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Asheron's Call 2 - The Australian Game Developers Conference

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					MMP Game Design Challenges
and Their Solutions

Matthew Ford, Auran Games
Australian GDC, Dec 2004
Purpose
  Describe classic MMP design challenges
     Signs
     Effects
  Present solutions
     Used by released MMPs
     Mistaken solutions
     Some speculation, not much though
  Discuss
Me
 Not from around here
 Amateur game making
     Programming, card games, board games
 Atari in California 1993-1995
     Lead game designer, producermultiplayer arcade
 Accolade in California 1995-1998
     Lead game designer, producermultiplayer PC
 Microsoft Games Studios in Redmond 1998-2004
     Lead Program Manager for Asheron’s Call MMORPGs
     Advising on Xbox online games and other PC MMPs
     Lead action-game designer for Citizen Zero at Micro Forte, Sydney
     Short stint as game designer for Mythica
 Auran Games in Brisbane now
     ProducerPC MMORPG
MMP Game Design Challenges
 Bias towards MMORPGs
 A good MMP game design is not just about solving
 problems
     Nor slamming successful games
 However similar challenges come up in most MMPs
 Like any craft, we learn (aka steal) from each other’s
 effort and advance the craft
 Don’t have too much pride to use others’ ideas: we
 are working collectively
 Game logic trumps reality or story consistency
 Let’s get on with it…
Note for readers
  Click following Area hyperlinks in slide show
  mode to see particular areas and solutions
  To go back to previously viewed slide (like
  browser Back navigation):
     Right click slidepick Last Viewed
     Or use mouse button mapped to “Back” for web
      browser (often the mouse’s most prominent side
      button)
  Finish with Area hyperlink “Conclusion”
Areas
  Social
  Advancement
  Player Opinion
  Economy
  Game Balance/Tuning
  Crafting
  Usability / New Players
  PvP
  Conclusion
Social
  Level gap
  Queuing
  Over/undercrowding
  Grouping vs. solo
  PvP consent
  Newbie Welcome Wagon
Advancement
 Level gap
 Choice regret
 Macroing
 The Grind
Player Opinion
  Over/undercrowding
  Queuing
  Nerfing
  Choice regret
  Grouping vs. solo
  Macroing
  The Grind
Economy
 Cash inflation
 Balance loot vs. quest items
 Balance crafting vs. loot
 Craft yourself out of a job
Game Balance/Tuning
  Cash inflation
  Balance loot vs. quest items
  Balance crafting vs. loot
  Nerfing
  Tuning inflation
  Runaway exploits
Crafting
  Balance crafting vs. loot
  Craft yourself out of a job
Usability / New players
  Feature breadth vs. approachability
  Tutorial
  Newbie Welcome Wagon
PvP
 PvP rating abuse
 PvP consent
Level gap
  Symptoms
     Friends who don’t play same amount drift apart
      and can’t play together any more
     Acquaintances drift apart before friendships
      formed
  Effects
     Limits audience to those with regular schedules or
      who play max amount of time
     Increases class imbalance sensitivity
     Advancement obsession can get too strong
                  Level gap classic solution:

      Level gap solution chart
              increasing time, decreasing power

1.6

1.4

1.2

 1

0.8

0.6

0.4

0.2

 0
      Level

                         Power     Time to lvl
Level gap solutions
  Sidekicking (CoH)
     Allow lowbies to team up with highbies and get a temporary
      power boost
  Horizontal not vertical growth
     Grow in versatility not power (PS)
  Persistent XP sharing
     Like a hunting group but permanent
  Twink-Aid
     Allow highbies to sacrifice group XP to lowbies
     Fun to be highbie: reward extremely efficient play (FFXI)
     Highbie trophy incentive
Over/undercrowding
  Symptoms
     At launch, newbie areas too crowded
     After first rush, newbie areas too dead
     Popular high-level hunt spots mobbed
  Effect
     Overcrowdingfrustration, rudeness,
      childishness
     Undercrowdinggame not sticky
Over/undercrowding solutions
  Instances
     Area in game world replicates multiple copies to match
      crowd
  Spawn rate sensitivity
  Work to get to prime spot, force exit
     Timed quest effect teleports you
     Forced back to town for selling, healing
  Accept newbie overcrowding
     Spawn rate sensitivity essential here
  High-level, encourage grouping through dynamics not
  proximity
Queuing
 Symptoms
     Players waiting in place for a spawn
 Effects
     Immersion breaker: heroes in line
     Rude behaviorservice calls
     Boredom
Queuing solutions
  Rapid spawns
     Beware incentive for non-questers to keep killing:
      have only reward be quest
  One party one kill
     Whole party needs to kill it just once
  Unpredictable placement
     Must wander and get lucky
  Earn your way in
     Must get rare drop to enter destination area
Cash inflation
  Symptom
     Average cash holding per character rises
  Effect
     Inflationary pricestuning out of whack
     New world tuning vs. old world tuning
     Haves, have nots
Cash inflation solutions
  Cash sinks
     Items
        Beware upward cycle of items which increase earning power
        Status items avoid this cycle
        Convenience items good but time=money
     Taxation
        About as popular as real world equivalent
     Transfer friction
        Limit inventory and charge transaction costs to store more
     Cash not the be-all and and-all
        Trophy economy: All about rare-drop items, cash incidental
        Items have advancement requirements so cash ceiling hit
  Speculation: self adjustment
        Holy grail that AFAIK has not been successfully attained in a
         big game
Balance loot and quest items
  Symptoms
     Quest stuff is so good that you won’t find
      its match while hunting
  Effects
     Quests become “must do”
     Hunting boredom, item incentive gone
     Advancement jumps: qualify for
      questjump in power from quest item
Quest/loot balance solutions
  Quest items good in a way different from loot
  items
     Quest items better in specialized situations, loot
      better in general
     Can encourage questing chains
  Quest items add status and boost to loot item
     Ex. Purple fire, black dye (AC)
  Quest rewards not in items but unlock other
  content
Balance crafting and loot
  Symptoms
     Crafted stuff is so good, why bother
      hunting for loot, or
     Hunted loot is go good, why bother getting
      crafted
  Effects
     Crafting becomes required, or crafting
      ignored
Craft/loot balance solutions
  Hunt for raw materials for crafting
     Loot drops of materials are like “items in waiting”
  Crafted items good in a way different from
  loot items
     Crafted items better in specialized situations, loot
      better in general
  Planned obsolescence
     Crafted items wear out fast, loot items as fallback
     Also keeps crafters in business
Craft yourself out of a job
  Symptoms
     Crafted items fill the market after which
      demand for them decreases
  Effects
     Players unhappy that craft skills needed
      less
Craft-out solutions
  Wear-out
     Crafted items wear out fast
  Rising tide
     Constant stream of better recipes
     Beware tuning inflation
Nerfing
  Symptoms
     Game out of tunedecrease power of
      items or skillsunhappy players
  Effects
     Player frustration
     Pops the bubble of constant advancement
     Tuning hypersensitivity
     Constant tuning flux
Nerfing solutions
  Bold beta tuning
      Nerfing in beta is painful but saves many times the pain later
  Friendly facts
      Expose players to clear hard stats proving what was overpowered
  Raise not nerf
      Make low-powered things better, not high-powered things worse
      But beware tuning inflation
  Obsess less
      Demand for perfect tuning often a symptom of a game that’s not
       very fun to play and level gap problems
      Designers can develop unhealthy obsession… be imperfect
  Allow respec
      Let those obsessed with the perfect class change their class
      Beware reduction of replay
Tuning inflation
  Symptoms
     As items and abilities become generally
      more powerful, challenge goes down
     Mobs that were perfect for given level
      become too easy
  Effects
     Tuning work creates more tuning
      workburns time
     Game loses fun quietly
Tuning inflation solutions
  Balance nerfing and powering up
     Beware nerfing effects
  Logging and mining
     Plan for good data logging and mining
     Monitor it regularly
     Plan ahead of time the action for any
      discovery you make
Choice regret
  Symptoms
     Players wail and gnash teeth when they realize
      they made a dumb, permanent, irreversible choice
  Effects
     Increased demand to fix what they chose
     Player despair at being “gimped”
     Distrust of future choices
     Gimping can increase level gap
     Pariah class
Choice regret solutions
  Let them eat rerolls
     Some say let players rerollmore replay
     Can have small reroll incentives to fast-forward over newbie
      content
  Respec
     Let players reverse decisions (AC2, DAoC)
     Can cost advancement or rare item/quest
  Delay the choice until informed
     For example, no character stats or develop them later
     Delay choice of spec class (DAoC)
  Try before you buy
     Allow players to test out a choice before locking it in (PS, ?)
Feature breadth vs.
approachability
  More choices and data = more fun for
  gearheads = more daunting for casuals
  Symptoms
     Design battles and tradeoffs
     Require tutorial, then fight over pace
  Effects
     Gearheads think game too simple, or
     Casuals think game too daunting
Feature breadth solutions
  Pick an audience and deal
  Elegance: emergent breadth
  Unlocking complexity
     Basic GUI simple, can “unlock” complex
      version (WoW chat, mods)
  Layer by layer complexity
     As you advance, add new features
      (Ragnarok)
  Tutorial (if done right)
Tutorial
  Symptoms
     Players bored by tutorial
     Players show ignorance later of things taught
     Quit during tutorial (log this)
  Effects
     Bad first impression
     Ignorancefailed appreciation for your genius
Tutorial solutions
  Allow skipping?
      People misestimate their need for a tutorial
      Can allow skips after previous success
  Call to action and story: invisible tutorial
      Grab player by giving them important goals (Halo, CoH, EQ2)
  Praise achievement
  Must demonstrate knowledge to advance
      Allows fast progress by those who know (if not much tedium)
      Must restate how to succeed if they are stuck
  Use multiple channels
      Some key off of audio, some visuals, some patterns, some text:
       use them all
Grouping vs. Solo
  Symptoms
   Players complain they can’t solo
   Players leave because they have few
    friends
  Effects
   Retention
   Tuning uncertainty
Grouping/Solo solutions
  Decide on your mix
     Explicitly discuss your goals for solo vs. group play
     Decide how it changes during advancement
  Game dynamics
  Some classes solo oriented
  XP bonus in group
  Make grouping painless
     Looking-for-group and –friend features, default
     Easy teleport to group leader
  Items that fill in missing role
     Can cost about as much as a share of the loot that missing
      group member would get
PvP rating abuse
  Symptoms
   Players consensually kill each other to
    gain rewards
   Players defect from fight from fear of
    rating loss
  Effects
     Real fighters resent wannabes who
      cheat their way up
PvP rating abuse solutions
  Zero-sum system
     One party gains as much as other loses
     Where do points come from?
        New players, who must advance a certain amount to get a pool
         of losable points
     What about newbie ganking?
        Chess-like rating system accounts for level
  Lower rewards for rekills (PS)
  Prevent defection
     Vulnerability before teleport/logout
     Debuff runners
  Punish defectors
     Defectors treated as losers, no matter what the excuse
PvP consent
  Symptoms
     Too consensual: jerks have no fear, lose
      sense of paranoia
     Not consensual enough: preying upon the
      weak just for fun
  Effects
     Lowbies scared off
     Highbies pursue boring play
PvP consent solutions
  Two layers: consensual and non-
  consensual
     Non-consensual costs the aggressor dearly
      but it can still feel worthwhile (Lineage)
     Allows some paranoia and jerk punishment
      but checks rampant ganking
  In lowbie areas prohibit highbie first
  strike
Macroing
 Symptoms
     Players use macros to gain while not at
      keyboard
 Effects
     Rapid advancement from 24-hour play
     Robots are antisocialgame more
      antisocial
     Players feel their advancement cheapened
     Players resent lack of action by developer
Macroing solutions
  In some cases, see as design request
     People may be macroing what is too boring or click-tastic
  No advancement for things which are that easy? But:
     Some players are less skilled than good bots
     Gimpy players get stuck
     Bot skillz can amaze you
  War on Drugs strategy: forbid it and push it
  underground
     Macroers must go where less likely to be seen and reported
     Does not solve it but makes “respectable” players less
      agitated
  Speculation: “Macros welcome” server?
The Grind
 Symptoms
     Players complain about time it takes to
      advance (but they always will to some
      degree)
     You can’t stand to play your own game
 Effects
     Audience limited
     Players may leave
     You can’t relate to your players
Grind solutions
  Accept it
     Some day it’s the lifeblood of a good game, and it’s like the
      weather…
  Multiple advancement axes
     Trade one grind for another sometimes
  Careful enticements
     Slot-machine / pokies strategies of rewards of various
      rarities
  Tons of content
     If the reason for the grind is to prevent rapid content burn,
      spend millions on heaps of content
     Expansion pack earnings can justify spending even more on
      content
Newbie welcome wagon
 Symptoms
     New players feel lost and unconnected with
      only other newbies to comfort them
        And many of those may be busy rerolls
 Effects
     Conversion rate suffers
     Early content rushed through
Newbie welcome solutions
 Highbies want what newbies got
     “One person one vote” systems such as
      allegiances (AC) give highbies a reason to
      help newbies
 Quests with multiple layers
     Highbies need newbies to do their part in a
      quest stage with upper level limit
 Mentoring requirements
     Require mentoring to advance (SWG)
Runaway exploits
 Symptoms
     Players use exploit and advance rapidly
     Gold rush as exploit news spreads
 Effects
     Players top out of content fasterretention loss
     Players who missed out resent it, and get hit with
      level gap
     Often can’t reverse material exploits because it
      has propagated
Runaway exploit solutions
  Advancement cap
     Any one gain only certain % of your level (DAoC)
        Build at low level
     Speculation: You can only gain so much in a given time
      window
  War on Drugs strategy: forbid it and push it
  underground
     Exploiters want to pipe down and do it quietly
     Does not solve it but makes “respectable” players less
      agitated
  Public punishment for exploiters, reward for reporters
  Paper towels: tune game to match advancement
     Have-nots hurt along with haves
     Different servers may have different spreads of exploit
Conclusion
  Design is not just solving problems
  What’s fun, not what’s clever
  Shared craft: “borrow” solutions freely
  Filter signal from noise
  Sympathize with player

				
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