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BadSpock's Logical Conclusions.

My random thoughts about MMORPGs. A bit of critique, suggestion, debate, and insanity. Enjoy.

Author: BadSpock

MMO Virtual World or something else?

Posted by BadSpock Tuesday January 8 2008 at 12:08PM
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Been seeing people discussing whether or not MMOs are still "virtual worlds" or if they're something different.

A lot of people are making the "sandbox vs. linear" argument, but I think it goes a lot deeper then that.

To me, in order for a game to be a "world" it has to be an experience that draws you in.

You have to "feel" it.

You have to question, and worry, and analyze your actions.

You have to deal with the consequences of those actions.

In short, in order to "feel" like a world, you have to be able to effect that world. You have to feel included in the game world.

In a single player RPG, this is easy. It's only you, your actions direct what is happening. Best example? Mass Effect. I've never, and I mean never, felt I was really in a whole new world (galaxy) more then I have playing Mass Effect. I feel important, powerful, and I know my decisions make a difference. This is what makes Mass Effect such a good game, in my opinion.

They also nailed the immersion. To me, immersion is that you feel the world could actually exist. Mass Effect is full of an entire index of information on the worlds, the technologies, the species, the history... these things make me feel immersed, they make me feel this world (galaxy) could actually exist.

Combine these two, immersion and inlcusion, and in my mind you've created a "world" rather then simply a series of levels/events.

This is very hard to do in a MMORPG. Why? It's multiplayer. You can't have too much effect on the world, because that in turn effects how others experience the world. One player does something cool and changes the world to his liking, 3-4 players get left out and something changes that hurts them. You then keep one subscriber and lose 3-4. This is not the way for a successful MMO.

The only way around this is to capture the feeling of inclusion. You can't be the hero, the one savior, but you can be a part of the winning team. In order to "feel" like you are part of the team, you have to be immersed in the lore/character of that team.

So it comes back down to immersion and inclusion, but in a different way. You aren't the hero, but you are part of something greater then yourself. You aren't the defining point of the story and of the world, you are simply a player in the much larger scheme of things, but you have to "feel" that your player belongs. Hence, the immersion factor. If you play a ravaging orc, you have to "feel" like a ravaging orc.

I think of any current or upcoming MMO, Warhammer online will succeed because it will give players both inclusion and immersion on a MMO scale.

Your individual actions may not matter too much to the world, but your participation in the team, in the grand battle between Order and Destruction, will help to define the conflict. You personally may not "win" but your faction and your race can.

With 30 years of lore and fiction behind the IP, and (so far from what I've seen) the attention to detail EA Mythic is giving, I can imagine that Greenskins will "feel" like Greenskins, Dwarfs like Dwarfs, etc. The Tome of Knowledge looks to be a tool that will go a LONG way in upping the immersion factor.

So you have immersion and inclusion, the two steps that, to me, define the difference between a game being a true "world" and not just a series of levels/events.

So, to me, it doesn't matter that Warhammer will be a more linear and quest driven game, by no means a true sandbox. With the immersion and inclusion of their RvR campaigne and the decades of Warhammer lore (especially through the Tome of Knowledge) I believe that WAR will be the next great "world."

In a game like EVE, yes, it's also very possible to become immersed in the world and become included in it. Probably more so then any other game currently released. Problem is that these positions are only available for a small portion of the population. The largest and most powerful corporations only. Everyone else is simply a witness to these grand events, not a participant. I think Warhammer will beat out EVE in the immersion/inclusion factor because everyone will be part of the fight, everyone will help to make a difference.

Warcraft fails at being a true "world" because you the player has no effect on it, really. Sometimes, you have a small effect. Killing bosses that gave your faction a buff, controlling PvP areas to give your faction a buff... but it's just not enough nor all too important to make you feel like you are really included in the world. I think the immersion factor is there, lots of great lore and ficiton behind Warcraft name, but the inclusion just isn't there. The fact that both PvP and PvE help the RvR effort in WAR, I think the inclusion aspect of being "part" of something greater then one's self.

For AoC, the guild control of keeps will be a nice inclusion factor, and the Conan IP definetly has the lore and amount of fiction neccessary for the immersion factor, but I think the guild keep control will be limited to a small portion of the population, so like in EVE, most will simply be observers rather then participants. In WAR, everyone will be part of the fight, not just the top guilds who take turns controlling the keeps. 

LOTRO definetly has the immersion factor, tons of lore and a feeling of importance through the epic questing and cutscenes, etc. but very little, if any at all, on the inclusion side. As a player you know that you can't go and stop the forces of evil, that's Frodo and the fellowships job, so what impact on the world do you actually have? It's already set in stone what happens, when it happens, and how it happens. No chance for inclusion there unless you get to play as Fellowship members, but obviously it's a MMO so you can't do it.

Just my thoughts.

So to me, it's not about sandbox vs. linear. It's about "feeling" like you are part of it. I think if you combine immersion and inclusion, it doesn't matter if it's a linear quest based game or a sandbox title. You can create a "true" virtual world as long as you get those two factors right.

What do ya'll think?

Sornin writes:

I definitely agree that it is difficult to make an immersive and dynamic world in an MMORPG.

Immersion is the easier one of the two, as a rich history with good art direction, plot lines, etc., can go a long way. A dynamic game (which is linked to immersion) runs counter to how games are usually designed. They are designed to have a predictable play experience that everyone can enjoy. This is the safe, easy way to make a game.

I have heard developers muse that they might do things like time limited content in an effort to make the world more dynamic. Things like a dungeon that, once completed a few times, is "finished" because the adventurers killed everything. Or, a special class that is very rare and to preserve that rarity only a few can exist at a time.

It sounds good in theory, but I never see these things pan out. In the end, gamers revolt if there is content they can never access. It might be cool if you are the one who got to do the special content, but it sucks if you are not.

Does anyone remember "The Sleeper" (Kerafyrm) from the original EverQuest? This is one of the first efforts I ever saw of developers experimenting with one-time content. Basically, this insanely strong dragon could only be freed and fought once, ever, on each server. Once the event was triggered it would never happen again. Of course, this angered the 99.99% of players who would never get to fight the beast (even though it was unkillable...for a while).

Anyway, in an offline game like Mass Effect (which I have never played because I do not own an Xbox 360) it is not too hard to make a dynamic game, since there is about 1/1000 the complexity and number of issues there are in an online game. The only relevant things a developer needs to worry about are how NPCs react to you and how the environment might change. This is still much harder to make than a game like, oh, Gears of War, but it is doable. In an MMORPG you have thousands of players changing things all at once, and I am simply not sure how that could work.

Games like Shadowbane, with player-built cities, are only one small step into making things dynamic. It is a simplistic, stripped down system. Sure, you can siege cities, build cities, but that is about it. You do not affect things on the same level you do in an offline game like Mass Effect, where your actions fundamentally change things by creating or destroying opportunities and such.

As for Warhammer Online, I think you hit the nail on the head as to why the system will work. They are sort of making a "faux-dynamic" game, which, like you said, lets people feel like they are winning and changing things, even though they are just one player in thousands and nothing ever permanently changes. You are forced to be part of a realm and, by necessity, should care about how your realm does and feel some realm pride. I think being absorbed in the conflict will contribute to immersion and the "hero factor", and increase the longevity of the game.

Basically, everyone will have the opportunity to feel like they count, and I think that is what MMORPG players want. Even if you are not an uber player, you can still participate in realm conflicts and feel good when your side wins. In Age of Conan, if you are unguilded or in a weak guild, I do not see players being very satisfied with the GvG aspect of the game - you will get rolled and never own a city. Of course, if you are in a strong guild, I am sure it will be fun. However, it is a case of pleasing a small part of your population instead of a large part.

As for the Tome of Knowledge in WAR, yeah, if it is as good as they are claiming, the immersion factor should go way up since you will have more lore than you can shake a stick at.

Tue Jan 08 2008 2:36PM Report
BadSpock writes:

Exactly. You understood me completely.

Tue Jan 08 2008 2:44PM Report
Hexxeity writes:

Would you include player interaction as part of inclusion?  Because this is pretty important to me, and ever since I realized how quickly it's disappearing, I've been very vocal about it.  So pardon me if I sound like a broken record.

I'm just going to say that even the most immersive game in the world is not going to be fun for me if everyone adventures alone all the time.  Grouping is one of the easiest ways to feel included, and if there's no reason to group, it's going to be hard to convince anyone that they are part of something greater.

This is a problem in WoW, EQ2, LotRO, and now more than ever, CoH.  I suspect it may be a problem in EVE, but I've never played.  This will be a problem in AoC, Spellborn, and probably Aion.  WAR may be the only game that escapes the trap, due to its focus on team-intensive PvP.

Wed Jan 16 2008 9:18PM Report writes:
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