Monday, July 17, 2006

Ten Questions for Crafting System Designers

If I were a producer, and you came to me to ask for guidance in designing a crafting system for your MMORPG, here are some of the questions I might ask you:

  1. Who is the target market for the crafting part of your game? Do you think a market for crafting already exists and your features will satisfy it? Or do you think your crafting features have to be so good that they create a market for that kind of gameplay?

  2. What percentage of your subscription base do you want to encourage to try your crafting features? Just people who already enjoy crafting, or all players? (In other words, what level of development effort will you be putting into this portion of your game?)

  3. What do you think those potential crafting players want from a crafting system? How do you know that's what they want?

  4. Will your crafting system be very different from crafting in other popular MMORPGs, or very similar? Why might gamers think your crafting system is more fun?

  5. How will your crafting system help make your entire game more fun? How will it support your core gameplay experience? How does it tie into the game economy, storytelling, combat support, and other system(s)?

  6. Where does your planned crafting system fall on a graph of power vs. simplicity? Do either of those values change for a player over time?

  7. Will your crafting system satisfy both new players and veterans?

  8. Will your crafting system satisfy both casual players and hardcore gamers?

  9. Will your crafting system support both soloers and social gamers?

  10. Will your crafting system satisfy both those who want to craft as a creative act and those who want to produce items for economic competition?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Thottbot versus Explorers

I've mentioned this before (in "Will the Real Explorers Please Stand Up?"), but I don't see exploration as purely about walking around to uncover the physical layout of places -- I think it's more generally about adding to the sum of knowledge about the rules of the world. Mapping topography is part of that, but it also includes contributing to what's known about cultural patterns and the "laws of nature" -- that is, the structural rules created by the game's programmers that govern how stuff works in the game world.

One of the reasons I'm looking forward to learning more about Star Trek Online is that Star Trek was always about exploration. "To boldly go where no man has gone before" is all about the challenge and joy of exploration -- not just of galactic phenomena, but of the hearts and minds of the people who live among the stars. [2008/04/25 update: This optimism was before Perpetual Entertainment, the former developer of Star Trek Online, abandoned -- or was forced to abandon -- its license to develop that game.] [2008/08/25 update: Optimism tentatively restored. Maybe Cryptic can do this right.]

That's why an important part of my game design is that it procedurally generates millions of planets, insuring that there'll always be some place remaining to be explored for the first time. (The game Infinity is attempting to prove this approach.) I'm also hoping to design a technological research system that's equally about continuous exploration.

Well... what happens to the challenge and joy of such exploration when there's no place that thousands of people (mostly Achievers) haven't already gone first? Why explore when thottbot proves there's no need, that there's no new knowledge to be gained by exploring?

This is why I'm reluctant to take the position that what other players do doesn't affect me, that other people using thottbot doesn't damage a game for me. Playing a massively multiplayer game means being part of a social system in which what you do affects me and what I do affects you. Those effects may be only indirect, but they're there and they matter (otherwise a single-player game would be preferable). Online games are communities, and as such they benefit from being designed to welcome Explorers as well as Achievers and Socializers.

So wanting to explore isn't about "being first." That's an Achiever perspective. This is about the personal satisfaction of being able to contribute new knowledge to the community -- that's what motivates Explorers, whether their name is on that knowledge or not.

I discovered just last week that an essay I wrote several years ago has been referenced in a Wikipedia entry. I can't tell you how pleased I was about that -- not because I'll get anything for it, or because I was the first to say it, but purely because someone felt that some ideas of mine usefully added to our knowledge about how the world works. In a very small way, I was able to contribute knowledge, and that's tremendously gratifying.

But when "knowledge" is deliberately defined by an online game's design to be a finite and static resource -- maps, hit points, quest solutions -- Achievers will insure that very little time passes before all knowledge is published, leaving nothing for Explorers to contribute.

Instancing, individualized crafting recipes and other user-specific content, BTW, aren't much help here. If you're the only one to whom some bit of knowledge applies, then learning it contributes nothing to the community. So while there's nothing inherently wrong with user-specific content as a way to personalize everyone's gameplay, it doesn't do much for Explorers. Better would be for a MMORPG to be designed in the first place to allow for continuous exploration, rendering thottbot irrelevant and user-specific content unnecessary.

Thus, my argument against thottbot is best understood as a minor aspect of my larger argument against finite, static gameworld designs. If your gameworld is completely explorable (as WoW and virtually all other MMORPGs are), then thottbot is a problem because it hastens the process of devaluing Explorer play. If OTOH your gameworld is designed so that some aspect of it is practically infinite, then both thottbot and manual data collection aren't as much of a problem. And Explorers will have a fighting chance to express their particular gifts.

In no way does that mean that players who are happy with collecting "mosts" and "firsts" can't do their thing. It just means there's at least one area where they can't crowd out other kinds of players.

That's not a threat to anyone's gameplay.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Quest Design for Explorers and Socializers

The mindlessness of quests in many MMORPGs has become such a well-known problem that it has its own name: "kill ten rats." That suggests that gamers want something more. I suspect some do... but I'm also pretty sure that some don't.

Most quests are externals-focused Manipulator/Achiever quests because most people (and thus most gamers) are Manipulators and Achievers. (For more on this, please see my essays "Bartle's Player Types and Keirsey's Temperaments" and "Styles of Play -- The Full Chart".) They like their games, like their lives, to be about action and accumulation. So while these gamers may complain that "kill ten rats" is boring, they'd be even more upset if they logged into their favorite MMORPG and discovered those simple, action/accumulation-oriented quests had been replaced with puzzles to be solved or emotional relationships to be nurtured. For a lot of people, puzzle-solving and emotional expression are tedious at best and incredibly frustrating at worst... and those are not things you want people feeling when they're paying to be entertained.

So I believe the simple action/accumulation "kill ten rats" task that isn't connected to anything (like knowledge or relationships) has to stick around in MMORPGs. Too many people prefer that kind of content to eliminate it. The question is whether that kind of quest content is enough.

I don't believe it is. Certainly there are a lot of people who prefer Do and Have over Think and Feel -- but that still leaves a lot of gamers whose enjoyment comes from opportunities to express their Thinking and Feeling. Although not gaming (yet) in the same numbers as Manipulators and Achievers, I'm pretty sure (from looking at the general population) that the number of Explorers and Socializers who might be interested in playing online games is not negligible. So in addition to Doing/Having quests, I think MMORPGs would benefit from consciously offering quests that reward clever Thinking (e.g., puzzles) and connected Feeling (e.g., roleplaying).

The question is, how do you implement such quest content? What's the difference between a Having quest and a Feeling quest? Is it even possible to characterize quests as being primarily about Having or Thinking or Feeling?

Well, let's try it. Here's my shot at listing some of the most common quest types, and attempting to characterize each one.




a mob (PC, NPC, creature)




an object (item or structure)




a known location (as in a waypointed race)




an NPC from one location to another




items to a specified player character or NPC




items [or player characters] to a specified location




a specified item




items for items or items for money




a mob, object or world feature whose location is unknown




a sealed container




an injured or sick character




the stats or capabilities of a specified character

Bearing in mind that this is tentative, a 2-1 ratio in favor of Do/Have quests over Think/Feel content is pretty lopsided, doesn't it? And it's even worse if you think I'm being generous in suggesting that healing and buffing quests are primarily about Feeling, or that finding something is primarily a Thinking (puzzle) quest.

If these are the usual kinds of quests, and few of them satisfy Thinking and Feeling playstyles, then what would be other examples of Thinking and Feeling quests? Do Thinking quests just mean puzzles? If so, what kind of puzzles work best in a MMORPG? If not, then what other kinds of quests might a Thinker enjoy?

And what about Feeling quests? What kind of quests would be satisfying to those gamers who like MMORPGs for the emotional responses and personal relationships generated by game worlds? "They should tell a story" doesn't seem like a complete answer to me, since any of the quest types listed above could be used to help tell a story. Or are there other quest types I failed to list that are particularly effective at storytelling?