... "Why?"... What in the world is the difference? It just stopped being a matter of principle (or fiction) to be something else. But what? Let's analyze.
What exactly happens when a player discovers he can buy his game kit online? First he realizes there is more than one solution to the resource scarcity problem. Depending on where you fall on the Maximizer/Satisficer scale you'll immediately look at both options, the ingame/in-fiction one and compare it to the out-game one. That's when you become unhappy. Not because you do no have the gear you need. Not because someone has gear with money, but because your chosen path was sub-optimal... As long as we can keep outsourcing our gaming time to 3rd world countries, or desperate get-rich-quick sellers significantly outpace demand and ram the virtual kit prices to the ground, then actually playing the game will **always** be the suboptimal path. Do you want to play a game where, if you play it for fun but have the high-efficiency US mentality, you keep constantly hearing a little voice in the back of your head that says "You know, you've been wasting your time killing this dragon for the past six hours, the sword of El Dorado he has as loot can be bought for $1.50"? ... No seller needs to step into the game to break your fiction, their mere existence out there, coupled with ridiculously low prices on gear and the ridiculously high US salaries creates an optimal path that is outside the game, and the fiction breaking happens inside your head, courtesy of the little voice of Mr. Maximizer.

For a nice treatment of this topic, grab a copy of the April issue of Scientific American and turn to pages 70-75, the article is titled "The Tyranny of Choice". Didn't find it available online yet.

"Casual players are time-starved but they want to access endgame content."

Making the journey fun along the way and different each time would go a long way towards people enjoying the ride instead of purchasing a teleport ticket at the corner dealer. Whoever thought crafting 100,000 chairs is fun, or killing rodents in a sewer feels good needs to have their head checked.

15.

"Making the journey fun along the way and different each time would go a long way towards people enjoying the ride instead of purchasing a teleport ticket at the corner dealer. Whoever thought crafting 100,000 chairs is fun, or killing rodents in a sewer feels good needs to have their head checked."

Yeah, this is the problem. Instead of players feeling that another player has somehow cheated or not paid his dues by buying a high level character, the game should be designed such that the players feel sorry that the ebayer missed out on all the cool content they played through to get to the high levels.

Does anyone want to play Baldur's Gate 2 and take someone else's save game to skip the first 90% of the game? Of course not. Players value all the content in a game like Baldur's Gate.

MMOs are not like that, though. Players are forced to engage in repetitive activities until they are bored silly.

You can also sidestep most of the ebay issue by having fast character development. If you can play a character for a month and more or less max out the character's abilities the ebay market loses value. Then the attitude is more like, "Hey if you want to waste your money buying an ebay character when you can easily level one yourself, feel free."

16.

Mark Asher>the game should be designed such that the players feel sorry that the ebayer missed out on all the cool content they played through to get to the high levels

This is a good point. Something that has always seemed odd to me about buying characters is the assumption that high-level content is "better" than low-level content. This is especially the case in games like EQ that employ a trickle-down strategy: today's high-level content is tomorrow's mid-level content. What makes something worth buying a character for today but not worth buying a character for tomorrow?

If content is so good that people will pay extra dollars to be granted access to it, why bother to implement any other kind of content? Yet if the high-level content is basically the same as the lower-level content, what makes it (as Ted puts it) "juicy"? Is it the fact that it's new? Or that it's more exclusive (ie. fewer people have access to it)? If so, adding new content across the board (rather than just at the high end) would reduce the demand for high-level characters - if not low-level ones!

Richard

17.

Richard,

High-level content is basically the same as lower-level content, except that it is perceptively newer and better: lower-level is by definition lower and perhaps older. Grinding against dragons is percetively better than grinding against maggots or bunnies.

Newer is better, so they say. This is the "juice". Newer monsters, better loot, and fantastic effects. Take a look at the history of expansions and patches. They are either fixing broken older stuff or adding broken newer and better stuff :)

There are many reasons why someone would purchase items or characters, so adding new content across the board or making the grind shorter will not work as independent remedies.

If you change the base fastasy MMORPG design enough, then it will begin to look like A Tale in The Desert or MMO Myst (haven't played Uru)

EQ is now 5 years old. Not many people these days are talking about Evercrack. The previous crack-like gaming substance Magic Crack (Magic: the Gathering)

Frank

18.

Nathan> What if it isn't the sacrifice per se as much as it is about the loss of a little non-fungible fiction about a shared experience. The fraternity/sorority club thing.

I think there is a lot of truth in that -- when I hear players complain about eBaying, it is strongly analogous (imho) to the indignant complaints that real Appalachian Trail thru-hikers have about Yellow-Blazers and Slack-packers who claim to be thru-hikers (terms explained here.) There's a strong sense of entitlement to social exclusivity as a result of accomplishing the objective while playing by the rules.

Richard> If content is so good that people will pay extra dollars to be granted access to it, why bother to implement any other kind of content?

I agree. That's why I suggested back in September that eBaying might be seen as evidence of a design flaw. See this post. But even if the content is basically the same in many ways, there might be reasons (social prestige, etc.) to want to play in the high-level zone instead of the low-level zone.

Re immersion, I think Randy's comments are spot-on. And fwiw, as Richard has noted in his book, EA jumped the shark a while back on immersion-breaking with its advanced character program: http://support.uo.com/advancedcharacter.html.

19.

Richard: This is a good point. Something that has always seemed odd to me about buying characters is the assumption that high-level content is "better" than low-level content.

In almost every persistent game it simply is, by design. Everything 'cool' is placed at the top end: fantanstic monsters, effects weapons, intricate quests, fantastic settings, 'raid' tactics. Everything 'lame' is at the low end: 'rusty' weapons, distinct lack of 'tactics', open fields and common woods, 'wimpy' monsters, and 'plain' spells. So why wouldn't a player see the higher level content as better?

In-game rewards exist along multiple axes. Each is only recognized as an actual reward depending on a player's subjective preference toward the acts it enables them to perform. (potential reward axes are: political influence, combat power, combat utility, wealth, crafting ability, spell power, spell utility, avatar personaliz-ability, safe-travel capability, real-estate, quest plot intricacy, etc.)

Currently we only dole out these potential rewards in a bundle, along a single axis of measuring advancement: gaining 'XP'. So there is only one 'level' of content across all potential rewards. Being a level 50 fighter entails l50 loot, l50 skill points, l50 zones, l50 influence, l50 customizability, l50 quests, l50 land rights, etc.

We then scale our design (often through egregious timesinks) disproportionally so that getting to level 50 gives value to all these rewards simultaneously. We end up making the journey much too long for those who only care about a few of these rewards -- yet it's the only means to any end.

Not only that, but gaining our generic 'xp' is rewarded disproportionally for fighting monsters. So any player who does not see combat as being a rewarding act in-and-of-itself will lend no value to that dominant part of 'the journey'.

The player interested in the in-game fiction and quests (not tradeskills, not exploring, not powergaming) can't just focus on doing quests to unlock successively more intricate and rewarding quests. They are forced to do things they don't find value in for the privilege. They are rewarded with newer quests relative to how well they fought monsters - not how well they do quests. Hence, they won't feel like they're missing out on the lower-level content by buying-in -- it isn't fun for them anyway.

People who see value in DAoCs Realm vs Realm combat, but not its Player vs Environment combat, don't see themselves as missing anything by buying-in.

People who see value in 'big game hunting' with fantastic monsters don't see themselves as missing anything by not having had thousands of sterile encounters with static spawns. They'll lament not having as challenging a time with the mid-level basilisk, but they certainly won't mind not having to have 100s of that same encounter in the name of 'advancement'.

20.

weasel> "In almost every persistent game it simply is, by design. Everything 'cool' is placed at the top end"


Perhaps this is the crux of the problem right here. No matter what content you put where the "cool" stuff will be the stuff that's only the few power players can access.

Maybe the problem isn't the distribution of content or the quality of the journey up the levels but simply that there IS a journey up the levels.

Instead of basing your access to content on how long you've played the game (aka your level or the old "power = time" formula) perhaps levels as a whole should be done away with and a different metric used. The only games currently use level systems is because that's how it worked in the PnP RPG's and that function was carried over to many of the single player RPG's. The dynamics and non-linear environment of the MMORPG, however, doesn't lend itself well to having a level based system.

By including the level based system all it does is draw the player’s attention away from the actual content of the game and focus them on the grind... players stop following the story and just focus on what provides the best xp for their level.

So how to shift players focus away from the xp grind and back to the content? Well first do away with levels... but players still want to be able to achieve something and feel their efforts have been rewarded with something starting players don't have - so we'll need a replacement metric. How about this:

Fame / infamy: The more quests a player can complete the more famous and/or infamous he becomes (depending on the quest or other actions) and the more content he has access to. This could also allow a famous player with personal access to more content to take less famous players along (though not giving them an undue amount of fame just for going through restricted bit of content).

Pros:

1. Removes the level gap that can separate friends
2. If done right, bases content access on quality of play instead of amount
3. Removes the focus from acquisition of power to quality of gameplay.
4. Reduces development time on complex skills/level systems and class balancing

Cons:

1. Requires a greater quality of content and more of it. Repeatable (even by other players) quests would not mesh well in this environment. Well they would but they'd seem awfully silly (but I guess they already are)

2. Would players want a game not based around becoming more powerful?

21.

Why buy your way ahead?

Because the game is broken.

Everquest has a horribly broken treadmill at the heart of it. This treadmill certainly succeeded at making lots of money, but much like selling tobacco, we should ask ourselves the social cost.

In the case of Everquest, we have a system designed so as to require a steadily increasing cost to progress. At first, you bash a few rats and get a bing. Then a few more. Then rats don't work anymore, and you are on to your next monster. And this goes on for hundreds of hours.

This also, of course, means that you are soon outpaced by your friends. Or outpace them. Either case is deadly - someone either has to grind xp, or you have to find new friends.

The answer to "How do you fit a new person into the campaign" in MMORPGs is simple: Ensure Lvl1 people can contribute to any party. Compress the level range. Reward tactics at all levels. Ensure the Lvl1 character can *see* all your content. Sure, they may then consume it all and leave after a month. But haven't we figured out usually the ties that bind us to these games are social, not the treadmill?

I've contended for a long time now that you should design any future game with ebay in mind. If people trading outside your game will hurt its offering, you will have to redesign your game. This is not some artifical evil constraint - this is mere understanding of human nature. When designing a game one should keep the Griefer in mind - if a griefer can ruin your game, you better redesign it!

In the end, I think discussions about the merits/demerits of ebay should avoid the usual focus on Everquest. That example tells us a lot less about the dangers of commodifications of games, than it tells us about the dangers of ignoring human nature in game design.

- Brask Mumei

22.

Oh..."bing". I see now. In the eq world, that's always been "ding" to me. "Bing" is what that insurance guy says in "Groundhog Day"...but I digress.

Sourtone comes up with an interesting method of eliminating levels, but I think items are just as important in causing these casual vs. powergamer gaps in power. Just as often, players target content for the value of the loot as for the amount of relative experience.
It seems to me that if it's useful to eliminate levels, it would also be useful to eliminate the huge ranges of item power.

This makes that question of whether anyone will play such a game even more difficult to answer with a yes. It would have to be pretty compelling content to make people want to access it again and again without the promise of greater power.

23.

The current Gamespy story about SW:G actually hits may of these points. The treadmill sucks, not being able to play with your friends sucks, being crushed by the power gamers and script kiddies sucks, &c &c. Clearly, this is why SW:G has been such a commercial failure.

Oh, wait.

Obviously, I strongly agree with Brask, weasel, et al, that games that require such tremendous quantities of boring and repetitive gameplay are flawed. My opinion, which we've discussed in other threads, is that the RPG style, especially in the MMO context, is limited to a specific group of players and that a blind adherence to this style of gameplay is a mistake.

24.

Beyond "why current fantasy-based MMORPGs suck", major designs do not have a soul. I don't want to envision playing Middle Earth Online just be Orc #4383, regardless of whether I grind my way to 50th lv or bought the character with RL$.

In current designs characters are not heroes, they are characters wilth ever-higher levels, skills, loot. It's like Warcraft where you see the story unfolds in cut scenes, but you are just playing the scenario (again and again if you wish).

While my Character Trainer 3000 is out of orbit, a middleware to create credible character and backgrounds will be sufficient for Ted's initial question.

It is an semi-automated program of the process my Live Action Role Playing (LARP) game goes through for characters transfered from another LARP (wouldn't that option among UO, DAOC, and EQ be useful?). Before each character is converted, a backstory is weaved into the plot of the game. NPC will praise or curse the character's pass accomplishments and failures. Old relationships are kept and new relationships are build, etc.

The program, with a few player input, will utilize Kurt's ideas among others to weave a backstory.

Currently, you can acquired pre-trained characters. However, they are just empty shells with no soul.

Frank

25.

Frank> In current designs characters are not heroes, they are characters wilth ever-higher levels, skills, loot.

Right, and here we get to something deeper as a critic of MMORPG leveling systems: in the end, they don't give you the hero's journey that you expected when you signed on. If I had known, on my first day of EQ, that I would never finish the game, never complete the Great Quest, and never experience the Return [deep debts to Dr. Bartle for this - see his book, p 434], I'm not sure I would have stayed on.

Mark Asher> Does anyone want to play Baldur's Gate 2 and take someone else's save game to skip the first 90% of the game?

Brilliant. This is the problem: When you buy a videogame, you expect the entire journey. But MMORPGs don't delivery a journey, they deliver a rat race. eBayers sit far back in the pack and think that there's an end up there, if only they could get to it. They buy their way forward, only to find that the end is still as far away as ever.

Eventually, you quit out of exhaustion, not because you are satisfied, but because you can't take it. It really is the cigarette model of production and marketing.

Good news: there is obviously a different way to make virtual worlds, one that does allow the Hero's Journey. Of course, we can't look to the private sector for that. Maybe non-commercial entities will be involved someday {wink}.

26.

Frank> In current designs characters are not heroes, they are characters wilth ever-higher levels, skills, loot.

This is really a problem of perception. The MMORPG's to date are designed around the idea of the players as the primary inhabitants of the world with the NPC's just being semi-functional scenery (that can usually kick your butt). If literally everyone is the hero than in reality no one is.

The answer here would be to shift the players perception. Instead of portraying the players as the primary inhabitants of the world you have to create a world where the NPC's are the primary inhabitants (and actually go about their daily lives not just standing in one spot waiting for a player to click on them) and portray the players as just other people mvoing through this living and functional world. Then their rise to power can be compared to the power of the non-hero NPC masses. Of course this requires a much more powerful world AI engine than is currently available and about 1000x then number of NPC's most games currently have. And you also have to work in a balance to keep your players from being able to just wantonly slaughter NPC's... after all if it can be done at least one player will try it.

27.

Sourtone>And you also have to work in a balance to keep your players from being able to just wantonly slaughter NPC's... after all if it can be done at least one player will try it.

Although I'm a great fan of the idea of making PCs be "just other people" wandering through the virtual world, it comes with a big problem: players are resistant to having their PCs killed off. If NPCs can die and PCs can't, this automatically puts PCs at an advantage and makes them "heroes" that NPCs can never be. Thus, either you have to make PCs killable, NPCs unkillable, or try to balance the unbalanceable.

Richard

28.

The computer game genre called "RPG" consists of games that are about building characters up, whether through levels, skills, gear, or a combination. That is central. There are other types of computer games that have an equal amount of roleplay or immersion in a gameworld, but are not RPGs (they are adventure games, or driving games, or FPS, or strategy, or some other genre.)

The other genre of games called "RPG" consists of games that are about immersion in fantasy worlds. Many of them contain elements of building a character via levels, skills, gear, etc, which is why the computer game genre that's about that topic took their name, I think. But mostly when I play tabletop RPG's I hardly bother with building my character's power stats and collecting stuff.

Everquest is pretty much an RPG in the computer game sense. The fun of it in some sense *is* the character going up in power and levels.

(There's another game appended to the end of it which is a guild vs guild competition to see who can kill the toughest raid monsters - I haven't played that one so I don't know much about how it works except what I've read. But that would be the part that people buy ebay characters to access, usually.)

To some extent the Lost Dungeons expansion added a new type of gameplay to Everquest. You can take your existing character you've been building and join a short term game to see if you can succeed or fail at a given task. I have been enjoying doing this equally at lower and higher levels - it is well integrated with the main game but is a different sort of experience. More like the regular multiplayer games than the Massively ones; the regular game is like the chat you meet up and start your small multiplayer game in, then play it, win and your stats with everyone else are calculated.

So that counts 3 types of gameplay.

Ebaying of characters as long as it's low volume relatively doesn't bother me that much. I do think it should be supported by the game provider by having a fee ($100 per character or so) for transfering a character from one person's account to another's, and that accounts should remain untransferable, and that name changes should be required when a character trades hands as well as removing their guild affiliation.

The selling of items and in game money, however, does bother me and only because of the monopolization of camps for those items by people who plan to sell them for out of game cash.

I suppose it doesn't bother me because I actually enjoy the "treadmill" part of the game. Killing static spawns that are challenging fights each time is somewhat fun - I know them well enough to know what strategy to use, but chance occurrences change it enough each time to keep me from being bored. Tradeskills skilling up are boring, but there was one I enjoyed: the enchanter spell research. What made it fun was the following:

1) the pieces needed dropped randomly off almost anything I was fighting at my given level. Not too often, but often enough. They were also available for reasonable but not too cheap prices off a variety of vendors, where players had sold them who didn't need them. So they were not farmable, but they would just drop for me in the process of doing what I was otherwise doing anyway.

2) each piece was labeled clearly so that without using a cheat site or having to go buy recipe books, I could see which piece went with which other piece. Tasarin's Grimoire part of page 16 (left side icon) went with Tasarin's Grimoire part of page 16 (right side icon). Velishoul's Tome page 106 went with Velishoul's Tome page 107. Etc.

3) each combine made a reasonable chance of a skill point, but I had to carry around a dozen or more pieces to have the ones I would need to even attempt a combine. So periodically I got to just open my spellbook and make a combine. The results were a surprise and often immediately useful (a spell I didn't before have that I could now scribe and use).

That was a fun tradeskill -- the rest, hmpf. I did do some baking with the various meats that dropped off things I was killing anyway, but it wasn't nearly as clear what you needed, and you had to go buy some of the stuff. None of the others even appealed to me.

As for the Hero's Journey - I never expected that from the game(s), I suppose. If I want that I'll read a book about it (and I often do). I like a social game that's about a somewhat realistic social world -- one I don't really like to participate in in real life, but can enjoy when it's filtered through a game interface. I do see that many single player games are about that - but I suppose I didn't care one way or the other if it was there. Frogger doesn't have that hero's journey idea, but Spyro does. But in Spyro, does the hero's journey add to the game? It gives the animated scenes a plotline, which is fun, but to the gameplay itself, to me, it seems to add little. On the other hand, there are games (that I never played, but watched my husband enjoy, like Fallout) that I think may have hero's journey embedded in the gameplay. I usually get bored with those and never finish them...

29.

Richard>"this automatically puts PCs at an advantage and makes them "heroes" that NPCs can never be"

Which isn't a bad thing as part of our point is that most players (Dee excluded apparently and perhaps this is more male oriented... hmm new topic?) are playing in order to gain that feeling of being a hero. The point about balance is that for game mechanics you simply don't want d3wdz running around slaughtering innocent NPC's for no reason. You still, however, want to cast them as the hero's/anti-hero's of this living virtual world.

Naturally this is only applicaple to the "adventure" genre (EQ, DAoC, etc)... in the "life sim" genre (Sims, SL) there is no quest for power and glory and the intention is only for the players to be the inhabitants, so the agrument is irrelevant.

Some games (AC2) have tried to mix the "life sim" with the "adventure" genre (the players are truly the only inhabitants and you are all hero's) but their success seems very limited...

30.

Sourtone>Which isn't a bad thing as part of our point is that most players (Dee excluded apparently and perhaps this is more male oriented... hmm new topic?) are playing in order to gain that feeling of being a hero.

I wouldn't generalize it as male/female on one data point like that. I'm new to this concept that most players expect every game to be a hero. Wouldn't that make games like GTA less popular, since the character is so unheroic?

So I'm every second coming up with new ideas about this new-to-me concept of the player as a hero.

What about the opportunity to be a hero that presents itself to every player in a massively-multiplayer game filled with boring tasks you can do alone and daunting ones that take more people than you know personally: the organizer-hero? Be a hero by arranging a big event. Unfortunately while that is heroic, it is not fun. But does the hero's journey look fun? I don't think Frodo had fun carrying the Ring to Mordor. However, if heroism is what you want, you can be a hero in MMOGs.

My husband likes being this kind of hero. He started his Everquest guild three years ago and still runs it. In SWG, he got a city in need of new citizens to expand together with a guild that was looking for a city to call home base. When the city's mayor was tired of it, he found someone else who'd always wanted to be a mayor to be the replacement.

But there's always a shortage it seems of that kind of hero. He gets volunteers to organize events and hunts in Everquest for the guild, but after trying for a week or two they usually give up (and if not, they burn out after 3 or 4 months it seems.) To me it doesn't seem like most players want to be heroes in a Hero's Journey sort of adventure. They want to be followers of the hero maybe? Like being in Aragorn's army?

So what is it that players do want, about the Hero's Journey? Maybe they want a storyline that makes them out to be a hero, but they don't actually seem to want to go through the tests... or they fail them... Maybe the problem is that in a single player game, if they fail the tests, they restart from a saved game and try again till they succeed. But you can't do that in MMOG's.

How could a massively multiplayer fantasy game implement a hero's journey for each character?

What if they designed it so that each high level character nearing the end of his or her hero's journey required the assistance of, not a team of fellows around his own level, but a bunch of assorted folks of varying levels? For example, he is now famous enough among the npc's that he is recognized everywhere he goes. He needs some lower level unknowns to do the talking to npcs for him so they don't realize who they are talking to, or to fight timid monsters who would flee to unreachable places if they realized they had no chance to defeat their enemy.

In order to have many low level characters and few high ones, which you'd need, you'd have to reverse the way most mmorpg's do it, and have the low levels take a long time while the high ones sped by. (Game design effort would have to be made to make the high levels actually *less fun* but the fun part would be the climax and achievement of having finished another Hero's Quest and unlocked another type of low level character to play)

Then a high level character who completes his hero's journey would receive his reward, be carted off to the Far Shores or start ruling as a peaceful King, and the player would get a new low character to start again. It would have some new benefits or choices that their original character did not have, and a new more involved Hero's Journey quest. And to start with they'd join someone else's to get the early parts of their quest done. Being the sidekick for several months before their own apotheosis, but always in some ways reminded that they are also heroes on early stages of their own journey.

You could have special items and small mini-quests only available for the hours immediately following someone's completion of a hero's journey quest, as a reward for the world on someone completing his hero's quest. You'd have to be able to add new ones quickly as people finished the old ones; eventually when the game was mature you'd want dozens and dozens of these resettable hero's quests each advancing in complexity, continuing to add more as players advanced through the content. The quests would need to be interlocking, so that you are the mentor of another character's early stages while you're doing middle stages of yours, etc. Yet the early ones would have to be doable without such mentoring, or get it from npc's. Hmm I wonder if a game like that is actually possible?

31.

Dee> "I wouldn't generalize it as male/female on one data point like that.

I wasn't meaning to generalize, merely noting a side point that it might be something interesting to look at to see if playing on the "hero" play angle is prefered by gender or just gamer type.

Dee> "Wouldn't that make games like GTA less popular, since the character is so unheroic?"

I use "hero" in a general sense... players want to be the main character in a story. In many cases this is classicly thought of as the "hero" of the story... but indeed it can also be the "villian". Realistically no single player can be the main character in a MMO so the closest an MMO might be able to provide is for the player to be "one of the few". Admittedly some games have no real sense of character to them and these are equally popular with a different group of players (though of course there are many players that belong to multiple groups)

I won't cut and paste the remainder of your comment but I like where you were going. Giving high levels an end with a new character type to start over as for a reward is a great concept. It would also be a great way to add new classes by just making the next tier of classes to advance to. Kudos...

32.

Therefore we are back to the case for permadeath…

…and the case for a more immersive world instead of an immersive game; a design where life & death, action & consequences, and triumphs & failures are major elements for players to create their own hero’s journey.

My LARP (live action role playing) has a richly-described fantasy world that features death as an integral part of the mythology. Under this immersive texture, in essence you have a limit of 20 resurrections. Each time you resurrect or raise a level, you are harder to resurrect. This is represented by a 5% increase in probability of resurrection failure. Failure results in rich myth-building spirit quests that become important parts of the character’s journey and history. When this probability reaches 100% you are on your last life. This is when you should contemplate retirement or a blaze of glory exit. This design is forgiving of early deaths while making death increasing meaningful at higher levels.

This design also adds another dimension of gameplay: managing resurrection probability. Life, death, resurrection, and spirit quests are all meaningful progression in the world; death is not inconsequential, resurrection attempts are semi-major events, and spirit quests are deeply personal. The adjective “rich” describe not the graphics, but the lore.

Avoiding death becomes a gameplay feature. Cheating death is a battlecry for some while laughing in the face of death is a catharsis for others.

For many, they are having too much immersive fun to worry too about character level and loot. As gameplay is tightly compressed into one weekend per month, managing character level and loot seems to be the metagame played offline while you manage your other in-game concerns (estates, baronies, business, etc.).

My LARP, therefore, argues for a case where level and loot are just two of many richly designed gameplay dimensions; a case for a world with a lot more going on than just level and loot.

Frank

33.

Dee LAcey>How could a massively multiplayer fantasy game implement a hero's journey for each character?

No, it's not the characters that go on the hero's journey, it's the players. What's more, you're only a hero when you've finished the journey, ie. reached the "end" of the "game" and been recognised for it.

>If I want that I'll read a book about it

Reading a book will show you some character's journey. It may make you identify with a hero, or understand what it is to a hero, but it won't make you a hero.

Players who play the role of a hero in a virtual world may want to be heroes, and want to be treated as heroes, but they're only actually going to be heroes (in the hero's journey sense) if they complete their hero's journey.

The fact that it is impossible to complete such a journey in most graphical virtual worlds perhaps explains a lot of the frustration felt by long-term players.

Richard

34.

magicback> "My LARP, therefore, argues for a case where level and loot are just two of many richly designed gameplay dimensions; a case for a world with a lot more going on than just level and loot."

LARP's and MMORPG's are very different environments with very different sets of players. LARP players are dedicated to the RP portion of the game where the majority of MMORPG players, like it or not, simply have no interest in that level of RP.

Further, perma-death works in LARP's for the same reason it works in PnP RPGs.. a human is always there in real time to make the judgement calls. In an MMORPG there's no way to emulate this. Where death in a LARP generally only comes from another human (PC or NPC), death in an MMORPG can be random and unpredicatable and has a great many factors LARP's don't - from being caused by malicious use of mobs by other players (ie training), to bugs in the game (ie UI breaks during combat), to hardware failures (lag, PC crash). Your character is just as dead through cicumstances beyond your control and not even withn the actual context of the game.. and worse these deaths are hard to prove to customer support as "invalid" (not to mention the pain of having to contact CS to get them corrected).

35.

Sourtone>"LARP's and MMORPG's are very different environments with very different sets of players."

I agree the player base is different, but not very different.

My LARP is fantasy-based and the design is relatively heavy on level and loot. I think a majority of the players also plays MMORPG, EQ in particular. LARP and MMORPG loots are traded in the parking lots :)

Yes, there are technical issues with implementing permadeath. However, I just see it as a technical challenge to overcome. I rather find an elegant technical solution instead of using a bland and easy solution. This statement is true of any bugs.

Technical deaths in my LARP are just as annoying. We have designed numerous, expensive safety-buffs that triggers upon command or upon accidental death. Each contingency option has its pros and cons, so managing this aspect is another gameplay.

So, while permadeath is possible there were only about 15 permadeaths over the last 10 years. The risk is there and the fear factor pump hearts, so many choose to retire their characters in grand fashion before the risk becomes a reality.

I'm not advocating permadeath as an singular solution, but as an integral dynamic of a richer game world.

Over the 10+ years, LARP design and player base are greatly influenced by MMORPGs. It's much easier and cheaper to experiment with social designs with LARPs, so we usually find elegant solutions quickly.

Frank

36.

I still don't see how they compare. Okay, so your LARP is item and level driven.... the player base is still RP oriented as only the most die-hard RPers would even consider dressing up and running around in the woods. Except for a small niche group the playerbase for MMORPG's is not RP oriented. Thus the very concept of perma-death to the LARP player and the MMORPG player are very different. In a LARP you don't get the l33t d3wdz who think it's funny to stand around and play "gank the n00b."

Building in "safety" spells and such into your LARP so characters almost never die is a lot different than random death in an MMORPG. The only person who can say you're dead in a LARP is a living thinking human being who can make judgement calls right there on the spot and say "okay you're not really dead" or "your safety-buff kicked in you're not dead". MMORPG game engines can't make those. If (HP == 0) then (PC1234 == dead) and, if you think you have enough proof to contest it, you're in for a long wait for a GM or other technical support person..

Of course, no matter how the death occurs if you build in "safety buffs" and such to keep people from suffering the perma-death then you're simply right back to the same respawn system we currently have. Though as you say they're "expensive" so only the rich and powerful can respawn while all the "n00bs" are sheep for the slaughter.

MMORPG's have as much in common with LARPS as they do with PnP RPG's... they share some core mechanics (turn based combat, character advancement, spell system) and maybe some setting (fantasy, sci-fi) but beyond that they are totally different environments. Square Pegs don't go into round holes even if the square pegs and round pegs are both green and made of wood.

37.

Well, it appears there is a difference in perspective.

The assumption is that only diehards will play LARPs. But it is really about timing, location, convenience among other factors. Playing MMORPG is definitely easier and cheaper.

As for "gank the noob", I think this social behavior appeared on MUDs and LARPS way before MMORPGs. However, the hazing is over once you get to know the person. Face-to-face contact really reduces the anti-social behaviors. But we have playing NPC monsters as an avenue to put this anti-social behavior to good use.

The assumption that the computer can't do X now is just another technical challenge worth overcoming. Humans are better at fuzzy decision, but computer can deal with random deaths. If HP=0 and buff_on=TRUE, then execute buff. If HP=0 and buff_on=FALSE, then "you are out of luck buddy, take a death count, and go get resurrected." As stated before, there are many ways to turn buff_on=TRUE. This is the design and players will get to know it well.

Morever, regardless of safegards the risk of permadeath is still there and increasing to a point where random death IS a game-breaking factor. The small but increasing risk of permadeath is a factor that is felt as the player becomes more experienced with the particular quirks of the gameworld and the character rises in level.

It is an integral feature, not a design flaw. Only when you are on your last death do you feel the curse of random technical death. The designed exit for this is end-games (numerous options).

The assumption that only the rich will be able to afford the buffs is based on flat pricing. Pricing mechanism can be scaled. For example, a 10% tithe of your wealth is a scalable option.

Lastly, MMORPG and LARPs share the quality of massive multiplayer. Sure LARPS can be 150 people, but there are events with 4,000 also. I think the population density per area is similar.

Lastly, I think it would be good to take a closer look at the similarities and differences between well-designed LARPS and MMORPGs. Much could be learned and adapted.

Frank

38.

BTW,

I suggest a read of the review of ATITD by the folks at corpnews.com:

http://www.corpnews.com/news/fullnews.cgi?
newsid1078686234,32591,

Frank

39.

Richard> No, it's not the characters that go on the hero's journey, it's the players. Reading a book will show you some character's journey. It may make you identify with a hero, or understand what it is to a hero, but it won't make you a hero.

I'm sorry to be so dense, but I really don't get what you mean at all.

In what sense do players in a game expect or desire to really BE heroes? I gave in my post an example of the player really being a hero (of my husband organizing and matchmaking etc) which you didn't address, and I also explained how I get the feeling few players really want to do that. Most players seem to want to actually be followers (though they may want to, as you phrase it, identify with a hero).

So what do you mean? How could a roleplaying game (multiplayer or not) make the _player_ a hero as opposed to making their character be one and they follow along vicariously as they would while reading a book? Can you explain the difference between what you mean by the player, not the character, being a hero?

40.

99 smithing
99 mining
60 magic
99 crafting
70 attack
70 defence
70 strength
99 rune crafting
90 hitpoints
99 cooking
99 fishing
60 wood cutting
60 firemaking
combat level 99

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