Thursday, October 25, 2007

Star Trek Canon vs. MMORPG Gameplay +

Originally Posted by LtPowers:
SWG's much-lauded "sandbox" style of play was only mildly successful, numbers-wise.
Well, by comparison with the numbers that WoW puts up today, yes, but is that a fair comparison?

When it launched in 2003, SWG's numbers were as good as any U.S. MMORPG's, so I'm not sure we can say that SWG's more sandboxy design hurt it with respect to other games of that time.

And it gets even harder to be sure if SWG's slightly less game-y style stunted its success when we factor in the points you make next:

Originally Posted by LtPowers:
The game was frequently criticized for not being "Star Wars-y" enough and for concentrating too much on Uncle Owen-type characters (including literal moisture farming) ...
I'd like to point out that these criticisms came from two very different sources.

Gamers (and I was one of them) noted that SWG didn't seem to offer the feel of the movies, of being swept up in a Galactic Civil War... but only the developers ever thought that it was Uncle Owen's fault, that the cause for this perception was the existence of the resource collection aspect of the crafting system that was almost universally hailed as one of SWG's best features.

As I see it, the "feel" problem didn't stem from the features the original SWG did have -- the problem was what it didn't have, which was strong interaction with the iconic characters in deep and engaging storylines wrapped around the Galactic Civil War.

Originally Posted by LtPowers:
... and not enough on the Galactic Civil War and Jedi (specifically lightsabers and force powers). The game never materialized the numbers that SOE and LucasArts expected for a game with that particular license.
Oh, man, "the Jedi question" has still not been resolved, and probably never will be. The game-centric people are convinced that players-as-Jedi should have been implemented even more than they were; the lore-centric people are just as convinced that having players running around dueling each other everywhere just obliterated the critical storyline concept of Jedi as nearly extinct.

Meanwhile, the developers just seemed to assume that Marketing trumped everything; that any/all players who wanted to have a Jedi character simply had to have that opportunity, regardless of what they did with those characters.

So I'd say the implementation of Jedi in SWG never fully satisfied anybody, gamer or Star Wars fan. I just don't know how much it hurt subscriptions.

Originally Posted by LtPowers:
The question is, is that [DikuMUD] style of MMO really more popular among the gaming public, and if so, why? Does it have to do with the mechanics themselves, or is it just a coincidence that the popular games happen to use those mechanics?
Raph Koster has suggested that part of the reason for the success of DikuMUD games themselves was that a DikuMUD game was an "out of the box" solution. It was easy to set up and easy to modify compared to other game systems like LPmud.

To this I would add that this relative simplicity was partly structural, but the class/level/combat/loot model of gameplay is also conceptually simple enough to be easily updated. Because it's so numbers-based, it's easy to customize the gameplay just by changing the calculations and tables.

(This, BTW, is why so many people -- mistakenly, in my view -- claim that MMORPGs are defined in part by being numbers-intensive. Because most MMORPGs are DikuMUD-inspired, they're strongly numbers-driven. People thus naturally but invalidly conclude that being numbers-driven must be a defining characteristic of a MMORPG.)

So honestly, I really do assign the apparently popularity of class/level/loot games not so much to gamers demanding them as to developers choosing to make them, because the developers are the ones who decide that the class/level/combat/loot model is so easy to develop for.

Is that wrong of MMORPG developers? I'm not inclined to criticize them too harshly for so many of them making this decision to follow the DikuMUD road. A serious MMORPG takes a huge amount of development effort; it's only natural to prefer a model of play that, by focusing on easily-tweaked numeric gameplay rules over deep world and social systems, gets a MMORPG out the door and earning revenue sooner.

I can understand that. But that doesn't mean I have to be satisfied with it, especially when I think that "deep world and social systems" are required features for a particular license (like Star Trek), and when the business numbers show pretty clearly that there's a strong market for highly social worlds.

I'd be more willing to accept the possibility that "most" gamers prefer class/level/combat/loot games if we could get some decent alternatives out there to compare against!

And I still think a Star Trek MMORPG would be a great candidate for such a game that uses some existing MMORPG mechanics while unrepentantly discarding those that aren't appropriate or add little value compared to new ideas.