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How to build an eldergame April 28, 2009

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

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.

Crowdsourcing missions for MMOGs April 21, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, games, games 2.0, gaming, mmorpg, user generated content.
3 comments

Really interesting post at Kotaku about City of Heroes experience with crowdsourcing story arcs.

In a letter to the community posted on the official City of Heroes website, Matt “Positron” Miller revealed that within the first 24 hours of the new updates’ existence, players in both hero and villain factions had created more than 3800 story arcs, each consisting of five missions a piece – more content than the development team had created during the game’s entire existence.

Players have been busy trying out missions and critiquing them in the forums as well. Out of the more that 20,000 arcs now available in game, 2,860 of them have been rated 5-stars by players, with only 582 rated at 1-star. Popular themes include the 5th Column, featured in 794 arcs; the super-heroic Statesman, starring in 134; and time travel, which is the subject of 112 arcs.

As an indication of volume, this is more story arcs that have been created by the game developers in five years!

One popular element was creating custom opponents notes the City of Heroes blog

70% of the arcs that are published use Custom Enemy groups. These are enemies created using our fantastic costume editor, coupled with a large sampling of the powersets that the game already uses. These unique enemies have proven to be extremely popular and sparked new life into the game. Players absolutely love fighting custom enemies for the simple fact that they no longer know what to expect. One of the biggest problems with MMOs is you eventually learn what all the critters you are fighting do, and the game can get pretty rote. Developers make new critters, but there can be months before you get new ones. Now players have the opportunity to be constantly making new enemies with new, interesting capabilities that can challenge and vex themselves and their friends, any time they want.:

I don’t play City Of Heroes, so I don’t know how directly applicable this idea is to web based social games. However, any of the social games currently available have very similar structures (e.g. the “wars” genre) which can get old over time. Perhaps this approach of crowdsourcing missions might add some interesting eldergame elements to these games.

Erik Bethke on game balance in free to play games March 28, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, game mechanics, games, games 2.0, virtual goods.
1 comment so far

Interesting quote from Massively‘s GDC coverage about how to design for Real Money Trading:

Bethke imparts some advice on how the common mistakes can be fixed in terms of balancing. You can charge for things that are defensive in nature and the less skilled players with more money can buy them, while offensive items remain free of charge. The more skillful, more time-rich players won’t resent the advantages the other type of players has, as it won’t really stop them from doing what they want. Some companies have buyback programs for overpowered items, but this can set a bad precedent.

Lots of other interesting perspectives came from the panel – worth reading the whole thing.

Tips on designing layouts for games and virtual worlds March 23, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, game mechanics, mmorpg, virtual worlds.
1 comment so far

Raph Koster has some useful tips on laying out maps; some of these are probably not too different from urban design planning best practices in the real world. I’m repeating them here (aggregating and paraphrasing some of his points)

1. Always make sure users can tell which way to go.

Starting a newbie at a dead end and giving them only one way to go is a classic way to deal with early confusion. Large landmarks that can be seen from a distance can serve a similar purpose.

2. Don’t use invisible barriers. (Form should give an indication of function)

3. Mazes suck.

4. Make zones that have a sense of place

– Create characteristic qualities to a linked zone so that it is easy to recognize that these areas are related to each other
– Enclose these zones
– Create “gates” between places that visually convey a transition from one place to another

…moving from one pocket to another should feel dramatic: a tight passage revealing a wide vista, coming over the crest of a mountain and revealing a valley, discovering a door behind a waterfall, a big bold gate with guards. You want to signal that the user is entering a space with its own framework and rules. There are a lot of visual cues that are used, but most of them carry some sense of “gate” to them, even if it is as simple as a path that winds between two hills: a passage between two tall things.

– Build in modules. Connections to neighboring zones should be few and obvious.
– Have a defining activity.

ure, every city has to have the same amenities, and every zone must have monsters. But get creative. This wilderness zone has the pool you can swim in that is perfect for picnics. This other one has the great layout for ranged combat. This inn has the trivia game; that one has the chess board. Users will self-select into the spaces which feel culturally comfortable to them.

5. Watch where people want to walk, and put roads (and important places) along the well worn paths.

6. Social spaces point inwards. Keep the center empty to avoid a “ring” instead of a “plaza”

7. Adventure spaces point outwards.

In general, if you are exploring you want a horizon (or more than one) to head towards. Where social spaces create a sense of security, adventure spaces should create a sense of uncertainty and the unknown to prompt users to keep going.It isn’t about endless vistas; it’s about interest.

8. All this is fractal. Apply the same rules at each level of map layout.

As always, read the whole thing.

Applying game design principles to the real world – new Honda Insight February 20, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, game mechanics.
9 comments

Popular Science has an interesting article about the new Honda Insight and some of the ways that it helps drivers drive in a more fuel efficient manner. Two of the techniques show a very strong game design influence:

Achievements:

Kudos For Being Green
The Insight’s Eco Guide makes sensible driving as entertaining as playing a videogame. Starting with empty graphical “stalks” shown on the multi-information display, efficient drivers can earn “leaves” that fill out the five branches. Over the car’s lifetime, a thrifty pilot can accumulate a second tier of leaves, then a flower on each branch. When a driver grows all five plants, the screen displays a trophy.

Achievements for good driving

Achievements for good driving

Real Time Visual Feedback:

One of two driver-feedback systems on the Insight, Eco Assist displays a glowing arc above the digital speedometer. The arc’s color varies from blue (wasteful) to blue-green (somewhat efficient) to green (efficient), depending on how a driver accelerates or decelerates. A separate screen near the tachometer displays twin bar graphs that show drivers how their starting and stopping habits affect fuel consumption.

visual feedback

visual feedback

Interesting stuff!

Game design tips from top game designers February 2, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, game mechanics, games.
1 comment so far

Two good recent posts give some useful game design tips.

Raph Koster talks about ways to make your virtual space more social, including specific design suggestions to prompt downtime and an opportunity for players to interact with one another.

Soren Johnson gives some success and failure examples for balancing an in-game economy.

Both are worth reading

Why do people buy virtual goods? January 13, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in digital goods, game design, game mechanics, virtual goods, virtual worlds.
13 comments

I recently read a paper by Vili Lehdonvirta about what drives the purchase of virtual goods. I’ve suggested three use cases for virtual goods before:

1. Attention in a noisy environment (usually digital gifts)
2. Self Expression
3. Increased Functionality

and later proposed a fourth use case, convenience.

Vili proposes a different taxonomy:

Purely “utilitarian” or use-value0based attributes can be divided into two categories: performance (simple numerical advantage) and functionality (new abilities and options). Virtual goods also have attributes capable of generating emotional or hedonic responses, particularly their visual appearance and sound, but also any background fiction or narrative associateion with them. Hedonic attributes are difficult to distinguish emperically from the conceptually different social attributes, which refer to attributes that make virtual items suitable for creating and communicating social distinctions and bonds. Such attributes are provenance, customisability, cultural references and the “branding” of an item with a known commercial brand. Rarity is perhaps the most socially oriented attribute of virtual goods, because its value is strongly associated with its ability to distinguish a (small) group of owner from non-owners

In the paper he gives examples of each of his classes of virtual goods. He also summarizes some previous research on digital goods. In particular, he notes advice from Oh and Ryu to game designers based on research on Kart Rider and Special Force:

– Balance between items that can be purchased with real money and items that must be earned through gameplay, and build synergies between the two categories
– Allow players to keep “ornamental” items permanently, but make “functional” items consumable
– In the case of items that ive the player a performance advantage, do not disclose the exact numbers;provide approximate descriptive texts instead
– Introduce items linked to specific events and communities (e.g. Christmas decorations and guild emblems).

It’s useful to read the whole paper (around 15 pages)

Applying game design to building apps (and games!) October 28, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, game mechanics, product management, usability.
2 comments

Dan Cook has posted the slides of his recent talk, “The Rescuing Princess Application“:

My talk was on building an application that rescued princesses. The goal was to give interaction designers some insight into how game design might be applied to the domain of more utilitarian applications.

The notes fields are heavily annotated with more details about each visual. For those of you who attended, this deck also includes a third section on game design patterns that I didn’t have time to cover in the time allotted.

This is a terrific presentation for product managers and designers, as well as for people building web games. Read it – it will take you about 10 minutes

Also, check out Dan’s list of recommended reading:

Dan’s blog
Chemistry of Game Design
What activities can be turned into games?
A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster
Shufflebrain: Putting the Fun in Functional

Dan particularly recommends the Shufflebrain presentation. The Shufflebrain team recently launched Photograb*, their first game of their own, that applies many of their principles of game design. Check it out on Facebook.

* Lightspeed provided the seed round of financing for Shufflebrain.

IMVU founder’s framework for digital goods: three key questions October 20, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in digital goods, game design, game mechanics, games, games 2.0, mmorpg, virtual goods, virtual worlds.
2 comments

Eric Reis, one of the co-founders of IMVU, posted last week on the three key decisions you have to make when thinking about virtual goods business models:

UGC or First Party content?

First Party – more control, but higher costs and harder to anticipate what users will want

UGC – Massive breadth of content, but have to put systems in place to deal with adult content and copyrighted content

Subscription or a la Carte payments?

Subscriptions – Greater game balance between rich and less rich players, lower fraud rates

A La Carte – Easier to monetize players without credit cards (e.g. teens)

Merchandising or Gameplay?

Gameplay – Virtual goods are functional, part of the core game mechanics, and confer benefit in the game. Demand is driven by game mechanics alone, and requires a delicate balance to ensure that players with money do not always beat players with time, skill and passion.

Merchandising – Virtual goods are not just functional, but also associated with self expression or attention in a noisy environment (see my previous post on the three use cases for virtual goods). This creates potential for greater demand for virtual goods, but requires the creation of a marketing and merchandising capability in the company.

Reis believes this framework can be used to describe any virtual goods business:

You can use these three questions to analyze existing businesses. For example, IMVU is a user-generated, a la carte, merchandising product. Habbo is first-party, a la carte, merchandising. Mob Wars is first-party, a la carte, gameplay. WoW is first-party, subscription, gameplay.

Read the whole thing.

Social games need endgames September 22, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in endgame, game design, games, games 2.0, gaming, mmorpg, social games, social gaming.
6 comments

At AGDC last week Bioware’s Damion Schubert spoke about end-game design in MMOs. Massively notes:

Endgame gameplay, elder gameplay, is a mandatory and compelling part of the genre’s equation. In fact, in Damion’s opinion complex elder gameplay exemplifies what makes the massive genre what it is…

In reality, says Schubert, MMOs are generally really easy to play. Comparing the learning curve of an MMO to a single-player game is ludicrous; MMOs are like ‘popping bubble-wrap’ in comparison. This is because of the challenge of tuning leveling to every class and every build. The result is an experience that’s fairly mundane. The real challenge, the ‘worthy experience’ is the endgame encounter.

While endgame may seem like a strange or meaningless thing, it’s actually really important for every player. Even low level players are aware of powerful guilds and raid progression. Damion references the cutscene that happens when Kael is killed and a quest is turned in; this feels, truly, as though the world is advancing and changing. That’s vital for a vibrant community.

The most thing about elder gameplay is that is one of the few things that is actually massive. Massive gameplay is the one thing that this genre of games has to offer.

IGN reports that Schubert considers there to be two forms of endgame, PvP and PvE:

In order to pull players through the sometimes dull leveling process, Schubert says it’s necessary to give an indication of what’s going on at higher levels. In games where the endgame revolves around player versus player territorial control combat, for instance, a good game will let players view a territorial control map. On World War II Online’s site, for instance, the main page prominently displays the line of contest between the two sides and which side, the Axis or the Allies, are pushing forward. It’s, in effect, an advertisement for the dynamic, high level activity that most new players might not necessarily be aware of.

He went on to talk specifically about the advantages and drawbacks of territorial control PvP and PvE raiding. For territorial control, you need a few basics. You need affiliated teams, either pre-set (World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online) or more freeform. You also need a physical location within the game world that players can fight over. Once that’s established, you need to consider the logistics of battle, like far do players need to run to rejoin the battle after death and how long the battles will last. Schubert says that having some way to actually schedule fights is a solid notion, but you should also have a way to specify when that fight will end. Whatever the structure of the PvP conflict, Schubert says it’s a concept that needs to be slowly introduced to players early on, like with the territorial map, to give a player an idea of what the strongest in the game world are up to…

[PvE] Raid encounters are another major form of endgame content, and center around the idea of players working as a team to essentially solve a puzzle. Raid encounters center on boss fights. The draw, naturally, is the loot, but Schubert says there’s also the draw of solving the puzzle of the boss’ attack patterns. Bosses can have a number of different attack routines, from predictable patterns to randomized attacks to the summoning of minions. These types of actions work to engage players in a number of ways. It requires those in the raid to coordinate their positions and movement on the field of battle, manage their health, and also generates different sub-types of player classes outside of the standard tank, healer, and damage dealers.

Gamasutra notes some specific observations about PvP endgames:

“If your endgame is PVP, you need to think about how PVP is introduced to characters at the low levels,” Schubert cautions. “If players decide along the way to the endgame that they don’t like your PVP, they will decide the endgame is not for them.” Argues that you should protect players more at the lower level, so they have a positive PVP experience.

“People don’t pay money to suck. People do not want to pay $15 a month to be the Washington Generals.” This is something he learned when making Shadowbane – “the winners now had lots of resources and the city could thrive, and the losers had nothing. So what happened is eventually the losers stopped logging on, and the winners eventually had nothing to fight.”

“We had one server where one guild was so in control, that they banned a player class so they’d have somebody to fight,” said Schubert. Players woke up in the morning and found that they were “wanted.”

The solution, he says, is to be able to hit a button, in the game (so to speak) to indicate that one group of players have won, and that they can begin again.

Many of the social games on Facebook and on the web today don’t have any endgame at all. The gameplay more or less stays the same no matter how long you play Texas Hold’em, Owned, Lil Green Patch or Bowling Buddies, to name just a few. This is going to create a challenge for long term retention. Even for free to play games, it is your hard core users who pay you the most money. So it will also create a challenge for long term monetization.

The good news for web based games is that there is no need to develop an endgame at launch. You can afford to wait until you have a critical mass of users before developing an endgame as there is no need to solve this problem until you have “elder players”. And since you are a web based game, you can switch on an endgame at any time without having to worry about updating a client.

Often times, endgame play will emerge organically from the users. For example, Fluff Friends endgame play has become more focused on creating elaborate fluff art. Friends For Sale endgame play has become about collecting “sets” of people and other quest like achievements, often challenges set up the players themselves. These social games have developed endgames that are neither PvP nor PvE, but are instead more social in nature.

While it is great when endgame emerges on its own, social game designers can be more proactive in developing endgames to keep their best players engaged, and give their new players something to aspire to.