Raph Koster expounds on MMO fun, retention, and cynicism in the genre

    
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No screenshots yet, obviously.

MMORPG developer Raph Koster has been having words about the MMO industry ahead of the reveal of the MMO that his new studio Playable Worlds is working on. Really, kind of a lot of words. This latest piece is all about ensuring that you’re having the fun.

Koster notes the conflict between what players want and what the business running an MMO wants, how impossible “fun” is to actually measure, and how worrying about players getting bored is the actual challenge. He argues that most MMOs will just shove in more content in a vain attempt to hold player attention, by which they mean a variation on whatever you were already doing – which seldom works.

“Players get bored. It’s natural,” he says. “It is really rare that a single game holds someone forever. And if you don’t have something else for them to do as a change of pace, well, you’re likely to lose them. Supporting a range of ways to play means that when someone gets bored of one activity, they can do something else, which is the most human thing in the world. What is weird is the idea that someone would spend all their time doing only one thing to the exclusion of all else — even if they love it!” Clearly, the solution as he sees it is to provide a wide variety of content, not just more of the same, in order to build a “long-term emotional relationship with the player.” That sounds pretty creepy on its own, but in context, it makes sense, especially if you’ve been following our comments on these blogs and noticed how aloof even gamers who want this type of game are about these pitches.

“One of the saddest things about the way the game industry has gone is the level of distrust and cynicism that has grown among players. And I certainly won’t pretend that the years of accumulated disappointment can be wiped away with a few blog posts from a new studio with no game to show yet. You have heard plenty of lofty promises before. But I am still going to say this anyway: We need to earn your trust. We need to prove our value to you each day and each month. We need to treat you as an ongoing valued relationship, and our game and our service must be designed to maintain and nurture that relationship. And that will require transparency, and honesty, and openness. It will require admitting when we screw up. It will require us to see ourselves not as above the community, but as part of it. That is our commitment to you. As far as I am concerned, as we build these playable worlds, we are building something together.”

As a side note, I don’t think Koster has talked much about Playable Worlds’ business model yet, but there might be a hint in this piece: “If you want subscriptions, you need to make a game that deserves to be subscribed to. You need to prove your value to the player every month.”

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Neurotic

This is why I like FFXIV, which I came back to recently. I hit an impasse with my main, so I switched to a new combat class, levelled that to the same point, then switched to levelling up a trade skill before switching back to combat to level past the original sticking point. Along the way, I picked up dyeing and glamour skills to fuel my customization and wardrobing mania. FUN!

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kjempff

The fine line to walk as being equal to your players..You can’t make the game like players say they want it (because players are incredible narrow minded .. as a whole) – Which means you have to be very selective in which ideas to support.
I guess an open gamedesign that supports emergent gameplay combined with the awareness of it emerging plus the wisdom to evolve it into more concrete game concepts WITHOUT being a limiter :) A fine line indeed, but you can do it .. believe .. be aware .. and beware.

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McGuffn

“He argues that most MMOs will just shove in more content in a vain attempt to hold player attention, by which they mean a variation on whatever you were already doing – which seldom works.”

Sorta true but ultimately false. Because what most mmos do is shove in more grind and everyone knows it.

Now variation on what they are doing is both good and bad. Some people like more of the same and others don’t. And for others, it depends what “more of the same” means and is itself highly dependent on context. If you like quests, do more quests make you happy or was there something specific about the ones you liked that the new offering doesn’t capture?

From a gameplay perspective, maybe you like harvesting gathering nodes. if you like basic mechanics, like running up to a node and pressing F to pay your respects, maybe devs turning it into a minigame will just piss you off. On the other hand, is it a problem if your combat system and diplomacy system are reskins of the same basic system? Daring and lazy it may be, but some people will actually like that.

So as he describes it there are obvious pitfalls to what he thinks is good and wants to do. It is also pretty high level and vague so it allows people to read either their hopes or fears into it, and will result in disappointment.

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Cory James Hill

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I will always bring this conversation back around to Star Wars Galaxies. A game that had many problems, but also did so many things right. Specifically, providing so many different paths to gameplay and not allowing players to really be an island to themselves.

Gameplay systems, catering to different playstyles such as crafting, social, exploration, combat – and even – giving room for players to take a mix of skills and build their own character, their own class, their own story in the game world. I’m not talking about the skimpy implementations of things like crafting or exploration we see today, but having such robust systems that those things can be completely fulfilling paths through the game and that on any given day I can play a character that has a completely different story being told. In SWG, when you could only have one character, I always had at least two paid subscriptions going so that I could have a combat/adventurer toon and a crafter/social toon and they lived mostly separate lives. I was never bored.

What I loved about SWG was how the community was able to use the gameplay systems, skill system and game world to create so many diverse characters. My favorite character that I built in SWG was a “contract hunter”. I basically took the Ranger class, dabbled in some other classes that worked for me and then used the SWG web forums to get contract jobs to hunt and gather materials for crafters.

The best part about it was how many friends I made in the game and how I was able to build a name for myself on my server. Just as so many crafters built brands and became known. Great combat/PVP built reputations…. on and on.

“Playable worlds” are what we need and those worlds need to get out of the way and let us forge our own story. Give us the tools, the systems, the landscape, and stop trying to make every one of us a hero. We don’t all care about that and frankly it’s just so cliche always being “The One” in every game that it just makes me cringe. It’s the first sign for me that I will quickly become bored and leave the game.

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Syran

Supporting a range of ways to play means that when someone gets bored of one activity, they can do something else, which is the most human thing in the world.

I wonder if that’s actually true for most people.

For me personally, when I get bored with the battle/questing/leveling content of an MMO, I don’t start looking for other stuff to do. I don’t pick up crafting, I don’t get super deep into housing, I don’t start learning songs on my virtual instruments or try to establish a guild.

I just move on to another game that has more of the content I actually want to play.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

There was an older study done by Blizzard to determine which types of content most people gravitated to. Their conclusion was that all content types are niche and what the majority played was a mix of different types.

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Cory James Hill

That’s probably largely because of how poorly those other gameplay paths are built these days. They are tacked on “professions” or something, instead of being entire character classes with a full gameplay and leveling systems. Crafting, to me, should be like it was in Star Wars Galaxies. Most of the good gear people needed in that game was crafted, and the crafters who made them had to dedicate a lot of time and money into making the best items and building shops. People built brands, they created famous shops – decorated with care, they built names for themselves.

What passes for crafting these days is just busywork. Same for exploration, social, etc.

creationguru
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creationguru

I felt this as well in SWG and as well in UO I just want a true world that I can find my alternate self and let them live in the world that I seem to find a fit in.

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Raph Koster

Heh, as I said,

I certainly won’t pretend that the years of accumulated disappointment can be wiped away with a few blog posts from a new studio with no game to show yet. You have heard plenty of lofty promises before.

:)

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Schlag Sweetleaf

.

I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time..png
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Schmidt.Capela

The big trap of making multiple “core” activities in the game is if players start feeling like all of them are required; if this happens then having multiple core activities doesn’t increase the player base to everyone who likes at least one of them, but instead reduces it to just those that like all of them.

If you try to embrace a lot of experiences without making any of them feel mandatory you risk also widening your competition. If, say, your game includes racing as a side-activity I could dedicate myself to, and its influence in the other activities is kept in check in order to not make it feel mandatory, why should I play racing in your game instead of playing something like Forza or Mario Kart? You are very unlikely to make each of the core side-activities as engaging as a good game focused on just that activity, so why should I play that activity in your game instead of moving to a more focused game that likely does it better?

That isn’t to say that a game can’t have side-activities, but IMHO those should be kept limited n scope. In my experience side-activities work better as something to spice up the main activity than as an alternative to it.

Caveat: I don’t, and will never, rely on other players, because having to rely on someone else is so frustrating for me that it completely ruins my experience. As such the concept of avoiding a part of the game while trading for whatever I would need from it isn’t something I would ever be willing to entertain.

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Bruno Brito

Don’t get me wrong, Raph, but this sounds like the GW2’s manifesto and we all know where that went.

So, i’ll believe it when i see it. I do hope you get to deliver, tho.

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Sleepy

“We need to earn your trust. We need to prove our value to you each day and each month. We need to treat you as an ongoing valued relationship, and our game and our service must be designed to maintain and nurture that relationship.”

We need to sell gullible players digital spaceships!

Wait…that was cynicism. Oh god, he’s right!