[MUD-Dev] Problems with current RPGs

Björn Morén <bjoernen@hotmail.com> Björn Morén <bjoernen@hotmail.com>
Sun Jan 25 19:20:56 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004

From: "Koster, Raph" <rkoster at soe.sony.com>

>   - players want to be entertained, not to be creative

>   - players want to adhere to archetypes, not create their own
>   roles

>   - players are perfectly happy with stagecraft, and prefer clear
>   rules rather than unpredictability


>   - the content generated, because it is systemic, lacks unique
>   touches. One noise-generated cloud is much like another; silver
>   linings need to be hand-implemented. :)

>   - the ever-changing landscape can actually irritate people, many
>   of whom prefer a predictable environment. If Fred slew the
>   Dragon in the Hoary Mntns, everyone wants to accomplish the same
>   thing. The idea that the Dragon is gone forever is deeply
>   disturbing because it feels like a lost chance for fun.

>   - you get consistency, which also means predictability, and
>   predictable content may as well not be there.

>   - appproaching it as a system means that vast swaths of the net
>   game content can be "consumed" at once, because once you
>   recognize the underlying rules of the sim, you essentially have
>   cognitively consumed the entire system.  Individual instances of
>   the sim appearing are no longer interesting.


> Long term, I remain convinced that the future lies in
> simulationist approaches. However, stagecraft is not going away
> for the foreseeable future, for our sims will have practical
> limits, and in many cases, the sim is tougher to execute on than
> (and provides no noticeable benefits over) the stagecraft solution
> for the same problem. [...]

While I understand that different flavours of MMORPGs will always
exist, my opinion is that the really successfull ones will be
simulations. I think they can be competitive even today if we
redefine what we by habit call RPG truths and put that into some
inventive design.

They will of course be in a different more exciting setting than the
real world, but when it comes down to game mechanics and "concepts"
(building blocks) they will resemble the real world as closely as
possible. My firm belief is that players want the real world. They
want the same kind of psychology, intuitive concepts, interaction,
etc, but on steroids and in a more exciting setting. They want to be
somebody else, but playing by intuitive rules they immediately
understand. Today we of course have limitied ways of providing such
an experience (just as you point out), but I feel that designers
aren't even trying to accomplish something in that
direction. They'll rather force synthetic concepts on their players
with the motivation that they make sense within the game world. "So
I cant attack a player but a non-player, because that will result in
a better expercience for all players". This is design flaws that we
dont need.

MMORPGs are very complex games. Players will reject complex games if
they do not operate in a way that feels naturally intuitive, because
they simply don't want to put the amount of time and effort into
learning them. I say that MMORPGs must be complex to provide
anything interesting, and therefore they must be very close to the
real world. But they should be in a different and exciting setting,
and the detailed game mechanics should make intuitive sense within
that world. The more you break that intuitive feeling the harder it
becomes for the players. Sure, World of Warcraft style games will
exist in the future too, but I think they will look boringly trivial
compared to the "real" MMORPGs that will emerge.

I think you are contradicting yourself a bit when you line up the
cons of simulations. The statements about player creativeness,
archetypes and clear rules/stagecraft, are so generally written that
I get impression that you believe they can never be solved in
simulation MMORPGs. If that is the case, I dont agree. I think they
are legacy opinions, thoughts of habit. They are the side-effects
from bad game designs, not actual truths about player psychology.

While I think RPG players are more creative than most other groups,
I agree that only a minority of RPG players are really creative, and
the rest will more or less live off of them. The real problem is
actually that no game lets players create anything else than noise
clouds. No game has reached the level of real world resemblence that
will make player creativity work to an advantage to the whole game
system. We havn't reached the level where competition among the
creative will yield "silver lining" in the game, and this is because
of design flaws, not player psychology. This is closely related to
the problems you listed about predictability and mass consuming due
to understanding underlying rules. The games aren't complex and open
ended enough to support anything else than predictable outcomes.

The same goes for roles/classes. If players lack imagination, then
presenting archetype roles is a way of get them going. But I think
the actual role they play in the game will be defined (and
redefined) as they play (equip themselves, learn skills, take jobs,
etc). If they feel like a knight, they will call themselves knight
and so will others. This mechanism is already evident in the
sub-roleing that takes place in todays limited CRPGs. You aren't
just a knight among 100 knights. You are the "sword expert knight"
or the "healer knight", even though the game system may not support
such labels.

Put in a simplified way (for sake of illustration) the world should
only consist of physical rules (physics) enforced as game mechanics,
acting on a rich and engaging world. Designers shall not interfere
with players' motivations, morale, justice, interaction, lifestyles,
roles, quests, etc, they should only provide tools to help players
automate tideous tasks and enforcing player created "concepts".

I would like to see the future MMORPG more like a tool, than a
finished product. The designers of the MMORPG creates a tool which
players may use to various degrees to live out their own
fantasies. I also picture that the difference between game company
employees and consumers will not be as strict as today. Or there
will be a third group of "world experience designers" that play the
game as regular customers, but at the same time contribute a lot to
the overall world experience by creating the stuff that today is
labelled "content". This already exists in some half-hearted ways
(mod makers, fan sites, etc). Observe that I'm not talking about
employees cranking out five new quests a week.

I have no evidence at all to back up my statements. This is just my
ignorant biased view on the subject. ;-)

Thanks for the effort that went into your reply Raph. :-)

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