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MMP Game Design Challenges and Their Solutions Matthew Ford, Auran Games Australian GDC, Dec 2004.

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Presentation on theme: "MMP Game Design Challenges and Their Solutions Matthew Ford, Auran Games Australian GDC, Dec 2004."— Presentation transcript:

1 MMP Game Design Challenges and Their Solutions Matthew Ford, Auran Games Australian GDC, Dec 2004

2 Purpose Describe classic MMP design challenges Signs Effects Present solutions Used by released MMPs Mistaken solutions Some speculation, not much though Discuss

3 Me Not from around here Amateur game making Programming, card games, board games Atari in California Lead game designer, producer  multiplayer arcade Accolade in California Lead game designer, producer  multiplayer PC Microsoft Games Studios in Redmond 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

4 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…

5 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”

6 Areas Social Advancement Player Opinion Economy Game Balance/Tuning Crafting Usability / New Players PvP Conclusion

7 Social Level gap Queuing Over/undercrowding Grouping vs. solo PvP consent Newbie Welcome Wagon

8 Advancement Level gap Choice regret Macroing The Grind

9 Player Opinion Over/undercrowding Queuing Nerfing Choice regret Grouping vs. solo Macroing The Grind

10 Economy Cash inflation Balance loot vs. quest items Balance crafting vs. loot Craft yourself out of a job

11 Game Balance/Tuning Cash inflation Balance loot vs. quest items Balance crafting vs. loot Nerfing Tuning inflation Runaway exploits

12 Crafting Balance crafting vs. loot Craft yourself out of a job

13 Usability / New players Feature breadth vs. approachability Tutorial Newbie Welcome Wagon

14 PvP PvP rating abuse PvP consent

15 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

16 Level gap solution chart

17 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

18 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

19 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

20 Queuing Symptoms Players waiting in place for a spawn Effects Immersion breaker: heroes in line Rude behavior  service calls Boredom

21 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

22 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

23 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

24 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

25 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

26 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

27 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

28 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

29 Craft-out solutions Wear-out Crafted items wear out fast Rising tide Constant stream of better recipes Beware tuning inflation

30 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

31 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

32 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

33 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

34 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

35 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, ?)

36 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

37 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)

38 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

39 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

40 Grouping vs. Solo Symptoms Players complain they can’t solo Players leave because they have few friends Effects Retention Tuning uncertainty

41 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

42 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

43 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

44 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

45 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

46 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

47 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?

48 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

49 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

50 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

51 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)

52 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

53 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

54 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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