Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thought of the Day: RPGs are Character Driven

All RPGs, by nature, are character driven stories – where YOU are the central character (or team of characters). As the story unfolds, your character evolves. At a minimum, this is the addition of new equipment and inventory to aid you in your adventure. And typically, it also includes some other type character advancement – usually in the form of new levels, skills or attributes like health.

MMORPG are no different in this respect. The character is the defining trait of a Role Playing Game. The core of a game lies not in it’s virtual world, but in the character each player controls.

MMOs add complexity by having multiple players and a persistent virtual world, but the core of the game – to progress the story of your avatar – remains the same as it does in single player RPGs. This is true even in “sandbox” games where there is no defined progression path.

And yet...

In some ways, character progression is the great weakness of MMORPGs. From a PvP standpoint, it lends itself to inequality. More advanced players are better by virtue of having played longer rather than having more ability or skill at playing the game.

From a PvE standpoint, what do you do once you have finished progressing the character as far as possible?

This problem is distinctly different than what we see in other games. For example, in chess or a sports game like Football, progress is isolated to just that game. Once any game is over, we reset the pieces and begin a new game. Persistent progress doesn’t exist, so there is no inequality and the "end" is welcomed and accepted as the finish until we start the next game.

The whole concept of the “end-game” is really just a way of describing what game gets played once you have reached a peak in character progression. The “end” in an MMORPG is a bad thing.

That’s one thing I always liked about Scenarios and Battlegrounds. They were some isolated games that have an “end” that could be played repetitively. In my mind, that’s not a horrible thing. It’s the implementation to make these games a grind through a reward system that cause problems.

In many ways, it’s too bad we need the reward to play these games. And I have come to the conclusion that we do NEED the reward. It’s become somehow tied to that character progression and without it, we’ve all been trained to think we’ve reached the end of our mousetrap.

4 comments:

Stabs said...

In Eve your personal goals are unlikely to be "max out my character". Character progression is about where it should be - an interesting aspect of the game but not the game.

In SWTOR it is quite possible that the aim will be "finish the storyline". They've stated that they want people to roll alts and start new storylines after a playthrough.

For guild leaders the guild is your game. You want to progress the guild more than your individual character.

I would like to one day be a Fleet Commander in Eve one day partly because one player described it fleet commanding as the best RTS out there.

I think there's plenty of fun to be found that doesn't depend upon progressing your character.

sid67 said...

Oh for sure, there are modes of play that have nothing to do with progressing your character.

Sadly, I just think that most people quickly run out of motivation to play these modes when they aren't tied to character progression.

Either players find some other motivation to play or they quit.

tim said...

"This problem is distinctly different than what we see in other games. For example, in chess or a sports game like Football, progress is isolated to just that game. Once any game is over, we reset the pieces and begin a new game."

Play Guild Wars. This problem doesn't exist in that game.

You're assuming that the MMO in question relies on linear or vertical character progression. In DDO, WoW, Aion, WAR, and other similar style MMOs, you will be better than me simply because you are a higher level.

Now instead, make everyone stop progressing linearly very early on and force them to get creative (GW: Only 8 skills at a time), explore the world to expand their battle assets (GW: Acquiring more skills), or think critically about how to defeat an enemy, rather than assuming they need to grind more to become more powerful (GW: The whole damn game) and you have an incredible experience that lasts for years!

And I'm just talking about PvE. After that it genuinely becomes like a chess or football game. You do not become "better" each battle, but have off days, good days, average days, etc. Soem days your guild will dominate Guild Battles. The next you lose to a guild 500 rankings below you. Why? Their tactics trumped yours. You weren't properly prepared. You made one wrong decision. Your team didn't coordinate well. It could be a million things or it could be just one. But once it's over, you congratulate the other team and maybe go for a rematch.

I know you're probably getting tired of me suggesting you play GW lately, but I can't ignore it given the topics you've been discussing recently.

Scott said...

In some ways, character progression is the great weakness of MMORPGs. From a PvP standpoint, it lends itself to inequality.

I knew if I was patient enough, we'd eventually find something we think alike on! :D

I doubt anyone will ever convince me that RPG's and PvP mix well, at least not when gear and stats matter. (That takes GW out of the equation, whew!)

Aside from living in a selfish "me! me! me!" generation, look how these games reward us. Vertical advancement so our numbers (level, health, mana, etc.) are always gaining. Fight a monster and you see giant damage numbers flying around like candy. Kill him and you see giant XP numbers. Perhaps that kill or quest leveled you so now you get the giant leveling up text and explosive swirly graphical effects.

The basic DIKU model teaches that UP is the way to go, and teaches that from the first moment you load a new character into the game world. Kill something, get XP, get LOOT, watch your numbers go UP.

Then suddenly you discover that in the typical massively multiplayer game (ie. using the DIKU model) you are PENALIZED for playing with others (ie. grouping) when your XP is reduced. So we say "wait, I'm supposed to be going UP as quickly as possible, and this is slowing me down. Why bother?" Whereas in actual multiplayer (sans the massively bit) I can't think of a single circumstance where your experience isn't heightened by playing with others.

Possibly relating to your recent post on altruism, even group-friendly players often end up looking at the group situation with a rather "what can you do for ME?" attitude, making sure their character gets something for the player's time and effort.