mmo mechanics

MMO Mechanics is a game design and mechanics analysis column by Tina Lauro. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]

MMO Mechanics: The Fair Play Alliance and mechanising fairness

News of over 30 gaming companies taking a united stand against unfairness and toxicity in online game communities sprung out of GDC 2018 a few days ago, with some rather surprising company names making the list of those involved. The issue of toxic behaviour is a tough nut to crack, and these companies believe that the best way to tackle the issue is by pooling research and resources to share knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. It’s an interesting and complex idea that has got me thinking, so I just had to take up an issue of MMO Mechanics to discuss the potential implications for MMOs and near-MMOs.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll look at the mission of the Fair Play Alliance, discuss the ground they’ve covered so far, explore a case study of how toxicity affects one involved MMO developer, and then will give my thoughts on mechanical rollouts that could be employed to help smash toxicity.

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MMO Mechanics: 2017’s MMO Mechanics in review

I cannot quite believe that we’re saying goodbye to 2017 and ringing in 2018 so quickly: It certainly doesn’t feel as though an entire year has passed since I last looked back on the progress of the column and delved into the comments section to see how the topics at hand were debated there. MMO Mechanics is my favourite column to write, though I didn’t visit it quite as often this year since Guild Chat received quite a few submissions, and what makes it so fantastic is the way the comments section extends the topic beyond my offerings for a more rounded look at the topic at hand.

With mulled wine in hand and festive decor all around me, I’ve curled up on my couch to craft another look back at a year of conversation: In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll recap my thoughts on the main topics I covered this year and will highlight the comments that stood out to me because of how they furthered the conversation. This should be a great column snapshot for you if you’ve missed some editions along the way, and I also love having a chance to highlight the commenters that make the column great. Be sure to check and see if your comments are featured!

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MMO Mechanics: What can be learned from Guild Wars 2 Mountgate?

Most often, MMO Mechanics articles focus on the gameplay mechanics that both make the MMO genre unique and those that diversify MMOs from one another, but this time I’m focusing on the mechanics that drive profit for the modern development studio and will discuss the lootbox phenomenon. Although the lootbox is by no means a new topic in the world of online gaming, the purchasing method has been under fire more than ever recently and has seldom faced the same scrutiny from the playerbase and wider media before now.

Recently it has been ArenaNet under fire for the particular way randomisation factors into purchasing Guild Wars 2 mount adoption licence skins. A unique combination of a highly requested and anticipated extension of a likewise highly requested and successful new game feature and the employment of lootbox mechanics has caused quite a stir in the game community, despite the fact that Guild Wars 2’s Black Lion Chests already employ RNG lootbox mechanics. In this article, I’m going to discuss why the skins were such an issue in the first place, evaluate ArenaNet’s response to the player outrage the skins caused, and ponder on the reasons why studios rely on lootbox mechanics in the first place.

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MMO Mechanics: Material storage and the Guild Wars 2 economy

Guild Wars 2 launched its second expansion, Path of Fire, a few days ago, and as you might expect, a new expansion means some immediate priority shifts will deeply affect the game’s economy. New materials are added, which are required by the newest recipes and are thus highly sought after, and other materials will fluctuate in value depending on their usefulness within the new content’s scope. Players typically react to this short period of market turbulence by keeping the materials that they farm until they are absolutely sure of their uses and worth: There’s nothing worse than selling a big pile of a rare material you thought you didn’t need only to realise your error later.

However, ArenaNet decided to temporarily keep a “handful of items” off the list for the game’s material storage system in an attempt to force players’ hands: The company is attempting to combat the shockingly high prices seen for expansion materials back at Heart of Thorns’ launch by discouraging player warehousing of valuable yet abundant materials. The news has caused quite a splash in the game community and it’s exceptionally interesting mechanically speaking, so I just had to dedicate an edition of MMO Mechanics to the topic.

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MMO Mechanics: Making healing interesting in MMORPGs

I was reading a recent Daily Grind article on the topic of unique healing classes and it prompted me to think about the variety of mechanics on offer for healing in MMOs that go beyond the World of Warcraft model. There are few MMO mechanics that run the risk of being diluted down by mods and add-ons in the way healing mechanics can be, which makes the area a fantastic area for a thought exercise in keeping healing interesting in MMORPGs.  Pair the lack of immersive interaction with the mechanics presented by the existence of click-heal and other ‘easy-heal’ overlays with many people’s general wish to be the more extroverted hero character instead of the less flashy but also very much needed party healer and it’s easy to see the need for more incentives to be presented by development teams.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll take a look at some of the class suggestions from the Daily Grind article mentioned and will attempt to summarise what makes those classes so unique and interesting, hopefully in order to find a commonality between some that goes beyond the basic healing mechanics we know from more traditional MMOs.

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MMO Mechanics: 2017’s take on the sandbox MMO

I am finding it hard to believe that we are two months into 2017 already, especially since I’ve had so many pressing Guild Chat submissions recently that I haven’t had a chance to turn my hand back to MMO Mechanics in all that time! As an introduction to a new year, I usually like to include a predictions column that summarises my perspective on how I believe mechanics will change over the following twelve months, but I don’t feel as though the 2016 trends I mentioned have died out yet and wish to instead focus on the sustained emphasis on sandbox MMO development with strong holistic, character developing mechanics.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’m going to talk about some upcoming MMOs and the non-combat, realistic, and technical mechanics added into the 2017 sandbox mix. Although I can’t guarantee that the titles I mention below will actually release this year, each of them has enough solid development behind them to make a 2017 release at least probable; besides, even if these titles don’t release in the next ten months, they will still bear the hallmarks of the state of the modern sandbox MMO and are worth noting. Add your thoughts on the common threads you’re finding in 2017’s planned MMO mechanics in the comments: I’m sure to miss several key mechanics development trends in this non-exhaustive list.

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MMO Mechanics: 2016’s MMORPG mechanics in review

The holiday season is finally upon us: My decorations are resurrected from their dark corner of my storage closets once more, Jack Frost is beginning to nip at my toes on these frosty evenings, and even the MMOs that fill my free time are getting into the festive spirit with amazing seasonal activities. It’s the perfect time for a dose of nostalgia and I thought that a look back at 2015’s column entries and revisit the comments sections of each one to pull out some of your fantastic offerings on the topics I’ve covered over the last year. This column holds some of my favourite articles I have written in no small part because of the topic development that happens via your amazing thoughts and counterpoints that are added in the comments.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll revisit my top picks from the column’s 2016 entries and summarise my thoughts on my favourite topics to provide you with an end-of-year roundup that should be particularly useful for those of you who have missed some editions and fancy a quick catch up. I’ll also be quoting my favourite comments that were left on each of those articles too, so if you’re a regular reader be sure to check and see if your comment is featured!

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MMO Mechanics: Enhancing MMORPGs with experiential learning mechanics

Ever since I considered the responses to a Massively Overthinking article in which a developer asked if a prestige system to encourage replaying an MMO from level 1 would be a viable design approach, I’ve been mulling over the sorts of mechanics that developers can use to reward players for experiential learning in a game’s world. I love to consider ways in which playing in and learning about a game world can be rewarded without necessarily stacking on more levels or unlocking more skill points, so this question prompted a good deal of thought.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll explore some well-established mechanics that reward in-game learning and will also suggest some that could perhaps be employed that come from other game genres. Also up for consideration will be the importance of learning-based development in MMOs and why I find it so interesting in the first place.

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MMO Mechanics: No Man’s Sky is mechanically genius (an ode to procedural generation)

No Man’s Sky has been on my hotly anticipated list for so long, and you might remember that it has had particular mention in a previous MMO Mechanics entry in which I discussed several in-development titles that promised some amazing mechanics. Awe, wonder, and the thrill of discovery pull the player onwards while specifically engineered feelings of loneliness, danger, and tedium add just enough realistic grit to make gathering and exploration feel immersive and challenging. In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’m going to walk you through Hello Games’ stunning title with an eye on its mechanics, particularly the use of procedural generation to incentivise exploration and depth.

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MMO Mechanics: Creating engaging crafting mechanics

I’m currently bogged down in an over-the-shoulder crafting blur, vicariously depleting gold and recommending several YouTube-approved crazy material gathering runs as I get my husband acquainted with Guild Wars 2‘s crafting system. I’ve been ill for last week or two and have spent each night this week helping him through the experience as a wind-down activity to try and encourage my eyelids to finally close. Watching him progress made me think about what it takes to create a mechanically engaging crafting system that doesn’t act as an at-best inconvenient time sink or at worst a snore-inducing snoozefest.

A great crafting system should consist of so much more than a tired old “clickety-clack, look in my pack, look at that stack of crap grow” grind, and in this edition of MMO Mechanics, I want to discuss what developers can do to ease the grind mechanically. I’m sticking with mechanic headers instead of game titles here because I wanted to attempt to group together the actual mechanics themselves rather than a specific roundup of the best crafting games. You’ll be able to mention many games that could equally (or perhaps better!) apply to the titles below, so take my named examples as mere illustrations only.

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MMO Mechanics: Zonation and scaling mechanics in MMORPGs

The recent E3 hubub about The Elder Scrolls Online new level syncing mechanics being extended has got me thinking all about the mechanics behind zones in MMOs, especially after I pored over an edition of Tamriel Infinium about how the feature’s extension could impact the game by Massively Overpowered’s own Larry Everett. Sooner or later, every MMO with a levelling system has to tackle the issue of what to do when players of differing levels want to play together, and while there are several ways in which to tackle the disparity, I’d love to see an MMO that combines some more traditional methods together in a case-responsive manner that also incorporated some degree of competence-based vertical scaling of content too.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll have a look at the most common methods of dealing with zonation and bridging level gaps in horizontal progression systems and consider the rewards for both player and developer that the various scaling mechanics might offer. I’ll briefly cover the various scaling methods before evaluating the impact on gameplay and also the developer rationale that inspires their use.

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MMO Mechanics: Innovating mechanics to refresh Guild Wars 2

I usually keep MMO Mechanics quite general by looking at several games as examples to highlight my point regarding the mechanics of choice in each article, but I have a different format in mind for this edition that I hope you’ll enjoy. I’m going to flip things around, instead using one game — and several mechanical examples — to construct my argument.

It’s no secret that I have Guild Wars 2 on the brain anyway, and with the recent April update being such a reformative hit, I felt inspired. I’ve always believed that innovating mechanics is the secret to MMO longevity and the recent quarterly update for Heart of Thorns is an excellent case study to show how mechanical tweaks specifically can refresh MMOs. In this edition, I’ll outline some of the changed mechanics that gave ArenaNet a newly invigorated playerbase and wide praise for the update.

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MMO Mechanics: MMORPG expansions vs. sequels

The recent news about EverQuest Next‘s cancellation has renewed the debate about whether or not MMOs should get sequels, which have given me plenty to think about in terms of mechanics and future MMO development. There are a variety of strategies that online games use to stay updated and introduce new mechanics, of course, and each comes with varying levels of disruption for active players. This disruption is an especially important factor for MMO developers since they need to be conscious of the fact that MMOs are living products with persistent worlds.

Some game developers opt to add new game mechanics in self-contained expansions, causing a separation of those players who own the expansion from those who don’t. Full-fledged sequels may make more sense in cases where the disruption caused by new content would be too great or the gap between new and old mechanics would be too much for the current playerbase to swallow. Some studios have even eschewed both sequels and expansions, opting to use iterative development methods where old mechanics are often updated and retired players who decide to come back can return to a very different game indeed.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll look at some examples of each of these three update methods and discuss the impact of each on game mechanics.

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