What are these other players doing in my game?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 February 2014, 4:28 am
It is said that developers make the games they personally would like to play. I don't know if that is true. But I did observe that apparently many MMORPGs are designed from the perspective of the single player. Game companies strive to create games where you being the only player on the server would work perfectly well. In fact many games actually have features which work BETTER if you are the only player on the server, like timed monster-killing challenges which other players in the area would mess up. But if I would be as well off, or even happier, as the only player on the server, then why would I want to play this game as a multi-player title in the first place? Give me an offline, single-player game and I would have to pay less and have less trouble with login queues and the like. So if developers are making massively multi-player games, why aren't they designing them for a multi-player experience from the ground up?

Note that this doesn't only apply to quest-based MMORPGs. Whenever I see those beautiful screenshots of wonderful buildings created in EQN Landmark, I ask myself: And what now? How do these buildings play a meaningful role in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game? How are they integrated into gameplay? I have trouble imagining players in a MMORPG just running around as tourists to look at player-created buildings around the virtual world. So where is the multi-player experience of such a sandbox game?

As an article on Massively recently remarked, developers often have very limited imagination of how multi-player interaction in a virtual world could look like. After giving players the ability to kill each other, the devs run out of ideas. I recently read some blog posts about DayZ, and couldn't help but remark that in any realistic simulation of a post-apocalyptic world, many people would work together against the outside dangers. But if you make a game in which there are simply no or too few options for players to help each other, but there is a fully functional combat system, then players will end up killing each other. Simply because there isn't much else to do.

But even non-violent actions can become problematic in a multi-player game. I am currently playing an indie sandbox game called Craft the World, a mix of Terraria (2D Minecraft) and Dwarf Fortress. Great fun! But I'm not sure I'd like to have another player around me in that sort of sandbox game: Hacking down trees or digging mines has consequences, and in a multi-player environment the other players' actions are likely to have consequences for me. In a sandbox MMO the game would need to make sure that players can't deplete resources in a way which would make the game impossible to play for their neighbors.

The only sandbox MMORPG I know which is not about people killing each other and which gets many multi-player interactions right is A Tale in the Desert. And that isn't exactly a triple-A title, and is missing the whole adventuring side of the game. I would very much like a game in which there is some sort of player economy / ecosystem which supports both adventuring heroes killing monsters and other players just building stuff and living meaningful virtual lives. EQ Next might promise some of that, but I am far from sure that it will actually deliver.

I do believe the key approach is first to design the way in which players interact, before even thinking about the single-player experience. First make sure that people will WANT to have other players around them in that new virtual world, and not just as victims for killing. If it is clear from the start how the game is built up on the interaction between players, the single-player experience will follow naturally. If you can't do that, design a single-player game instead and don't slap a monthly online subscription on it.
Tobold's Blog



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