Thursday, October 11, 2007

Types of Character Power in a Star Trek MMORPG

I've been wondering: what should be the basis of power in Star Trek Online?

By "power" I don't mean energy, like warp power -- I mean character power; I'm talking about the ability to affect other characters. What should determine how much power a character has in this game?

I'm curious about this because it seems to me that how character power gets defined by Star Trek Online's developer (in terms of game features) will have a major impact on the "feel" of the game. That will to a large extent determine the nature of the ST:O community, and community is what makes or breaks an online game.

As a way to start thinking about this, I'd like to suggest that there are four typical paths to power:

  • what you can do (skill-power)
  • what you possess (gear-power)
  • what you know (knowledge-power)
  • who you know (people-power)
All of these are present to varying degrees in current MMORPGs.

Skill-power: If it's an RPG, characters will have special abilities that are innate to them. (Whether they "learn" these abilities as individual skills or through a class/level model is irrelevant to this discussion.)

Gear-power: Most MMORPGs today also place a heavy emphasis on gear-power, where what you can do depends on what's wielded, worn, or in your inventory at that moment. (WoW's endgame is all about trying to increase this kind of power.)

Knowledge-power: Knowing where certain content is and knowing how to get the most out of any in-game feature are also forms of power in today's MMORPGs. (But notice that these are informal abilities of the player, not aspects of a character that the game explicitly supports with in-game features. More on that in a minute.)

People-power: Being part of a network of friends and allies who share a common goal is a popular way to confer power on individuals that they otherwise could not obtain. (Again, though, formal in-game features to support this kind of power are usually minimal. EVE Online's features supporting player-run corporations are a prominent exception.)

So what about Star Trek Online? What should the relative proportions of these kinds of character power be in ST:O?

Skill-power: Should power to affect the play of others be derived mostly from character abilities -- in particular, how much effect should rank have where other players are concerned? Would ST:O feel wrong if rank is so weak that it has no effect on other players? What kinds of problems could ST:O have if rank power is too strong? Are there any other kinds of character skills beyond rank that could make a character powerful with respect to other characters?

Gear-power: Or should power in ST:O come mostly from gear? If so, what kinds of possessible objects are we talking about here? Weapons and armor? Engineering tools or devices? Something else? Where (as we've been discussing in the Improving Starship Technology Through Looting? thread) should this gear come from? Should it all be player-crafted? Or assigned by Starfleet? Or looted? What will Star Trek Online feel like if a character's power comes mostly from the gear he/she/it possesses?

Knowledge-power: What about knowledge-power? Can you think of any ways in which a character's knowledge (other than the skills learned or levels gained), rather than the player's knowledge, can have more of an impact in Star Trek Online? How should character knowledge be represented? To what degree should game content be created to measure and reward character knowledge (or even a character's basic level of intelligence)? How important should knowledge be in crafting? Should there be a research system, and if so, how might it affect a character's power relative to other characters?

People-power: How much power should come from being part of a group? What kinds of in-game features that confer power on individuals as a result of their membership in a group would be appropriate for Star Trek Online? How could ST:O offer group-power features without copying EVE Online? Should there be ways to gain power through relationships that don't require formal membership in a group? Should groups be able to affect individual players, or only other groups? What about soloers -- what effect would increasing the importance of relationship-power have on them and their interest in playing this game?

To sum up, what do you think would be the right overall balance of the different types of character power features in Star Trek Online?

Poll results as of 2008/02/27 (127 voters):





Skill power

character abilities, levels, and ranks



Gear power

tools and objects possessed



Knowledge power

information about the world



People power

grouping effects



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