Directed Game Design (part 1)

Directed game design is much harder to fit into a quick expression so this may be a moving target that evolves over a period of time, but here I go…

Directed Game Design – The designer supplies many short term goals but allow the gamer to create his own long term goals. (updated)

One of my favorite self created definitions, Directed Game Design really encompasses the gap I believe mmorpgs should fill in the industry. MMORPGs have always aspired to be about choose, consequences and accomplishment, and through those mediums peer recognition. Directed Game Design magnifies those choices by giving the gamer multiple avenues to explore but never tyeing them down. Notice how in the definition I never mentioned anything about supplying long term goals to the gamer, only short term ones that serve as launching points.

Directed Game Design is neither linear nor sandbox, but somewhere in between.

Now to better get an idea of exactly where Directed Game Design falls between them, lets first take a look at the two opposite ends of the spectrum and why they make poor choices in an mmorpg setting.

Linear Gameplay

The idea to, for a short time, pretend to be someone else was classically one of the main reasons many escaped to forms of media, books, movies or in this case, video games. Historically the preferred method of vicariously living through someone else was made possible through rich storytelling. We all grew up on novels, comic books and newspapers, so it is no wonder that when the first few games were developed there was a natural inclination to entice the gamer to lose himself in rich storytelling.

But to make sure the gamer followed the storyline, much like a novel, the game designer (or author) had to set up a linear road map of events to occur in the game. Whether it be a locked door until a certain boss is slain or a flag pole to be lowered in front of a castle, the game designer made sure the player experienced the game exactly how he should.

While this makes for a compelling single player game, this model breaks down when applied to MMORPGs. There is no way to successfully create a believable and compelling single player experience through linear story telling in MMORPGs. Too many games have tried, and each time I am quickly reminded why this model just does not work.

FFXI, for all the praise I love to shower it sometimes, is a terrible example for a true MMORPG. In it, there exists a very linear storyline with storyline events the player must complete.

 While during the storyline event, the gamer may feel special or like a true champion of a cause, immersion is quickly lost when the scope of the world is put back into perspective, i.e. he meets up with the rest of his party who also just completed that particular special storyline section. How is one truly special if everyone completes that same linear gameplay section? How exactly are we promoting choose, consequence and accomplishment if it is required to continue?

Linear gameplay’s faulty design is not only limited to story, character advancement is an exceptional point of emphasis. Games try too often to imitate choice by creating multiple paths that lead to the same result. While this does give the gamer the illusion of consequence, too often we are left with sub optimal character advancement paths which means everyone ends up leveling the same way in one form or another. A certain talent in WoW may be the most efficient so you must spec into it, while others leave much to be desired. Blizzard does all they can to make the choose between talents interesting, but cookie cutter builds will always be the norm when games can be simulated using excel spread sheets.

In short linear gameplay consists to 2 things..

  1. Short term goals
  2. Long term goals

Each short term goal occurs in succession, eventually unlocking a long term goal. If everyone has the same long term goal, do the short term goals even matter?

I say no, and in a world with many different people if everyone has the same long term goals, then achievement can only be measured by who reaches those long term goals with no other medium. This rewards power gaming (or grinding) and punishes casual or explorer type gamers which is an absolute horrible business model and one that is in directed contention with Budgeted Gaming.

Next time….Sandbox Gameplay



2 Responses to “Directed Game Design (part 1)”

  1. Spriggan Says:

    I enjoy sandbox games much like Eve, which makes me wonder how different your directed gaming is from sandbox.

    Also isn’t WoW linear and successful?

  2. Yes and no. WoW was successful for a long host of reasons – one of them being it’s linear design. There I admitted it. ><

    That said, WoW is nrot a compelling experience because it is linear, nor does it foster a community that can create it’s own fun – it is completely dependent on the developers for content.

    This is both good and bad in some sense, but my arguement is MMORPGs represent so many more possibilities then just a single player game with a chat channel.

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