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Life Skills in MMOs

General Article By Beau Turkey on April 29, 2009

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I have grown to love games that have some kind of  "life skill" available. I don't want to think of my character as one-dimensional, but as someone (or something) that does other things besides killing monsters.

For the record, here are some examples of "life skills:"

Cooking: Some games like Free Realms and Mabinogi are making cooking not only enjoyable, but full of benefits as well! I like to see cooking that really makes a difference, and can have interesting side effects. A great example of how cooking should be done is Free Realms, which makes you smash, dice, and slice items by using your mouse. Think Cooking Mama online.

Fishing: Games like Final Fantasy XI, WoW, LotRO, Mabinogi and Vanguard all have fishing. Why has fishing become a staple in "life skill" gaming? Because it really is relaxing, and can be a great low-impact way to play. You can have a chat with your guild, enjoy the sunrise, and basically do what you would do in real life. Vanguard has my vote for this one, with it's arcade style fishing system and addictive action.

Tailoring: Like many "life skills", tailoring can range from boring to intriguing. In many games, the clothes can be worn with stats or as appearance-only items. Either way, it's not just for girls! For me, Mabinogi wins this one for making you take time with the process until you come out with something you would actually want to wear.

Crafting: Everyone has probably crafted at some point in their gaming. Some people are obsessed over it, and some think it's as boring as watching paint dry. This can be blacksmithing, leather-working, or making fluff items. Overall, crafting is a very vital part of many MMO's.  Look at almost any MMO and there might be at least one good example of crafting.

Mini-games: Mini-games are just what they sound like.. games within the game. Not only are these a great way to pass the time, but a great way to level your character. Puzzle Pirates has this one down. Mini-Games drive the entire game from crafting to ship-to-ship combat. Many of the "star-ship" MMO's could learn from Puzzle Pirates' genius.

Gathering: Gathering can go hand-in-hand with many types of crafting, but sometimes you can do it to build a house, for profit, or for fun. Ryzom, with it's complicated-yet-intriguing digging system, has the best gathering out there.

Housing: Not really a skill, but a system. While I agree with the comment "Everyone wants a house until they have one", housing has been getting better and better over the years. Vanguard has some of the best, and building the house is a pleasure. I only wish it were more involved, complete with hammering/roofing mini-games. Recently a comment on my blog pointed me to the improvements that Star Wars Galaxies housing has received (like windows that open and let you see the real world outside) but I've yet to check them out.

Not only do I enjoy these systems, but I enjoy the effects that some of them have. In Mabinogi, you will actually gain weight as you eat too much food. Different foods will make you gain weight in different areas, and my character is constantly struggling with "fat leg" syndrome. You can cook foods that will help you gain muscle or cook foods that have other benefits.

"Life Skills" are smart, too. They not only give your character depth, but also make you spend more time in the game. The more time you spend in the game and the more your character grows, the more loyal you might become to your game. In such a packed market, loyalty is a very valuable thing for your players to have.

A lack of "life skills" can leave some players wanting more with your game. For example, as beautiful and fun The Chronicles of Spellborn is, there isn't much (besides some crafting) that makes my character seem that deep. I enjoy the fighting system, but at the end of the day I have no home to go to, no need for food, or no mini-games to wind down with. My character cannot just be about killing mobs, or you just have a side-scrolling arcade game.

"Life-Skills" break up the repetitiveness of your MMO. In an age of players growing bored just with screen-shots of new games, you need something that keeps the player engaged. I can download any new MMO trial within a few hours, so being in the middle of that crafting project might just keep me from switching.

And please, call me crazy, but I look at many of my favorite MMOs as attempts to explore new lives. I want to immerse myself in the world and explore every part of it, not just combat. For example, here are a typical few days in my life:

I get up (log in) around 7 am. I walk the dogs (non-combat pets) and then cook some delicious breakfast (the eggs give me a bonus to dexterity, the orange juice raises my luck.) After checking my email (visiting the mailbox) I am off to work (I am a blacksmith and dog trainer.) I take a lunch (stop in the wilderness and make a campfire, cooking some stew) and then go home after finishing my day (I bring all my new loot back to my house and organize it into different chests.) I walk the dogs again, and cook some supper. I might have a friend over (I form a group) and then we play each other a game on my PC's (we duel.) Then, we go to the new local bookstore (we go exploring) and meet some new people (new guildies.) Later that weekend I go fishing and visit a thrift store (gathering!)

Many people want to play MMOs to act as something more than they are, but I like to play MMOs to see how I might act if I suddenly found myself within some of the strange worlds MMOs represent. "Life Skills" allow me to act normally within extraordinary circumstances. Those skills keep me grounded, and also help to fight off boredom. As exciting as combat is, I rarely fight dragons in real life. I want my virtual life to be similar, but punctuated with bouts of adventure.

How important are these type of skills to you? Do you consider them too "fluffy" for your tastes? 

Beau Turkey / I write for Massively.com, and you can find all of my columns at http://www.massively.com/bloggers/beau-hindman

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