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How to build an eldergame April 28, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, games, games 2.0, mmorpg.

Via Raph, Richard Bartle’s IMGDC keynote on how to build an eldergame is very interesting. He notes one of the problems with many MMOGs today is that once players have leveled all the way up, many of them quit. There is essentially nothing new to do. In a packaged software business that isn’t a big deal. But in a services business (whether subscription or virtual goods) you want to keep your best players around as long as possible. Bartle’s analogy:

• When you start off in a new mmo it’s like arriving in a foreign railway station on a backpacking trip

• With classes and races, The designers have provided trains that are guaranteed to go to interesting places

–You want to shoot fireballs? Board the mage train!

• Quests are the enginesthat pull the carriages along?

• However, trains run on rails

• if you want to disembark and go elsewhere, Well, you can’t!

• The design philosophy is all about controlling the player experience

• The same philosophy is applied for newbies and oldbies alike

• It’s consistent –but players aren’t!

Oldbies (experienced players) get bored when they’ve reached the end of the trainline and they want more to do. That’s where an eldergame can help.

Bartle thinks that many of the elder game options aren’t good, including raiding:

Well, the raiding game isn’t that good…

• Like quests, raiding content is fixed

–There’s only so many times you can run naxx before it’s samey

• Once, in fact

• Other attempts at the elder game also flop

• RvR (Realm vs Realm) is never resolved

–and therefore pointless

• PvP (Player vs Player) isbetter – if you’re good at pvp

–but the results are also pointless

• They provide burst fun, but no fun overtime

He says that to keep oldbies around, you need to let them create history:

• History is the player’s retelling of interesting events

• This means there must have been some interesting events

• No history means nothing interesting happened

–Where’s the fun in that?

• Problem: “interesting” changes over time

Bartle’s suggestion to solve this problem:

• Alice worlds are newbie-unfriendly but provide the depth and freedom that oldbies crave

• Dorothy worlds are very newbie- friendly but oldbies, who don’t want their hands held, feel disenchanted

• So: start off as a dorothy world and switch to alice for the elder game

Dorothy worlds are based on players who are like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, much like newbies:

… Dorothy, upon arrival in Oz, said: “We will go to the emerald city and ask the great oz how to get back to

kansas again”

• Dorothy is wary of the new world she has arrived in

• She wants a path she can follow to get through it

• She represents the modern, game worlds like wow

Alice worlds are based on players who are like Alice in Wonderland, much like oldbies:

When alice arrived in wonderland, her first words were: “curiouser and curiouser”

• Alice finds merely being in another world interesting

• She’ll go wherever fortune and fancy may take her

• She represents the old, balanced worlds like mud1

Barlte presents Eve as an excellent example of an Alice World, and hence an excellent model for an “eldergame”:

• although “user-createdcontent” and “user-generatedcontent” are often used interachangeably, there is a difference

–User-created content is created explicitly by the actions of players

–User-generated content is content created implicitly by the actions of players

• User-generated content is emergent

•Eve’s environment is so rich that interesting things just happen

In other words, allowing oldbies to indulge in freeform play is the best form of eldergame.


1. Ted Howard - April 29, 2009

Emergent content represents risk to many in the games industry. Games run the players on rails because it creates the intended game. If the game is emergent or if the players’ actions can significantly alter the game, then there is a risk that the game becomes less fun, less engaging, or loses the original vision of the game. There are also software testing and game/economy balance risks. Many open world games constrain the user to a certain area, either with a barrier or stronger enemies, for this reason. It took a long time for physics-based gameplay to be accepted partly because it is risky. Alice gameplay and UGC are riskier than raids, increasing level caps, and more studio-created quests.
That’s not to say it’s right or wrong to see it as risk, it’s just another perspective on why things are the way they are.

2. Laurel Papworth - May 5, 2009

Absolutely brilliant and a great summation. I’m just not sure about Alice worlds as endgame to Dorothy worlds. In my experience, players are either attracted to Dorothy worlds or Alice worlds. Those that play user generated content games such as Spore, Second Life, Eve (I don’t know Eve that well) may not be the same ones that play grind-y, quest based World of Warcraft. Asking essentially passive players (those who are explorers and adventurers for example) to become Creators as endgame might just be too much of a jump.

A bit like relaxing watching TV then being made to get up and create a bunch of stuff on the computer to finish the show. We’ll do it but only if it’s appropriate and led up to in the right way.

Great ideas. lots to think about 🙂

3. Some game design considerations for a free form eldergame « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - May 21, 2009

[…] design, game mechanics, games. trackback Last month I posted about Bartle’s thoughts on how to build an eldergame, principally, to allow for free form play following the Eve […]

4. Peanut Gallery - May 27, 2009

The obvious thing to do is to make the end game of MMOs like a sports league. Sports is one of the most popular pastimes in the real world, and has never ending story lines and drama. Fantasy sports is also popular, as are online sports games on consoles.

Sports can be solo competition or it can be group, just like RvR or PvP. You can reset the terms of competition every once in a while, through the mechanisms of having seasons and declaring champions. Plus you can generate highlights for your web site to glorify the winners.

Why use war (with the risk of war fatigue) as the end game, when sports is already a real life play version of war?

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