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Apr 25, 2007



Excellent post, Nate.

The beauty of massively multiplayer games though is that there is room for both player based and character (treadmill) based play.

The space expansion for SWG actually did a pretty good job with this. The flight game was largely player skill based, although there was a grinding component. Yet to be the best pilot, players had to tap crafters for ships and parts. Crafting in SWG was a treadmill.

For example, it is impossible to say that "I'm 64% of the way to winning" without simplification. Yet in a treadmill system, such could easily mean 0.64 *MaxLevelAllowed (or MaxExperienceAllowed, see fn3). Because treadmills are games designed around metrics, they instruct you on how to game winning. Whereas games that are lousy with the metrics leave it to the player to come up with their own.

Even in games with metrics, players choose their own goals. I, for example, do not measure "how close I am to winning" based on my current level compared to the maximum level. At the same time, there are certainly those who do.

MMOs are life simulators. As such, there is no final victory condition. How do you "win" at life? Do you quit when that goal is reached?

Just as we do in our non-simulated lives, we as MMO players set our own goals, using whatever measures suit us individually (hence the predictive value of the archetypical explorer/killer/achiever/socializer models).

These goals are not victory conditions, such as one has in closed-ended games such as Chess and Caesar. They are actions that result in a feeling of satisfaction (more prosaically, the release of dopamine).

It is our job as designers to build simulations with ample opportunites for players to feel rewarded. Our entertainment (and business) model requires that these opportunites never stop. Is that a treadmill? Not if it's fun.


MMOG's should have victory conditions. That's a point that I've been arguing for years now. Way, way back when some fans of science fiction writer Harlan Ellison asked him to take a look at the "Empire Strikes Back" game they were writing on the Atari. Ellison played for a bit and was horrified to discover that there was no end to the game--it just went on, and on, and on until finally the player was overwhelmed and died.

Since then the single player genre has advanced in leaps and bounds, and one of the first things to be abandoned was the model where the game just went on, and on, and on. Even in that hoariest of genres, the side scrolling shooter, there is a final boss you have to beat to win the game. MMOG's, on the other hand, came around years later and predictably they lag years behind their single player cousins in a lot of ways. To restate the obvious, they go on, and on, and on. That doesn't jibe with human experience in the arts, much less with the human experience itself. I think the two biggest strikes against the current crop of MMOG's are the lack of victory conditions (an end) and the inability of players to actually effect change in the game world, and I think both of those are probably inextricably tied up with each other.

Anyhoo, I think change might be on the horizon. I think I remember reading that the new Warhammer MMOG will allow one side to eventually conquer and raze the capital city of its enemy.

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