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Nov 16, 2004

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Comments

1.

Yay! Intricate discussion of mechanics.

I can see how there'd be a really strong synergy between #1 and #3, where a paucity of player styles gives you an even greater incentive to molt.

That #2's something I haven't seen elsewhere, or so explicitly. It's intriguing--there's often this doldrums in the middle levels where leveling slows down and you stop getting new powers, and starting a track fresh seems like just the kick in the pants you need.

It might be worth looking into the kinds of single-player games that the multiplayer rpgs draw on; my suspicion is that the Japanese developers branched their RPG tradition right around the time of the early Wizardry and Ultimas, and have been pursuing a course of parallel evolution. (final fantasy 1, f'rinstnace, had a major class change event which was as satsifying as you describe, though without the starting anew factor.)

2.

Some of the culture differences arises from a different expectation of choice.

There are two theories of choice:
1) The developer makes available a wide range of choice and the player picks their favorite type.
2) The developer chooses the best option out of the possible set and provides that to the player.

The western model can be seen as an abdication on the part of the designer to actually do what they are supposed to do - choose a fun game to make.

The eastern model can be seen as a tyranny of the developer forcing down the players throats what they think is the best vision.

Needless to say, both systems have their merits :>

This is reflected well beyond character creation. The western CRPGs have usually always been more skill based and "wander freely in the world" oriented, whilst the eastern CRPGs have usually been more class based and "follow the one plot line with absolutely no decision points."

- Brask Mumei

3.

>>Are there any other interesting mechanic differences in other Asian MMOs?

Great topic, Nick - I love hearing about your play experiences with RO..

The 'elder game' in Lineage includes a game mechanic that I haven't seen duplicated in Western MMOs. Clans can organize themselves and 'capture' a castle (there are only a few per server, so they're a limited resource), and then levy a tax on the surrounding areas. Owning a castle has major, ongoing, in-game rewards - and once captured, the clan must also defend their castle from being raided by other clans. It's a brilliant structure - with team-based goals and an end-game that never ends (capture, lose possession, capture again).

Anyone know of any similar 'elder-games' in other MMOs?

4.


Anyone know of any similar 'elder-games' in other MMOs?

I believe Eve-Online with Exodus update (this month) will introduce corporation ("clan") competition for space stations. A corporation that controls a space station can set rental rates that other players pay to use facilities (factories etc).

5.

The only aspect relevant, imho, is that it doesn't ask you to buy the most powerful hardware possible.

Something that is always overlooked.

6.

Nick Yee>By comparing character creation engines between Asian and Western MMOs, one really gets the sense that appearances matter a lot more to Western MMOs.

It goes further than that: one virtual world (can't say which because of NDA) in development in the west for the Far Eastern market included a fully-fledged make-your-own-face system that they had to remove after adverse reaction from focus groups. The reason given was that prospective players didn't like creating characters that turned out not to be as good-looking as characters created by other people with better face-sculpting skills.

In other words, they'd rather all look the same but beautiful than different but plain.

Richard

7.

I play un LA2, so i don't think that clan system is usefull. For example russian game Pentacore (www.penatcore.ru)has built in goverment system. Each 5 players in one "Nom" make a village, where they can elect monarch or democracy. 5 "Noms" make "Polis". 5 "Polises" make - country.

8.

Richard wrote: "In other words, they'd rather all look the same but beautiful than different but plain."

This is an important qualifier. It seems quite possible that appearances are just as important in Asian MMOs. It's individualism that takes a back seat. This seems to be backed up by Aaron Delwiche's points about Ragnarok players in Thailand who experienced the MMO more as a group social activity than an opportunity to create/recreate personal identities in the world.

But while I love the idea of comparing/contrasting Asian and Western MMOs and think it's an interesting exercise I think we should shy away from using examples from just one or two worlds before drawing any definitive conclusions. What are the dynamics in Lineage, FF, MU, etc.? Are there cross-world patterns?

9.

"The only aspect relevant, imho, is that it doesn't ask you to buy the most powerful hardware possible."

I have to agree that is a factor given the popularity some low-spec games achieve.

10.

Someone please explain to me why so many Asian players in Lineage 2 are female dwarves, who all look like friends of Hello Kitty. There's probably some farming mechanism going on for being a dwarf, but for female avatars, the short-skirted giggling schoolgirl anime bit creeps me out. And the individuality allowed is almost nill, so it's all the same giggling female Hello Kitty dwarves. What is the cultural reasoning for that adoption? And is this a common pattern in other Asian-created games?

11.

Betsy Book said:
This is an important qualifier ... It's individualism that takes a back seat.

I totally agree that it must be qualified. Although the more I think about it, the less it seems to have to do with individualism per se, as much as it has to do with two paradigms of egalitarianism.

The RO (FFXI/Lineage) mechanism is saying that what's tantamount is that people end up equal no matter where they start. The CoH (SWG/etc) mechanism is saying that what's tantamount is that access to tools must be equal but that it's inevitable that certain people will end up being better. Anyone see "The Incredibles"? - in a world where everyone is special, no one is ... The irony is that everyone cannot all be beautiful at the same time.

Dmitri - At SoPII, Constance presented on Adena farming. The female dwarves are chosen because of a functional advantage in mining (or similar monetary advantage) in the game.

12.

Dmitri -- Check out Constance's presentation on the Culture of Play Panel at SOP II. She's all over this female dwarf thing. Short answer: they maximize the benefits of farming for the farmers, and they're taihen kawaii

http://web.stream57.com/nylaw/103004_cultureofplay0001.htm

13.

I've seen the paper (and have played L2 w/its author at length), but I think there's something there in addition to the farming. Everyone else in the game is a part of this tough fantasy world--including the male dwarves--but the female dwarves stick out like, well, very cute thumbs.

What I was wondering was really in regards to Betsy's post above, i.e. is this kawaii thing an Asian phenomenon or not really? Is there an equivalent in "Western" made games?

14.

Dmitri> Is there an equivalent in "Western" made games?

Elves?

15.

"for all intensive purposes"

that should be "for all intents and purposes"

16.
3) Appearances - There is only one "race" in RO which for all intensive purposes could be called the "anime" race. The interesting thing is that your profession is what entirely sets your appearance, and thus, "what you do" is what determines "who you are". In Western MMOs, there is a much stronger emphasis on "how you look" is what determines "who you are".

This makes it sound more like a design decision than a cultural difference. Or if there's a cultural difference at work, its on the part of the designers assumptions about what their customers want. And even that sounds more likely to be a difference in design philosophy rather than culture.

In other words, we (Western Developers) think that the customers demand highly customizable avatars. So we make it a design requirement, and that's what our games have...til the second they hit the players hands.

'Cause all the players wind up looking almost exactly the same.

So they're wearing different colored armor. All the warriors at THIS level are wearing different colors of LEATHER armor. All the warriors at THAT level are wearing different colors of PLATE armor.

In practice there isn't really any difference. All the low level bards look the same, all the high level warriors look the same: "what you do" is what determines "who you are" in our games, too.

We're doing the same thing they're doing. Just not as well.

But hey, there's a 12,000-pologon individually customized head in that helmet. Heh.

17.

*polygon.

18.

That speaks more to our balancing the armor poorly than it does to whether or not our customers crave individuality. I think it's hard to deny that Western players DO like character customization and being able to wear unique clothing.

19.

Hmm. Not the cuteness exactly, but people generally stumble when trying to make female versions of the ugly humanoids; a certain kind of brutishness fits much more neatly into people's idealized male than idealized female. I guess Lineage just opted out, made a race that consists entirely of cranky old men and little girls.

As for the other point--I've suffered from Second Life slider fatigue myself, wanting my avatar to look good but just not managing to twiddle all the interdependent knobs to make it happen. Being ugly doesn't just hurt yourself. A world full of ugly people is less pleasant for everyone in it. (i have to admit, i lean towards a better interface for guiding people through the search space, but that'd just pull up the average.)

And it's not strictly an east/west divide; like, Diablo.

20.

I believe Eve-Online with Exodus update (this month) will introduce corporation ("clan") competition for space stations.

This has been in Eve for a while, there are a few special (undestroyable) stations that can be conquered and then allow you to charge taxes. Exodus adds the ability to build your own mini space stations, and blow up those of your enemies.

21.

Another MMO which uses a limited resource occupation system well is Yohoho Puzzle Pirates (www.puzzlepirates.com). Aprox. 20 of the islands in the ocean can be blockaded and the winning Flag gets to assume ownership of the island. They set tax rates for the businesses there (all player owned and operated) and direct infrastructure development. Each island has its own commodities pool and is inextricably tied into the economic system of the other islands so a poor governor of one island has the potential to affect many. The political tarting which goes on about which flags are derelict in their duty to the ocean at large (usually by not building their infrastructure up fast enough for someone else's tastes) and which islands should be forcably removed from their positions is quite interesting.

With a highly complicated economic system, persistant ownership of property, multi-tiered social networks, and an interesting consentual/non-consentual PvP system, player-talent based skill system (rather than time-invested), and the ever-cool ability to play a small noseless pirate, I'm surprised it hasn't been brought up in one of these mechanics threads before.

22.

Another interesting and relevant aspect of Puzzle Pirates is the variety of costumes that players wear. This allows players to create fairly unique looks for themselves, which can also convey information to those around them. For example, black clothing is rare (you need the blood of a see dragon (i think, though may be wrong on the exact monster you need to find and slay, never saw one myself) to make the die) and generally only worn by fairly experienced players etc. Another important point is that there is no armour in the game, so it doesn't fall foul of the 'must wear the one costume that is most efficient' trap mentioned earlier, and clothing choices are therefore based entirely on taste (well, and access). Though at the same time, everything is themed consistently, so it's hard to make a character look bad or out of place (unless you do it deliberately... though even so it's still quite hard), and anyone not interested in how their character looks doesn't really have to worry about it too much, though most people do as it's fun and part of the game (clothes have to be made by a production line of gathering resources and so on, like any other thing in the game).

Wondering why developers don't give the players more choice of clothing options in games and I'm reminded of the denzins of computer science lectures and their general lack of interest in their own. (after that dig, I probably shouldn't mention the larger ammount of attention that face customising tools get..... ohh, that was harsh)

I hope more games start to offer the kind of clothing variety seen in PP, it's such an easy way for players to individualise themselves.

23.

Transformation: Also exists in very similar form in Everquest2, where at levels 10 and 20 you transform into a subclass of your previously more general class.

Repeated Cycles: Must be eastern, Final Fantasy XI had the same. Western games only offer playing different characters to people that want to repeat cycles.

Appearances: Not so clear cut. In most western games your profession has a profound influence on your look, with the warrior running around in plate armor and the mage in robes. And the only game that really offers endless combinations of looks is CoH. Other western games often offer countless sliders to change the length of your nose and everything, but in the game it is nearly impossible to actually make out these details in another character standing 10 meters away from you. If you were looking for a friend of yours, a dwarf, and he was standing in a group of 10 other dwarves, you would have problems recognizing him in most western games.

24.

Could it also be a Ford Model T design perspective?

The funny thing is that Asians like choices as much as the next guy, but they do like their pop culture. Hello Kitty is super big in Asia, so why not make dwarven female look like a pop icon.

Everyone dressing up like Spiderman looks dumb, but everyone dressing up like hello kitty just looks cute, more so in a game like L2.

But let me comment on the three items.

Transformation: I think WoW will follow the D&D model of transformation.

Repeated Cycles: modeled on D&D's old dual-class system.

Appearance: the really old D&D Human, Dwarf, Elf model.

Perhaps the Asian designers or RO are in love with 1st edition AD&D. Popularity is hard to fade in Asia.

25.

Edit: when I say D&D model of transformation, I mean the prestige class system.

26.

I don't know about the international figures but here in the Philippines, where Ragnarok is currently the only MMORPG, it's got pretty much a third of a million subscribers after a year of growth. My company's aiming for the million mark by 2005, ramping up the promotions and all that.

The three characteristics mentioned are probably what made the game so popular here.

Point 1, the Transformation cycle gives the player a definite goal, plus the skill trees and the various stat/item builds guarantee that there be a bit of variety in characters. It's a big hit here with with players already asking for the third level jobs and more second level jobs. And as magicback mentioned the new 2-2 classes are definitely D&D's dual classes. Some players have noticed this and have petitioned for a more complete dual-classing system e.g. the ability to shift jobs in the middle of the progression, but as of now Korea still hasn't answered.

Point 2, the Repetition cycle also contributes to the creation of a goal. New players who managed to change jobs usually mention that it seems to give the character a new lease on life. Plus it also adds another dimension of customizability: job level 40 is the prerequisite for a job change from the 1st class, but some players push for job level 50, which is difficult because of exp. handicaps beyond level 40, for maximum skill points.

Point 3, Appearance, is the RO secret weapon in the market. We have a 40% ratio of women gamers, players introduced to the game via their brothers/boyfriends/significant others, who play the game religiously to make their characters even more cute. The anime look and feel is also big in the Philippines and has also managed to help catch the youth market(9 to 12). Last news was most of the later expansions will focus on developments for the character sprites to add to the animated feel of the graphics even more.

27.

The repetition cycle has been used a great deal in muds under the guise of "remorting."

There's a parallel discussion on MUD-Dev regarding the fact that many of these games (and CoH0 don't really have evolving appearances...

28.

I would argue that CoH does allow for an evolving appearance (or at least one that changes). At certain level intervals you open up the possibility of obtaining a new costume slot. At max level you can have up to four different outfits available to you at any one time.

But to get back to the point, Dungeons and Dragons Prestige Classes also have the added benefit of tying a player more directly into a game world's backstory. You're not just a lowly Fighter now, you're a Purple Dragon Knight, a loyal member of the Cormyrean Army! That's something I've always wanted to see more of in MMOGs, which FFXI and SWG have started to do well. Being part of an elite squadron in the Imp Navy and getting to meet the super secretive queen of Windhurst because you're part of her inner circle are both pretty good hooks to snag a player on.


29.
That speaks more to our balancing the armor poorly than it does to whether or not our customers crave individuality. I think it's hard to deny that Western players DO like character customization and being able to wear unique clothing.

In most MMOs, the clothing appearance isn't used as a customization option, but rather as a badge of achievement. In those cases, it's necessary that "the uber armor" (which you've "earned") looks like uber armor. Meaning, you look just like everyone else (everyone that has achieved what you have achieved).

It's the exception, rather than the rule, to have clothing/appearance as much of option, for purposes of customization.

So, I wouldn't argue that characters do like character customization and unique clothing, but rather that it is a more useful tool to utilize clothing/appearance alternatives as rewards and badges.

30.

It's an exception that it's pretty easy to see that people crave and enjoy. Whenever it is offered there is instant 100% takeup. There's countless instances in muds, and the most glaring example in MMOs is probably color customization in UO.

31.

Gah. No edit button.

That was supposed to be double-negative in that sentence:
"I wouldn't argue that characters *don't* like character customization, but blah blah blah.".

No question, players love it. But they also love being rewarded for their achievements, and being recognized by other players for same.

And so, in practice, we tend to use customization options in the same way that the East does: if you're a big powerful warrior then we let you look like a big powerful warrior. If you're not a mighty wizard, then we don't let you look like a mighty wizard. And so on.

I like lots of customization options, totally agree that other players like 'em too. I just disagree that what we do in the west actually winds-up being all that different from what they're doing in the east.

32.

I think east and west is pretty much the same as with anything else, but it's really annoying to get your ass kick by some very cute anime hello kitty avatar in the East while in the west, the cuttest you get is perhaps a Jawa or a gnome.

The visual markers of power, accomplishment, etc. could and is different.

33.

On race and appearance:

Koichi Iwabuchi has written about mukukoseki, or "without nation", as a design principle in Japanese cultural exports. A conscious de-racination occurs to the extent reasonably possible to access foreign markets: in the case of rendered forms (anime, video games) the effect are figures that could be broadly Asian or European; in the case of video, the purpose is to create a sort of pan-Asian universality, as other Asian markets for television dramas become attractive (especially the Taiwan market). I think that this principle has informed figuration in other Asian videogames, as well.

Of course, fantasy, as a genre, is largely "about" race, ethnicity, and nationality anyway. I think there are some substantial differences in the way that fantasy worlds are imagined in the west and in Asia that come from the different experiences with colonialism. I'd be interested in trying to capture some variances within Asian fantasy-game design - how Ragnarok Online might negotiate it differently from FFXI. (For one thing, religion in Japanese games probably works quite differently than it might in a game from largely Christian South Korea.)

34.

On repetition:

I want to append one unexpected benefit of the "back to level one" idea in job- levelling: it puts experience players back into play in the "newbie" areas, giving them, perhaps, an opportunity to mentor new players and play with friends who more recently joined.

In the Japanese educational system, we can find some cultural precedent, as senior peers (sempai) are expected to tutor and mentor (and enjoy deference from) their juniors (kohai.) In playing FFXI with Japanese parties, I've noticed the persistence of gestures of deference to experience.

35.

That -the mentoring example- is very interesting, and explains a lot.

Experienced players playing in newbie areas because they have to level up a new profession is present in a very stripped-down form in Toontown. Every time you gain access to a new form of attack, you start the new weapon back at level 1, and end up playing in the very first area of the game again. Since toontown doesn't differentiate avatar appearance based on accomplishment and require low level attacks to be used against low level enemies, it's common to be fighting alongside someone who is an order of magnitude more (or less) experienced than you without realizing it. There are also many higher level quests which require players to help newbies defeat x amount of enemies. The opportunity for real mentoring is not there due to the lack of open chat, which is frustrating.

Another example from Toontown that strikes me as relevent here is that it does allow anyone to wear almost anything at any time, and players can select from 5 races/2 genders/2 heights, but everyone seems the same. I think it would take some really extreme avatar customization to have anyone really stand out, because everyone's personality is almost completely obscured (by the lack of open chat). The similarity of all the game-generated names doesn't help either.

Also, since there's less agency (my avatar's actions are often deferred from me actually giving the command), I often even forget which avatar is mine during fights.

Every time I play Toontown it hammers home how little avatar customization really means without interesting personalities to drive them and agency in controlling them.


36.

clarification:

Since toontown doesn't differentiate avatar appearance based on accomplishment and does require low level attacks to be used against low level enemies, it's common to be fighting alongside someone who is an order of magnitude more (or less) experienced than you without realizing it.

37.

Mike Darga> Every time I play Toontown it hammers home how little avatar customization really means without interesting personalities to drive them and agency in controlling them.

Don't you enjoy customizing your avatar in single user games, either?

38.

Hi Ola-

I have yet to play very many single player rpgs (Morrowind is on my list of things to do), and I tend to avoid single player games in favor of multiplayer games. That said, I did find it amazing that Fable offered such amazing avatar customization options without any way of saving a screenshot or somehow showing your character to other people.

I suppose in a single player experience I'm content playing a specific character that has been created for me. Gordon Freeman is certainly not the character I would have chosen to create myself, but I don't mind playing him at all. Perhaps I'd have different feelings if he were further from me demographically (i.e. not a white male), but I have enjoyed playing a female character in games like The Longest Journey.

My comment about avatars in Toontown applies to single player games as well, in a way. When playing Toontown (as a solo player with no “secret friends” in the game), it really does feel very similar to playing a single player game with npcs of various degrees of cooperativeness. I don’t think avatar customization is very satisfying in that world, because I have no personality to speak of within it. I’d say the same is true within a single player game. There are a growing number of games that support the idea of avatars/players having personalities, but in most single player games trying to have a personality still feels like masturbatory social interaction to me.

In a nutshell I suppose Mario and Solid Snake don’t need to be customized because they are tailored to be the focus of the world already. Desire for uniqueness happens when more than one person is playing (enter Luigi).

I'm glad someone responded =) I'm always falling behind in my Terranova reading, and end up posting in threads that have been dead for a week already.

39.

The only aspect relevant, imho, is that it doesn't ask you to buy the most powerful hardware possible.

Something that is always overlooked. Forex

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