Convenience vs. Realism (part 3)

<<Part 2

Assessing what to do

This is a peculiar section in a on line video game blog site. On one hand we’re talking about million dollar entities which sole purpose is to find ways to entertain us for hours, no, months on end. It seems the absolute logical step that these games should have massive amounts of content for the user to push through, but that’s not the issue – we’re interested in communicating with the gamer efficiently what there is to do. The hardest thing though is providing convenience (as to relaying what playstlyes there are) but keeping content hidden to give the world that added sense of mystery.

Now bare with me as there are a couple issues with the bolded statement as it relates to Directed Game Design. First I don’t believe in communicating what “needs” to be done. It should be left to the gamer to sort and  prioritize options, not the developer. This sounds easy but in practice giving the gamer short term goals but hiding the truly long term goals, or at least hiding the optimal route to arrive at a perceived long term goal, is in fact very difficult. The idea id to guide, not push.

Second, I assume that the developer treats each section of gameplay for the most part equal. Why you may ask? If they don’t then they risk pigeon holing their game into one particular style of gameplay, possibly alienating fans. Two contrasting examples would be Everquest 2 and EvE. In EQ2 there is really one true path to traverse in the game, one endgame if you will, and that is raiding. From social structure to gear tiers, all through the game party based instanced content carries more weight then any other play style. Ideally EvE takes all aspects of the the game serious – mining, pvp, pve, trade, nation building – and tries it’s hardest to develop meaningful endgames to each area. While EvE does have many other problems but it does excel at treating each part of it’s gameplay equal.

Now that I’ve established two key ideas behind Directed Game Design, we return to the main issue at hand, assessing what to do, or rather the itemization of potential endgames for the gamer to digest. (The following examples Directed Game Design but are good examples for the points at hand)

Point one…

  • Consistently remind the gamer of what to do using ingame mechanics.

World of Warcraft has recently done a great job of this with it’s dungeon design. Each endgame dungeon in Wrath is located in a leveling area, which the gamer first explores, then does a quest chain to understand the storyline behind. In many cases there is also an introductory dungeon at that lower level giving a taste of things to come.

The Eye of Eternity (endgame Malygos raid – big dragon) is located in one of the Wrath starting zones (level 68-72) and is actually part of one of the first major quest chains the gamer participates in upon entering the expansion. From there on, the gamer has an understanding he will come back here eventually to face off against the leader of the blue dragon flight, so once he hits 80 he is already anticipating that content. He doesn’t need to a third party website to figure out there is a dungeon at the nexus or a random quest sending him there, the knowledge is implicit.

Basically, get the seeds of your storylines out early and often! One part of FFXI I always hated was there is absolutely no mention of the great storylines until you are actually on that part of the mission chain. What do I have to look forward to except the thought of more missions, one after another? A varied experience which hinted to plot lines with different quests, or even ingame events would of served FFXI very well. Give gamers a taste of what is out there in live events, or even storyline snippets as rewards for those who explore. The main idea though is find creative ways ingame to relay content – or the opportunity for content – to the gamer without openly forcing him down a predefined path.

This concept is much harder when dealing with non story drive content like crafting or pvp. EvE is especially poor at communicating with the gamer what, other then pve missions, there is to do. In a game where the possibilities for game styles are limitless, most gamers prefer missions grinding because that is what is introduced to them early and  it is also the closest thing to what they are used to in traditional MMORPGs (questing).

That is a fundamental design flaw that EvE that it doesn’t push it’s other content as effectively in game; gamers must go to third party sources to “learn” of the other aspects of EvE once they get bored of pve. It’s my opinion EvE needs to change this design to be competitive in the future, but lord knows they are so bent on the “real gamers explore all possibilities” mantra that I don’t see it happening any time soon. I believe instead tutorials in general should include pvp, trade, manufacturing… ect for all games as showing the player is much better then telling.  This leads me to point two…

  • Play styles don’t need to be explored, they need to be communicated – content needs to be explored.

If your game centers around world pvp (god bless you), then push world pvp early and often, even at level one to get the idea across this is what a gamer does in your mmo. Allow them to explore and find additional content, allow them to put two and two together, and allow them to decide on their own what is important to their gaming experience and what is not.

Going back to my WoW example from before, ideally there should of been a point where the gamer joins an “npc” raid which fails in defeating Malygos, giving him more incentive in the future to successfully overcome the dragon. This would serve two purposes, introduce new gamers to the idea of raids (as opposed to partying) and seed a hatred of failing (maybe even have the gamer fail the quest purposely) against an adversary. While you don’t force the gamer to eventually go defeat the dragon, the gamer instead seeks him willfully.  This is a core fundamental idea behind Directed Game Design, guiding instead of pushing.

Gamers don’t always have to succeed in pve to be happy, and tieing in plot / events to failure sometimes is the best way to guide a gamer genitally to what you would like him to do. This is exactly the idea behind pvp, and should work the same in pve. Failure forces the gamer to explore, find possible secondary routes, and instills the idea the game may not be as black and white as once perceived. While it’s inconvenient to fail, it does provide much needed incentive to continue, something many mmo’s currently lack, and allows you to provide a dose of realism.


This has been a weird and hard section to write for some reason, I’ve rewritten two or three times so I hope my ideas were communicated effectively. The biggest thing I believe to come away with from “assessing what to do” is to be discrete and allow room for growth, but not to forget gamers have a patience level. Exploration is important to making a game livable, but don’t make it tedious exploration to uncover information they could easily find on a third party website. Keep the gamer local to the game as much as possible, and rely on websites as a last resort.

So my question to you this time… would you rather start off small and local, slowly being introduced to content, or would you rather jump into the game head first and be introduced to the major storyline (at least in a small way) early? Which breaks immersion and which do you think instills livability more?


Part 4>>

(Next time, finding a group)


4 Responses to “Convenience vs. Realism (part 3)”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Interesting post series. I liked the section on travel in part 2, but honestly I had never thought of assessment as a problem. I’d probably finish your directed game approach definition before continuing.

  2. Thank you and I appreciate your input. I’m actaully using this series to make sense in my own mind, where I want Directed Game Design to stand.
    You’ll see a lot of the same verbage at least.


  3. I could be going completely wrong here, but it seems to me that what you’re saying in this chapter can be summed up in the fundamenal law of entertainment: tell a good story.

    A good story does a number of things well: it hooks the audience immediately; it features at least one surprising reversal of fortune; and the outer actions mirror and illuminate the inner journey.

    The need to hook the audience early — to “get the seeds of your storylines out early and often” — should not be a novel concept to MMORPG developers as storytellers. The oldest work of literature in the West, the Iliad attributed to Homer over 2500 years ago, in its very first stanza describes not only the theme but the ultimate outcome of the story:

    “Sing, Goddess, sing of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus —-
    that murderous anger which condemned Achaeans
    to countless agonies and threw many warrior souls
    deep into Hades, leaving their dead bodies
    carrion food for dogs and birds —-
    all in fulfilment of the will of Zeus.”

    Similarly, the reversal of fortune, the apparent failure that opens up new possibilities, helps to keep listeners awake :). And the mirroring of inner meaning by outer action allows many more people to enjoy the story.

    So to the extent that a MMORPG developer uses these storytelling tools to guide players, to communicate to them what all the action is about, I would expect those players to have a more enjoyable time playing through the content. Those gamers who just like action can find that, while those who want their character actions (even in a game) to serve some meaning can enjoy the gameplay at that level.

    I suppose my answer would thus have to be, show the Big Theme early, but then allow the player — as much as possible — to explore that theme on their own terms by letting them choose their own path through the content.

    And if the Big Theme of an episode or endgame dungeon (etc.) itself reveals some core aspect or pivotal event of the entire gameworld? Even better.

    Looking forward to chapter 4!

  4. […] The emphasis is on it being a “micro dynamic content enabler” to coin a phrase that opens the world to the player in 30 to 1 hour chunks, without breaking immersion since it’s a physical item and part of the story.  Leves are not quest replacements, they are something more tangible, more directed as they consistently remind the gamer of what to do using ingame mechanics. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: