The Soapbox: Making your own fun in MMORPGs

    
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This guest Soapbox was commissioned through Massively Overpowered’s Kickstarter campaign and is authored by Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, a developer at Missing Worlds Media. The opinions here represent the views of our guest author and not necessarily Massively OP itself. Enjoy!

Howdy, all. I’m Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, project lead at City of Titans, and I’d like to spend a few moments talking about the things that we, as game designers, can’t do for players.
I call it making your own fun.

There are several things that make an MMO an MMO, but one of the most important elements is the entire “massively” part of “massively multiplayer online.” More than just a team, and bigger than a raid, it’s everyone around you.

And people get rewards from being in this ocean of players, whether they’re showing off their best armor, getting a little help in a public event, or playing the auction house economy. None of those systems would work without a lot of other people around.

But there are limits to what game designers can do. And that’s where players step in. Somehow or other, there’s always a destination that becomes the place to hang out. And it’s fun. Sometimes it’s a bit stupid — we all know Barrens chat can rot the mind — but it’s fun. And no matter what we do, we as devs can’t predict where that place will be.

And we can’t predict what people will do there, either. Run a radio station? Champions Online has at least one broadcasting from the RenCen. Dropping dead gnomes from the air to spell out words? It’s happened. Putting on a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead? I did that once. Mostly because of a coin flipping emote.

I even remember one time when a combat pet glitch allowed some friends of mine to start a soccer league using that bugged pet’s turret gun as the ball.

There’s making your own fun outside of the game, too. Forums are great for that. Forum artists get commissions for making art of people’s characters. Forum writers tell stories. Forum in-jokes can wind up in the game itself, and even later, they may show up in the oddest places in the outside world. I’m pretty sure Leroy Jenkins is going to wind up outlasting the game he came from.

But sometimes something very special happens when a bunch of people get together and decide to have fun with how the game works. From City of Heroes’ Super Olympics to ArcheAge’s Cart Races and the Corrupted Blood incident in WoW, these are the things that make memories.

So making your own fun is a good thing, sure. To use a marketing term, it’s “sticky.” It encourages people to play the game more, to share it with others, to stay online more. What more could someone who runs a game ask for?

Well, we could ask ourselves, “How can we help people make their own fun?” And there are answers to this. Make sure the forums are welcoming and that there’s a good culture there, not a negative and insular one. Make sure there are areas people can congregate and that they’re pleasant to the eye and ear and easy to get to.

More critically, we can give players tools: tools to communicate easily, tools to find like-minded friends. Not everyone is going to enjoy the same kind of fun, but those who do will like to play together.

We can give players something even better than tools. We can give them the video game equivalent of LEGO bricks, something they can build their own fun with. Star Wars Galaxies did this with player towns. City of Heroes did it with player missions. Minecraft does it with everything.

We could ask ourselves, “How can we help people make their own fun?” Not everyone is going to enjoy the same kind of fun, but those who do will like to play together.
But that’s just one way to help. Another is to try to find more things players can do together. PvP is a loaded word these days, but that’s just because it’s become limited. WildStar and DC Universe Online have timed races. What happens if you make them multiplayer or create a leaderboard?

That’s a hook, but who’s going to look at a leaderboard if you have to go click on it? That’s a private kind of satisfaction. What you need to do is make it public. That’s what matters. Winning is good, but winning when you have an audience, that really sticks. Of course, losing when you have an audience sticks too.

That’s the tricky part, and that’s the real key to balancing fun: There’s only one winner in a contest, but there can be a lot of losers. The trick is making it so that losing is fun too. After all, there’s always next time.

That’s where reputation comes in to play. Someone who shows up, day after day, and is a good sport even if he wins one in a hundred fights will be appreciated more than someone who wins every three fights but is a complete jerk about it.

It’s the people who get a reputation for doing things who wind up contributing the things that make the most fun in the game much of the time. But how do you measure that? Some people talk about mechanizing it by instituting karma. That’s one way, but any system can be gamed; that’s what gaming is, from some perspectives, exploiting systems for maximum benefit.

Still, as an advisory tool, it’s not the worst answer, but the best answer is pretty simple. Play with the people who are the most fun. Hang out with them. The friends you make in a game can last forever. I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing without my friends, after all.

And remember, if it’s not fun, why are you doing it?

Chris “Warcabbit” Hare is the project lead of City of Titans, a crowdfunded upcoming superhero MMO. Be someone’s hero. All it requires is the courage to do the right thing when you see it called for. This editorial was made possible by a volunteer on the City of Titans staff. No crowdfunded money was spent making it possible.

This one’s for you, Daniel “SpaceMoose” Pawtowski.

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RonaldHarrison
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RonaldHarrison

Warcabbit and Shadow Elusive Rock!!!

srmalloy
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srmalloy

DoctorOverlord  MMOs have a tradition of needless timesinks
disguised as challenges because they were an easy, simple way to stretch out
gameplay.And
sometimes not even as challenges — setting up pointless travel time for
the purpose of adding ‘blank’ (i.e., non-XP-gaining) time has a long
tradition. Contacts that make you travel wayyy across the map to
discover something, then when you bring the information back to the
contact, they tell you that the information needs to be delivered to another contact
that, coincidentally, was quite close to where you discovered the
information, but now that you’ve come back to the contact, you’ve got
another Bataan Death March to get back out there and deliver the
information… instead of telling you that, once you have the
information, take it to the other contact.

Techbot Alpha
Guest
Techbot Alpha

DoctorOverlord While certain parts are certainly more difficult than others (Shrine of Amana in DS2 and the devs openly admitted that the Bed of Chaos in DS1 was cheap and broken as hell), the Dark Souls games really aren’t that challenging once you learn their rules. I’m less good at DS2 than I was with DS1, and I’m so out of practice with DS1 now that I’d have to learn it all again, but I *was* pretty damn good at DS1. I wasn’t in the same league as the people who could/can complete the game at Level 1 (which just goes to show that if you’re good you CAN do it, whereas if it was all just cheap hax then that wouldn’t be possible) but I managed to get pretty far at a very low level for a certain build.
The thing with Dark Souls is that dying, while annoying, has a pretty set penalty. You lose your human status and your souls are left where you die. It’s not like WoW where you have resurrection sickness, you have to ghost back to your corpse, you can’t rez during combat…THAT is artificial and annoying mechanics at it’s finest, frankly. If you’re dying repeatedly in WoW it’s because the RNG is taking a dump on you, your team isn’t performing right, or you don’t have the big stat numbers that the devs have arbitarily set. If you’re dying repeatedly in Dark Souls you’re either going the wrong way and are under-levelled or  you’re not bothering to learn the ‘rules’ of that enemy and area.

/Rant

warcabbit
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warcabbit

If you care to go check out our web page at http://www.cityoftitans.com , there’s a nice update on today, the 29th, you might like.

ZNSinger
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ZNSinger

MilitiaMasterV warcabbit City of Villains was in fact the villain side of the City of Heroes game. Going Rogue put the two games together entirely, and opened all the archetypes to all alignments. Who says a tank is inherently good anyway?

As for your question about your specific character, this is why our system is designed to not pigeonhole you. If we make a system that needs to be able to categorize and label you, we must restrict the concepts available to the playerbase, and possibly what you have in mind wouldn’t fit in. Under this system, you choose your label, and the game notes the tendency of your actions. The different NPC groups and factions within the game react to each axis differently. So one group will value honor and non-violence but not be very law abiding, another values honor but not law or non-violence, and by these things their reactions to you are determined. So no matter what you do, a balanced portion of the game will love you, hate you, or fall into some grey area between. If we do the design right, this will mostly make you welcome in the environments that suit your character best, and an enemy where you would expect him to be.

So you’ll have four labels – Hero, Villain, Scoundrel and Vigilante – and you’ll need to use a little imagination perhaps to decide which label you want to use. If finding something that truly fits doesn’t work, pick the one you think your character would call himself. If that ends up flying in the face of what most of the game expects, well, that’s just all the more fun isn’t it? The combination of label the game can work with, but you control what it is regardless of your alignment, plus the fluid alignment system, allows us to make a working game mechanically that still empowers you quite, well beyond any current offerings or our own predecessor.

DoctorOverlord
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DoctorOverlord

I hope there are more editorials like this in the future.  
This was an interesting read and some good foundations of game design.
“The trick is making it so that losing is fun too. ”  A game that can do this is a sign of
real talent on the part of the designers and developers.   Making a game
‘challenging’ is easy, balancing that challenge so it doesn’t detract from the
fun is difficult.
Unfortunately, we’re seeing single player games like Dark
Souls/Bloodbourne that take the easy design route and make mechanics that are
obnoxiously difficult under the guise of being ‘challenging’.  Even worse,
there is a core of hardcore gamers (many being game journalists) who endlessly crow
about how great a thing it is to be going back to old-school mechanics.
Single player games tend to shape future MMOs so I really hope MMO
developers remember the importance of fun as Mr Hare emphasized.  MMOs have a tradition of needless timesinks
disguised as challenges because they were an easy, simple way to stretch out
gameplay.  If single player games start
using those same flawed mechanics that were thrown out for good reasons, it
will be a terrible turn for the whole industry, single player and MMOs alike.

Techbot Alpha
Guest
Techbot Alpha

warcabbit  I think this focus on re-inventing the wheel with combat systems is sometimes missing the point. Every game I’ve played since CoH, especially SWTOR but WoW was a close second, the melee combat felt…weak. Like, it made my character look like they were waving a round a bit of bamboo cane, and not a giant two-handed hammer, or a lightsaber, or whatever.
CoH, with the often decried rooting, had melee combat that felt meaty and solid, because all the animations were solidly done and looked great. Sure, there were one or two exceptions, such as the ‘floaty hit’ of Total Focus from Energy melee etc. But, for the most part, it was a lot more satisfying feeling.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

warcabbit Similar, except he originally had a legitimate motive. Revenge. I’m not so sure my concept has any motive like that. :P

warcabbit
Guest
warcabbit

MilitiaMasterV ZNSinger Something like the Punisher? Anti-Hero, so a villain (the cops and other heroes would try to bring him in) who does things for reasons.

MilitiaMasterV
Guest
MilitiaMasterV

ZNSinger Interesting. I’d read a long time back that they actually made a City of Heroes, and then read another article some time later that they’d made another game named City of Villains. I didn’t know you were combining the two.

So what happens with a very violent(What I would classify as chaotic/destructive.), not very law abiding(Has a problem with authority figures/has no problems with minor, and the occasional major crimes.), very honorable(Always keeps his word) type?

Is there going to be some kind of niche for that type to fit into?