Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Admiral-Level Gameplay in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Another comment on Admiral-level gameplay:

Originally Posted by DougQB:
What if people don't care for the low Level activities and just want to jump to the endgame content?
First of all, a mea culpa. I keep using the word "level," but it's somewhat misleading. It's not wrong to see tactical and operational and strategic play as low-level and mid-level and high-level, but it's not entirely right, either. It's not wrong to also see these as different kinds of activity, one being no more or less better/harder/cooler/whatever than the other.

People are different; someone who's got mad operational skillz may be more valuable in a given situation than someone with equally strong tactical capabilities. So I'd rather not describe tactical gameplay as "low-level" gameplay; that just makes players think that the "fun" content is only found at the "high" levels. If what they find most fun is tactical gameplay, they might not enjoy being an Admiral at all if that rank is mostly about strategic-type gameplay.

That said, I suspect we're looking at this from both a realism/simulationist perspective and a pure gameplay perspective. But the two ways of seeing don't always lead to similar conclusions about the "right" design.

In the real world you want your leaders to have hands-on experience doing what they later tell other people to do, the theory being that this will make them better leaders. To a certain extent, I think that's true. When you've done something yourself, you gain an understanding of its practical limits.

On the other hand, a MMORPG is an entertainment product -- it's a game filled with people who often aren't competing directly against each other. So, unlike a training simulation where it's possible to fail, everybody needs to be able to win in a MMORPG; everyone needs to be able to get to the content they enjoy before they decide that the game's not fun and stop paying a subscription fee.

As a proponent of balanced game content, I think a game that includes character rank needs to try to achieve both of those goals. There's probably value in making the higher ranks more difficult to earn, and requiring personal experience of lower ranks before earning higher rank.

At the same time, it's bad business to force game-players to engage in play they don't enjoy. If Bob strongly prefers strategic gameplay, but after starting the game discovers that it's going to take him a year or more of consistently shooting stuff and organizing groups before he can get to a rank that opens up strategic-level play, the odds that he'll spend any more money on that game decrease... and that's the opposite of what a MMORPG design should accomplish. A better approach would let players quickly access the kinds of content they enjoy, and would offer a lot of that content so that they'll keep playing for a long time.

So how can we reconcile these two goals?

What kind of design would let players who like strategic and operational gameplay earn the appropriate "higher-level" ranks relatively quickly while still insuring that they appreciate the lessons taught by experiencing the tactics-focused ranks?