Saturday, February 25, 2006

More MMORPG stuff.

More on MMORPG's badness:

It pretty much agrees whole-heartedly with Sirlin, and me, and probably Corvus. MMORPGs teach really shitty lessons.

Now, let's look at the lessons Eve Online and SecondLife teach - or used to teach, I haven't played either in quite a while. What I'm trying to do is identify the pieces of gameplay which encourage each type of lesson.

"Lone heroes can’t slay dragons. It takes an army."
This is true of Eve Online, but patently false in SecondLife, which teaches that one person can do just about anything, if they have the time and skill.

This is because Eve allows players to gang into armies, and an army of players is awfully hard for one person to defeat. SL has little opinion on the matter, and most of it's dragon-slaying is constructive, rather than destructive. Hm.

"People are only good at one thing."
Again, largely true in Eve Online, except that there's some actual skills involved on occasion. SecondLife, however, has no such limitation.

This is because Eve seeks to put all players on equal footing the same way other MMORPGs do: by limiting the number of talents you can have. (I am remembering this right, right?) It's called "balanced character progression", and it's not your friend in a massively multiplayer game. SL doesn't strive to make players equal. It gives them an equal starting position, then celebrates their differences.

Does this drive away players? I doubt it, but presumably that's the theory MMORPG designers run on when they decide to force equality. Sorry, chaps, but not all people are equally good at playing all games. Doesn't mean you can't make a contribution. Trying to force equality means that the people who are good at the game can't make a contribution.

You never, ever, ever change jobs. If you want to, you probably need to die.
Related to the "balanced character progression" as above. Eve allows you to switch jobs, but it takes a long time. SL doesn't care, because it doesn't have balanced character progression.

You can be the best in the world at your job. But so can everyone else. And you will all do it exactly the same way.
Eve has some of this - not too terribly much - because it is, like most MMORPGs, still a closed system. There aren't an infinite number of choices as to how to do your job, and there is a statistical max cap on skills. No statistical max cap on being an awesome leader or economist, fortunately.

SL doesn't have this. It's unlikely you're the best, but you can still make significant contributions in any way you please. Uniquely. Why? Because SL doesn't have "balanced character progression", so they can let players bring whatever crap they want into the game. Did you just build a giant mech? Good for you! And on your second day!

Evil is not redeemable; good is not a choice. Your morals are innate.
Bwa ha ha! Yeah, a totally worthless aesthetic choice by Blizzard. No game allowing for significant player content, such as Eve or SL, has this problem.

Killing is the only real way to gain people’s admiration. Well, you can make stuff too, but you won’t earn the same kind of admiration.
A problem of having a play system rigged too tightly to reward killing. Both Eve and SL don't really reward killing, and neither has this problem. In SL, you gain admiration by designing women's clothings or a giant mech.

In fact, there are only two kinds of admiration in the world, and they can be quantified.
Another idiotic choice rigged to balance player progression. All players must be equal! So sayeth Blizzard!

All that hoorah about endangered species is like, a total exaggeration. There’s plenty of everything.
This one is definitely true of both Eve and SL. There's personal shortages, but it's very rare to have a global shortage. Eve does have some limited run space ships, though.

You not only can’t go home again, you probably don’t have one. If you do, it’s mostly to store stuff, not to live in. You never have people over.
This is interesting. In SL, you can have a home and have people over because your home probably contains poseballs and items which can't be found elsewhere. But there is really not a whole lot of sense of personal space in any of the MMORPGs.

I think this is due to a lack of character clues. For example, if your character always leaned back and looked uncomfortable when someone got too close - or even actively shoved the other character away - the player would pick up on that. It would have to be innate to the character, rather than triggered by the player.

These actions could vary depending on how well you knew the other character and how secure you felt. You would feel very secure in your own home.

The idea is fascinating to me.

Staring at someone who is talking the politest thing you can do. Because the only other option is to not look at them at all. Running past or away from people while you are talking to them is also polite.

If you don’t keep up with the Joneses, you will never see them again. In fact, if you don’t keep up with your friends, you will never see them again either.
Again, "balanced character progression" is evil.

There are no children.
There's no children-children in either Eve or SL. In SL, you can have children pretending to be adults, or adults pretending to be children. I don't suppose it's really the same thing.

I'm not sure I consider this to be a solvable problem. Children don't want to play children, and computers can't simulate them. Yet.

Death doesn’t really sting. Nerf, however, is incredibly painful.
"Balanced character progression". Need I say more?

There is always a demand for couriers and assassins.
This one is really interesting. It would, however, take a thousand words to explain. It involves the game's time-space. I'll make a post about it sometime soonish.

Moving frequently is normal, and never going back to your old stomping grounds again is the way of things.
The fact that your old stomping grounds never change is probably the real reason. The gameplay sweeps you out of that area - and returning to it is needlessly irritating from a gameplay perspective.

SL handles this very well. Eve, less so.

There are no such things as social progress or technological advancement. In fact, evil will always be lurking at the edge of the village. On the other hand, it will never invade. There are no governments. Thus there are no laws. Instead, there are laws of physics.
Hee hee. Static world problems. Don't have one, you won't have them.

There are gods, and they are capricious, and have way way more than ten commandments. Nobody knows how many because everyone clicked past them.
Awesome! Also a problem - a serious one - in SL. Less so in Eve, but still latently a problem.

I don't know how to solve it.

Charity is not a virtue; in fact, it’s frequently physically impossible.
This is because of enforced - dare I say it? Okay, enforced "balanced character progression". Are you surprised? Delighted? Irritated that I keep using that phrase?

Not allowed to give charity, because it's an unfair advantage to the recipient.

You should not associate with those of lower social standing than yourself.
This must be particular to WoW. Haven't seen it, can't comment.

You can’t be in two places at once. But places can be in two places at once. Parallel universes are obvious. Walking is stupid. Actually, in general, taking your time is counterproductive.
Hee hee. This is, again, about game space-time. I'll talk about it in a different post.

The most important thing in the world is slaying something that will be back the next day… before anyone else gets to slay it.
Well, this kind of highlights everything that's wrong with MMORPGs. It encapsulates balanced character progression and the problem with static worlds, all in one sentence! Bravo!

You should probably have entrance and résumé requirements to join your circle of friends.
Huge problem in Eve Online, due to the high rate of betrayal. Not so much in SL, since betrayal rarely accomplishes much.

Hunting is the noblest profession. I take that back; hunting is only noble until you’re good enough to switch to murder. Robbing the dead of indigenous cultures is how you make money.
Due to the primary play loop revolving around killing. Not true in either Eve or SL.

There is no such thing as obesity. All women are beautiful and all men are either handsome or darkly mysterious. There is no need for bras. People have sex a lot. Somehow, this means that nobody is beautiful and there is no mystery.
I think I like the idea of having to spend character points on beauty - and/or having to work at it. People who want to be beautiful will have less time/points to spend on being strong, skilled, whatever.

People never touch.
I think it's another problem with a lack of subtle, automated character clues.

Nobody reads.
Your character would have to have an autonomous life to want to read. You will never want him to read, unless there's a reward for it. Which kind of defeats the flavor of this point.

They’ve never heard a brand new song. In fact, inventing is either forbidden or impossible. Sometimes both.
Static world idiocies.

Most people don’t have families.
Everybody wants to pick their families in video games. Players are too unreliable to want one as your mother or son.

Nobody’s really from here, they just live here.
This is a toughie. No clue.

[Skipped a bunch of static world/immersion flaws.]

There is no death; there is simply a failure to show up. Because of this, there is also rarely any mourning.
In Eve, there is mourning. Oh, is there mourning. And rage. Helpless, blind rage.

In SL, it's pretty rare. SL is too idealized for that. Which is kind of a shame. I think the negative emotions are just as necessary.

Here's the biggie, from Sirlin: Time is more important than skill.

In Eve, this is literally true, because skills take a set amount of real-world time to learn. However, more important than your character's skills are your skills as a player - planning routes, working the economy, finding friends. So, while literally true, it is not true in practice.

In SL, this is flat out false.

Is it any surprise that these two MMORPGs are among the only ones I consider playing?


The big problem is "balanced player progression". When you try to let everyone have the same opportunities to advance despite their skill or lack of skill, you end up killing the cream off. You don't get your Einsteins or Elvises. They aren't allowed to be Einsteins and Elvises, because that would be too much of an advantage.

I happen to like people who excel. Moreover, I happen to benefit from them. My world - even my virtual world - is richer because of the fruits of their intellects.

People who aren't geniuses can still have a place. I'm no Elvis, but I have my fun.

From this rule of balance comes a static world. If the world can change, then players can change it. If players can change it, they will change it in their favor.

There are so many design options to get around this. But they require a new kind of MMO, one which wouldn't be made with the budget of a real MMO.

Even SL and Eve are insufficient. They could be more. So much more. They are steps in the right direction - but there's a lot of path to walk.

Sorry this is so rough. Take it as it comes, I suppose, but please forgive any details which came out a bit wrong.

1 comment:

Darius Kazemi said...

I love the idea of spending character points (or whatever) on having a beautiful avatar. Of course, lots of pencil and paper games do this, but art assets are cheap when the visuals exist in people's minds.