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Are MMORPG's "games"?

TalinguardTalinguard Winchester, VAMember Posts: 676 Common

While this post is not a “game concept” in itself, I think this post is best here as the content here is most applicable when discussing game design (and thus concepts) and has significantly influenced how I think about design and my own ideas.

 

So, is an MMORPG a game?

Now before I get flamed for missing the obvious, let me just say that MMORPG are games in the common way we use the term, but solitaire is also a game, but shares very little in common with an MMORPG.

I’m going breakdown the different subcategories of games, something originally done by game designer Chris Crawford, and discuss a few of the implications.

So before I start I think it’s important that I define the different subcategories of games in general.

 

 

When describing an MMORPG we can use both game and competition as the terms that describe the genre as MMORPG contain both aspects and are not mutually exclusive.  MMORPG’s can be more adversarial games, or competitions and virtually all MMORPG’s have elements of both.  Of course one can argue that the program of the MMORPG is what makes the game a game, but for the sake of this conversation, I’d like to focus on the human element because it is, in my opinion, the unpredictability of the human element and the challenges we provide one another, that make MMORPG’s fun.

Now as a person who has spent extensive time designing an economy for MMORPG’s these ideas are something that I’ve known, but hadn’t thought to formalize, but I realized a long time ago the significant impact these ideas have on the way that the economy is created, the game is played and the sense of achievement that one gets when playing.

MMORPG’s have no clearly defined goal or point at which the simulation ends and a winner declared.  Instead they are persistent world where players decide their own goals.  The one constant in MMORPGs is that whatever players wish to accomplished is done more efficiently with items and money.

What separates the MMORPG competition from the MMORPG game is how items and money are acquired.  When players have the choice to collect stuff and experience entirely free from interference from other human players, then the game becomes based on competition.  Even if a MMORPG offers instanced adversarial play (like World of Warcraft’s battlegrounds) it’s important to remember that much of what players acquire happens in the competitive space and is carried into the adversarial space.

Now of course this is not black and white.  Even the WoW battlegrounds offer items that can only be obtained from adversarial gameplay between players, but WoW by-and-large stresses competition over adversarial gameplay.  Eve on the other hand is weighted the opposite way and places more emphasis on adversarial gameplay, but still has areas free of interference from other players, specifically instanced quests.

MMORPG’s that are purely cooperative are more like single player games played with other people, purely adversarial games (with no space that a player can feel reasonably safe) in a persistent world aren’t much fun as they become gank fests where advisories rarely meet on even terms and often devolve into lowest common denominators and are exhausting to all but the most dedicated few.

Having said that, there is a place in the market for all of these games, but, in my opinion, few have found the right balance between freedoms to engage other players at all points in the game and the difficulty that most players experience when trying to play in these environments.

I have spent several years trying to develop an MMORPG economy that focus’ on the adversarial nature of the MMORPG focusing on concepts like risk vs reward and utilizing innovative concepts to address the challenges that increasing time and resources give the select few players at the top.  The idea is not to punish wealthy players, but ensure that the challenges they face are proportional to the influence they can exert.

Thoughts?

 

Presentation for new MMORPG economics concept http://www.slideshare.net/talin/mmo-economics-concept-v-10

Comments

  • ghstwolfghstwolf hampstead, NHMember Posts: 386
    Originally posted by Talinguard

    I have spent several years trying to develop an MMORPG economy that focus’ on the adversarial nature of the MMORPG focusing on concepts like risk vs reward and utilizing innovative concepts to address the challenges that increasing time and resources give the select few players at the top.  The idea is not to punish wealthy players, but ensure that the challenges they face are proportional to the influence they can exert. Thoughts?  

    Progress is a wonderful equalizer.  By that, I mean the world/technology progressing and leaving the titans of the previous age behind.  I can't seem to settle on a single example from history (too many to pick from), so I'll let Devito give a sermon on the matter http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62kxPyNZF3Q

    Now don't get me wrong, it could go the other way too.  Rockefeller faced obsolescence and went on to make millions (billions) more than he would have on the original track.  Seriously, electricity could have been the death of standard oil as lamp oil (kerosene) was their main (perhaps only meaningful) product.  Gasoline was once just a bothersome byproduct, something worthless (which was dumped).  Hopefully I can skip the rest of the story.

    I'm not quite sure how you build that into a game design.  Such shifts need a special sort of alchemy, a magical mix of being logical without telegraphing the shift.  It would be much easier to go with an upkeep sort of method.  That is storing items (which are designed to be far more situational than in most games) would have serious costs, adding risk/cost to monetary accumulation (bank charges 2-5% to maintain an account, and only banked money is safe) and serious commitments to maintain high rep (influence in some designs).  Part of the problem with that is how fun killing such measures are.  The only other option I see would require a pretty radical departure from the "traditional" MMORPG, something extreme enough that it borders on being a new class of game.  I'm already getting close to wall of text range here, and as you can imagine it would take a lot more to explain that new game type.  I'm going to skip it for now.

  • TalinguardTalinguard Winchester, VAMember Posts: 676 Common
    Originally posted by ghstwolf
    Originally posted by Talinguard

    I have spent several years trying to develop an MMORPG economy that focus’ on the adversarial nature of the MMORPG focusing on concepts like risk vs reward and utilizing innovative concepts to address the challenges that increasing time and resources give the select few players at the top.  The idea is not to punish wealthy players, but ensure that the challenges they face are proportional to the influence they can exert. Thoughts?  

    Progress is a wonderful equalizer.  By that, I mean the world/technology progressing and leaving the titans of the previous age behind.  I can't seem to settle on a single example from history (too many to pick from), so I'll let Devito give a sermon on the matter http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62kxPyNZF3Q

    Now don't get me wrong, it could go the other way too.  Rockefeller faced obsolescence and went on to make millions (billions) more than he would have on the original track.  Seriously, electricity could have been the death of standard oil as lamp oil (kerosene) was their main (perhaps only meaningful) product.  Gasoline was once just a bothersome byproduct, something worthless (which was dumped).  Hopefully I can skip the rest of the story.

    I'm not quite sure how you build that into a game design.  Such shifts need a special sort of alchemy, a magical mix of being logical without telegraphing the shift.  It would be much easier to go with an upkeep sort of method.  That is storing items (which are designed to be far more situational than in most games) would have serious costs, adding risk/cost to monetary accumulation (bank charges 2-5% to maintain an account, and only banked money is safe) and serious commitments to maintain high rep (influence in some designs).  Part of the problem with that is how fun killing such measures are.  The only other option I see would require a pretty radical departure from the "traditional" MMORPG, something extreme enough that it borders on being a new class of game.  I'm already getting close to wall of text range here, and as you can imagine it would take a lot more to explain that new game type.  I'm going to skip it for now.

     

    That was an interesting reply.  I'm not sure where exactly you were going with it though.  Are you suggesting that technology introduced into the game can be used to balance advantages gained by those who have have more time than the average player and have used that time efficiently to collect resources (items, money ect)?

    Presentation for new MMORPG economics concept http://www.slideshare.net/talin/mmo-economics-concept-v-10

  • ghstwolfghstwolf hampstead, NHMember Posts: 386
    Originally posted by Talinguard

    That was an interesting reply.  I'm not sure where exactly you were going with it though.  Are you suggesting that technology introduced into the game can be used to balance advantages gained by those who have have more time than the average player and have used that time efficiently to collect resources (items, money ect)?

    If you strip away some of the other, less well formed methodology that I was trying to get into, yes.

    I'd want to push efficiency and make that efficiency take a commitment as a specialty.  This includes the region(s) of operation (whether conquest or reputation based deals), extraction and processing equipment.  These would tend to be different between resources.  No chainsaws for mining iron, limited farming on rocky hills and such.  Technology has a way of shifting the value of land, it's uses and resource demand.  Since there is a high specialization commitment (for any real efficiency) in the design (both tools and locations)  a shift in tech can go a long way to equalize vanguard players back to the general pop.

    Tech can come in many forms, whether it be the material change (bronze ->iron / impacts location), extraction (pick/shovel -> dynamite) or process (Bessemer vs open-hearth).  There would also be a demand fluctuation but we haven't considered the finished goods side yet.

  • LoktofeitLoktofeit Stone Mountain, GAMember Posts: 14,247 Rare
    Since many developers seems to find the term 'toy' an insult to their work, I think that by developer definition they are all games. Hell, even Raph has gotten into the business of everything a game dev crafts is a game... unless of course someone says it isn't art, then OF COURSE IT IS RAWR!!!eleventy

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to play, if you want to use a screwdriver to put nails into wood, have at it, simply don't complain when the guy next to you with the hammer is doing it much better and easier. - Allein
    "Graphics are often supplied by Engines that (some) MMORPG's are built in" - Spuffyre

  • TalinguardTalinguard Winchester, VAMember Posts: 676 Common
    Originally posted by Loktofeit
    Since many developers seems to find the term 'toy' an insult to their work, I think that by developer definition they are all games. Hell, even Raph has gotten into the business of everything a game dev crafts is a game... unless of course someone says it isn't art, then OF COURSE IT IS RAWR!!!eleventy

     I wasn't saying that developers make toys, just the opposite.  I simply made a distinction between toys, puzzles, challenges, competitions and games.  

    As far as everything that a developer crafting being a game, yes in the way the term is commonly used.  All I was trying to do was convey the idea that in MMORPG's there are (for the most part) two different kinds of "games".  There are competitive games and adversarial games.  Competitive games being those that you earn stuff largely free from the influence of enemy players, then choose to use the spoils in contrived events.  Where in adversarial games, players spend a portion of their time trying to advance at some risk that other players will attack them and they risk losing something.  Eve is the best example I know of, but certainly not the only example.

    WoW was a landmark game in that it established the competitive nature of MMORPG's both in longevity and profitability.  This caused a large shift away from the adversarial nature of MMORPG's.

    IMO this is because managing player incentives is much more difficult when players can affect each other success to greater degrees.

     

    Presentation for new MMORPG economics concept http://www.slideshare.net/talin/mmo-economics-concept-v-10

  • TalinguardTalinguard Winchester, VAMember Posts: 676 Common
    Originally posted by ghstwolf
    Originally posted by Talinguard

    That was an interesting reply.  I'm not sure where exactly you were going with it though.  Are you suggesting that technology introduced into the game can be used to balance advantages gained by those who have have more time than the average player and have used that time efficiently to collect resources (items, money ect)?

    If you strip away some of the other, less well formed methodology that I was trying to get into, yes.

    That may be possible, but is, of course, lacking a lot of context, to much for me to judge its merits.

    For me personally I have an issue with introducing new items that make old items obsolete.  New items that are generally seen as superior to old items cause the currency to deflate.  This is a tactic used by most games as inflation runs away from developer control.  However unlike the real economy, a little deflation is not all that detrimental, it can however cause a reduction in the velocity of money and lead to shortages in game economies that are completely player run.  This is of course, why most economies are not player run.  Players are constantly chasing the un-catchable carrot, and this is why, again, in my opinion, that most games become boring for players that prefer adversarial games to competitive games.

    But this conversation depends on an enormous number of assumptions to even discuss as economics is extremely complicated and based on how your economy is attempting to manage player incentives in a way that is fun for the greatest number of people.

     

    Presentation for new MMORPG economics concept http://www.slideshare.net/talin/mmo-economics-concept-v-10

  • ghstwolfghstwolf hampstead, NHMember Posts: 386
    Originally posted by Talinguard

    That may be possible, but is, of course, lacking a lot of context, to much for me to judge its merits. For me personally I have an issue with introducing new items that make old items obsolete.  New items that are generally seen as superior to old items cause the currency to deflate.  This is a tactic used by most games as inflation runs away from developer control.  However unlike the real economy, a little deflation is not all that detrimental, it can however cause a reduction in the velocity of money and lead to shortages in game economies that are completely player run.  This is of course, why most economies are not player run.  Players are constantly chasing the un-catchable carrot, and this is why, again, in my opinion, that most games become boring for players that prefer adversarial games to competitive games. But this conversation depends on an enormous number of assumptions to even discuss as economics is extremely complicated and based on how your economy is attempting to manage player incentives in a way that is fun for the greatest number of people.  

    The lack of context is a major challenge here, as it makes this discussion much harder.

    One thing that is a bit different in my thinking here is that items (which in this case includes equipable items) don't really go obsolete (though they could shift roles).  What goes obsolete is the means of production.  The mid European Colonialist period (as the Industrial Revolution got underway) could be a perfect fit as a setting, but any time we could apply similar conditions should work well.

    If the profile of low item/ highish production obsolescence can be achieved (and really only for max efficiency), it should minimize the impact on average players while creating a strong play element for vanguard players.  It's the Bessemer vs open hearth methods in steel, open hearth was far more cost effective.  The product was quite similar (steel, although we could debate quality) but the equipment was very different.  At the finished goods stage the method of powering their machines which ran from horses -> water -> steam -> ICE -> electricity (probably missing a step or two) each step allowed newer more efficient machines.

    Through this, staying on top becomes a much bigger challenge.  Timing the conversions is critical, sticking with older tech can be quite profitable as older equipment could be quite the  bargain, and older power sources (coal in the age of oil)  may be over-produced, allowing you to benefit from glut pricing.  In this way those tech shifts create huge risk for established industry players and considerable opportunity for the entry of new players.

  • anemoanemo Member Posts: 1,001 Uncommon

    All crafting ends up pretty adversarial in my opinion.   Even something like WoW's crafting(I'd argue it for having some really really simple crafting).

    Player goal, get max crafting level for some carrot or another(higher tier gear, quest requirement)

    The player needs to figure out how to gather materials:  While exploring, from direct trades, buying from Auction house, or placing a bid on the auction house.    

    It's not just buying the materials that matters in this case a savy player is going to look at direct costs of materials and their churn(how long it takes to buy).   what those materials are made into, and if that item sells(assuming no use due to goal stated).   And then other costs like how long an item takes to make or other special requirements.

    Players are usually indirectly competing to lose the least money to reach max crafting.   Lots of competing strategies at play.   Do whatever it takes to make a small profit(at cost of time, research, and similar), trade down resources(resources that sell high but not efficient at leveling), play a side game of earning a profit from the market, or just simply value time above all else.

    ______________

    Personally I think the easiest way to challenge wealthy players is to pit them against each other.  In a PvPer game this becomes easy just looking at EvE and the shear amount of "time" that is destroyed in a null sec war.

    In a PvE has a great potential to be very very adversarial without players ever lifting a sword against each other.

    An example I like is that in Mabinogi they have

    story missions that are completed over the course of a RL week(RL time gated) AND take and 10-20 hours of time.  The player of course get a 1 time reward each time, that is often times tradable.   Rich players are always trying to get these especially the weapon modifiers at high premiums.

    that housing districts are controlled by guilds, they earn this by winning an auction every month against every other guild(the competition is brutal at times).  

    special titles:  State Alchemists the 100 strongest questers on the server(get special uniform, and being the only players that can enter instances as an ally to some story missions)(title they need to earn every month),  Seal breakers: be first person to meet a requirement and get a title that can't be earned again or by another player.

    Dan system.  

    In both types of games players will pay a lot for uniqueness.  However it's bigger in PvE games, to be honest I think a lot of the high end raiding is more about how a player looks than the stats.

    Crafting always ends up being PvPer for me at least.  

    _____________________

    EDIT:  I also hold the opinion that the only way you really ever win in PvP in an MMO is convincing the enemy side that the objective isn't worth their time anymore.   Anything else is just a goal to help you get the enemy to that point.

    Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent.

    "At one point technology meant making tech that could get to the moon, now it means making tech that could get you a taxi."

  • TalinguardTalinguard Winchester, VAMember Posts: 676 Common
    Originally posted by anemo
    All crafting ends up pretty adversarial in my opinion.   Even something like WoW's crafting(I'd argue it for having some really really simple crafting). Player goal, get max crafting level for some carrot or another(higher tier gear, quest requirement) The player needs to figure out how to gather materials:  While exploring, from direct trades, buying from Auction house, or placing a bid on the auction house.     It's not just buying the materials that matters in this case a savy player is going to look at direct costs of materials and their churn(how long it takes to buy).   what those materials are made into, and if that item sells(assuming no use due to goal stated).   And then other costs like how long an item takes to make or other special requirements. Players are usually indirectly competing to lose the least money to reach max crafting.   Lots of competing strategies at play.   Do whatever it takes to make a small profit(at cost of time, research, and similar), trade down resources(resources that sell high but not efficient at leveling), play a side game of earning a profit from the market, or just simply value time above all else. ______________ Personally I think the easiest way to challenge wealthy players is to pit them against each other.  In a PvPer game this becomes easy just looking at EvE and the shear amount of "time" that is destroyed in a null sec war. In a PvE has a great potential to be very very adversarial without players ever lifting a sword against each other. An example I like is that in Mabinogi they have story missions that are completed over the course of a RL week(RL time gated) AND take and 10-20 hours of time.  The player of course get a 1 time reward each time, that is often times tradable.   Rich players are always trying to get these especially the weapon modifiers at high premiums. that housing districts are controlled by guilds, they earn this by winning an auction every month against every other guild(the competition is brutal at times).   special titles:  State Alchemists the 100 strongest questers on the server(get special uniform, and being the only players that can enter instances as an ally to some story missions)(title they need to earn every month),  Seal breakers: be first person to meet a requirement and get a title that can't be earned again or by another player. Dan system.   In both types of games players will pay a lot for uniqueness.  However it's bigger in PvE games, to be honest I think a lot of the high end raiding is more about how a player looks than the stats. Crafting always ends up being PvPer for me at least.   _____________________ EDIT:  I also hold the opinion that the only way you really ever win in PvP in an MMO is convincing the enemy side that the objective isn't worth their time anymore.   Anything else is just a goal to help you get the enemy to that point.

     

    That is an interesting take, the problem I have is, while there is a lot of competition crafting, competition that could in some ways be considered adversarial, you're competing against members of your faction (i.e. Horde/ Alliance).

    Having said that,it's still an interesting thought.

    As far as dealing with veteran players, I'd agree that pitting them against one another is a good idea.  Another idea is making to possible for several lower level players to work together to defeat higher level players.

    To your last point, the objective in most games is gear and stats, it's hard to convince people that those things aren't worth their time.

    The solution is to build a world where there is something beyond gear....

    Presentation for new MMORPG economics concept http://www.slideshare.net/talin/mmo-economics-concept-v-10

  • ghstwolfghstwolf hampstead, NHMember Posts: 386
    Originally posted by Talinguard

    To your last point, the objective in most games is gear and stats, it's hard to convince people that those things aren't worth their time. The solution is to build a world where there is something beyond gear....

    Gear and stats are seen that way because so often it is the way content is gated.  Teamwork and tactics are frequently secondary to being "geared".  I say go with it but make gear more horizontal.  Somewhere I've got notes on a combat system I was working on that featured 6 different damage types (3 physical/ 3 elemental), both effectiveness and wear were impacted by the damage types at play.  In another "design" (being generous), all skills ran through the magic system where elemental resources (which had a huge effect on charge time, cooldowns and/or effectiveness) were local, gear offered modifiers to the locale.

    The commonality is that the gear had an expanded role, but one that was more situational.  People would (in theory) get the same rush from getting a new piece, but it lacked the "universally" better aspect it has in most games.  Granted this moves gear firmly into the debate about vertical vs horizontal progression, but there is certainly a camp that is enthusiastic about horizontal progression.

  • TalinguardTalinguard Winchester, VAMember Posts: 676 Common
    When you say "horizontal", do you mean more skills rather than increasing current skills?

    Presentation for new MMORPG economics concept http://www.slideshare.net/talin/mmo-economics-concept-v-10

  • ghstwolfghstwolf hampstead, NHMember Posts: 386
    Originally posted by Talinguard
    When you say "horizontal", do you mean more skills rather than increasing current skills?


    That is certainly an option, and a good one in some designs.

    However, I'm thinking something a bit odder.  Let's start with a 7 axis radar chart similar to https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/MER_Star_Plot.gif , mostly because I'm feeling too lazy to build my own.  Now picture that those axes are relabeled:

    1. Weight- because I hate the lack of this in games (this also runs backwards, since lighter is better)
    2. Blunt- the ability to deliver or absorb this type of damage (think swinging a pipe)
    3. Slash- cutting type of damage
    4. Piercing- stabby stabby
    5. Fire- burn baby burn
    6. Cold- forget flame throwers, I'm using liquid nitrogen
    7. Shock- you + electricity = a bad day
    Granted this was a sci-fi setup, but it could be tweaked for other settings.  Now let's balance gear on a simple 0 to 6 scale for each aspect, apply 21 points.  See all the variety possible, and each is balanced but now it is all situational.  The best gear matches the profile of damage or resistances you are facing.
     
    This keeps gear as important and desirable, but never universally better than what you already have.
  • ElRenmazuoElRenmazuo Alexandria, VAMember Posts: 5,361 Rare
    They have rules, objectives and penalties and they are made for the purpose of having fun so yes they are games.
  • TalinguardTalinguard Winchester, VAMember Posts: 676 Common
    Originally posted by tkreep
    They have rules, objectives and penalties and they are made for the purpose of having fun so yes they are games.

    Did you read the post?  

    I wasn't  really questioning if MMORPG's are games, but  broke them down into two types, adversarial and competitive games.  If you want to know the difference, start by reading the OP.

    -Cheers

    Presentation for new MMORPG economics concept http://www.slideshare.net/talin/mmo-economics-concept-v-10

  • TalinguardTalinguard Winchester, VAMember Posts: 676 Common
    Originally posted by ghstwolf
    Originally posted by Talinguard
    When you say "horizontal", do you mean more skills rather than increasing current skills?


    That is certainly an option, and a good one in some designs.

    However, I'm thinking something a bit odder.  Let's start with a 7 axis radar chart similar to https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/MER_Star_Plot.gif , mostly because I'm feeling too lazy to build my own.  Now picture that those axes are relabeled:

    1. Weight- because I hate the lack of this in games (this also runs backwards, since lighter is better)
    2. Blunt- the ability to deliver or absorb this type of damage (think swinging a pipe)
    3. Slash- cutting type of damage
    4. Piercing- stabby stabby
    5. Fire- burn baby burn
    6. Cold- forget flame throwers, I'm using liquid nitrogen
    7. Shock- you + electricity = a bad day
    Granted this was a sci-fi setup, but it could be tweaked for other settings.  Now let's balance gear on a simple 0 to 6 scale for each aspect, apply 21 points.  See all the variety possible, and each is balanced but now it is all situational.  The best gear matches the profile of damage or resistances you are facing.
     
    This keeps gear as important and desirable, but never universally better than what you already have.

    So "horizontal" describes the number of potential specified functions?

    I like the idea of using the radar graph, simple, but straightforward and effective.

    I like the idea of using weight, not because it adds realism, but because it puts players to choices.  It also creates an important market for items that can overcome those limitations, even if for a short time.

    Presentation for new MMORPG economics concept http://www.slideshare.net/talin/mmo-economics-concept-v-10

  • ghstwolfghstwolf hampstead, NHMember Posts: 386
    Originally posted by Talinguard

    So "horizontal" describes the number of potential specified functions? I like the idea of using the radar graph, simple, but straightforward and effective. I like the idea of using weight, not because it adds realism, but because it puts players to choices.  It also creates an important market for items that can overcome those limitations, even if for a short time.

    In a way I settled on that for an example because it has a familiar feel to it (and a visual that can carry the brunt of explaining it).  Other systems I've toyed with end up needing complicated rules, tables, and long explanations. 

    At the conceptual level, I tend to use systems where you acquire the flexibility to allot a fixed pool.  The gear system I laid out is an expression of that.  I've handled stats/attributes in a similar way before as well, in that case I overload the regen stat to start instead of working from a balanced state (this gives the illusion of becoming more powerful).  This, assuming a perfect balance between the stat's desirablity (one of the great challenges of this idea) would allow a "growth" via trade-offs (what I would call horizontal progression) which I consider important for a number of reasons (which would get long and rantish if I enumerated them).  Radar graphs are handy for organizing and presenting thoughts for such a system.

    On weight, the soft lock that weighted gear creates is IMO critical.  Without it there is no trade-off, just load up enough gear to best counter any situation you could face.  That isn't a good thing in the sort of design that would use such a system. 

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