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Mar 03, 2004



Hmm. Maybe he should try a virtual world with PvP and PD in it, and see how far his lack of supposedly non-existent skills gets him.



Exactly...try any VW with a PvP element, and your hand-eye coordination, as well as reaction time, will be tested. Hell, this is why I played UO for so long, b/c the PvP element was dam challenging and took a *lot* of skill to get good at. I got wooped on for a year by some of the top PvP'ers on the server before I became competitive.

No Skill...HMPH!

I guess it depends on what kind of 'skill' you want to use. If all you want is twitch-speed, I guess you'd want a MOO like Planetside. If you want twitch-speed + strategy + timing, try one of the traditional MOOs with a PvP element.

And what's the story with JumpGate? I thought this was intitially a VW in development, then got bumped to a single player game (which was very fun, I might add). I didn't realize that there was a VW of JumpGate. I've been meaning to give PlanetSide a demo, but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Call of Duty has been sucking up all my gaming time for about 1.5 months now.


>And what's the story with JumpGate?
A sort of single player game that lots of people can play at the same time in the same virtual space, seems to be the kind of description that one hears.


I can see the point about no hardcore hand-eye nail biting coordination needed, but most MMORPGS, especially the more recent onces, delve into REAMS of combinations for your characters equipment and stat/ability setup.

Take Anarchy Online for example. They've got something around 60+ different skills that you can invest your "IP" points into (which you get when you level). You can choose between a plethora of weapons and armor, each relying on different skill sets, making millions of combinations possible, hence no more EQ or SWG "cookie cutter" characters. However, with the combinations, each can be effective at different things because of the TEN different protection armor and damage types including: Disease/Poison, Fire, Cold, Melee, Projectile, Energy, Radiation and more. Not to mention you also have THREE different types of dodging to avoid damage completely and around 10 different classes each with different colors of the skills.

The colors of the skills relate to a multiplier applied to the cost of raising that skill one point with your IP. So basically, if a skill was "dark blue" to you, it would take 1.5x as much as a light blue. A light blue will take 1.5x as much as a "blue green" and a blue green will take 1.5x as much as a light green.

So yes, it's true MMORPGs don't all require massive hand-eye coordination but I'll be damned if your not required to actually THINK a hell of a lot more than your everyday FPS.


OK, not really calm about this.

It wasn’t the PvP angle that really bugged me about the ‘no skill’ take, it was the social side.

My instant reaction: so building and running a guild doesn’t take skill. Well let me see, there’s: diplomacy, project management, psychology, keeping your head when all about you are losing...


I suspect that skill in this case means: "the ability to place the cursor, with pixel pefect accuracy, on my opponent's head". In other words, he wants more FPS in his MMORPG. Which is why Planetside may appeal to him. The only catch, and this is with all online games, is that latency and lag will kill, so to speak, much of the twitch factor.

And as pointed out before, there are varying types of skill. Perhaps he should define what he means.


Nowadays I am playing Mabinogi, Nexon's promosing MMORPG. It's a kind of hybrid-MMOs(UO + Virtual Fighter in PS2).



After reading the article I find that he is a serious lover of the FPS, but should never, ever have tried to do a review comparison with MMOGs. He said he played Asheron's Call for a "few months" which I find hard to believe. In my opinion his total number of hours playing the game probably amounted to about 10 considering it's one of the more FPS oriented games out there where you have to time your attacks, choose from a variety of damage types and assign xp directly to skills.

I find most of his comments strange and his writing nearly schizophrenic. In one paragraph he changed topics nearly every sentence:

"but all that held it together was the player interaction. But all the massive player games have the player interaction and if they don't, then they're no longer really a part of the genre. I need something to do that isn't just managing inventory and statistics. I have to have real action."

Speaking of managing inventory, that's all the interaction with your character you can get in Planetside. Oh sure, you can "level" up to 20 times and get more things to put in your inventory, which you have to carefully manage for space so you can make sure you have the maximum number of weapons available. That and assign points toward new weapons. That seems an awful lot like managing stats and inventory to me, just a lot more "hold your hand" oriented to let you get into the massive battles.

Going back to the comment about how "tactical" the game was, I nearly laughed. The game is considerably oriented toward the "zerg rush" style of play. If one player is pitted against 30, I can gurantee who will win. It's basically a "this area is under attack everybody on X side goes and defends/attacks". Is there tactics involved? Yes, but on a much smaller level of player vs. player which any basic FPS will give you. I hardly consider "Starfire Mech beats Reaver Aircraft" anywhere near the complexity and thinking that setting up a character and tweaking them for 200 levels takes.

"It just seems to me that with the amount of downtime in most MMORPGs, time spent doing nothing while you wait for something to happen or healing before venturing out,"

This just didn't make sense to me since the game is ALL ABOUT waiting. 15-60 seconds per death of staring at a static map, 5 minutes of not being able to use your chosen armor/vehicle, 5 minutes before every launch into orbit, and a literally GROSS amount of time required to gain levels past about 7 or so not even considering their commander levels, so that's a literal cut-off to content right there. I'd say I was spending about 75% of my time just WAITING or running somewhere to do something in that game.

"It's likely there is a large contingent of players that don't want this kind of "action" in their games...I guess for them a game that is all statistics where you simply point your character toward the next MOB is a good time"

Ok, just to pretend that there are actually hordes of people out there who don't ever want to see improvement in the MMOG genre, why in the world would you point people towards a game they DON'T LIKE? It's like giving me Cornflakes for breakfast when I specifically state I'll eat anything but Cornflakes. That being said, people DO want to see improvements in their games, but in order to balance the playing field most games won't include twitch style play as a REQUIREMENT to be good at it because guess what? Everyone doesn't LIKE twitch style play. So when someone figures out a way to make a game appeal to BOTH sides they might try it out.

But then again, people who like twitch style play exclusively probably won't welcome a game where people can be just as good or better than you without being twitchtastic because they're better at figuring out armor/stat/weapon combinations than you.

I could go on even further into detail about how he was basically expanding on the baseless ideal of how MMOGs were boring and full of talentless n00bs and how many different ways he was saying "you have to be good at aiming and make sure the pixel goes where it's supposed to" but I figure everyone on this blog pretty much got the point without even reading my rant ;)

GG Lee Johnson, MMORPGs 1, FPS 0.

P.S. As a side note, I play a myriad of FPS' in my spare time as well as program my own web based browser rpg as a hobby. I'm not one sided, that article was :P


What I find so odd about this article is that it's almost like the nouns are from some strange, mirror world.

"Whether it's Counterstrike, Quake III, counterstrik or any of the other First Person Shooters (FPSs), I've spent enough time with them to be comfortable with their gameplay but always end up fairly bored with their lack of player interaction."

Virtual worlds are not for everyone, and it's fair enough that Dave Long doesn't personally find them engaging. Criticising them for lack of player interaction though - say what?!



Er, when I said "Counterstrike, Quake III, counterstrik" there I meant "Counterstrike, Quake III, America's Army". Gawd knows where abouts on my desktop the backspacing and "America's Army" wound up!



He has a valid point that many of you seem to miss. In plenty of situations in VWs, the outcome of combat is a forgone conclusion. If I at level 1 attack a skeleton at level 5, my death is mathematically assured, regardless of my own personal skill. In Planetside, if I go up against a MAX while I'm in light armour, I can still win if I'm skilled. It takes a lot of skill or a lot of luck, and a LOT of grenades, but I can do it.

I, for one, would like to see personal skill take a more important role than mathematics in a VW. Don't get me wrong, Planetside didn't get it /right/. It didn't even come close. But it's a good step in the right direction.

To my mind, personal skill should be the primary descision-maker in a VW, and as you go up levels, your options should broaden, allowing for more descisions and options, rather than simply making you flat-out more powerful than the next guy.

And for the record, I've seriously played pretty much every VW out there for months at a time (with the exception of the grandaddy - EQ), and I enjoy them immensely. I still dislike the fact that I'll get trounced by someone whose two or more levels higher than I am every time.


To reiterate what I said in the Slashdot thread on this, and what I expounded on at length in my GDC talk last year--no skill-based persistent game has ever achieved the subscriber base of RPG-based virtual worlds available at the same period. The biggest reason is that skill is unfair. Some people have talent and some don't. And nobody likes to play to get spanked. This is borne out by many statistics that I am getting tired of retyping. :) Some discussion of this issue is on my website in last year's GDC talk entitled "Small Worlds" (closer to the end of the talk).


Raph is right. I played WWII Online for a while it took hours of play before I could live more than a few minutes. Most people would just quit after they realized what a bullet magnet they were.

Also this is really one guy saying (more or less) If you design a game that I personally like it will be more popular than the existing game design.

I think that is very unlikely.


Dan Wrote: I still dislike the fact that I'll get trounced by someone whose two or more levels higher than I am every time.

Hmmm...I have friends who play EQ who consistently change their character skills as the game changes, and at many points their characters are less developed (from a statistics/skill/level perspective) than an opponent, but they still beat people down.

I can say the same when I played UO. Some of the 'power gamer' types with avatars that were maxed out with certain skills/stats could still get spanked by an experienced and skilled PvPer with a lesser character. Some people played very bizarre skill/stat sets in UO that really only maxed a couple areas, but due to their creativity in constructing their avatar's skills/stats, they could take down a lot of avatars that were maxed out in certain areas.

I think by using a combination of skill while playing the game, along with creativity, many characters of lower level or skill can, and often times do, take out players of higher level or skill. That's one of the main reasons I dislike online FPS...you need to rely too much on simple twitch speed, and not enough on creativity, strategy, and timing.


I agree with Barts comment, that there is still skill involved, even without the mathmatics. As a skilled player in Anarchy Online I can go to an area I know not to be heavily hunted and take on literally HORDES of creatures whereas a less skilled player would not successfully manage their health, nanopool (futuristic mana) and buffs and therefore die within seconds whereas I could level for a good half-hour without needing to run away or "med" (rest in a safe area to heal your stats).

I also agree with the "skill" discussion in which eye twitch skill should never play more than a minor role in most MMORPGs. An RPG is an RPG, they are based off of numbers and making an ever more powerful character so you can (in some cases) follow an ever progressing storyline or defeat ever strengthening bosses. It's not SUPPOSED to be about who can repeat the best attack action with your mouse over and over.


"There's no skill involved."

This is sort of true, but not exactly precise. Virtually all MMGs are dependent on -character skill,- which rises as you play. Virtually all FPS games are dependent on -player skill- -- interface mastery and reaction timing -- with characters all being roughly equivalent.

It is, in principle, possible to meld the two; I can imagine an MMG with ranked characters, but in which combat is based on player skill.

I predict, however, that such a game would be an -extremely- minority taste. The problem with player skill games is that newbies get creamed, and the players who hang around most and longest are the best. This is a surefire recipe for turning new players off, and player rank and character matching systems are of limited usefulness in ameliorating the problem, since any such system is "gameable" (and will be gamed).


This discussion has been pretty good so far, except for a few loose ends. A quick one for Greg: if you did have a ranked combat game like you say, you could just try to pit players close in skill/rank against each other.

The largest problem I see is the assumption that skill-based games, in general, will dissuade new players from joining. I think the correct statement is: a skill-based game that forces +direct competition+ will be a newbie anathema. As said earlier, games like Counterstrike are an obvious example of this, where you inevitably end up going toe-to-toe with people who've been playing the game 30 hours a week for the last 4 years. Playing Kasparov in chess starts to lose its appeal after a few games.

So the problem is: people don't like feeling incompetent. We can break this up into cases where players are bested by other players, or players are bested by the computer (which I think are sufficiently different). The first, however, has already been covered in most MMORPGs, by having only consensual PvP. You might say the "parallel component" of competition still exists--the "he's better at killing dragons than me"--but I don't think that's a big issue. Thus, the newbies either don't have to play the skill-based portion of the game at all, or get some time to practice on the NPCs, without the frustration of losing endlessly, before debuting in the PvP arena.

I believe the second is resolved by a game design where players feel like they're improving. In Counterstrike or chess, it can seem like you will never be even "above average". Now take something like Mario Kart; here a new player will probably notice their play improve across the span of a few rounds. That might not be a good example for everyone, but the point is simple enough.

Now, I'd like to stop and give my take on how skill manifests in MMOGs. "Socializing skill" aside (not that it's trivial, Ren, but deserves a separate treatment), the major skill required is, as mentioned, character balancing. This boils down to tweaking your various attributes (the general term) to maximize your effectiveness. Then we have the hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes, which we're all familiar with. Lastly, which this discussion hasn't expanded upon yet, I would call tactical skill. My best definition for this is: the ability to make optimal, reactive decisions. In short, it's thinking quickly, having good timing and being clever. RTS games have a significant tactical skill requirement, as well as Counterstrike (not all FPS's do). Confusing your opponent, use of your surroundings, team tactics, management of resources (such as ammunition or stat pools); all of these things lie outside of the first two categories.

Tactical skill is what I want MMOG's to reward. If twitch skill is to be taboo here (which I mostly agree with), only tactics can give combat the life it needs. What's better, it can be learned much more readily than twitchiness. UO makes use of this, and it's been rather successful. This makes me optimistic since I think it would be fairly easy to improve upon UO's system.


Interesting post Tek, on (yet) another list I’ve been discussing game taxonomies, so in this light, and making Tek’s comments very slightly more generic (though mainly just adding bullet points), we have four axes of skill:

  • HECaRT (Hand Eye Coordination and Reaction Time)
  • Resource Optimisation (Character attributes, weapons, gold)
  • Social (Everything from chatting to running an uber-guild)
  • Tactical (primarily though not necessarily a combat skill)
In good old games taxonomy tradition the fun now is to find: whether there is another category, marking game types against these axes, and mapping player types to them (oh and of course dredging the MUD-DEV archives too see if this categorization was done to death in 1890 when the early steam powered MMOs piston-trudged they across the virtual earth).

I of course immediately pulled out Sir Bartle’s Designing Virtual Worlds (available now in all good book stores, physical and virtual) and flipped to p131 (which being a dweeb I have bookmarked).

Richard uses Players / World as one axis and Acting / Interacting as another then plots player types (Achievers, Explorers, Killers, Socializers) against these. There are certainly overlaps, which is good, but the skill taxonomy does appear to cut a slightly different path through the player / game type space. Mmmm


Ren>the skill taxonomy does appear to cut a slightly different path through the player / game type space

Although some of the skills you mention do seem to map onto player types, that may be because the player types are there calling out "map onto me!".

Nevertheless, this is a different way of looking at things, and may have some mileage in it. I'm not convinced that hand/eye co-ordination plays much of a part in virtual worlds (lag and latency being what they are), but the others look reasonable.

Of course, you can add to this. "The ability to absorb large quantities of information and retain it" could count as a skill, as could "the ability to will suspension of disbelief". Some are more important than others, some are at different levels of abstraction, and they're not all independent of one another.



Richard > I'm not convinced that hand/eye co-ordination plays much of a part in virtual worlds (lag and latency being what they are), but the others look reasonable.

Indeed, but (to clarify) I was thinking of this as a general game taxonomy, wherein VWs would (generally) rank low in the HECaRT factor.


HEC arises in some MMORPGs, mainly when trying to target things. Hotkeys help this, but they aren't always supported. And things like throwing a UO purple potion 3 spaces ahead of an opponent can't be hotkeyed, you just have to be able to click there.

Richard, the "absorbtion/retention of information" ability definitely has merit, I'd say. It is what a crafting character needs to have to be competitive. As a good example, if you are a crafter in SWG, you'd want to know all of the rare resource types your schematics take. Thus, when they spawn for a week, you're on top of things. Naturally, a lot of this ability can be supplanted by Excel or other in-game tools, but it retains a non-trivial usefulness. I'll go ahead and label this skill "information management".

Another possible skill is creativity. I imagine this is important in Second Life. Even in games like SWG, if you have a well-decorated house, people will pay thousands of credits as an entrance fee to see it.

Yet another might be logical reasoning. My immediate thought was that this was just a general term for resource optimization, but then you have the puzzles in games like Zelda or in the King's Quests (most RPGs seem to have them to some degree, though not MMORPGs). These puzzles often require a higher level of thought than character customization; the latter I characterize as "solving n linear equations with n unknowns" while the former is more "solving one higher order equation". I think the cases are disparate enough that you can treat them as two skills: base logic (character customization) and higher logic.


other skills/talents/knowledges to consider:

- skill at acquiring information. Knowing where to look things up and how to do it can replace/aid the need to know trivia (where does item X drop? what's the name of the resource I need to make item Y? What special attack does monster Z have?) Some games will keep track of this for you but many will not.

- generalization and analysis. From your observations in the game, you can figure out how the game works. This enables you to better use your tactical and strategic skills, as well as your hand eye coordination. If you know what's happening it helps you come up with the best reaction.

- virtual world navigation. Some people are far better at learning their way around a new virtual map than others. Learning to navigate it quickly and find your way around often huge virtual worlds is a skill.

- strategy. Different from tactics but perhaps closely enough related that you can count them in the same place, as they sometimes will substitute for one another. "AI" as it currently exists is predictable enough that you can plan in advance what you will do in each likely or unlikely circumstance.

I think leadership and group skills are also vitally important. At the borderline of social and gaming skills, knowing how to work together as a group with other characters of varying ability, how to guide those less skilled than yourself and how to recognize skill in others so that you know who to follow and who to ignore, are vital skills to success in many massively-multiplayer games.


My assertion, btw, stands for ALL types of skill. So I'll make the statement that the requirement for social skill is a limiting factor on the audience size of any given social VW. I do not speak merely of hand-eye coordination.

For fun data on this plus samples of my awe-inspiring PowerPoint chops, you can check the back half of my GDC talk from last year.


Start at the slides entitled "Pareto's Law."


It definitely stands, though I'd add that the amount of dissuasion is not constant among them. HEC has the most it seems, while base logic and social skill are the least. I suppose it's a judgement call whether you gain net subscribers by including support for various types of skill.


Trying to rate skill in these worlds/games is never really going to work; it's so relative to the person trying to gauge it, not to mention personal bias and the dependency of computer skills. You can relate skills required in one virtual genre to another, or you could compare them to what you might do in your normal week.

Can I compare my ashtanga vinyasa yoga sessions to a virtual combat workout?

Is virtual combat tougher than paint ball?

Is running a guild as hard as running an IT project over many countries? Hell, throw in an outsourcing partner since I'm currently sitting in Bangalore atm.

Where does one define the boundaries for comparison? Personally when I compare it to the things I do in my day to day life, then playing these games requires very little or no skill (look at all that code and machinery interpreting my actions!), maybe it's my bias of considering these worlds no more than entertainment.

Throwing someone in to these games with little or no computer or gaming experience gives you different feedback, what happens to a highly skilled person with little computer skills? On the flipside I remember how quickly and easy my 7 year old cousin picked up the format being computer literate and a keen gamer.

You could propose that much of it come down into ones ability to project their personality, qualifications, knowledge etc over a machine interface, most commonly the keyboard. But I would think you would have to balance this against how much code is involved in interpreting the key taps and mouse clicks within the world and the feedback it gives, how relative is the skill?


Rating skill on an absolute scale probably has too many variables to tackle, as you allude to, but here we primarily are attempting to categorize the types of skill that games test.

Elaborating more on mapping the skills to player types, looking at the activities each type favors, then knowing what skills each activity tests should get you the answer. Since all activities do not associate with a unique player type, and some activities require multiple skills, the map between skills to types won't be injective either way. We do gain better "resolution" with skills as the axes. I would also venture that they are mostly orthogonal. Optimistically, the skill taxonomy may end up as a better way of classifying players.


This was a good read; sorry I should have started with that :-)

Some of those player types listed above remind me of those conventional capability tests (physical, aptitude, memory, problem solving etc).

I wonder if you were able to take your example player types and have them sit the more conventional tests and see if they excel if the same areas of brain and body usage, that would be an interesting twist.

Quickly, looking at the above examples, to take the example of those number crunches/min max /efficiency types, you would assume fairing well in mathematical skills and aptitude tests?

Your FPS types I'm betting fair well in some conventional reflex tests, holding a large ball up and deflecting small balls thrown at them is a reasonable hand-eye co-ordination test which is used to train drivers.

I’m way out of depth here, I hope this is coming across in some form, anyone here on the workings of the brain?


Certain MMOG's do use all the skills to a degree. For a case in point try Everquest. In everquest it is kind of counter-intuitive because some of the magic classes that have to have the "twitch" skill as oppose to the expected melee characters.

Take for example the cleric and enchanter classes in everquest. Both must be very alert and be able to change targets back and forth at a moments notice and cast spells that affect their targets while weighing the value of which target is next most important. The cleric focuses on the PC's and the enchanter on the npc's is the biggest difference. Because of this the classes have to have a very high skill in hand/eye coordination or they will never excel in their classes.

On the subject of skills in everquest, that same thing stands that it is particular character classes that place a high value on particular skills. Their are "solo" classes that it is not a forgone conclusion that a lvl 5 skellie will beat a lvl 2 character. There are classes that can almost be automated because the skills for them are not physical but mental as in the skill to find the right combination of stats and gear. Or the class such as a bard that require stamina for doing the same thing over and over repeatly with out end to achieve success.

As you can see the skills that FPS players value are found in MMOG's but they are not all pervasive, but limited to certain character classes. So if you excel in certain skills, you should do some research to find which character class matches your skill set and which game. To just say that MMOG have nothing requiring skill just means someone has not done enough research as I believe that it is harder to master a MMOG than it if to master a FPS that only requires one skill set that can be trained into unconscious thought. Where is the fun in that?


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