Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Developers vs the Internet

The proliferation of internet access has been an incredibly important step for gaming. Not only do we get to play with other players around the world and not only can we pretty much live in virtual worlds if we choose to do so, but we also have access to a vast amount of resources and information concerning our games. The last part is quite a hindrance to game development as well, however. With everyone having instant access to pretty much all the information about a game that has ever been discovered, creating a game that rewards exploration and experimentation can be really, really hard to do. There is no more hidden information in gaming.

Tobold talks about this issue regarding Final Fantasy XIV a little bit, asking “Why would anyone for example try crafting by trial and error (or by writing down recipe information received as “reward” from crafting quests with pen & paper, as the game doesn’t log them), when he can find the recipes in a database?” He does go on to say that if puzzles felt more doable, players would probably prefer doing them for the fun of it instead of looking up the solutions, but that is problematic: If your game is supposed to have long-term appeal then you need hard-to-reach goals in it. With the internet, it seems impossible to make any of those rely on hidden information.

I think this is quite a shame – experimentation and exploration are quite fun to me as long as the mechanics behind them make sense. I don’t want to mindlessly try every single possible combination of crafting ingredients to find recipes – I want to have an idea of what might logically work to, say, create a new potion or improve an existing blueprint and then be able to try whether that actually works. Below I’ll discuss a couple of things that game designers could do to limit the effects of the internet on experimentation.

Random Challenges

There might be a perfect solution for each and every situation the player can be in, but if you simply have so many (randomly generated) ones that it is impossible or at least impractical to make a database of all of them, players will have to rely on their own wit to deal with them. An example of this would be Puzzle Quest. There is probably an optimal move for each and every situation but there are just so many possible states of the game board that you would never be able to completely fill a database with optimal moves. (Not even mentioning the fact that each move also has a certain amount of random effects on the board.)

If you try the spell-learning puzzles in Puzzle Quest 2 on the other hand you will find that there is a very limited number of them and the solutions for them can easily be found on the internet. Applying this to something like crafting in an MMO one can see that crafting should not follow a fixed set of recipes but instead provide the user with a random set of starting parameters that they can manipulate in some way to proceed to a final product. If the results of player actions are foreseeable in part but also partly random one also takes away of a single best action to take in a certain context.

Individual Player Characteristics

Randomness as described above works as a deterrent to looking things up on the internet because you can never develop a perfect recipe for success. If you do want your players to be able to find such recipes – say to find out how to make a wand that throws fireballs once and then be able to replicate that as often as they like – randomness is a problem. Now players in (MMO)RPGs (the games in which these problems are most likely to appear) are already used to characters having more or less individual statistics. Wouldn’t it be interesting if players had a set of unique statistics that influenced crafting (or whatever other experimental part of gameplay you are working on) in a significant way?

Maybe other players could teach you (read: post on the internet) the general process of crafting your wand, but you would have to modify it to work with your own set of features. Maybe you are stronger than most and that sword will need two less hits with the hammer for perfect thickness or your fire magic is slightly unpredictable and you will have to add just a little bit of air to make the fireball leave the wand in the right direction.

This method would obviously require all characters to be unique and players to not have the ability to change their characters’ attributes to match a setup they found on the internet. If you have that though, a system like this could allow interested players to experiment and fine-tune to their heart’s desire without it being more efficient to just check the optimal solution on the internet. This would actually make learning crafting recipes for example much more interesting than it is in most games these days. A good crafter wouldn’t be one that managed to get their hand on all the available recipes but one that actually has a lot of experience crafting and has adopted recipes to his or her style.

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