In my last post, I discussed the philosophy that game development was the act of "making pushing buttons fun" and then used that to segue into a comparison between MMOs and slot matchines. The end result of all that blather? MMOs do a great job of "making pushing buttons fun", but in doing so have become much like slot machines and ultimately, we all lose to "the grind". The answer is that we must elevate games to be more than just pushing buttons; our games must allow players to make meaningful decisions.
So this post was supposed to be about decisions... What do I mean when I say meaningful decision? How can we put meaningful decisions in an MMO design? Why aren't there more decisions in our current crop of MMOs? I spent the better part of the week thinking and writing on this topic and invariably, I would end up in a long, rambling, clunky rant. Ultimately, I deleted about all of what I wrote and ended up with nothing. Ugh... so much for being a prolific blogger.
What I realize is that to me, this is a pretty big topic. I don't play MMOs ONLY to have mindless fun. Mindless is for TV, or XBox Live Arcade. For the rest of my games, I want interaction, socialization, and a bit of challenge. For MMOs, the bar is even higher because I want my MMO to have all that and also feel like I am experiencing life in a persistent world.
Ok, that sounded lame and I understand that some people reading this are warming their keyboards up for the obligatory, "It's just a game, chill out, Loser" comment. When I say I want to experience "life in a persistent world" I don't mean, "Oh look at the loser living in his mom's basement, playing WoW 18 hours a day, peeing in old Moutain Dew bottles while he's on a raid." Though I would like nothing more than to be independently wealthy enough to play WoW for 18 hours each day, my Mom's basement is icky and I am not a big fan of Mountain Dew.
No, when I say "life in a persistent world" I mean "My guild just ended the goblin raids using diplomacy and force of arms. That will open the trade routes through here again which will allow our crafters to resume their work on the seige engines we need to fufil our obligation to our liege guild. My guess is that the we have not heard the last of the goblins, because they are being supported by our enemies, so we should set up some sort of patrolling schedule, or start construction of watch towers along our borders..."
So, most MMOs have interaction, socialization and a bit of challenge. Grab some friends and run a 5-man instance in WoW, and you can have lots of challenging fun with your buddies. However, nothing you do in WoW really ever "sticks." When you complete a quest, the situation is never resolved. The creature camps are always in the same spot no matter how many times the heroes clean them out. The regions are always the same no matter how many Battlegrounds the Horde wins. Now, you might think, "Well, that's because the world is persistent." Well, no. MMOs don't have persistent worlds, as much as they have STATIC worlds. Static means unchanging. Persistent means there is a state that persists between logons (as opposed to say, resetting each week), but that state can change.
This all means that I am looking for an MMO where my actions can change the state of the persistent world. I want to make decisions and I want them to have an impact.
Where do we go from here? Well, I am going to take pieces of the junk I wrote earlier in the week and break it out into separate articles, each one dealing with smaller parts of MMO design, hopefully all following this guiding principle of Meaningful Decisions. In the coming weeks I have a bit on crafting, another on conversations with NPCs, and another on the concept of "gating" content.
So, I apologize for the long delay for what is ultimately, a pretty lame post... took me a week to come to the conclusion, "Maybe a long, vague, ranty post ISN'T the way to go this time..." and never, ever drink any Mountain Dew that has been stored in a basement.