The Playground Model

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The Playground Model

MMOG developers could learn a lot from playground designers.

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Very good analogy there.

I've never touched an MMO in my life, but I can safely assume that a lot of the beginning game is tedious and dull. Kind of reminds me of FF XIII. People keep saying it gets better after 30 hours, but no way I'm going to keep around that long when all I can do in the beginning is use a wobby attack system (which almost plays itself) mixed with running through linear corridors.

I don't see how developers are getting better at fixing the problem. In old games like Fallout you can basically go to any city from the get go, almost total freedom. You don't see that a lot anymore in modern games (which will usually have invisible barriers or script sequences to unlock shit).

When playing "vanilla" WoW it was that way about grinding. No one wanted to do it because it took a long time and all the "fun" was when you got to the level cap. Since the expansions, leveling in WoW was made a lot easier. I know new people can get to cap level in 2 months if they're just roam around. Dedicated levelers can reach cap in 2-3 weeks, if that. Blizzard is looking at their old crap and they're going to mix it back into the high level game-play. It's like recycling. LoL I'm not sure how it's going to work out but I'm interested to see.

EVE online is different though. They say, "there is the playground... don't die." I wish more games were like this. You didn't have to level up in the sense of go here and kill things to get experience. You just play. Yes, I know it, "takes a long time to get the big ships in EVE" but the smaller ships are needed in PvP warfare too, don't worry. ;)

Pretty good analogy here Shamus.

The problem with majority of MMOs are that they go on the training treadmill or "grinding". As most players care about their level and makes me think that grinding feels more like a secondary job with no pay.

Questing should be part of the list as... favors?

5th Paragraph, 10th word. Replace "Beings" with "Begins"

I'll edit this post to show my thoughts on this when I'm done reading.

*done reading*
Great analogy there, and the type of gameplay I like in MMOG's would have to be Gathering, and sniping. Sniping isn't something you mentioned, so I'll give my take on it. In WoW for instance, I'd play as Rouge grind up to level 80 (thanks to private servers, this only takes me a week tops.) I'd then go around like an idiot invisible and using speed buffs to ambush anyone nearby. I'd run through Stormwind like a crack addict, and OHKO anyone I can see before the guards get me. Is it PVP? Well I am essentially killing people, but it seems different.

There difference being is that there's a rush, as all of the Alliance guys are looking for me and I'm jumping off of areas, sneaking around stuff, getting to vantage points, avoiding the Guards and pegging off as many people as I can until eventually some pallidan ass hunts me down and just shows me that he is indeed Immune to every god damn thing. (<-- I hate that.)

Is it normal PvP? No not really. Am I still killing Players? Yes. By the buckets. ( I only played WoW for 2 weeks, and it was only on private servers.)

Any who, I'm a gatherer, and a Sniper as I explained.

My biggest peeve with MMO's in general are filler quests.

I'm talking about the quests that for no apparent reason have you "go to this place, kill x amount of this enemy, come back to me." These missions feel tacked on to the overall experience. They never seem to have any main storyline reason for existing.

Even worse is when you get back from one of these missions, and the quest giver asks you to go back and kill x number more of slightly different enemies that are hanging out with the first group.

Exploration quests are equally pointless, and even more annoying to achieve sometimes. In STO, you are given missions to explore "uncharted areas" of space. These are tedious and time consuming, and bring absolutely nothing to the story. Even worse is that the game ends up forcing you to do these missions, as there are only one or two main storyline missions per level, meaning that the player is forced to take boring, time consuming exploration missions or resort to PVP. When compared to main storyline missions, neither of these are particularly effective time to experience activities.

I like your idea, but I don't know how it's feasible to institute it. You'd basically have to create a whole new game for each player demographic. DDO has the right idea with the single player/group play options, and different servers for PVP on WOW is a good start. I know WOW awards some exp/achievements for exploration, but like you said, you have to be careful when running through a higher level area or you get killed on the spot by the first wandering monster.
Crafting is another area where it's more difficult to keep separate for going up in levels. As you start crafting bigger and better things, you need bigger and better materials. To get the materials, you either need to hunt for the raw materials, which are generally on or around higher level baddies, or buy them from vendors/auction house. Since most games make it so crafting is a money sink (for reasons you pointed out yourself in Shamus Plays), you need some outside source of income to buy materials. And how do you generate that income? Quests and killing monsters. I don't know how to keep crafting game-play separate from the others without killing the games economy.
Raiding requires you to be at max level, otherwise you won't be fully equipped/powerful enough to "max" the stats necessary to best implement the strategies necessary. And again, I don't know how you could let people be at max level without having to "grind" their way up. It might be possible to let people pick a level to start at, so people could start out max level, but I have no idea what the consequences of that would be on the game. It could be disastrous, or have no effect whatsoever.
Gathering has no meaning without some form of leveling. I mean, the whole point to gathering is to have everything, even those rare, hard to find items. If anyone could get it, regardless of level/ability/strategy, then all the fun would be taken out of gathering. The ability to say "Hey look, I have Item X because I spent way too much time running this and that" is the whole draw.

"Exploring is one of my favorite activities, although as far as I know only Lord of the Rings Online formally acknowledges it as such. LOTRO has exploration deeds that you can earn for fully scouting areas of the game. " -Shamus

Guild Wars has something similar; the Explorer title. If you really want to max the title, you're in for a long walk. I like watching scenery, but having to look at almost every pixel in the area gets a little tedious, especially in forests (petrified moreso than living). How lenient is LOTRO with exploring?

Vipermagi:
"Exploring is one of my favorite activities, although as far as I know only Lord of the Rings Online formally acknowledges it as such. LOTRO has exploration deeds that you can earn for fully scouting areas of the game. " -Shamus

Guild Wars has something similar; the Explorer title. If you really want to max the title, you're in for a long walk. I like watching scenery, but having to look at almost every pixel in the area gets a little tedious, especially in forests (petrified moreso than living). How lenient is LOTRO with exploring?

Much more lenient - there are several deeds based upon visiting certain linked points of the map, like all major Elven ruins in a particular area for example. Of course, the game doesn't tell you where it is you have to go to get the deed done, but it's a long way from requiring you to visit every inch of the countryside.

mmm, have u been on world of warcraft lately? seems to me like a playground. questing is overlooked by most players, raiding and pvp are the climbing cool activities everybody goes for it. And no its no longer am obstacle linear thing, since burning crusade, and even more now, u can get end game gear and even arena points for doing nothing, allowing to bypass most of the activities to get the best prizes in game. Dunno other MMOs but I think blizzard folks thought of your idea long ago and shifted the game.
To me its a loss, I liked the sense of reward when u would finally get an end game piece of gear and would show to everybody as a proof of ur deeds. At the moment everybody easily get their ends on the best rewards and u are just one more member of the flock. That made me quit the game. SO I mind to disagree with you but I better stick with the playground scenario, as it is in real life. I dont see it by activities but rewards, u dont step into your first job as a director, and u dont get a bilionaire salary right away. I think u need to consider the rewards on your equation.
But i do like ur comparison with the playground. I never thought of that. I that case the action itself rewards the children.

dragontiers:
Raiding requires you to be at max level, otherwise you won't be fully equipped/powerful enough to "max" the stats necessary to best implement the strategies necessary. And again, I don't know how you could let people be at max level without having to "grind" their way up. It might be possible to let people pick a level to start at, so people could start out max level, but I have no idea what the consequences of that would be on the game. It could be disastrous, or have no effect whatsoever.

I have to disagree. Warhammer Online had quite a few "raid" type scenarios, though admittedly they were one shot, big arse bosses rather than full dungeons. Still needed a full warband to beat them, though, and they always dropped some purple loot!

I think overall WAR had the most things in common with the equation Shamus is talking about. They had a wide veriaty of things to do from old fashioned solo PvE, to Public Quests to grind for area reuptation, to massive PvP battlegrounds that you just simply needed to walk into and you're in the fight with as many players that care to be there, to low level raiding using those "MvP Boss" type characters that drop very satisfying loot. PvP was actually pretty balanced from my experience and varied a great deal (defend the keep, capture the objective, or just flat out raid the main city) so that even players focusing on one point could get some veriaty. The classes were very distinct, too, because they were linked to what race you picked. Usually the classes had a counter-part on the opposite faction, but no two classes were turly copies within the same faction. A cornucopia of experiences all wrapped in a neat little game.

too bad the player base is a little smaller than anyone would have hoped =(

Tharticus:
Pretty good analogy here Shamus.

The problem with majority of MMOs are that they go on the training treadmill or "grinding". As most players care about their level and makes me think that grinding feels more like a secondary job with no pay.

Questing should be part of the list as... favors?

I know that all too well.

I plan an MMO myself and I can totally understand everything in this article, and, its true.

Alot of games iwll have you grind, and grind, and grind until you reach x level where it actually dosnt matter anymore.

Problem is getting there

BioTox:
EVE online is different though. They say, "there is the playground... don't die." I wish more games were like this. You didn't have to level up in the sense of go here and kill things to get experience. You just play. Yes, I know it, "takes a long time to get the big ships in EVE" but the smaller ships are needed in PvP warfare too, don't worry. ;)

That made me laugh. Although I'd argue that EvE is closer to being thrown naked into a playground where a dozen kids have secured the facilities, carefully selling play time to the other kids, several kids are engaging in mortal combat while hanging from the monkey bars, and the handful of sad gits content to ride the springed animals get brutally lynched the moment they step away, and several competing teams of kids have seized sections of the roundabout, fighting visciously amongst each other and themselves, all the while the horrifically rich kids that control the supplies laugh and have weaker children trim their toenails.

Damn, I want to play again now.

Hmm...MMOG's like playgrounds... I guess that makes sense, but I've often thought that the grind serves a purpose to heighten the sense of accomplishment for when you DO get to the end game stuff. However, I will agree with one thing, I stopped playing World of Warcraft somewhere around level 74 in the Wrath of the Lich King because I got tired of all the repetitive grinding quests. Eh, I don't know, I had just been questing in Outland, so maybe going from space to a forest is what made the quests intolerable again. The quests in Runescape, however, do present a better way to do things. The good quests are lengthy, hand-crafted, and have much better rewards than those of World of Warcraft. I think it would be a step in the right direction to have more of those types of quests. Also, the playground analogy got me thinking: doesn't Free Realms do something like that? I hear it's basically a bunch of minigames spread over a big MMOG overworld, but it seems to be making an impact of some note. Have we any Free Realms players about? Perhaps you could detail how well their set up works.

On to your question, however, when I play MMOG's I tend towards things like solo play, exploring, crafting and gathering. The key element of my play style is that I take things slowly. Sure, raiding sounds like it could be fun, but I can't understand how someone would want to get up to the level cap as quickly as possible to do it. To me that really defeats the purpose of the "Massive" part of MMOG's. I mean, the designers spent their time making a huge, epic world, and you just want to get through it as quickly as possible? Ah, suum cuique, I should say. But really, the best part of MMOG's to me is the whole "huge epic world" thing, and I take my time to enjoy it.

That is a pretty good question.

Favourite MMO Parts:
- Interactive Storyline
- Cool world to explore and stuff to do
- Stat based character progression and growth (basically, levelling up and getting new gear/abilities)
- Meaningful RP (MxO was great for this. Your created character could evolve to have a place in the actual game storyline, and the game was open enough to encourage non story RP too. LOTRO is poor for this. Everyone's a good guy, the story is set in stone, good RP supporting social areas are few)

Least Favourite MMO Parts:
- PvP (not so much the activity, but I dislike much of the attitudes that come along with it.. and I dislike PvP even more if it has no purpose)
- Crafting (once you are done boosting your crafting level and can actually make stuff it's great.. but the process to get there is often torture. (Once again, MxO did crafting near perfectly as crafting level was a general skill you just spent money to improve so it essentially levelled as you did without you having to do anything special. The real goal in crafting was simply collecting the recipes to make all of the cool stuff you wanted to make)

All told, I think it's fair to say that I enjoy MMOs that provide me a cool world that I can explore and participate in. I generally don't like things that make me sit there and do nothing while I could be actually playing the game (like crafting) and I don't like things that too obviously scream out "this is a videogame!" (like PvP often does).

This is just from my experience with Shin Megami Tensei Imagine, as I haven't dared touch an MMO since Diablo which I felt was about as much fun as eating shards of glass, so bear with me...

What bothers me the most about MMOs are the general lack of storyline associated with a lot of them, though I believe it's usually the free ones who suffer most. I got into SMT Imagine because the story intrigued me and I wanted to see more, and the gameplay was interesting with it's slight similarity to Pokemon what with catching/raising demons to use as partners.

However, that's not where it ends. At least with SMT:I, you next have Aeria Points which is the company's "currency" which can be used with any of their online games that you have to buy with _real money_ and that is a concept which infuriates me to this day. Why? Because more often than not the things you buy require a LOT of money. A single sword or piece of gear might cost over $30 USD, which could have been spent on any number of other things for a better use. The AP is nonrefundable so good luck getting rid of those few points you'll never spend cause nothing is that cheap.

Next is the PvP, and the way it totally unbalances the game. Most of the major PvPers are at or near the current level cap and so anyone going in for a good time (I abhor PvP so I refuse to touch it after my initial experience) will find themselves overwhelmed and outmatched. Not unlike starting up Team Fortress 2 and getting massacred by people who have unlocked all the Achievement related gear which prevents you from doing the same. I stayed with that all of 1 day before I uninstalled it and was very disappointed cause it was kinda fun at first.

But one of the real problems and this is something hard to blame on any one source... it's the community, and how they're eager to rip off players, lie to them, offend them, and whatever else. They introduced custom titles so you instantly started seeing sexual and pedophilia based titles like "Daughter Dominator" and "Did Her Good", and for whatever reason there is next to no behavioral repercussions for people who do this or other such things. You can report whatever you like and no one seems to give a damn.

So yeah, do I think SMT:I is a fun game? Yes, I do, it's got a lot going for it. However it also suffers from some serious design flaws. Unused Skill Classes which clutter up the Expertise Menu, very unbalanced gameplay between PvP and PvE, a reliance on AP buying (as the NPC gear is hopelessly worthless by the later levels/areas), and negligence on both the community and the staff.

Sadly, from what a lot of people have told me of other games like WoW and such, it isn't really a whole lot different. Maybe not always the same issues, but enough issues to turn away someone who has been playing games for almost 30 years and thought they'd have figured out some of this crap by now...

Question: What gameplay drives you to play an MMOG? What parts do you dislike or avoid?

Exploration is easily my most favorite thing about an MMO. The world is just so big, and I love venturing into new areas and seeing what they have to offer. What sucks is that most of the time I'm not at the right level.

But a friend who stopped playing WoW gave me his level 75 account and pretty much let me explore until it was stopped due to him not paying anymore.

But in that one month I explored all I could. And I loved it.

What I hate most in any MMO is DROP RATES!

For the love of all that's holy, why do developers think I want to waste an hour of my life killing the same damn boars over, and over, and over again until the Pristine Cleft Hoof of Doom finally drops?

I think this type of game play only appeals to people who have a 'gambling' mentality. For them, the tension/expectation that the next drop might be "The One" is exciting.

For me, it's pure torture.

Leslee

Insightful stuff as always, but I believe that you mean "the game begins at 80", on the first page. I may be mistaken.

You forgot one aspect in your otherwise well crafted metaphor. The roleplayers.

Those are the kids not on any of the equipment playing games of pretend with each other.

People may say "LOL newbs, why'd you come to the playground if you aren't gonna play on the equipment"

To which they reply, "We don't need it to have fun"

For me it's raiding. I did it for 4 years straight and i still would if my real life would allow.
You see, i love multiplayer experiences but i can't stand competitive play (probably cause i suck at it) so all the shiny shooters aut therer are not for me.
This is where raiding apears. It's essentially nothing but a mass co-op mode. But that's what makes it awesome. You have to rely on 9, 24, 39 others to make things work and this can be oh so frustrating at times...but when it works...it feels oh so good ;o)

What do I want/like in MMORPGs? That I, as a player, am contributing to a story and also have the option once the story in complete to challenge myself with other things and not dick around for 2-3 days grinding levels or crafting 3 billion health potions so I can take on some giant boss thing for a little bit more arbitrary experience points.

I like the idea. A bit like EVE, but then with EVE you need a good few years before you can make a meaningful contribution to a group excursion or to actually make progress from the majority of the non-combat tasks.

Keeping everything equally enjoyable and useful in a gameplay sense would be the challenge - for instance, if I want to be a full-time crafter, there needs to be the mechanics and market to support that, as well as mechanisms to prevent the insane inflation that an ageing MMO population can bring to player run markets.

Mine is probably somewhere between Explorer and PvPer. I like to sneak out and explore places I shouldn't be... and pick off easy targets while I'm there (not ganking, more like herb gatherers, miners or people just not paying attention to their surroundings) :)

I've only played a few games that allowed for any of these flaws in the generic MMO system. One was the original Ultima Online, another was Dark age of Camelot, EVE was pretty good about this too and the last one was Darkfall. Funny how I never gave Darkfall credit until after I stopped playing it and moved on. There you had a level-less character structure, open PvP & full loot system, and the ability to use any skill anytime.

The flaw, I guess, was the grind. How to get past that grind....?

I was eating a fortune cookie while reading this and the fortune read, "The love of your life is right in front of your eyes". I looked right in front of me and it was the picture of Shamus on the first page...

MMORPG's suffer from an interesting case of schizophrenia. They try to cover all the major bases of gameplay that don't always mix well. For instance, the leveling system combined with player verses player combat is inherently unbalanced, which is why games like WoW implimented systems such as the battlegrounds and arenas that even the playing field in terms of level. But then you have the gear aspect, where you may have several players all of the same character level but drastically different power levels based on their equipment. In this simple three-sided example you'll have avid pvp-ers with very different opinions on how well it works. This player might hate that you have to be a certain level to compete in the event, where another will hate that he/she must spend time getting throttled in order to earn the gear to give him/her a fighting chance. And then you'll have those who believe level and gear should not be a factor in competitive play, only player skill should influence the result. You take away the levels and gear and you leave everyone with no reward system for their time and effort. And thus the conundrum continues.
You aren't going to please everybody, which is precisely what an MMORPG tries to do. I must say I've never played an MMO that wasn't also an RPG, but it seems to me the genre itself is somewhat limited. Not flawed, just limited. Jack of all gaming types, master of none.
As for myself, I enjoy bringing a character from low levels and power to high. I enjoy questing and I am one of those crazies that actually read the quest texts most of the time. However, I also enjoy head to head competition, as long as I have the time to hone my skills.

Depends, really. If i know a healthy amount of people in the game who are helpful and everything, and i have a character already at their level, then it's group play definitely but i usually solo, but i want it to feel like there are a healthy amount of people in the game not like," heres a mmo, but all the people seem to have left this area, but your stuck here so enjoy it.After someone may come through eventually you can friend then never see again."

When I was looking to get Aion before it came out I ignored my friend telling me it was a Korean grinder. I said the game looked good and the combat seemed fun so I would give it a go. I had a lot of fun up until level 30. Then I hit the "fun cap", the point where not grinding was really not a choice. I started grinding hoping I would be able to run an instance soon or knock out some pvp. After about 24 hours worth of grinding the SAME mobs straight I quit the game outright. Now NCSoft may have wanted people to spend more time playing the game up until the level cap but in effect it made me quit the game. Well that and the gold sellers who they ignored and let run rampant. I think since NCSoft is a korean country they didn't care about the gold sellers because they were letting their cousins makes some money.

I'm not a fan of the leveling up system. It seems that grinding is integral to it if it doesn't give out exp like sweets (which defeats the point of having exp). I'm very much a solo quester/explorer, so I'm fairly unusual as a player of MMOGs...

MMOG's (WOW in my case) for me are mostly about the exploration. In wow there are a abundance of ships and old ruins that are fun to look at, and usually there are treasure chests in them. Also, having other people around is helpful at times. PVP, raiding and group quest are the reasons I don't play MMOG,s anymore. Oblivion is better anyway. On oblivion I can kill all the idiots if I feel like it. On WOW I can't when they are on my team.

I have become an achievement whore. I love getting achievements in WoW. Despite what is said, WoW does reward you with stuff for exploring. If done at the appropriate level it rewards you with decent xp. Complete exploration gives you achievements and a tabard.

Fun holiday quests are a bonus as well. While some are annoying and try to get you to pvp despite all your objections, others take you to places you've never been before. Dire Maul was all the rage back in the day, but now you really have no reason to go other than finding the elder. Most of the Outland dungeons are like this too. With the new group matching system you are ABLE to actually get into these dungeons at the appropriate level again, but you don't really have to.

Compared to games where all you CAN do is grind (FFXI), WoW gives you MANY options to level your character. The fact that most of your xp comes from quests rather than grinding mobs really counts for something. More dedicated PVP characters can spend their entire level range playing in battlegrounds for xp.

Most of the activities give achievements as well. I take pride in all my achievements, and avoiding all the actual pvp achievements (VoA is a raid in a pvp zone, not an actual pvp achievement). If I was in a playground I would probably be on the slide.

Being a Guild Wars fan here (only MMOG I've played for a decent amount of time), I find that the grind is somewhat lessened. That end game stuff doesn't take long to get to when the level cap is 20. I s'pose the grind itself comes from getting all the right gear, skills and loot for yourself and your heroes. But even then, with weapons having a ceiling as far as attributes are concerned, it's all good.

Although the linear nature of it would probably turn some people off who want to access something that's only available after going through so many "campaign" missions...

I'm wondering what a good alternative to what MMOs do now would look like.

We have levels and gear. Would it be better if it was just gear? It would mean top-tier players could make a new character and just buy adequate gear for them. On the one hand that would be really convenient but on the other it would remove some of the satisfaction you get from actually playing the game.

But then we have grinding. Me, I actually like a good grind. I don't define grinding as the part of the game that keeps me from doing what I really want but rather part of the game wherein I zero in on improving my character in a specific way. However, a greater variety of things to do level-by-level would be much appreciated. In WoW you're stuck soloing until level 60, if not later, the way the game is currently structured. Nobody runs the old world instances while they're at the proper level for them.

What if they increased the spread of the content? What if they made it possible to turn off XP gain at any point so that level of play would determine the complexity of the game? Levels 1-10 would be your tutorial and level 20 would basically be easy mode with lots of story dungeons and even some 10man raids. Talents and gear could act differently at different levels so as to streamline the gameplay and keep things balanced.

This makes me curious what Blizzard will do with Cataclysm as I know they're going to redesign the whole world from the ground up. Considering how much the game improved in the year I was away I imagine they'll come up with a few pleasant surprises in the new expansion.

To answer your question, Shamus, I guess I would also call myself an explorer. The first time I ever played WoW, I made a Night Elf, watched the little intro, looked around for a few seconds and then immediately turned and headed straight out of the starting area. I saw the quest giver. I realized he had something important to say to me, but I wanted to look around first. I made it all the way to Darnassus and back, exploring as much of Teldrassil as my level one status would allow before finally returning actually picking up the quest. The first time I LEFT Teldrassil, the crowning moment of the game, when I hopped onto the Hyppogriff and watched that giant tree fade into the distance, only then did I actually realize what a huge world WoW actually was.

During my time playing WoW I never once met the level cap. Not ever. I'm such a sucker for immersion that any time I found a new area I'd explore it top to bottom. I would fully read any quest giver's text to the chagrin of any impatient player I was currently grouped with. I saw my character as a CHARACTER, with a personality and feelings, not just an avatar to represent my online equivalent. Of course, I had joined a PvP server at the encouragement of my younger brother (who first introduced me to the game), so these things were mostly kept to myself and my sketch pads. I never even set foot in on an RP server until I had long ago lost interest in the game, and the subtle lack of any substantial role play among the populous did little to re spark my enthusiasm.

I am fascinated at what a "playground" MMO might offer.

The gathering in pre-Burning Crusade WoW made it so that crafting was fun and easy. If you didn't want to go out and get it yourself, you could almost always find it for mildly-reasonable rates on the Auction House, (your milage may vary by server/faction.) Then they screwed it up, so I moved on to Guild Wars.

In both games, I enjoyed Solo Play, a little Grouping, and just enough Exploring so that not all the sewer-holes looked the same. I generally avoided Raiding, mostly because my build was personal taste and not necessarily optimized, and I loathed PVP.

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