Friday, September 14, 2007

Personality Types and Gameplay Preferences +

Originally Posted by Flatfingers:
[game developers seem to be] focusing monomanically on "competitive accumulation" Achiever content
Originally Posted by Ereiid:
I find the enboldened section particularly interesting.
Maybe so, but be advised that I've run into developers who get a little grumpy with me for saying it. :)

From their perspective, they're just serving their customers. Most MMORPG players seem to be (and probably are) achievement-focused, so it simply makes sense to provide that kind of content. I don't really dispute that; I just don't think it's looking at the bigger or longer-term picture.

For one thing, people are attracted to games based on their features. If you build an Achiever game, you'll attract Achievers... so as you create more features for them, that attracts more Achievers, and so on. It's easy to get locked into that cycle and lose sight of your other kinds of players. In fact, I think that's precisely what happened to SWG, only with harsher effects in that game because it started out less Achiever-focused than other MMORPGs.

For another thing, building an Achiever-focused game makes it a lot harder for me to prove that there are other kinds of gamers out here. Developers point to a successful Achiever-oriented game (i.e., pretty much any marginally profitable MMORPG currently out there) and say, "See? Look, there are all kinds of people enjoying that content! Gamers must all be Achievers!" Well, of course that's what it looks like -- what else is there to do in these games? Even Explorers and Socializers and Manipulators have to play the Achiever game -- and thus look like Achievers -- if they want to play these games at all.

More on that one in a minute.

Originally Posted by Ereiid:
I imagine that too many Devs imagine that the Socializers take care of themselves, which I remain unconvinced of.
I get that same impression. "We don't need to spend time making content for them -- they're roleplayers; they'll make up their own games, or find ways to use our item placement system to decorate their houses, or whatever. Hey, are the particle effects for that new weapon done yet?"

That's being a little unfair. There are some developers who I'm sure would like to add more social content. But how do you sell that to a producer who's being pressured by some suit in Marketing to add content that will tie in to a new line of action figures in time for Christmas?

Originally Posted by Ereiid:
I also imagine that too many Devs conflate the "ganker versus carebear" (I hate those words) problem as being overt antagonism between Killers and Socializers -- which I also remain unconvinced of. It's telling that on so many boards, the gankers are often among the most sociable players. The enduring communities that form around FPSes should be some indication of that.
On this one, I have some reservations. Absolutely Manipulators can be sociable... otherwise how would they find people to manipulate? (PKing is just one aspect of manipulating the gameworld.)

And Socializers are just so darned emotive -- well, who could resist yanking their chains? They're so funny when they get wound up! (Thus thinks the Manipulator.)

Richard Bartle's diagram of the ecological interactions of the four player types (in the Endnotes of "Players Who Suit MUDs") makes this relationship pretty clear -- in fact, it's the strongest ecological relationship in multiplayer online RPGs.

The "solution" thus far has been to take an axe to anything that looks like it might attract Killers. Unfortunately, I think the result of this has been to allow actual Killer types to hide in Achiever clothing (honking up that gameplay), and to eliminate the non-Killer Manipulators entirely. That's a shame, because these highly-kinesthetic folks could add a lot of fun to a game whose features channeled their manipulative skills (of both objects and people) into positive courses. The more mature Manipulators make great Politicians and are the most virtuosic users of tools, but the "Killer" stigma kicks them out of the game where they can't show others how to do that stuff in a positive way.

I've got some design ideas for this....

Originally Posted by Ereiid:
And there are games that at least acknowledge Explorers -- I'm thinking exploration badges in SWG and CoX. But if we don't take the literal meaning of that archetype, that Explorers enjoy engaging novel content -- they might just be the trickiest ones to keep happy. MMOs by their nature consist of finite content. No MMO has managed to provide truly infinite content -- the massive games like WoW, at best, can provide the illusion of infinite content; but ultimately, it is possible to have literally done everything there is to do in these games.
To try to keep this short, I'll just mention something I've pointed out elsewhere, which is that SWG's badges actually took fun away from real Explorers by creating Achiever rewards for exploration. By rewarding Achievers for something Explorers enjoy, SWG insured that there'd be nothing left to explore -- the locust-like Achievers buzzsawed through all of it (and posted it online) already.

I've been pretty consistent in saying that I acknowledge the intent of the SOE/LA folks who designed this part of SWG -- at least they were trying to offer features to appeal to Explorers, which I agree is more than most other developers do. That said, however, the implementation was suboptimal IMO because, in misunderstanding what motivates Explorers, SOE offered the wrong kind of rewards for exploration.

For the Explorer, the pleasure is not in amassing collections of first/most/highest/best; it's in the comprehension of a complex space -- not for concrete profit, or for bragging rights, but because it's satisfying to really grok how and why a system works. The pleasure comes from the satisfaction of having developed a demonstrably accurate model because that's how you know whether you really understand what you're studying.

So I think you're actually on a better track with "infinite content" -- in other words, a construction kit. Not many developers care for that idea: "It's a game, not a simulation." Furthermore, there's the problem of unexpected exploits. When you build a simple and highly constrained system, you have a chance of knowing how it will function in most cases... but when you build a system for building systems, the whole fun of the thing comes from being able to generate surprising content. How the heck do you keep that from being abused?

I don't pretend to have an easy answer for this. All I can say right now is that I think this is possible, and that some developer is going to make out like a bandit among Explorers -- and I don't think we exist in trivial numbers -- by designing a game that gives Explorers the kind of discovery-focused gameplay rewards they crave, instead of treating them like somewhat nerdy Achievers who can be placated with a manufacturing support role imaginatively called "crafting."

Do I have strong opinions on this matter? Oh, yes.