Well, it's now been over half-a-year since I started in on what I
consider to be five of the top engineering problems for Multiplayer
Computer Roleplaying Games (MCRPGs). For those of you who have been
here the whole time, kudos and congratulations for hanging in. For
those of you more recently arrived, now that the whole mini-series is
done, you might want to head back to Thinking Virtually #31
and read the whole thing through.
This time around I just want to take a quick skim through all five
problems and summarize what I believe are the best solutions to each.
None of them are really complete solutions, because these are
hard problems, but if you're a MCRPG engineer, they should at
least get you started.
Problem #1: The Fun Factor
Thinking Virtually #33-37
My first engineering problem asked the question: how do you
create a game people will enjoy? Much of the answer is, "produce
a good game," and "resolve all these engineering problems I've been
discussing." Some of the more specific solutions offered both by
myself and by other authors include:
- Set Your Players' Expectations Correctly - People going
into a game expecting something other than what you deliver can be a
huge problem to a gamemaster or administrator.
- Offer Rewards Well - This one, not surprisingly, turned
out to be controversial, but if you offer rewards on specific,
repeatable schedules your players will end up enjoying themselves
- Make Sure You Have Fun Players - Grief players can be the
sole largest problem in any online game; don't be afraid to dump them.
- Balance Art and Entertainment - A game that is solely
"artistic" might be no fun, but a game that's solely "entertaining"
might have no longevity or pull.
Problem #2: The Realism Rathole
Thinking Virtually #38-40
In January I talked about realism, and how it centered around the
question: how do you balance a game that's realistic with one
that's enjoyable? In my opinion the whole question of realism is
really a dodge, not truly understood by a lot of folks who are, at
heart, playing in fantasy games. However, I and others did
offer suggestions on how to make a game more realistic--by some
- Maintain a Moderate Level of Realism. Making a game either
too realistic or too unrealistic can ruin your hard-won Fun Factor.
- Make Your Game Consistent. This is what most people
actually mean by realism; don't change your rules halfway through.
- Engineer for the Realism of Your Genre. Different genres
will have different "rules" about what actually is realistic;
figure out those for the genre of your game and try and stick to them.
- Don't Appear Realistic Unless You Are. You're just
borrowing trouble if you stick realistic looking objects, physics, or
whatever into your game if you haven't done a good job of researching
them and figuring out how they really work.
- Be Aware of Different Levels of Reality. At a minimum your
game has two levels of reality--the physical one of your players and
the virtual one of their characters. Be aware of these different
levels, and only cross between them purposefully.
Problem #3: The Competition Conundrum
Thinking Virtually #41-45
By the very nature of their multiplayer existence, MCRPGs innately
have problems with competition, and how players relate to each other.
Succinctly: how do you support competition without angering
players? A lot of this question has to do with PvP or PK play,
but a number of suggestions can bring new light to the whole issue:
- Don't Make Competition Required. Many, perhaps most,
people will not want to be forced into competition, so move it
slightly off screen and make it optional.
- Competition Can Be a Darned Good Thing. However, both
conflict and villains can add a lot to a game, so don't write them
- Figure Out Ways to Offer Some Balance to Unequal
Competition. This mainly drops down to the basic rule: have real
consequences in your virtual world.
- Be Aware That There Are Many Types of Competition. It's not
just players hitting players, but also economic, statistical or
mental competition, for a variety of stakes.
- Keep Grief Players Out. A lot of the competition problems
are actually due to grief players; again: get rid of them.
Problem #4: The Balance Bother
Thinking Virtually #46-49
Balance is an even bigger problem in MCRPGs than traditional
tabletop RPGs because they're much more solidly about making your
characters better. In short: how do you balance different players
in a fair way? There are a number of answers:
- Look At How Popular "Classes" Are. Ultimately, more
players will be drawn to the classes that are poorly balanced.
- Nerf When You Need To. You will have to nerf (or
power-down) classes sometimes. Be aware of this fact and don't shirk
your duty because people complain.
- Make Classes Interdependent. If only class A can do
critical function #1 and only class B can do critical function #2,
they are implicitly balanced.
- Be Aware of Other Types of Balance. Class v. class is the
big one, but you also need to balance monsters v. characters,
different groups or clans, and a variety of other possibilities. It
can be a never-ending battle.
Problem #5: The Dynamic Dilemma
Thinking Virtually #51-54
In recent weeks I've finished off with the last engineering
problem: how do you keep a perpetual game fresh and new? I
offered two main ideas:
- Improve Item Recreation. Build in randomness or use simulations.
- Allow Player Item Creation. Allow players structured or
freeform ways to expand the game world themselves.
Finally, last week Sam Witt suggested that you can allow for
innate dynamism by making either games or characters finite, allowing
for turnover and thus clear changes.
That's All ...
And that, finally, is engineering in a nut shell.
I hope you've enjoyed this last, 25-week trek, as well as the
Thinking Virtually series overall. If you'd like to go back
and remind yourself of the highlights I suggest the Topical
Index I maintain over at Skotos.
And with all that said, and this latest mini-series under my belt,
I think I'm at a stopping point. I continue writing Trials, Triumphs &
Trivialities over at Skotos, but in the last couple of many I've
decided that two weekly game design columns is about one and a half
too much. So, I've decided to put Thinking Virtually on hiatus for
now, until I have time to resurrect in it some form, possibly early
In the meantime, feel free to join me over at Skotos where I write a new game
design column every week, for posting on Thursdays. They're a little
less oriented toward RPGs than the ones here, but there's still some
darned useful and applicable stuff. In particularly, I think lots of
folks here might be interested in the series I'm currently writing on
mythology. There are three parts to date, with another four or so
coming out starting on the 23rd.
With all that said, I'll see you around here, as time allows.
Thanks for reading!