Experiment 1: The Rumor System
(Alternate Item Acquisition Scheme)
Items and the ways in which players acquire them are a major cornerstone of many MMORPGs. Monsters and quests are often sought out for the loot they grant, and guilds of players raid huge dungeons for a chance of gaining rare and powerful equipment. This experiment discusses a common controversy involving items and offers a possible solution.
The Play Style Problem:
Conflicts arising from opportunity and exclusivity are some key issues with items in MMORPGs.
Opportunity: Often, specific items are only available through limited or restricting methods. Raiders get one item, while PvP aficionados are offered others. Players may find themselves feeling pressed into unappealing activities simply for the material rewards.
While getting players to try new things is important, a system that supports placing material rewards over the desire for an entertaining game experience may, in the end, be self-defeating. The draw of rare items is a static desire, while enjoyment of the game tends fluctuate with content and time.
Exclusivity: Items have an undeniable dual purpose. The more obvious role of an item is its functionality, aiding in making a character more powerful or capable in some way, sprucing up their house, or simply making them look different. Rare items are also badges of achievement. Like a player's level, items can represent the effort and skill expended to gain them. This aids in the longevity of a game by adding goals with visual proof of attainment (much the same function as titles in many MMOs).
As an important aspect of MMORPGs, the perception of exclusivity must be maintained. It increases player motivation and provides them with options in the form of goals and direction. The crux of this aspect of an item, however, is the perception of exclusivity, not the item itself. It is not so much what the item is, but where it came from and the amount of effort involved in its acquisition.
The Challenge: The system must increase opportunity while maintaining exclusivity. Items are to be accessible to all play styles, but exclusive in terms of origin and effort.
Rumor System Autopsy:
Summary: The Rumor System is an alternate method of acquiring items. In essence, it involves the addition of a middleman between standard sources of items and the player.
Before getting to the specifics, it should be noted that this is not intended to replace all methods of obtaining items. Player crafting, for example, is an invaluable part of a game's economy, and the rumor system is meant to integrate with these more traditional concepts.
Rumors and Rumored Items: A rumor is an item, or item-like object. Rumors represent the potential for a character to obtain a specific item, listed in the rumor's description. The player selects a rumor to follow by equipping it as the character's current rumored item.
Rumormongering: A style of crafting used to produce and copy rumors.
Rumor Points (RP): Points representing progress towards attaining rumored items. While a rumor is equipped, the character's actions are seen as being motivated (at least in part) by the search for the rumored item. A kidnapped noble rescued by the character may award experience points, but the noble's heirloom locket also contains a scrap of paper that gives a clue about the rumored item, also bestowing rumor points.
In general, RP is gained any time a character earns experience (or would traditionally earn experience for systems without levels). Possible sources include defeating creatures, completing quests, or even as rewards for PvP games.
Rumor Progress: A number, progress bar, or percentage listed on the rumor, representing the amount of RP the character has earned versus the total necessary to acquire the rumored item.
Rare Item Rumors: Rumors for rare items have a special quality that creates a “rumor fragment” when used. A rare item rumor may only be used to create one fragment. The rumor fragment can then be used as a crafting component by a rumormonger to create another rumor for the same item. The crafted version of rare item rumors have a higher rumor point requirement to complete. Additionally, the final item acquired through the two versions of the rumor may have different visual qualities (color, texture, etc.), allowing the source to be easily distinguishable and retaining rare item exclusivity.
Example-- Rare Item Rumors and Bosses: Fights against extremely powerful creatures are a source of rare items in many MMORPGs, and one of the areas where exclusivity becomes a major factor.
These powerful creatures are normally only conquerable by large and organized groups of people. Under the rumor system, these “boss” creatures would drop rumors instead of rare items. Defeating boss encounters provide characters with huge amounts of RP, and possibly even consumable items that bestow RP when used. This is to aid in maintaining the ratio of effort and difficulty versus reward, allowing those who engage in more strenuous activities to reap larger benefits.
Rate of Rumor Point Gain: Like all other systems in an MMORPG, rumor point rates are a balancing act. Different sources should provide points at a ratio proportional to the difficulty and time spent. Continuing with the example of bosses, these fights would grant amounts of RP that would allow players to earn high point cost items rather quickly. As an extreme counterpoint, solo players who spend only a few hours a week playing the game may find themselves faced with the prospect of working on a crafted rare item rumor from a high-level boss source for a long period of time before finishing (possibly months, depending on the rarity and source).
This may seem extreme at first glance, but the point of the rumor system is to provide access to items that would have previously been unattainable to alternate play styles, without diminishing the exclusivity of the item or the effort required to obtain it. The RP needed to finish the rumor simply becomes a measurement of effort. More simplistic or passive methods of obtaining rumor points demand a greater amount of time to finish than more aggressive and involved ones.
Quest Reward Satisfaction: One benefit of the rumor system is the potential to completely remove the need for pre-generated rewards from quest lines and other similar activities. Equipped rumors provide the ultimate material goal for character activities, allowing players to set their own rewards rather than being forced to select from a small list of things that may or may not ever be used.
Speculation on Rumormongering: Rumormongering as a craft is not simply there to deal with rare item rumors. The practitioners of this craft can produce their own rumors, possibly even re-usable ones, utilizing pre-existing items as a template. As an example of this, imagine an alchemist producing a flask of healing potion. A rumormonger then buys the flask from the alchemist and uses it in the production of a rumor. The produced rumor has, say, 10 uses, meaning that a character can equip the rumor and begin receiving RP towards earning a healing potion, which he can do 10 times before the rumor disappears.
If done correctly, I think the rumor system has the potential to satisfy players of all styles. Raiding guilds, for example, would still gain rare items in the form of rumors, which they could then finish more quickly than others. Non raiders would be able to obtain these items, but would have to put in an effort reflecting the item's rarity and general worth. Everybody works and everybody wins. No hand-outs, but the ability to decide your own method, or methods, of progress.
So, for those of you who actually managed to stay awake through all the blood and gore, what say you?
Is it viable, or should we be rallying the town-folk and lighting the torches?
What would you change, add or remove?
How would you handle the rumor system in a PvP-centric game?
Who invented the nacho?
Next Entry: Experiment 2--The Dynamic Plot Generator