[MUD-Dev] Moving toward Massive Multiplay (was Congratulations Horizons...)

Paul Schwanz pschwanz at comcast.net
Thu Jan 15 18:06:17 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004


OK, the "Congratulations Horizons" thread just sort of set off
something that has been rattling around in my head for a while.  To
me, what is being described there (among other things) is a method
for moving quests toward a true massive multiplay experience, and I
think this is a brilliant idea.

For clarity's sake as you read the following article:

  SP = single play = 1 player

  TP = team play = 2-10 players (or whatever the max group
  membership is in your favorite MMORPG)

  MMP = massive multiplay = 10-1000's of players

~*~

    And now abideth these three: single play, team play, and massive
    multiplay.  And the greatest of these is massive multiplay.  (I
    Phin 13:13)

A major gripe I have against current MMORPGs is that, although they
are billed as massively multi-player, they don't really offer much
in the way of massive multiplay.  Instead, the virtual worlds often
end up feeling like massively single-player games or massively
parallel single-player experiences.  Actually, to be fair, a lot of
MMORPGs do a decent job of presenting players with massively
parallel team-player experiences, but I think even this falls well
short of their potential.

I suppose the trend is understandable since MMORPGs draw heavily on
single-player RPGs, which in turn draw heavily on party-based
(team-player) tabletop games, but I often get the sense that there
are not enough designers looking beyond this paradigm to realize the
possibilities of massive multiplay.

It may seem that I'm assuming that games will benefit from having
massive multiplay, but I don't believe this assumption is flawed.
Massive multiplay doesn't preclude single play and team play.  It
merely gives them a context; a connection at a higher level.  It can
offer MMORPGs something unique, something that single-player games
or team-player games cannot offer.  It can build community where
single play cannot, without as much restrictive interdependence or
close coordination as is required for team play.  And I believe it
has the potential to build communities of a much larger scale.

The best method for demonstrating what I'm describing might be to
take different sorts of common MMORPG gameplay and contrast the
possible approaches.

Participating in a quest:

    SP: A character undertakes to complete a quest generated by
    another PC or an NPC.  Some sorts of flags or items are attached
    to the character to help monitor her progress and reward
    success.

    TP: Sometimes players group together to complete individual
    quests.  Grouping typically has benefits via the interface,
    chat, group bufs, increased experience gain, etc.  As far as I
    know, however, the quests are still individual in that there are
    not any quest flags or items attached to the group entity.  But
    this makes sense because group members can be very transient.
    Still, it might be interesting to sit down and brainstorm about
    what sorts of quests might work for teams and how the teams
    could be rewarded.

    MMP: Here, the quest flags are attached to a larger entity.  It
    could be a server-wide quest, a quest for a particular race,
    nation, city, guild, or whatever other large entities your
    design might support.  If members of this entity share the goals
    presented by the quest and also share the rewards, I think you
    will find it can build a tremendous sense of community.  And it
    can do so without the coordination hassles and forced grouping
    typically designed into TP.  Furthermore, membership in these
    groups is much less transient so that even the rewards can be
    attached to the group and not necessarily to the individual
    characters in the group.

    SP/TP/MMP: Some quests might share the characteristics of more
    than one approach.  For instance, there may be a quest to clear
    rats out of Bubba's Blacksmith shop.  Since the blacksmith shop
    is in her town, Buffy could accept the quest, kill the rats, and
    be given an individual reward.  This is all a very typical SP
    quest.  However, a rat-free blacksmith shop might also be set as
    a quest flag for the town itself, and clearing out the rats may
    mean that Bubba will now offer better swords at his shop to the
    town's citizens.  This is what I mean by MMP giving context and
    connection to SP and TP.

Gaining a new ability:

    SP: New abilities, skills or spells are often a major incentive
    for players.  They may spend inordinate amounts of time doing
    the same tedious tasks again and again so that they can
    eventually get the skill or spell that will open up their
    gameplay to new possibilities.

    TP: Again, although it is typical to have individual skills that
    can benefit the group, as far as I can tell, the transient
    nature inherent in grouping discourages designs that might
    attach skills or abilities to the group itself.

    MMP: As in the Horizons example, the server may gain the ability
    to play a new race.  Or a guild might gain the ability to build
    a better guild hall.  A town might gain the ability to build a
    blacksmith shop where weapon repairs are discounted, or a forge
    where citizens can craft armor.  Your city might gain the
    ability to build a space port.  All priests who are members of a
    certain temple might gain the ability to cast a particular
    priestly spell.  These abilities might be granted for completing
    a particular quest, for reaching certain population or
    membership levels, or for reaching some other sort of goal.  The
    abilities might be individual in nature so that all members of
    the group gain a new personal skill, or they may be weilded by
    an official, designated by the community.

Equipping an item:

    SP: You don amour that gives you special protection against fire
    attacks.  You equip a sword that increases your strength stat.

    TP: Your team climbs into a vehicle that gives added protection
    and increases movement speed.

    MMP: Your town adds Odin's Hammer to its display case in the
    town hall and all the blacksmiths in town learn how to craft
    weapons with increased magical properties.  Perhaps you quested
    for the item. Perhaps it was the spoils of war with a rival
    town.  Perhaps you bought it from a distant civilization.

Crafting an item:

    SP: You go through the steps needed to create a new blaster.

    TP: Your team crafts a mobile weapons platform, each
    contributing as a specialist in avionics, engineering, weaponry,
    etc.

    MMP: Your village gathers the resources and skills needed to
    construct a perimeter wall and gate.

I'm sure this list could go on for some time.  The exercise is
simply one of considering various single-play or team-play portions
of the game and then figuring out how to expand the scope of the
experience so that little pieces of it can be shared by larger
communities of players who can also share in the rewards of success.
Every bit of design intuition in me believes that this sort of
gameplay will do wonderful things for community and that MMORPG
players will absolutely love the design that results from moving
toward massive multiplay.

Paul "Phinehas" Schwanz
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