The Daily Grind: Is it possible for MMOs to pull off mysteries?

    
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Recently I’ve been playing the rather excellent — and unique — Outer Wilds. It’s basically a pile of mysteries stuffed into a tiny, hand-crafted solar system that blows up and resets every 20 minutes on a loop. The focus is on exploring and uncovering a whole string of related mysteries, which is an experience that I know I can only have one time before it is truly spoiled forever.

That’s made me think about how difficult it is to pull off true mysteries in MMORPGs, what with all of the rampant data mining, spoilers, advance testing, and the like. The internet is a ravenous beast for info, and if you’re trying to keep something actually mysterious until players discover or solve it on the live servers, it requires a lot of planning and perfect execution.

What do you think? Is it possible in this day and age for MMOs to pull off mysteries and secrets? How can they do this? And do any examples come to mind?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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kjempff
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kjempff

Of course it is possible, but it require changing the current mainstrean formula.
First and foremost, story driven and railroaded doesn’t make room for mystery very well.

Second, the developers focus on everything having to be content and have measurable value, all this prevents mystery – This goes for hidden/gated stuff, visual clues withoutexplanation or content attached, random lore components (aka not on rails, but things to trigger players curiousity and imagination), and much more. All in all, you can’t independently weight&value things if you want to add mystery, you have to accept “wasted” development resources spend on ..uhm mystery and similar subtle things.

Third, removal of shop items and all kind of point systems (also non shop related), so players need to go out into the world and get/earn their stuff. Yes some will look stuff up on a wiki and go to the specific places, but that is enough of a boundary to create the “illusion of mystery and chance”, not to mention those who won’t use the wiki and those just randomly stumble upon something that triggers their curiousity.. Add to that some randomness, traditionally in form of rare mobs rng loot or even (my favorite) some randomness in loot tables so it is not a given what every type of mob can drop.
You may think this has little to dowith mystery, but it does because mystery is very much about triggering curiousity and imagination without giving an answer (a trifork from a goblin in a cave, How did it get here?…ruins of a starbase, what civilization did this? Or was it survivors of a stranded ship?).

Last is obviously making virtual worlds instead of themeparks, which includes all of the above but also a lot of other things. Npc that interact with eachother without players to push/trigger it, backstories of said npc simple as well as complex. weaved with other npc’s and their backstoriesand lore.

Tldr. Mystery is the art of giving just enough information (visually, loot, conversation, even game systems) that it triggers the players curiousity, and NOT lead the player to the solution but let the player put in effort to find out; plus completely avoid having explanations&solutions tosome things. Underplaying is much more powerful than overplaying as is the rule in acting.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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smuggler-in-a-yt
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smuggler-in-a-yt

Love a good mystery. Although in this day and age unless someone manages to cook up a dynamic storytelling system it will always be really hard to avoid the spoilers.

Someone mentioned the STO mission below, I always thought that was good. The WOW tavern in Dustwallow is interesting, if a bit predictable. And of course some games like TSW were steeped in it.

Would what a cthulu mmo would do with something like that. That’s a pretty cool idea…

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Brown Jenkin

I think TSW/SWL displayed the best that can really be expected in MMO “secrets” at the moment, and for what its worth the trick was really convincing the player-base that the secrets were worth uncovering on their own. So yep some folks just looked up the solutions to quests online, but I’d assume that way more players than usual for an MMO actually took the time to uncover the mysteries for themselves, and that’s a pretty cool thing to achieve through mostly social engineering.

It’d be great to see other games chase what SWL/TSW achieved here, perhaps even bolstering it with a bit of randomness if possible.

PurpleCopper
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PurpleCopper

If you can’t pull off mysteries in singleplayer games, what makes you think you can pull it off in MMOs?

MurderHobo
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MurderHobo

Quests in EQ started out as mysteries. They were just out there in the world somewhere, and if you didn’t look up a spoiler online you might never know it existed.

So they didn’t remain mysteries for long, but there was a collaborative effort to find and solve new quests, and the game didn’t hold your hand or point the way.

miol
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miol

You could create a mystery as a team/hive effort, and make any progress puplic ingame and everyone can contribute as much or as little as they want!

Nothing less what scientists do all the time to crack the mysteries of nature! ;P

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Schmidt.Capela

The issues with this approach, in my view, are that:

– Individual players often feel like they didn’t contribute, at all, even when trying to help. After all, if you aren’t one of the relatively few on the cutting edge of the effort to unravel the mysteries then you are usually unable to actually contribute anything to the effort.

– Individual players don’t actually have to do anything, not even a credible attempt; they can just sit back and pick the rewards as the community does its work.

– It’s basically one-shot content; as soon as the community solved it there is no replay value, for obvious reasons. Worse, there isn’t even first play value for people that started playing after it was solved, because even if the player decides to avoid spoilers this kind of content tuned to require a community is simply impossible for individual players, or even small groups, to tackle alone.

miol
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miol

-Just as Eve Online did in collaboration with scientists, everyone felt they were contributing, even if by analysing one single sample – https://massivelyop.com/2016/03/09/eve-onlines-project-discovery-makes-scientists-out-of-capsuleers/

– Seeing how your community evolves, does make you want to maybe help, but if not: That’s ok too, because the best MMO designs are around voluntary conent – https://massivelyop.com/2017/08/17/massively-overthinking-alone-together-vs-forced-grouping-in-mmorpgs/https://massivelyop.com/2019/03/01/massively-overthinking-reconsidering-the-all-in-one-mmo/

– Again, Eve Online provided just the next mystery to help with, without meaning it’s done after that. – https://massivelyop.com/2017/02/22/eve-onlines-new-citizen-science-project-will-refine-the-search-for-exoplanets/

But also, the beauty of virtual worlds is, that you can create your own natural laws for players to discover and take advantage of to thrive in this virtual world! :D

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Witches

Just give the reward at the start of the mission, most won’t bother completing it after, so most of the mystery should remain, as long as you don’t go looking for a solution outside the game.

And if you are TSW that’s like your whole thing.

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styopa

Phrased better: if you as a player like mysteries, are you self-disciplined enough to avoid the ENTIRE INTERNET and enjoy the puzzle? Because sure, I think MMOs *can do* mysteries. Most people I know (including myself) don’t have the patience and tenacity to work their way through it. We’re a very results-oriented, impatient culture.

But yeah, TSW showed the genre can deliver terrific, suspenseful, mystery content. For those who willingly avoid googling a solution.

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Schmidt.Capela

The same goes for all games, and in fact all media; as soon as it reaches a modicum of success there will be easily reachable resources online to completely eliminate the mystery and reveal the secrets for any member of the audience that wants an early reveal, meaning secrets and mystery (or, at least, the non-bullshit version that is meant to be figured out) only exist for players that want them to exist.

It’s just more prevalent in games than in other media because, due to games being interactive, the player is expected to spend time getting figuring the mysteries and finding the secrets, so spoiling yourself out of those elements means you can go further in the game in less time; in non-interactive media like movies and books spoiling yourself doesn’t help you get through the content any faster.

miol
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miol

edit: argh, wrong reply! Sry!

laelgon
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laelgon

TSW has proven you can make a mystery MMO, and I think GW2 did a good job keeping the big Season 3 reveal a secret.

Generally it’s hard to have a game wide mystery. There will always be people willing to datamine and spend hours/days trying to figure it out outside the game.