Thursday, January 10, 2008

Loot as a Reward in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Let's say most people in general (and gamers specifically) are motivated by tangible, concrete rewards. (I happen to think that's true.) That should mean that a game that focuses on useful objects as a key reward type has a chance to do well. World of Warcraft probably backs up that theory. (I say "probably" because I don't think it's enough to account for WoW's success; I believe there's a Hula Hoop Effect at work here. But a factor? Probably.)

OK, bearing all that in mind... it doesn't support a conclusion that a Star Trek MMORPG should also make collecting loot the primary form of reward at any point in the game, including the "endgame."

1. A game based on a franchise whose emphasis has always been on the exploration of space and other cultures is not necessarily going to attract the same type of gamer as another elves-in-tights combat/accumulation game. People are assuming that current gamers will constitute a significant majority of Star Trek Online's likely players, but no one can be certain that there aren't a boatload of Star Trek fans and SWG refugees and social gamers and non-gamers with modems who've heard of Star Trek who might be willing to try an online Star Trek game... unless it's designed to be all about non-stop competition to kill virtual monsters and collect virtual objects.

In which case, those people won't play it. And within a few months ST:O will be just another niche game with a few hundred thousand players. Not bad... but not great.

Do millions of people like spending their time beating up virtual monsters to collect virtual stuff? Apparently. Would millions more like a game that is designed to place more emphasis on exploration and social interaction (without excluding the more concrete rewards)? I don't think anyone is in a position to say with any certainty that such a game, if polished, couldn't carve out an equal (or larger) market.

I can't guarantee that a game like that would score big. All I'm saying here is that copying WoW's core gameplay design is not guaranteed to produce a successful MMORPG, either... so why not be willing to consider doing something different?

2. The previous comments concerned how people in general might react to killing/looting gameplay. Now let's look at how Star Trek fans in particular might respond to making that the gameplay focus of Star Trek Online.

One of the most common complaints against Star Wars Galaxies from before it even launched was that it "didn't feel enough like Star Wars." That drove away people who came to the game because they were Star Wars fans.

Star Trek Online will face a similar situation with Star Trek fans. Design ST:O to similarly ignore the iconic "feel" of Star Trek that its fans care about in favor of making a game like WoW that focuses on killing things and accumulating wealth, and ST:O is likely to suffer similar critical and commercial difficulties.

A developer who doesn't understand or respect this part of the Star Trek franchise IP has no business trying to make a MMORPG out of it.

3. Social worlds attract more people than MMORPGs do. So the claim that a new game is most likely to do well by designing its content to appeal to just the core gamer population of people online today is dubious, because it outright ignores the larger number of people who prefer friendly social interaction over the constant hypercompetitive killing and the focus on the accumulation of objects that characterize current MMORPGs.

4. Why should anyone think that gamers who like the loot-centric gameplay of World of Warcraft, who already have so much time invested in "their" game, will suddenly decide to leave it to play some other game with the same loot-centric design? Making the same kind of product as someone else at the same price -- only more "casually" -- is not a plan for success.


In summary, just because WoW has done well (compared to other MMORPGs) and focuses on loot-collection does not mean that focusing on loot-collection caused WoW to do well. (See the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.) Nor does anyone know whether focusing on something else might not lead to even greater success in the limited realm of online games.

I don't think the argument that Star Trek Online wins by being yet another MMORPG that emphasizes loot-collection is a strong one.

Originally Posted by DOAM:
What could possibly be the point of a game, with no loot?
This reminds me of the story of Benjamin Franklin in France, where he watched one of the early experiments by the Montgolfier brothers with hot-air balloons.

Supposedly the guy in the crowd next to Franklin nudged him and said, "Well, I suppose it's interesting, but of what use is it?"

To which Franklin replied, "Of what use is a newborn child?"

The point being that the only way to find out the potential of some new idea is to actually give it a chance. We'll never discover the point of a high-quality MMORPG that doesn't focus obsessively on collecting loot unless somebody makes such a game. Simply assuming that such a thing could never work will insure that we remain stuck on the ground with yet more "kill it and take its stuff" games until the public finally gets tired of the same damn thing, decides that online games were just a passing fad, and moves on to some other fad.

I think somebody needs to step up and make a game that tests the commercial potential of offering more than just killing and looting. I'm not saying that stuff shouldn't be in Star Trek Online to some degree; all I'm saying is that this is going to be the last, best chance for many years to make a game where that stuff isn't the whole point of the game.

There are already a bunch of online games out there that offer people who like that kind of thing as much of it as they could want.

A Star Trek MMORPG can offer something different. In my opinion, it should.