Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Character Swap

Here's a fun thought experiment:

A MMORPG. As original or boring as you like. Here's the catch:

The more you use your character, the less powerful she gets. Whether this is in terms of actual skill, or ability to move around, or number of turns per day - whatever the method, your character gets weaker. They also get statistically stronger, though, as they gain XP.

Why do this? Because you can swap characters with another player on the forums. The swapped character has full power - including their increases from XP.

Swapping back does you no favors: the weakened character is permanently weakened for you. You can easily make a new character, but even at full strength they aren't terribly powerful.

What kind of dynamics can you expect to arise from this kind of game?

Unless we add in some kind of strong "personality system", we can expect that players won't get very attached to individual characters. They'll basically just play the game without any regard to whose skin they are wearing. A "sell and discard" mentality.

So lets add a "feedback" system. Whoever's skin you're wearing, they become radically more powerful when they're teamed up with a character you wore out.

If you wear a mage down to the nub, to the point where he's completely useless to you, you give him to your friend and take your friend's warrior. If the two of you stay as a team, this warrior you took is hugely powerful because he's teamed up with your old mage.

Now characters have a "stickiness" to them. That mage you played isn't just a memory - his presence is important to you.

While I don't think this would cause role playing or anything like that, you can't honestly claim that MMORPGs do that as it stands, so I don't think that's a weakness.

We can expect to see a rise of guilds, just like usual. In this situation, though, guilds would have a very weird dynamic where the new people who haven't played the guild characters are the strongest and most important members. This isn't necessarily a good thing, but it's an interesting thing...

What do you think would happen? What sort of interesting potentials do you see?


Patrick said...

I can imagine much better interfaces for it than forums...

This reminds me a bit of credit default swaps, basically insurance policies on other financial sets. A market which is about $56 trillion in size insuring about $7 trillion in assets, you can see the problem. Since it's not regulated like insurance there are 5x more speculative contracts than legit ones. So you could see a meta-economy trading in skin that expands beyond the population base, with resulting drama when the house of cards comes down. Or not, just a speculation on speculation.

Craig Perko said...

Um... sure.

Olick said...

I think an additional challenge to a system like this, is keeping players interest in leveling.

For example: If a small group of friends coalesce into a guild, there's only so much swapping that could be had before they've worn out thier first line of strong people, unless the bonuses outweigh it, or an already-traded character doesn't degrade. So eventually training a new set of characters becomes pretty important.

Is it just me, or does this seem to naturally suggest a monster training style game? Your character isn't the fighter/cleric/wizard, but the person training them. You capture/raise your monster, or demon spirit, or whatever nifty (but ultimately exchangable) justification you have, but something causes it to weaken over time for you, so trading it becomes necessary. However keeping it near you after trading it, or trading it to someone its familiar with, would give it bonuses from that.

I really want to come up with a justification for this sort of game. A metaphysics system, or a world setting of some sort.

Craig Perko said...

Sure, the justification is half the fun!

I like it being humans (or near-humans) myself, because I like the idea that you are who you play, rather than just having someone you control. I understand it's a somewhat tenuous connection, but it's what I prefer.

As to guilds that "burn through" their characters, I agree. In my mind, while it would lead to a continuous training-up, it would also lead to a kind of "legendary general" - "we can only use character X a little, because we don't want to waste him and he's so powerful because of both his level and the fact that we've all played him to the nub."

The idea that you can pull out your guild's supercharacter for a bit to lead your team to a hard victory... I like that.

There's some truth to the idea that you would trade away "burned out" characters and so forth, but you have to realize that the characters are most valuable because of their connection to the players. So trading them to another team would make them far less useful.

Even "burned out" characters can have their uses, because they'll still boost anyone else who's played them. So you can have "Splinter" or "Miyagi" style characters who are not terribly powerful on their own (they're burned out), but who radically increase the power of everyone with them.

Olick said...

I get what you mean, contrasting controlling a creature and playing a character. I just think that in this case a player is somewhat encouraged to treat thier 'skin' as something they are controlling, not something they are. I mean you're doing it to an extent, in this discussion.

However that doesn't mean they are the same, especially when it comes to play-style. A monster game would imply that the avatar is just giving orders, which is of course what you're actually doing, because you're playing a game, but its another degree of separation. Wheras a skin game would be: the avatar is temporarily that person, or imbued with thier power, or directly inhabiting them. So it lends itsself to a different style of immersion. Its definitely a different thing.

This sort of game suggests to me that the way in which a character is raised is as, if not more, important than WHAT they are raised as.

For example: a character who is able to gain double xp is always really invaluable in a game. But in this game it is MORE than just a time saver. Any character that raises its power faster would be more powerful when burnt out, or when raised to a cap be further from a burnt out point. Or if a character was consistently swapped around a guild as it was raised, it would have a low level of burn out for each player, and already have a lot of synergies.

Its possible that the endgame in this game would have a different definition. The endgame may be minmaxing characters with a group of companions, not building a level 70 Warlock and giving him tier 12 gear and having it so your guild can beat that one boss every week until you are bored and waiting for the next dungeon to come out.

Craig Perko said...

Yeah, exactly. "You have to play this ChaosKing character, Dave, so that when I play him on the raid next week, you'll get a bonus due to his presence!"

There's no "maximum", though: if your team plays inefficiently, they can make up for it by passing the character around to more people. This has the added bonus of including more people in the "boosted" group for later.

One idea I particularly like is that you could connect characters to the game world in some very specific and unique way. While it's beyond the scope of this thought experiment, it would be very interesting if whoever was playing ChaosKing had a vote in the senate, or other world connections that carry with the character rather than the player...