[MUD-Dev] The Future of MMOGs... what's next? (fwd)

J C Lawrence claw at kanga.nu
Sat Jun 8 10:27:55 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


------- Forwarded Message
From: "Talanithus Hotmail" <talanithus at hotmail.com>
Date: Fri, 7 Jun 2002 18:02:56 -0700
Subject: [gamedesign] The Future of MMOGs...  what's next?

Last month the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was held in Los
Angeles, California. As an avid gamer and fansite reporter in the MMOG
industry, I made my way there to check out the next generation of MMOGs
for myself... and I must admit, I was pretty disappointed. Now that is
not to say that the new MMOGs aren't beautiful, the advancements in
graphic and online bandwidth have allowed Developers to create richer
and more beautiful worlds with a striking level of detail... but there
was something most definitely lacking. I couldn't quite place my finger
on it until Joshua Rowan (of UO Stratics) said something along lines of
"there are lots of evolutionary things here, but nothing really
revolutionary." Bam. Nailed on the head.

Basically, it seems that MMOGs are simply treading water with the
current "mindset" behind MMOG development. Sure, some have bells and
whistles that others do not, but there has been nothing that has truly
pushed the envelope of what a MMOG is for some time. So I sat down and
began to think, what IS the future of MMOGs? Once we have reached the
level where unique character customization and development has hit as
close to perfect as the industry can achieve (which I believe is very
close) where will we go from there?

People play MMOGs in particular for one main reason... to interact with
other people. Of course, the guiding motivations of these players is
quite diverse, ranging from competitive sport, socialization, a feeling
of belonging, and even malicious intent behind an anonymous mask! Yet
the one unique bond that encompasses all players, be they PvPers or
RPers, Socializers or Explorers, is the fact that they have chosen to do
so in a world where dynamic content is created via the very foundation
of the players themselves. Therefore, once players have achieved the
ability to customize their characters to their heart's content, does it
not hold that they will seek to then personalize the world around
them?

We see this, to a degree, in current MMOGs. Quests, scenarios,
plotlines... all attempts by the developer houses to involve the players
in the interactions that define those worlds. Yet they are curtailed by
their need to retain consistency within their world's history, fiction,
development, and background, ultimately resulting in interactions that
always leave the players thirsting for more. So where is the answer to
this dilemma? Let's take a look at some of the existing gaming genres
that offer the ability for players to modify the very worlds they
interact in:

= FPS Mods =

In the First Person Shooter genre, player crafted mods are a valuable
asset. They allow players with the skill, motivation, and creativity to
expand the boundaries of what players can interact with. In many games,
player expansions have been so successful that they have spawned their
own mini-games within the greater rule-set. Even though the underlying
structure of the game remains consistent, the actual graphics, items,
characters and even game-play can vary drastically. This depth of
creative customization has given the genre the ability to grow beyond
the industry's budget-based barriers, with the players themselves
pushing the envelope on drafting new ways to play, and new ideas that
are implemented along their own schedule, without the restraints of a
development house's priorities and schedules.

= CRPG Mods =

Computer based Role Playing Games have jumped on the mod wagon as well,
with titles such as Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege, and Morrowind all
allowing players to build the world around them, and share it with
others. In many ways, this is a foretelling of what I believe the future
of MMOGs holds. The basic principle upon which these games are built
relies on players to craft new content to keep them interesting and
dynamic. In fact, one of the NWN developers even stated in a recent
press release that they fully expect the players to build better
adventures then the ones they have included within the game's original
content. This genre, with the unique ability to not only create new
superficial content, but actual stories, holds the most promise for what
MMOGs could grow to achieve.

= RTS Mods =

Some Real Time Strategy games also allow the ability for players to
craft their own modules, thus providing new experiences for them to
conquer and dominate in. New units, geographical landmasses,
fortifications... they all add to help create a more compelling world
that changes at the needs and potential of the players who invest in
them.

All of these genres began as static as the MMOG world is currently. They
crafted games with frozen content, and to expand their worlds a new
title was released. Yet there was no true continuity, a hallmark of the
MMOG genre, allowing players to grow and expand WITH those new modules
by retaining their existing characters/armies/etc. I remember the old
TSR/SSI boxed set of AD&D CRPGs, which was one of the first games that
allowed players to move their characters from game to game... growing as
the storyline progressed through multiple titles. It was only logical
that this step would lead to the creation of tools where players could
not only keep their characters alive, but create the worlds in which
they adventure. I believe the next step of MMOGs follows this same
pattern, by allowing players to build and create pieces of the worlds
around them, and SHARE them with others within the Massive Multiplayer
environment.

Of course, this path does have its pitfalls. As I mentioned previously,
MMOGs do have a vested interest in keeping control of the fiction their
world creates. If players decide to warp and influence the world, say by
creating a "Star Wars Rebellion Facility" within a Fantasy genre game
world, then of course it will dilute the effective influence of that
world fiction. Yet these are not insurmountable goals... they simply
require the forethought to create these "World Building Tools" with
these issues in mind. The easiest path to this goal, in my opinion, is
to keep each player created world-set local only to the communities that
build them. Let me give an example of how I see the interface being
used, in generic terms that should apply to any game.

= Scenario Example =

A guild in a MMOG decides they wish to host a quest/event. Their guild
leader activates a feature on whatever his guild interface is to "buy" a
scenario section for 10 days. Now "buy" is a loose term, and could be
either for real cash (with the cost added to his account subscription
for that month) or in game assets, as a permanent gold sink. Once he has
purchased the account, he sets who has the ability to influence this
scenario setting, choosing from his existing guild-mates. The Editors
accounts/characters are then flagged and are allowed to enter and modify
the scenario setting via their guild interface (be it a guild stone,
command, or whatever.)

The scenario setting is located on a separate server from the normal
game, and is inaccessible by normal means. All players flagged as
Editors enter the setting area (via guild menu or command) in Edit mode,
with functions equal to what the Dungeon Siege and NWN: Aurora editor
tools offer for customizing the area and creating specialized
items/NPCs. The main key here is to allow a huge selection of options,
but to keep them limited to the genre upon which the game is based. The
full capabilities of each scenario setting are dependent on what "level"
of service was originally purchased by the leader of the guild, thus
allowing communities to create everything from specialized one evening
encounters to month long quests. Once there, they "build" the world, or
choose from pre-existing sets, placing monsters and NPCs for their
community to interact with, as well as setting out items and unique
points of interest throughout the scenario setting.

After building the setting and populating it, the Editors activate a
feature allowing them to set "portals" into the world. Then they
re-enter into the normal game world and place the opposite side of those
portals in various areas throughout the world. These portals are clearly
visible to everyone in their community/guild, but completely invisible
and undetectable by anyone else. From the point when these items are
placed, they can be toggled on or off by any Editor, allowing passage
for regular (non-Editors) within their community to participate within
the worlds that they have created. When the term purchased by the guild
leader expires, an option to save or extend the setting will be
displayed the next time they log in... again, with additional fees
attached.

This model allows the creation of new content within a local setting,
but even more importantly, it is a self-policing model. Giving players
the ability to create monsters could very easily lead into a situation
where a player with less then honorable intentions creates death
traps. However, by making these features limited to only the communities
that build them, you prevent that abuse from becoming an issue. A guild
that had a player who built such death traps would quickly either lose
its members, or get rid of the offending player. Thus, the potential for
exploit is removed by making each community responsible to themselves
for the content they have built. Even more importantly, it shares the
responsibility of keeping players entertained with the players, not just
the developers, thus providing a more satisfying experience simply by
the selfish nature of the players involved. If they want the content,
they can build it... or they can join a guild that builds it for them.

This does somewhat limit the ability for new players to get involved in
community based quests/adventures/hunts, but this is not necessarily a
bad thing. Promotion and encouragement of group related activity via
this sort of method is prime example of how MMOGs can stimulate
community interactions and promote additional methods for their
expansion. I would fully expect numerous meta-communities to develop
specifically for special event creation.

This is, of course, just one example of how such a setting could be
created, yet with it one of the most daunting limitations of MMOGs are
surpassed, and the creative freedom of its players are set loose to
truly build. By limiting their influence to local communities they not
only prevent mass dilution of the game world's fictional content, but
they also reinforce the draw of creative communities to attract and keep
player members interested and excited in their game... and thus, the
subscriptions that keep a MMOG running. The specifics on how this is
integrated into a game system are really immaterial, as long as it
retains culpability via local community development. Ideally, I would
love to see the ability for cross community alliances to even allow
guilds/communities to "share" quests with each other. Particularly
exceptional player modules could even be submitted to the game
developers and incorporated into the Editor tools as one of the options,
thus allowing players to help in the growth of the game world, as well
as have an influence that could truly make their efforts immortal. The
possibilities are truly endless.

Of course, there are other revolutions that are on the crest for
tomorrow's MMOGs as well. Everquest Legends broke one of the first
barriers in creating a personalized "character" web site for each of
their members, with customizable content allowing them to show their
equipment, stats, and locations. But I believe the next generation of
MMOGs will take this one step further, by allowing communities to create
"fill in the blank" web sites for their guilds and towns, with
integrated news syndicates run by the developers themselves to make
certain that new information regarding the game is published
universally. Furthermore, a locally integrated communications network
could very easily allow the creation of meta-communities for all the
guilds on one server, categorizing them together with common resources
and contact methods, and thus enforcing the community wide network not
only via local communities, but on a more universal level.

Basically, it all boils down to community. The current MMOG industry
stresses individualized creativity in their gaming worlds, but has not
yet seen the greater light of enhanced community interaction, and even
more importantly, community world development. Players do not only wish
to just "live the life" of their characters, they want to be the heroes
of the lands. They want to tell their stories, and see the visible
affect those stories have on the world around them. The 4th generation
of MMOGs, if they truly wish to be the revolutionary advance that Joshua
and I were speaking of, will embrace this concept and bring it to
life. And I, for one, will be there creating away.

But that is just my idea of the Future of MMOGs. What do you think?

=======================================
Talanithus Tarant
  UO Lake Superior - http://uols.net
  Tel'Mithrim - http://www.grey-company.org
  UO Powergamers - http://uopowergamers.com
=======================================
------- End of Forwarded Message

--
J C Lawrence                
---------(*)                Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas. 
claw at kanga.nu               He lived as a devil, eh?		  
http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/  Evil is a name of a foeman, as I live.
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