In the last 6 months I've started playing massively
multiplayer online RPGs. In this time I've noticed that
there seems to be some sort of irritant that drives
people from one game to the next, looking for something
missing in the current game.
The only reason I find the lack of user loyalty a surprise is
that people will spend hours (20+) a week playing these
games and they don't just quit the current game, they
quit the current game and go find another MMO.
I've come up with a list of things I think cause player
dissatisfaction with games, as well as some ideas I have
on ways to make games better.
Grinding is doing a repetitive task to gain a level or
skill point. There is no game purpose, the character is
not creating anything valuable, they are powering their
way through an unpleasant limited ability level to get to
the "good stuff".
The terms of service of most games prohibit 3rd party tools
that automate the character's actions. The fact that people
would consider using such tools says to me that activities
that require them probably do not belong in the game.
Star Wars Galaxies had the interesting idea of giving
crafting experience when people actually use the items
that have been created. The problem remains that the
primary source of crafting experience comes from creating
tons of useless items that will probably never be used.
My suggestion is that the apprentice and journeyman
portion of crafting skill levels be replaced almost entirely
with crafting quests. This would give characters some
starter recipes to build and introduce new players to
crafting in a way that would not send them to web sites
looking for how to skip to the good stuff.
Once characters reach higher levels of crafting ability make
resource availability the driver behind what they create.
Add in some dependancy on custom fitting or an enchanter
and you can keep high level crafters involved with other
Competition for limited content
A couple of the great stories of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser
involved them competing with others for fame or a
treasure. The problem is that this does not translate well
into online games. Suffering lag or exchanges of
"yuo teh suxxor - we was here first!!" because
3 other groups are sitting on a spot is not the stuff of
high fantasy (or even an enjoyable evening's distraction).
I understand that a certain amount of competition is
necessary to encourage people to create groups and that
the game servers cannot waste the memory on unlimited
content that is never used. There is also the problem of
"good spots" - good content that is placed in such a way
that an easy escape or return to town is available nearby
and that many people will prefer to play on such spots.
My suggestion on the unlimited content problem and map
space is that a lot of it can be generated as needed from
templates and then placed as characters enter an area.
Major landmarks and terrain features have to be permanent
to create the feeling of a continual world and give
explorers something to discover (For a discussion of the
types of players and the interaction between the types see
Players who suit muds by Richard Bartle).
As far as addressing the "sweet spots" it may be that
high traffic areas tend to generate either a decrease in
monster poplulation, an increase in "inconvenience
monsters" (high risk - low payoff monsters like thieves and
jackals), a decrease in payoff from camping an area, or
some combination. Player traffic could even affect the world
in a permanent or semi-permanent way by
continually pushing back the frontier as characters
"conquer" an area.
Every MMO starts with a variation on your character getting
his stuff and running out to the "newbie area" to kill
swarms of bees or rats or whatever happens to infest the
surrounding area. As the character advances in power you
move on to tougher and tougher areas, killing and leveling
as you go - with the occasionaly penalty as you push too
far and your character is killed or knocked out or whatever
the local game fiction is for non-permanent character
I have no real idea on how to accomplish this (a few
real tentative ideas so far), but I'd like to see the level
treadmill done away with and permanent death
(maybe with rare or difficult resurrections) become a
feature of games. Permanent death would obviously require
some means of correcting unfair deaths due to lag or
computer crashes and such systems would be prone to
abuse (know your going to die? Run a lag generator or
hit the power on your computer), and I'm not
sure how suitable it would be for a profit driven game.
This is just a subject I've been thinking about lately and
since I have no experience with MUD or MMO design
some of the problems that I see may be unavoidable
or my suggestions unworkable. I just think that if game
designers do not think about how to remove these irritants
that we will be doomed to an endless parade of Everquest
and SWG clones, and that game companies will continue
to see player churn and short lifetimes on their games.