Tuesday, October 17, 2006
WMDs in MMORPGs
There’s been some talk recently about a "doomsday device" in EVE Online. Apparently it's possible -- with the expenditure of a lot of time and 160 billion or so of the local currency -- to create a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) in the game.
But is that really possible? Does something like that have a similar effect in today’s online games as the (unfortunately) real thing?
1. "Doomsday device" isn't an accurate description of a WMD unless it's capable of offing a significant (25% - 50% or more) percentage of the population.
2. What gives WMDs their power isn't just the destructive capability of one weapon -- it's the threat that where there's one, there may be many more.
It was to generate this perception that two bombs were dropped in 1945, rather than just one. One could be a fluke; two implies a repeatable process, which is far more dangerous than any individual weapon (unless it really is a doomsday device).
3. The real power of WMDs is not in their ability to destroy military assets, but in their political effects on civilian populations. In other words, WMDs are a strategic weapon, not a tactical weapon. To think of them only as tactical weapons is to fail to get full value from the time and money spent building them.
4. A big difference between using WMDs in the real world and using them in online games is that most (pretty much all?) online games don't have anything like civilian populations. There may be a few NPCs, but that's nothing like the tens of millions of souls that generate serious economic and political power in a real world society. A few hundred NPCs serving only as isolated loot piñatas are not even remotely similar to millions of NPCs coordinating their actions in ways that have real effects on gameplay.
One of the ideas I've been mulling over for a MMORPG is to integrate it with a sim game. Part of the gameplay would be managing the political, economic, and social happiness of billions of simulated citizens spread over several worlds.
Wouldn't a game world like that be a lot more conducive to the application of a WMD? A WMD in one of the current player-heavy MMORPGs gets used more like a tactical weapon; it just kills (temporarily) a few players and breaks some stuff. So? It's not like there's permadeath; players will just shrug off even the biggest tactical device.
It's when keeping millions of civilians happy becomes a meaningful gameplay goal that the possibility of some Bad Guys having a WMD becomes an effective driver for interesting gameplay. Only when they present a strategic threat can WMDs realize their full terrifying potential in an online world.
But here’s the question: Would that be "fun?"