Sunday, November 4, 2007

Admiral-Level Gameplay in a Star Trek MMORPG +

But wait, there's more on Admiral-level gameplay!

Originally Posted by Captain Crowl:
Keep in mind that in order to progress through the admiral ranks, a person must show mastery of the previous job. For example, you must first become and master being a starbase commander, then you become a fleet commander...both Rear Admiral positions in my model. Then you could become a sector commander or switch over to being head of a department. At some point you'll move up to being a Vice Admiral and must master all that's involved with it. I'm talking many, many hours of playing here.

But eventually, a player will get to the point where they no longer progress.
I'd like to offer another perspective on how players-as-admirals might work in Star Trek Online. Maybe there's some common ground I'm not seeing.

I have a pretty strong feeling that the approach quoted at the top of this post would not result in fewer admirals -- my guess is that there would still be way too many, and the only people who would become admirals would be those who had the time and inclination to grind, grind, grind their way to the top. I don't think these people would have the admiral-nature; I think this design would in fact select for the people who have the "this is a game and I'm going to beat it" nature. And there seem to be an awful lot of gamers like that.

Mostly (I guess) because there are an awful lot of games like that.

The alternative approach I've been pushing is to design the whole game so that the gameplay at the Admiral level is significantly different from gameplay at the Lieutenant level, and both of those differ from the gameplay at the Captain level. By keying gameplay to rank, and then letting players choose when they want to stop rising in rank (because they've found the kind of gameplay they enjoy), you let the gameplay itself determine how many people choose to become Captains and Admirals.

Following this approach, I think you'd get a roughly pyramidal shape to the number of players in each rank. Most gamers would fill in the ranks from Ensign to Lt. Commander because those are where the bulk of the Tactical gameplay would exist, and that's clearly the kind of content that most online gamers prefer. A much smaller number of gamers would choose to be Commanders and Captains because they like Operational challenges; they enjoy solving the organizational issues that come with leadership. And the still smaller number of gamers who are good at and enjoy Strategic gameplay would become the few Commodores and even fewer Admirals that a MMORPG needs, because that's the kind of gameplay available at those ranks.

Following this design, the rank structure wouldn't become top-heavy (typically a Bad Thing in any organization). And this would be accomplished not by keying rank to months of grinding for prestige, but by keying rank to gameplay and then letting people voluntarily stop rising in rank when they get to the rank-based gameplay they enjoy. This way Star Trek Online's developer can focus on creating lots of easy-to-imagine tactical gameplay; a moderate amount of operational gameplay, and a small but meaningful amount of relatively hard-to-imagine strategic gameplay.

In fact, I'm betting that when ST:O launches, there's only one Admiral rank -- no rear, vice, or fleet at all.

In summary, I'm coming at all this from the concern that having multiple Admiral ranks and conditioning promotion on "many, many hours of playing" will lead to Starfleet being run by too many gamers who care more about collecting a cool rank title than about behaving like Admirals. And I think that would hurt the play experience too much for too many people.