[MUD-Dev] Dynamic Quests & Event Chains

Damien Neil damien.neil at gmail.com
Thu Nov 24 14:51:40 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005


On 11/19/05, Lydia Leong <lwl at black-knight.org> wrote:

> But I want to ask: How does one reduce or eliminate the treadmill,
> rather than just trying to cleverly disguise it?

The simple, unhelpful answer is that you need to make a different
type of game.  The current default MMOG design is based around a
treadmill.  Not a game with a treadmill on the side, but a treadmill
with a game on the side.  Players play to progress, progression is
achieved by investing time.  Methods of advancement that don't
require time are considered bugs, and are removed.

There are two ways to move away from the treadmill: Remove the focus
on achievement, or remove the connection between time and
achievement.

If you remove the focus on achievement, you need to find a new
reason for players to play the game.  To put it simply, the game
needs to be entertaining in and of itself, not a Skinner box.  (To
put it harshly, the game needs to be good, not addictive.)

Many games succeed in this; few, if any MMOGs do.  (Or try.)
Tetris, Solitaire, and Counterstrike are all examples of games that
have shown lasting appeal to one degree or another despite having no
focus on advancement.  NetHack and other roguelikes are a good
example of games that are advancement-focused in the short term (you
find loot and level up) but not the long-term (you win or die and
then start over from scratch).  Magic: The Gathering is a game that
has advancement (buy more cards, build new decks), but doesn't
strictly require it (you can play effectively with a relatively
small investment in cards).  Guild Wars is a notable example of a
MMOG that seems to have drawn its advancement model from M:TG.

The other approach of decoupling time investment and advancement
requires a new means of advancement.  Money is an common one--a
number of MUDs are free to play, but charge real-world cash for
in-game items.  Magic: The Gathering also fits this mold.  Among
MMOGs, Project Entropia is the only one I know of that officially
supports this advancement model.  Another option is to use
wall-clock time rather than played time; characters advance whether
or not the player logs on.  Eve Online uses this approach for
character skill advancement.  Yet another option is player
skill--the better player gets a better character.  World of Warcraft
theoretically rewards PvP combat in this fashion, although it
demonstrates how to fail at this approach more than anything else:
PvP advancement is as much a matter of time invested as it is one of
skill.

Whether a treadmill-free game can match the success of a
slickly-designed Skinner box like World of Warcraft is uncertain.  I
strongly suspect, however, that there is a significant (if much
smaller) market for persistent worlds that try a different approach
than the same old treadmill.

             - Damien
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