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Having their cake and eating it too - amateur repost

Discussion in 'General RPG Discussion' started by denizsi, Nov 9, 2007.

  1. Top Hat Scholar

    Top Hat
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    First, I've been quite remiss with not thanking denizsi for saving this thread from Oblivion.

    I agree with you somewhat on this bold point. The only thing I would change is "mentality of the old-school" to "a more discerning, intelligent mentality". That's something I'd like in general. However:

    1) We first have to realize that "the old school" now represent a very small minority of the purchasing power. Also, you can make the argument that "the old school" was more intelligent in general than the average person simply because using computers required more intelligence to use than it does now.
    2) The only way to have any hope of getting anything "old school" is to make some kind of compromise in the short term, while educating the public for the long term. Think of how enhanced graphics have affected the market - there are people now who won't play old games simply because of their bad graphics. Now apply that to something less shallow, say good storytelling or more choice and consequences. It still wouldn't be great to have companies simply parrot this behavior when it's successful, but it certainly would be better than it is now.
    3) Eventually, we should be able to convince more people into wanting what we want. Then the market is ours again.

    So, basically, to get what you want, make simple compromises first and push the compromise to be more in your favor later. It is possible, you just have to think on the long term.

    1) Sure, Casuals and Completists make up a big group. An even bigger group is Casuals, Completists AND Enthusiasts, since there's at least one Enthusiast (not me, by the way). I was going to give a mathematical proof of this, so I suppose you guys can count yourself lucky. It's probably not a good marketing strategy, but you should also consider that Completists and Enthusiasts are more willing to spend their money on games than Casuals. They're also the people that Casuals are more likely to go to to ask about good games to buy, so they get some free advertising. Word of mouth is more powerful than all the advertising and hyping in the world.
    2) The thing I was trying to say somewhere in that mess of text is that they could spend the same amount of money on a shorter story with branching as a longer story with no branching. This would attract more Casuals to the game, since it would also not be too "overwhelming".
    3) Here's the thing that kind of pisses me off: it's not hard to write a good, multithreaded story. If needed, I could probably spend a couple of days and bang one out, and I'm definitely not that great a writer, but I have an unfortunately too-fertile imagination. Get a couple of people, hopefully better than me, and voilà! Better story than almost every other computer game released in recent history. That's a marketing tool - say it's next-gen interactive experience. But it seems that neither the marketing department nor the design department know how to do their jobs.

    I guess I made a bad assumption that people were competent at their jobs. What was I thinking?!

    Exactly my point! If people were decent at their jobs, they'd realize that everyone likes quality, or at least can appreciate it even if it's not to their tastes. I didn't really like the Fallout games that much (although to be fair I only played the first one for a little while after borrowing it from a friend) but I can appreciate why people love it.

    And it's good for marketing: quality products will sell, and create brand names.

    Edit: How the hell does it happen that I want to write a quick reply and it somehow ends up being long?
     
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  2. Lurkar Scholar

    Lurkar
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    On one hand, Top Hat, I love your posts and will respond to them when I'm nto bogged down with mountains of paperwork.

    On the other hand, I have to ask: how long does it take to write those beasts of yours?
     
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  3. Cassidy Arcane

    Cassidy
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    Top Hat, could you explain to me the phenomena known as "roleplaying"? I don't get how a game so popular among average casual people becomes a haven for such weird practices that can be compared to the practice of LARP. I'm not sure, but seems not the type of thing a casual person who plays when not going to the rave or party would do, neither pretending something game mechanics don't provide seem to be something for completists to practice, still from ESF it seems a quite well known and apparently popular practice. Why? Is there maybe a fourth class of gamers or does these classes interlap? I for example am both a completist and an enthusiast, though when the game isn't worth a rreplay I am just a completist, and for roguelikes I'm kind of casual as I play them sometimes only for having some fun on the textual descriptions of what happens. Same for when I played MMOs as after the first weeks, I usually stopped playing for more than 1 hour and a few times per week because I tended to get bored from its repetitive and dull gameplay, but kept logging in occasionally just to chat with a few persons around and discuss Offtopic subjects.

    Plus I still consider anything more complex/time-consuming than card games, web-based "5 minutes per day" games or racing games as best fitting as a non-casual game which will inevitably end crippled and graphix-intensive if "streamlined" for such target audience. You said about shorter histories. But even for shorter plots weaved into a bigger picture, "Readin' is teh hard!" and "I wanna kill 5tuf tis gaem sux!". I still have a sad memory that when I was a MMO player the first question n00bs asked was "Wear I kill stuff?" instead of "What is roleplaying?". Make short histories easier to catch they will complain "I wantz moar action". Make more action it won't become so story focused anymore but a dungeon romp.

    In fact I don't see how to compromise it to the point that I have only one thing to claim: if someone wants to get sales from mainstream "G4M3RZ", make another FPS instead of a supposed RPG. There will be less RPGs this way, but at least most of them won't be Oblivionites.
     
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  4. Top Hat Scholar

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    Lurkar:

    Not really long at all. I do think about them for quite a long time before I write anything.

    Cassidy:

    First of all, I'm not interested in expanding the market for role-playing games. I don't care about making them popular. I'm not redefining RPGs for the next generation. I hate Oblivion, Diablo, World of Warcraft and pretty much every other "Whoopdedoo!" game that I've ever had the misfortune to buy.

    This thread isn't about what I want, or how I perceive the best RPG to be. You see, we don't live in that time when a small group of clever people can create a game with cutting-edge flashy features as well as good roleplaying. Nowadays, computer gaming is a big money-making business. The biggest money is made by selling as many copies as possible, by trying to access the biggest market as possible.

    And, unfortunately, that market is filled up with the same retarded people that make every other aspect of life difficult. So, we get cRaPGs instead, because there's dumb people making the game, dumb people selling the game and dumb people buying the game.

    This is the reality that we have to deal with. Now, how do we get from cRaPGs back to RPGs? One method is by releasing indie games. Well, there's plenty of threads talking about these kinds of games. There are also plenty of threads complaining about how bad mainstream RPGs have gotten.

    The purpose of this thread is to see if there is any way we can get MAINSTREAM RPGs to be, if not great, at least worth picking up from the bargain bin for a playthrough.

    Now, you might be perfectly happy abandoning fuckwits to the problems that they helped create. I'm not.

    Not because I'm the fucking Mother Teresa of the RPG world. I hate stupid people. The problem is, they drag down everything good. You can't just grab it back, because there are so many of them. You have to convince them that what YOU want is in THEIR best interests. That way, they get what they think they want, but you actually get more of what you want.

    Sure, it would be nice to have less cRaPGs. But is it better to just throw the baby out with the bathwater and say "STOP MAKING FAKE RPGs!" or to change fake RPGs into real ones?

    You know, I'm sure I said some of this before.

    Second, I said this somewhere in my third post, just before I gave the definitions. I know that that post in particular is "tldr", and that it's badly formatted and apparently I accidentally deleted part of the word "different", but here it is again:
    I know what you mean: if a game is crap, I'm not going to play it again, whereas I might play a game I love quite a number of times. I personally probably fit somewhere between Completionist and Enthusiast. The problem with defining classifications for human behaviors is that it works for broad brush strokes, but not for the fine Da Vinci-esque layers that's really needed. I just wanted three groups: otherwise, my replies become even longer to write than they are now.

    Edit: Oh Christ, not again!
     
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  5. dunduks Liturgist

    dunduks
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    Sadly, these days, it's not so much about the quality, but more about the marketing and advertising. As long as a game has pretty graphix, lotsa hype and spin - it will sell. As long as a company can get good marketing support the game will sell. And now we can get to the real problem, which is not in the fact that games are simply bad- it's when you do something out of passion or just for profit. If a company makes game for profit - you get something like Oblivion, which is pretty, technicaly perfect, but soulless.

    Luckily for us, there are some companies, like CD Projekt and their Witcher, that take brave steps, do some marketing spinning and voila.
    While playing you can feel that a lot of love and soul went into this project. There are companies that make such games, be it FPS, RPG, Strategy, etc. But such companies are a minority and unless they get good marketing support, they are at a big risk of failing.
    I think the biggest problem is not in the lack of talent and passion in the industry, but the inability of talented, passionate people to find someone who could sell their ideas. Troika went under not because they lacked talent or passion, but because they lacked that salesperson and that business sense.
    So unless the current publishing system changes, it will stay the same. As it is now, the business side of gaming is in favor, not the talented one.

    Sorry, if it all sounded like incoherent rumbling.
     
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  6. Top Hat Scholar

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    Since nobody's voted yet, and I guess nobody will, I'm just going to go through them in order.
     
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  7. Top Hat Scholar

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    Musing #4, or The (Multi)media are the Message

    (By the way, does anyone else find it weird that there is a word such as multimedia when media is already a plural?)

    No doubt you've seen games derived from other "intellectual property" (ugh!). However, perhaps you're a bit like Howard Hughes (NOT the famous tycoon bit, the crazy old hypochondriac bit), and since I don't want to make any assumptions, here is a list of 20+ other media sources which have inspired computer or console games (either released or supposedly being made). Since I'm not on the Internet as I write this, I'm doing it old-school. It's not very well-ordered, but I know I'll probably write a lot so fuck it.

    Star Wars, Star Trek, Cars, 24, Lost (apparently), Heroes (also apparently), Lord of the Rings (separate for movie and books, apparently), Desperate Housewives, Nancy Drew, Barbie (if you consider toys an alternative media), Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Krondor, Friday the Thirteenth (very old C64 game I think), Nightmare on Elm Street (same), Agatha Christie, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, CSI, Law and Order, The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy, Harry Potter, The Witcher, Sherlock Holmes.

    Hell, there's even a game with Michael Jackson in it.

    Now, most of the time these games seem to be either action/platformers for consoles (the more action-y/cartoony/comic ones) or adventure games (the more literary/soapy ones) with probably the "Star"s and Lord of the Rings getting the most variety.

    You're probably thinking: So what? They can keep their stinking cash-in games! Who need their crap? Why bother making such an argument?

    This last question I posed to myself particularly after the last musing basically got a "The End is Nigh!" response from most people. Now, I'll agree that getting people to like good things AND making game companies realize this seems like a daunting, impossible task. Chances are, I'm not going to convince a lot of morons.

    However, I also think that a lot of people on the Codex are morons. That doesn't mean that I throw my hands up in the air, say "Hardly anybody reads my posts anyway!" and not do something. That's for cowards and people with common sense or some sense of self respect. Just because I think you're stupid or don't agree with you doesn't mean I should just give up. If I encourage one retard to think a bit more, then I'm happy.

    Now, to make any kind of argument, we need to focus on trying to think up answers for some questions; naturally, having some questions will be helpful. So, here they are:

    1) Why discuss this in terms of RPGs when they seem to do so well as adventures/action-platformers?
    2) How does this improve the games in terms of quality? (i.e. What's in it for us?)
    3) How does this improve the games in terms of marketability? (i.e. What's in it for them?)
    4) How do we satisfy a large market as well as a discerning market?

    I'm going to avoid "answering" these questions. Rather, I'll discuss what I think.

    Let's start by pondering (1) first. I'm guessing that there are so many action/platformers and/or adventure games made for these games because either they fit the theme (comic books are quite action-oriented by nature, books are quite linear and obviously focus on story) or they sell well or are easy to make (in comparison to RPGs and strategy games, but since we're looking at RPGs I'll ignore the strategy games conveniently).

    However, I think that the success of The Sims franchise in particular shows that people have an innate desire to act out fantasies on the computer - essentially LARPing if live-action gets replaced by computer (so computer role-playing rather than cRPGing - bloody hell this is confusing). I guess there is some of that involved with the success of Oblivion, MMORPGs and other similar games. It's probably something akin to raising a pet.

    Now often this has an innate sense of choice and consequences, which is apparently a BIG THING here. It's not quite obvious, and certainly not always implemented, but it is there. Choosing what to wear, say, or worrying about appearance is often a point of derision when it appears on other fora, but that's not because it is innately stupid BUT because it quite often has no effect on the game world where it would have in real life. The Oblivion role-playing "suggestions" get laughed at, but it shouldn't be just "lol LARPers" but it's because these choices aren't reinforced in the game world. Imagine if the appearance of your Sim/Oblivion character affected how others treated them: tweaking faces would then be more like tweaking stats and maybe more acceptable to "serious" RPGers.

    What does this have to do with the topic on franchise RPGS? What I'm trying to suggest is that RPGs could be a popular genre without necessarily diluting what makes them good. I think that there are a few people here who are more into being "counter-culture" and seem to think that by making games that a lot of people can enjoy, albeit on different levels, is a horrible creature that should be avoided whenever they can.

    One of the advantages that RPGs tend to have over adventure games and action/platformers is the fact that there's more of an open-ended feeling to them. Quite often, adventure games are just stories with some puzzles and inventory games thrown in; and action/platformers is all about jumping and running and battling baddies on a number of different levels. Sure, there might be some kind of non-linearity within a level or section of story, but the storyline, as such, is fixed in stone. RPGs, in contrast, tend to have some kind of exploratory component. A lot of things get cut from television shows and movies, simply because there is not enough time, and for at least fantasy and sci-fi literature, there are often whole worlds created which may only appear for a few pages. Wouldn't it be better to turn this extra content into something marketable, and not just as extras in a DVD collection?

    Another advantage can be seen by considering that there is quite a bit of drama on TV, in books, and in movies. Drama centers around interpersonal conflicts, according to my old English teacher, so character interaction is important. But, wait! It's ALSO important in most story-based RPGs (not so much for action RPGs, but they're popular enough so I'm ignoring them), so why not take advantage of that? In particular, ensemble-cast dramas tend to be a hell of a lot about the characters interacting in different configurations. Even in comic books there are friends and enemies, yet quite often this isn't mentioned in action games outside of who to hit and who to help.

    You've also got that generally RPGs have storylines that are generally comparable to those in adventure games, and usually far in advance of action games. But wait: complex stories make idiots' heads hurt, so it is not popular, right?

    Complex stories might seem counter-intuitive to include in popular games, but let's look at some "popular" television shows: (my use of "popular" is quite loose) Heroes, Lost and 24. Now, each of these franchises has some kind of main storyline, but there are often a number of different mini-storylines going on at the same time, following various characters that interact within the framework of the main storyline. If these shows were too complicated, then why are they popular? Also: The Bible. The biggest book phenomenon (or at least one of) in the world to date. Ever try reading that thing? There are a lot of people who aren't that clever and still understand who is related to who and who smote whom. So complexity does not necessarily imply hatred by the masses. (I know that most people don't memorize the Bible, Christian or no, but it's a complex read in any case. It's not a great example, I know.)

    Finally, adventure games have comparable stories but usually very little combat. Action games might have a lot of combat but often are story-weak. Good RPGs can be strong in both areas (although it often happens that they aren't). Although it's worth noting that there is some hybridization going on recently between action games and adventure games, but I can't think of one that's done it well: I haven't played Dreamfall, but I heard that the fighting was stupid, and Fahrenheit...Fahrenheit... what to say? Giant battles with Matrix-esque kung-fu sounds cool up until the point you're reinacting a Dance-Dance Revolution competition with your fingers.

    Well, that's probably more than I wanted to say about (1), so let's move on to discussing (2). The main reason for being interested in popular franchises from other media is the money. It's the same as for multiplatform development, but for a different reason: instead of expanding the potential market, you've already got a large market, free piggy-back advertising (mentions of the other media involved probably doesn't hurt game sales any), and probably a lot of naive relatives looking for a present. "They like XXX and computer games, right? Then they must love a XXX computer game!" I know money doesn't guarantee a good game, but if spent sensibly it certainly helps.

    Not only that, but you will be inheriting a premade game world. Although this is confining, I think that the problem with some creative people (George Lucas, I'm looking at you in particular) do better with some kind of boundaries that they can, although not break, at least push. Also, with books in particular, you've got someone creating a world that's probably a lot better at it than anyone on your staff (well, they do do it for a living after all).

    A pre-existing gameworld can also be useful because then the players can kind of "know" how things should work in the world logic, so if you've implemented it you only have to explain how to do it, rather than having to explain what it is as well.

    Also, with acted media (TV and movies), you already have voice actors. Now, I know that professional voice actors are at least as good as normal actors when it comes to voice acting, but it's better than nothing, plus they're probably contracted into doing it so you might get to save more for your own budget or something. I don't know how it works, so that's a stretch there. Yeah, I know I know! Voice acting is so "next get"! But passing up a game with good voice acting is as retarded as passing up a game because it doesn't have voice acting, all other things being equal.

    Another advantage is that the other forms of media are much more "mature" than computer games, and as such express more mature ideas more often. This suggests that this maturity could be captured by said game, making it more acceptable for risky ideas. Case in point: The Witcher. Because it's part of the world-lore, a lot of the cursing, drinking and sex might be seen as being more "in keeping with the books" and so made it easier to include than in similar games. Although this might have more to do with the market maturing, as observed by the collar-grabbing, alien-fucking Mass Effect, in general I think it might be an easier sell to publishers if it is based on something already successful. This means less worrying about real-world crap and more about making a better game. In theory.

    I kind of discussed (3) by discussing (1), but I will add one other point. RPGs are probably more complicated to develop, and so therefore are more costly. However, most people who buy this type of game tend to not really focus on the genre and rather on the franchise to which the game is tied. Selling a RPG should be as easy as selling an adventure/platformer. If it's not, it's probably more due to the fact that the marketing department is pathetic rather than the game being "too hard for the average consumer".

    Also, making games with a bit more intelligence is going to get you access to more nerd dollars. There are just as many people with over-average IQs as there are below-average IQs, so why cater to less than half of the population when marketing to the other half is probably easier for good products?

    (4) is probably the trickiest of the questions to discuss. For one thing, not only do we have Casuals, Completists and Enthusiasts in terms of RPG gaming, we have to consider that people in each group might follow the franchise to a varying degree. A Casual might just as easily be an eager follower of lost as an Enthusiast (even more so judging simply by proportion of free time spent gaming).

    I think the best thing for me to do is give a few points for consideration.

    * Include main characters, but consider just as NPCs: You *can* make a good game without having a selectable character (arguably, see PS:T, Gothic, The Witcher). And since you already have characters made, it's very tempting to just make your fighting force out of them. However, for some people a pregenerated character is a turn-off. More importantly, tying it to a particular character limits the designers' and writers' ability to tell a new story, which leads me nicely into my next point.
    * For fuck sake, don't stick to the script: You are designing a computer game. I do not want a barely-interactive novel; if I did, I would buy a book. Slavishly following the events in a movie/TV series/book doesn't add anything new and just shows you for the lazy, unimaginative turd that you are. There's a whole world out there for you to explore!
    * On the other hand, try to make as much of what happens in the franchise happen in the game: Some people get confused when their character's abilities aren't the same in-game as in-whatever-else. Probably another good reason for defining new characters as mentioned above, but even with new characters the "logic" of the game world should still fit in. If you can't include a feature, give a plausible reason why it won't work in this instance.
    * Also on the other hand, include enough references to events in the franchise: No game is an island, even if that island has a "scary" smoke monster on it. Fucking over the lore just to get some name recognition is stupid, and you're going to have some people confused, and others angrier before you can say "Cyrodiil is a swamp". You've got references, use them.
    * Don't shoehorn rulesets in: I found the ruleset in KOTOR to be hilarious. I'm not an expert, but it seemed to be just DnD with lightsabers. I'm not an expert on Star Wars lore, but I'm pretty sure that whacking alien creatures doesn't make you a better Jedi.

    Next up, I suppose I should write about MMORPGs. It's probably going to be slightly different than these last ones, but unfortunately just as verbose.

    Humorous aside: I was in the middle of reading some downloaded papers on real analysis when I decided to write this in the best RPG ever, Notepad. Due to the number of other programs I had open, the taskbar had shortened the name of the folder including these papers to "REAL ANAL". I'm not really sure what to make of it. I suppose it might be marginally better than if I had opened my functional analysis folder as well.
     
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  8. Top Hat Scholar

    Top Hat
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    This is going to be my last post in this thread, since nobody else seems to be interested in discussing this topic, and I can probably channel my efforts in a better way. I guess it serves me right for trying to discuss RPGs on the RPG Codex, but oh well.

    Musing #5, or The Scarlet Letters

    If done correctly, adding the (scarlet) letters "MMO" on to the beginning of a game can earn your company vast riches. However, it can also spectacularly fail. Or it can eke out a simple existence under the giant shadow of a 800-pound gorilla. Amusingly enough, the acronym for this gorilla can be made by flipping over the letters "MMO" and rearranging them. Game companies wanting to make the next "big thing" in MMOs have the problem of taking on one of the most (if not the most) popular game to date.

    However, serious RPGers aren't getting a lot of love from the genre. Why is this? Well, it comes down to those scarlet letters "MMO": not only do they have to deal with griefers, gold farmers, and retards shouting out near-jibberish ruining any chance of immersion, they have to deal with the fact that the game world is nothing more than a Whack-a-Mole theme park.

    So, is there a way for a company to "try something new" and access a different audience from the WoW crowd, earn enough money to get a profit AND lure RPGers into their game?

    Since I don't know that much about MMORPGs, having never really played a big one myself, I'm going to have to go on what I've heard from others. A few of the problem areas for the RPGers seem to be:

    1) Other players
    2) FedEx/Mining quests
    3) Poor storylines
    4) Almost all action being combat-centered
    5) Broken economies
    6) Level grinding
    7) High-level pointlessness

    There are probably some others, but I'll just consider these six as a start. I'm going to tie in some ideas suggesting solutions to multiple problems, so it's going to turn into a big mess. However, I'm going to use keywords so that you can search for solutions. It's a bit like a "Choose-Your-Own-Suggestion" post. Also, I'm aware that some MMORPGs might already implement some of these ideas. But I'm not going to go find out facts on every one. I've got a lot of writing to do!

    (1) I'm going to break up the problem of other players into three groups, which I believe to be the biggest barriers to furthering the "RPGness" of MMORPGs: griefers, farmers, and monkeys.

    Griefers enjoy ruining things and acting like jerks. How do you stop that kind of behavior? The problem is, unlike in single-player or multi-player RPGs, there seems to be few consequences for asshole behavior, in both a game and meta-game sense. There are three ways to "handle" this problem: ignore it (the worst of the three), punish those who do it (not really as effective as it is probably how things are handled at the moment), or use their assholiness(!) to benefit the game.

    If you want to hear more about punishment, search for PALADINS. If you want to hear more about tapping into the griefers, look up MONSTROSITY and MACHIAVELLI.

    Farmers, and others who simply play the game to make real money, are another problem for players and game studios - they tie up game resources (which can turn off real players from playing), profit off of their actions (which means that the game economy can be destroyed) and can actively prevent players from enjoying their game.

    How could these people be dealt with? One way is suggested by LABORERS, which uses some of them to the game's advantage. PALADINS is another method, but in a more punitive way.

    The final group, monkeys, are annoying because they are stupid. Having some fool spouting nonsensical gibberish can be quite distracting. I think the only way to do it is if you are only forced to see "official" comments, and have a list of other characters that you wish to hear comments from. This way, if you're sick of LARPers spouting medieval, they are already tuned out, as are any 1337/furries/emos/lullers/beggars/n00bs/whatevers that you want to avoid.

    (2) There are far too many boring quests in RPG games where you either have to act as a courier, or as a "miner" (basically, the "Collect X"-type of quests). MMOs seem to exacerbate this, since it is quite an easy type of quest to program, it can help *ahem*ruin*ahem* the game's economy, and it's simple busywork that is easy to understand.

    We can look at it as a necessary evil with LABORERS, or we can make it more appropriate by considering BIRTH or INTERNS. I don't think this type of quest can be eliminated entirely, but it's bore-factor can be reduced.

    (3) The quality of writing in most games is not that great, and MMORPGs are no exception. Also, a branching storyline with choice and consequences isn't likely to please the "ignorant masses". Can we expect there to be more dynamic storylines that don't require a lot of work?

    MONSTROSITY can add some spice with a bit of choice and consequence. BIRTH encourages players to write their own lore. PUPPETEER and MACHIAVELLI give a long-term storyline that everyone can be involved in.

    (4) Combat is what separates MMORPGs from Second Lifers. And yes, combat is fun. However, as with most games it is used as an unnecessary crutch. It would be nice to increase the array of non-combat actions in a game. But how to do it? Or, at least, give all that combat meaning?

    PUPPETEER encourages people to start using their brains as well as their skills. BIRTH and MACHIAVELLI gives some meaning to the combat that isn't just for collecting XP or killing monstars 4 phat lewt.

    (5) The biggest problem with game economies is that there are too many sources and not enough sinks. Simple things replicate massively (because everyone has to have one) to the point where they become worthless. In the real world, there are taxes, theft, disasters: in essence, consequences to life that seem not to be "fun" in a game. We can either make them fun, or think up ways to use up resources in other fun ways.

    LABORERS can help to process some low-level stuff out. MONSTROSITY+PALADINS might make intercharacter theft more fun.

    (6) MMORPGs should come with that shampoo label "Rinse and repeat." There is a lot of rat-killing to be done, and you'll most likely have to repeatedly punch the keys, for God's sake, in order to advance.

    PUPPETEER might alleviate this grinding by encouraging people to undertake a wide range of actions. MACHIAVELLI allows for an alternative form of advancement.

    (7) MMORPGs keep players hooked by adding on extra content, super swords and megaflashy magic spells. This is stupid: there are other forms of advancement that aren't being tapped into.

    PALADINS might give good players a chance at a more modest existence. INTERNS+PUPPETEER would allow high-level characters access to more of some stories. And MAHCIAVELLI should keep even high-level players on their toes.

    Here's a list of the ideas that I have. I've tried to keep two things in mind: they have to be fun for a lot of people (not just the RPG elite), but there has to be some "RPGness" about the solutions. That is, they have to advantage the game company, the average gamer and the serious gamer. I'm not going to explain these ideas completely, since there doesn't seem to be an interest, but I'll be happy to elaborate further if it is wanted.

    PALADINS:
    This idea acts as a carrot for high-level characters to advance in a different way, can keep griefers and the like busy, removes the need for some developer moderation, and can help keep the economy in check.

    Essentially, a player who hasn't misbehaved too much and has reached a sufficiently high level is allowed to join an order of "paladins", by invitation from the developers. They will lose all of their current equipment (an economy sink), although they will receive a set of the best equipment available in the game as compensation. They will receive missions: policing, moderating disagreements, guarding important NPCs, partaking on some unique quests. They'll be allowed to PvP in any area - but they will always work in small groups to keep each other honorable. Dishonorable paladins will be kicked out of their guild with nothing except some first-level gear and their skills.

    They won't have a standard inventory: everything they need will be provided to them, as members of the order. However, they will be able to return stolen goods to their owners from thieves and such.

    MONSTROSITY:
    On the other side of the coin, some people were just born to be bad. Why not give these people a chance at indulging themselves by engaging in monstrous acts? The game may offer an alternative mode that allows players the chance to play a more RTS-role by controlling monster mobs instead of another character. Also, you can allow high-level characters to be "transformed" into stronger monsters. Additionally, you can invite characters into joining gangs to terrorize the other players with robbery, kidnapping, and murder.

    Using up a character slot with a monster mob (which will grow in size rather than in power) encourages them to wander around attacking players (perhaps in a more coordinated way) creating some non-linearity in the game world, and providing quests for the other characters that will vary at least in location from one play to the next. They won't have an inventory, but that's not the point.

    "Converted" characters, depending on what they become, may lose some of their inventory, or access to some skills. In return for their sacrifices, their characters will become stronger and able to take on whole groups of other player's characters at once. In other words, give them a more FPS-y experience. They'll be able to set up lairs, and might receive special loot from the developers if they become part of a quest.

    Having gangs roaming around harassing the n00bs might not seem fair, but tied in with the PALADIN idea could provide with some interesting situations. Paladins will be much more powerful, and so gangs will have to organize their actions carefully so as not to draw attention to themselves. They will also be branded with a "scarlet letter" A floating above their heads (A for asshole, naturally!) - n00bs will not only be able to get protection, but will also be able to identify those to avoid, which you'd be able to do in the real world through Rumors (trademark Bethesda Game Studios, a division of Zenimax).

    LABORERS:

    Chinese gold farmers getting your game down? Have them work in the mines for XP and gold while the rest of the players have fun. By tying in the player-generated "content" from the other ideas, make it easier for XP/gold/etc farmers to work in appropriate in-game industries. However, by doing so, the character will be marked by a "scarlet letter", so real players will think twice about being called a "farmer" for the rest of their character's "life".

    Degrading equipment will keep them on their toes, so that they are actually providing a service to the other gamers, and with careful balancing the amount of resources in the game can be kept constant, or just growing slowly.

    BIRTH:

    Essentially, build a world and a game engine, and that's it: no lore, no towns, nothing. Allow the characters to develop the world from the ground up. The first players will have to struggle to survive against the game world's various elements. However, they will allow to found and name towns, engage in adventures that will allow their character's equipment to gain powers and become legendary artifacts that will attract others to attack them for opportunities to gain that power.

    Factions will be more like the world's nations, able to declare wars on one another, sign trade deals and other stuff. Every choice made will have a consequence for the rest of the game.

    INTERNS:
    Instead of having to write FedEx quests, have high-level characters send n00bs to go get stuff they can't be bothered harvesting themselves. In return, they can act as skill trainers (as long as their interns have enough XP to earn it, of course), as well as providing other services.

    If high-level characters are able to buy a home, the interns can guard it while their master is away, keep up his alchemy ingredient jars and so on. Basically, create quests for the high-level characters that encourages them to partition the quests to give to lower-level characters, and so on down the power chain.

    PUPPETEER:

    This is the type of quest that I would have assumed would already be a staple of MMORPGs. Create an artifact of great power, a special location or some special target or a spoiler for another upcoming story or game event. Hide hundreds of little clues around the place, disguised as unimportant-looking notes. The cleverer players might catch on, and begin hunting for these notes. Eventually, more and more people will be in on the hunt. They'll be hidden everywhere throughout the world.

    Not only does finding out what they mean become important, but there's a sense of paranoia. Some characters are going to lose out (ideally), and you don't want to be one of them, so make sure you get as many clues as possible, and go after those with more.

    MACHIAVELLI:

    Needs no explanation to anyone literate enough to have read "The Prince". Adds importance to diplomacy and conversation, encourages tactical thinking. Clever players will be rewarded by allowing them to steal "power" from a kind of conversation PvP, where players have to "argue" each other until one of them submits.

    That's it! Go home, children!

    PS: There is a great manifesto on (MMO)RPG design out there that discusses divergent storylines. It's called "Mu's Unbelievably Long and Disjointed Ramblings About RPG Design". Unfortunately, I no longer have a link. I recommend searching for it. If it's no longer available, I guess I can send you the file somehow. But it is an excellent read.
     
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