[MUD-Dev] Structured Social Play

Tom Hubina tomh at 3dgamedev.com
Tue Sep 4 04:26:37 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


At 05:34 PM 9/2/2001, John Bueler wrote:

> The design topic that's currently of most interest to me is that
> of providing play for casual gamers.  The general idea is that
> players should feel comfortable getting into the game for only 20
> minutes or so, and without feeling the need to prepare themselves
> for an arduous or challenging experience.  This is a play style
> that I'd like to accomodate, but it needn't necessarily constitute
> the entire game experience.

I think along these lines often, but I think the 20 minute number is
by far too low a target for an RPG. I do think that there are things
that can be done in 20 minutes if the game provides such facilities,
but they wouldn't touch the "meat" of the game. One example would be
having salesman / auctions of things they want to sell run while the
player isn't online. With their 20 minutes during lunch they could
log in and approve sales, or just check out what's been sold. Maybe
do a bit of shopping, then log off.

My goal is to give a person with around an hour or two to play
something to actually do. In Everquest, it's real easy to play for
an hour and get a lot done. As long as you're about level 10 or
under :) Just about every character of those levels can log in, and
start killing stuff by themselves almost immediately and see real
progress after an hour or two. The problem comes in when you're
level 50+. Unless you're logging in for some planned guild event,
you've got the following things standing in your way:

  1. Finding a group of friends to do something with. This can take
  30 minutes to an hour when you consider travel time and planning.

  2. Getting to the place you want to go, and finding out that
  someone else is already there "camping" the site, or the whole
  place is packed.

  3. Dying and spending an hour or more doing corpse recovery.

This is exacerbated by the fact that as your level increases, it
takes more and more people to do anything worth doing.

Right now when I play Everquest, if I don't have 3 or more hours to
play, I don't even bother logging on.

The first thing that comes to mind is improving travel times to the
point where people can get together in a matter of a few minutes. Of
course if you can't find someone, maybe the game could give you some
AI players to help you out. Then when you go to a dungeon, have the
game automatically spin off a clean version just for you. Now you
can drop in and be playing in a matter of minutes, and everyone's
happy right? Wrong. Even though players often suggest some, or all,
of these ideas, they would really ruin the game since you've just
totally removed the whole reason for grouping with other people and
developing the social aspect of a game. Why is it even a multiplayer
game?

There's a double-edged sword here, that stems entirely from the
involvement of other people in the game. You see, it's important to
hang out with other people and really kick butt against incredible
odds. How many times have you heard people say, "Wow! If that AI
Enchanter hadn't really been playing like a god we would have been
wiped out for sure!". How many stories would you tell around the
campfire about how you killed this really gnarly dragon after a
fifteen minute fight where 30 AI players were just doing what they
do every other fight?

OK .. so people are important, but the other side of the sword is
the fact that you need other people. People have scheduling problems
(both RL and in-game). They can't come when you need them (they have
other friends too you know) so you have to try to work things out,
get people moved around the world, etc and that takes time. Simply
put, if you require other people to share you're adventures, it's
going to take a lot of time to get them all together and
focused. This is one key area where the very long start up times
come from, and why time-limited gamers are at such a
disadvantage. There are other reasons, but they all revolve around
trade-offs between a game where people need each other, and what you
would get from a single player game.

> Regardless of whether you agree with my definition of 'casual
> play', I'm having a hard time contending with the social element
> of game play.

I think you're painting a broad brush with the term "casual
play". What you describe I would prefer to break into different
categories that can be addressed.

  1. Hardcore with too much time on his hands.

  2. Hardcore with not enough time on his hands.

  3. Casual.

The vast majority of EQ players fall into #1 and #2. To me, the
casual gamer is someone that doesn't play that much and is looking
for some low-key involvement game that they could play once in a
while, but doesn't really matter to them. Once they become
"addicted", then will often move into either the first or second
groups. Very few people actually keep playing the game for a long
time if they are truly casual as the game simply doesn't cater to
them. I don't think these type of people are ever going to be very
interested in a Role Playing Game, since it takes a lot of time and
dedication to really get enjoyment out it (this is something we can
argue about if you want .. heh)

The really hard part that I see is trying to make the game fun for
#2, while still keeping the game challenging for #1.

> As Raph has mentioned in a few posts, the social element of these
> games is the most addictive (my memory of his statement).

This is a very accurate statement. You can't leave the game because
doing so would mean leaving all your new friends! Not to mention all
that phat loot and exp you've gotten over the last two years!

> I'm not sure that it's so much as addictive as simply complex and
> time-consuming.  The only style of *social* gameplay that I can
> think of that permits players to engage in the game entertainment
> and then depart from it is that of structured games.  Games with a
> clear beginning and a very clear ending.  Chess.  Go.  Checkers.
> Cribbage.  Backgammon.

<snip>

The social aspect is addicting, and while there are other elements
that trigger "fun" for other people, the social aspect is by far and
away the most addictive part. There might be 200 addictive chemicals
in cigarettes, but Nicotine makes them all pale in comparison :)

> In the end, I have two questions:

> 1. Is a highly structured style of gameplay best for casual
> gameplay?  Where all players understand how to tackle any given
> problem and they simply cooperate in order to tackle it (including
> PvP against another group).  If so, how can this be accomplished?
> By making the game inherently structured?  By encouraging
> structure among the players?
 
I think highly structured gameplay is very much the key to casual
gamers, but more to the point, I think very low involvement in the
game is important. Casual gamers generally want a quick fix of fun
... get in, get out. As such, I don't think multi-player games are
the kinds of games they're really interested in. There may be things
you could add to an online game to cater to them, but those things
are greatly limited because of what could/would happen when #1 got
ahold of them.

> 2. Does anyone know of other techniques that have been implemented
> or discussed in an effort to make the time cost and energy
> required to play one session with other people as low as possible?
> Most designers tend to be fairly hardcore (extreme interest in
> being in the game, understanding it and excelling at it), but how
> do we design games for the non-hardcore?  The ones who just want
> to show up, see and do a few interesting things with others and
> then leave.

I think what you just described would be First Person Shooters and
games like Cosmic Rift (Subspace revisited). I don't think what you
describe can realistically be done in a role playing setting without
sacrificing a very large portion of the game that the hardcore
market enjoys. Perhaps the closest thing you could get would be
something like Diablo.

Tom

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