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Role Playing (Games) Entertainment Games

The Future of Persistent Worlds In MMOs 302

Zonk did an interesting interview with Ed Stark and Dave Williams, employees for an MMO developer named Red 5 (and experienced tabletop game designers). They talk about their ideas and plans to bring about the next step in MMO gaming: increased persistence in online worlds, where an objective, once completed, stays completed. Williams said, "Right now for most of these games, when the player saves the princess and he starts walking away from the tower — if he looks back he's going to see the princess at the top of the tower again." Regarding their current work, he continues: "If you save the village, it stays saved — you saved it! But maybe now that village becomes an objective for another player; maybe something has to be done now because that village wasn't destroyed. And so on, and so on, and so on. Building those mechanisms to make it a world that reacts to a player's actions instead of existing in a static state. That's the world we're talking about."
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The Future of Persistent Worlds In MMOs

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  • People (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PakProtector ( 115173 ) <> on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:26AM (#24718873) Journal

    Such things would require a prohibitively high number of actual persons playing NPCs, and the amount of coordination between them would make this extremely buggy.

  • Not that anyone is under the illusion that actual Role Playing was ever strong in MMOs, but the fact that the world is mostly static really has always killed it for me. There's never any tension that the armies will fall, towns will be taken over, or some epic thing will happen. Even in the upcoming WotLK, surely the Lich King himself will be defeated time and time again (with no worries to the storyline) by several groups of players. How could a bard sing a song about great conquests done if everyone has done the same thing, and nothing ever changes?
  • Re:People (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:34AM (#24718933)

    Such things would require a prohibitively high number of actual persons playing NPCs, and the amount of coordination between them would make this extremely buggy.

    This is the common excuse for why the game worlds are not more realistic and more interactive. Not being all that smart myself I fall into a management style perspective on this issue.

    What if the AI was sufficient and robust enough that the issues of people and buggy were solved? This would clearly be a superior way of doing things, however, as any current MMO designer ( read there blogs, start here ) that "fun" of a game is not contained in world persistence ( according to them ). I disagree and think that properly done, it is the next generation.

  • Too real (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:45AM (#24719031) Homepage
    Don't get me wrong, I've been playing video games since Nintendo Power was giving away Dragon Warrior I for free with the purchase of an anual subscription to the magizine, but games seem to be mimicking real life a little too closely.

    I played games because they were simple and allowed me to get away from the difficulty of the real world. I liked it because if I did something wrong I could just try again without the conssequences & I could do the same things over and over again because I liked doing them.

    The direction games seem to be heading, I might as well just do these things in real life.
  • by OverlordQ ( 264228 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:50AM (#24719053) Journal

    I can only imagine what will happen if 10000 casual gamers sign on and see all the collection and simple rescue quests are done and what remains is an epic battle requiring 300 players to complete (LFG 299 PST).

    And you missed the point entirely, once "Drive the orcs from the town" was done, it'd be replaced with something like "Help farmer bob from newly rescued town rebuild ...." Or like: "Collect $foo $bar for $baz" gets replaced with "Help $quux steal $foo $bar from $baz"

    Once the quest is done it's not gone forever, the entire point of the story is that there will always be quests, but not the exact same things.

  • by MikkoApo ( 854304 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:54AM (#24719091)
    In single player games persistency is generally easy to implement. Most games are based on linear plots, where the gamer can't go backwards. If they can visit the places they've somehow changed, it's also pretty straightforward to save the state of things. No problems in that area.

    In multi-user games it isn't so simple anymore. Since most game content (plot, tasks, quests, NPCs etc) is still generated by humans, there's a limit to the content that a single game can contain. If one player completes all the content in the game, what's left for other players? The quests must be somehow reverted back to their initial state. Like in the example, the princess has to be returned back the castle so another player can save her. The easiest way to implement this is by reseting the state after a while. Handling the reset gracefully is the difficult part.

    In the example's princess case, graceful reseting might be that the evil king kidnaps the princess again, maybe with the help of a player representing the "other side". Designing quests like this takes more time and resources than the naive "reset after a while"-approach, but maybe we'll start seeing games that behave more naturally.

  • Re:People (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bloodhound Alpha ( 1335331 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:54AM (#24719095) Journal
    Been done, and it can work. However, players might not always be the best to be trusted with plot and such.
  • by pcolaman ( 1208838 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @12:08PM (#24719169)
    Unfortunately, having resets leads to boring and uninspired gameplay over the long run. What would be a much better idea, IMO, is to have a story arc, but the only issue with that is the game has to end at some point or you get to the point where you are so weary of grinding towards a goal that seems to keep just out of reach (I'll call this the Gilligan's Island Paradox) that finally you just give up and quit. With something that had a story arc where the players actually effect the story, it would require a finality in order to be truly entertaining, and then perhaps sequel stories could keep the game going.
  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @12:26PM (#24719297) Journal

    And, indeed, you don't even have to have an equal number of "bad" players. You can run it like "America's Army" and assign people goals and sides based on need.

    "Steal $foo from $bar for $baz" looks awfully similar to "get $foo back from $baz for $bar."

    Similarly "Defend the town from Brigands" vs. "Rescue the town from brigands."

  • by Lazy Jones ( 8403 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @12:37PM (#24719373) Homepage Journal
    EVE has basically no PVE content worth speaking of. The missions are boring mini-games and certainly don't make the player feel like a hero. All the persistent (but changeable) content is player-generated/-owned and while it does make the game interesting, it's not an achievement because anyone could choose to do that in an MMO (just throw buildable content at players and let them sort it out). It's basically a bigger / more complex WoW outdoor PVP map - you take a flag and it stays yours until the enemy takes it. It would be nothing without the player personalities and interactions.
  • USE the computer. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Saturday August 23, 2008 @12:47PM (#24719447)

    Who says that EVERYONE has to appear the same to EVERYONE else?

    Your quest (team Z) is to kill 5 orcs in village A then 10 orcs in village B then 20 orcs in village C.

    The other players (team Y) have a quest to save village A from invading orcs. etc.

    So team Z appear as orcs to team Y and team Y appear as orcs to team Z.

    The same with the inhabitants of the villages.

    There, cyclic quest problem AND AI problem solved all at once.

    And the orcs have decent treasure on them for once.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @01:43PM (#24719805)

    Persistence is not exactly a new idea, even in MMORPGs. Here are a couple examples from WoW:

    - Opening the gates of Ahn'Qiraj: A whole bunch of people on an entire server work together to unlock a massive dungeon, and then work together to defeat the massive invasion that spews forth. This happens once - once it's done, it's done forever.

    - Halaa: Players from the two factions battle for control of a neutral town. Once you take control of it for your faction, it belongs to your faction until the opposing faction regains control.

    But... this is a small portion of the content, and active players just don't clamor for more. Why? Because they don't want more.

    Stuff like Ahn'Qiraj is really cool... for the people doing it while it is being done. But for every event made like this, you have to give up a ton of content that could be done by anyone any time (after all, developers can only do so much). In the end, people like a few epic one-time events and a ton of stuff they can do whenever they want. Racing other players for server firsts is a little too stressful to be fun for most people.

    Stuff like Halaa is fun... if you like PVP. And a lot of people do like PVP, so games like WoW have a great deal of PVP content in them. But even more people like PVE, and they wouldn't touch Halaa with a ten-foot pole.

    In the end, the vast majority of players would rather have to use their imagination (pretend their quest solved a problem forever) than sacrifice quests / content they can do leisurely on their own time without worrying about other players. Obviously some people feel differently, but this is why we have different genres of games. And make no mistake - the MMORPG genre is really very distinct from the classical RPG genre.

  • by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @01:43PM (#24719807) Journal
    Part of why Puzzle Pirates is able to do that is the way very ordinary pirating tasks are made interesting. In Puzzle Pirates you have to engage in the driving activity of the game (completing puzzles) to make your ship more or to reload you cannons or repair your hull or to make rum or to make a sword, etc, etc, etc. By contrast, in Sid Miere's Pirates! you click to make you ship sail or fire or repair. So for a more standard MMO than Puzzle Pirates how do you make mundane things like building a city wall or forging a sword or converting an enemy town into a friendly town, into an interesting gameplay task? Do it right and many players might happily become non-heroes like masons or farmers or blacksmiths, never bothering to attack an enemy town. Now the next challenge in that game would be to keep the percentage of non-hero players high enough and to make them a very valued part of each faction. I think one key to that is minimizing the power difference between low and high levels. A half a dozen level three players, acting together should be able to take down a single player at the level cap. A group of non-heros should be able to chase off any griefer. Combine that ability with skills that make non-heros valuable to the heros and a game should have no shortage of "player NPCs"
  • by Alarindris ( 1253418 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @02:28PM (#24720127)
    Perhaps players could also give out quests?

    Say a player needs a bunch of X cloth to make a new robe. The player could grind it out himself, buy it, or set up a quest from a template for another player to do it.

    (kill, get) X (monsters, items, npc) for X (gold, items).

    (I just woke up, my imagination coprocessor is still booting up.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @02:53PM (#24720349)

    You talk as if there are two teams and not a thousand. The are huge design challenges in "balancing" that many competing objectives and perspectives.

  • Re:People (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @03:01PM (#24720421)

    Not being all that smart myself I fall into a management style perspective on this issue.

    Unfortunately this is a common problem with managers. They think they have these creative ideas, but everyone else already had them, and the engineers were smart enough to realize the idea simply wouldn't work at the time, and simply didn't bother to mention the idea to anyone. Managers think only in terms of schedule and budget. Having no skills themselves, they are incapable of thinknig of terms such as realistic goals and technical capabilities.

    A persistent world would mean that once you rescued the princess from the tower, there would need to be another unique quest to replace it. Not only that, but with thousands of online players, you would need a numerous amount of concurrent and unique quests such that not everyone is working to rescue the one princess. EVERY single quest completed would then require a new unique quest to replace it. Working in real time to write/program/debug these quests would require an army of programmers probably 5 times the size of the user base for the game itself.

    What if the AI was sufficient and robust enough that the issues of people and buggy were solved?

    You skipped-over 100% of the effort with this simple statement. The question isn't "Why aren't game developers using magic universe-replicating AI?". The question is "When is someone going to invent magic universe-replicating AI?". The issue isn't game design, it's that fact that no such AI exists that could duplicate the real world in a human way (i.e. why did someone kidnap the princess, why was she in kept in a tower, etc...). If you create the AI, I gaurantee the next generation of games will use it. If you simply state that someone should create the Ai, well DUH!

  • Re:People (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WuphonsReach ( 684551 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @03:36PM (#24720705)
    Such things would require a prohibitively high number of actual persons playing NPCs, and the amount of coordination between them would make this extremely buggy.

    The bigger issue is the "Internet Fuckwad Theory []".

    Which basically means that you WILL have players who figure out how to ruin events and storylines for other people. That's why a lot of quests are persistent, and ever un-changing.
  • by shdowhawk ( 940841 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @03:54PM (#24720905)

    As a person playing RPG's for 18+ years.. and MMO's for about 12+ years, I can confidently say that this would fail. It's nice on paper, but would fail badly if set into motion when 20,000+ people are playing. Here is an example:

    1. World of Warcraft. Horde vs Alliance. Alliance in some servers when i last played was almost 2 to 1. With double the alliance, the alliance would get bored because there would be a line to "destroy the town" (or insert any other 2 sided quest here) because it would take so long for a Horde group to finish all of the stuff to "rebuild" it.

    2. Give the Horde (one specific side) better equipment? Let me re-introduce to you the bane of all MMORPG's ... The NERF-STICK of +480328423. Suddenly, in PVP, Horde is better than Alliance since equipment is better. OR because equipment works better with certain stats.. Or because (insert one of many of reasons why nerfing happens). Sadly, PvP and PvE don't work well together, and things get horribly nerfed because of it, so this negates giving better equipment to one side.

    3. The next problem that is added in (which partly relates to my #1) is what you mention about sides taking control of maps = organized raids. Organized raids = time. Time = complaining that "Oh but I have a job in real life, I don't want to work in a game", or "I don't have 6 hours to play" or "My class isn't needed for this raid?? WTF? LFG!! (Looking For Group)" ... Basically, now you have all the casual gamers complaining that only 13 year olds are doing this since only 13 year olds (or rich spoiled kids, or fat slobs in their underwear in their parents basement) have the time, unless it's the weekend, in which case the "teams" will be HUGE and lag will kill things. =/

    4. Server Populations. The other problem is that as server populations change, or as the game has been out a while.. slowly the average level changes. A System that involves needing others to effect things suddenly creates issues if there is no one going to that town anymore (new towns from expansions? Level 10 town out of 80 levels when the game has been out for 2+ years?). Suddenly no one does those quests any more since it takes forever for the "other side" to do their part.

    Please understand, I LIKE the ideas and LIKE how you are thinking about it, the problem here is that too many people are going to complain about this or that.

    Here is MY answer to the problem:

    a. Make a PvE game ONLY.
    b. Make a Grinding game ONLY.
    c. Make a PvP Game ONLY. (Already done, Play Eve-Online ( [] Warning: You will have to "work" to do anything in game. Little to no free-be's.
    d. Make an Instance game ONLY where it's really easy and no one has to play the "Massive Multi-Player"... with any other players (hmm.. weird eh?)

    The end result is that you can't have a fully persistant world, have PvE and PvP, have Full economies etc etc. all in one game since it's almost the same as putting 5 holy men of different religions into a room and asking them to decide which is better. All will agree that there is something bigger than them, but none will agree on the "perfect method" to find / get to / understand that greater being. (sorry for the religious reference, it was just an easy example to stress how many different sides there are). In the end, making smaller games to individually target those groups I listed above (instead of making ONE game.. most likely badly ... with all aspects in there) would fix a lot of issues. After that we can work on trying to make things persistent. (Like EVE which has some good persistent aspects already!)

  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:20PM (#24721655)

    how do you make mundane things like building a city wall... into an interesting gameplay task?


  • Re:Afraid to lose (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 24, 2008 @12:33PM (#24726875)

    While I applaud your concepts, I have to respectfully disagree.

    As a professional game designer who has worked on several MMOs, I can tell you that "the root of the problem" is that people don't want "games", they want "entertainment". There is a fine but discreet line between the two. The vast majority of the MMO market is seeking one (or both) of two things: social interaction or accomplishment via time investment. Both of these run contrary to strife-filled environments with no safe havens if "no-win conditions" exist.

    The problem is further compounded by the fact that the front-runners of this genre survive on a subscription model. Who wants to pay $15 per month to be beaten, walk away frustrated with other players and the game, lose all sense of progression and achievement, and subsequently be told to start over? The only group (statistically) that would even consider this is your "old-school, hard-core" crowd that grew up with "games" that "punished" (per today's standards) the player for failure; and that crowd has grown up, has careers and kids, and lacks the time, money, and mental-emotional bandwidth to invest in a "non-relaxing" pass-time.

    Allow me to walk through some of your post and comment:

    Q: Seriously, can anyone out there claim that they felt like the hero after doing a quest that a thousand other people have done?

    A: YES! The "hero" part is synonymous with achievement and exertion of control over the game-space. The "emotion", the feeling of "hero", is much more important to the player and is exactly what the designers are aiming to fulfill. That others have completed the task is irrelevant to the majority of players; it is that *they* accomplished it and walked away with a sense of achievement.

    Q: Do you really feel the hero when you ask on chat how to save the princess and someone LOLs about how easy that quest was?

    A: YES! Again, achievement and exertion of control over the game-space. This is no different that the player that reads the game walk-through prior to even loading the game to customize (and/or stream-line) their experience and walks away with a sense of achievement at game completion. Additionally, the number of players that eschew "actual" game-play (combat, puzzles, or other obstacles -- things that could be considered "challenges") in favor of storyline and game-experience (the emotion-evoking elements) is growing -- and rapidly. This is largely due to the fact that games are being more accepted and pervasive as sections of the TV-parented and passive entertainment-addicted (movies and what-not) populace begin exploring games.

    Believe it or not, but non-MMO games have gotten significantly shorter *because* of this crowd. Statistically speaking, over 50% of the purchasers of a game will never get past hour 2, while less than 25% of purchasers will get past hour 4. Add to that the fact that less than 15% of people "complete" games and you have a significant circumstance of diminishing returns for the financial backers of the game who want to invest as little as possible yet maximize returns -- games are a business after all.

    A: I think that the biggest problem is that MMORPG makers are afraid to have people lose.

    Q: "MMORPG [publishers] are afraid to have people lose." Fixed that for ya.

    It is a business, first and foremost. Putting obstacles in front of the player creates what can be deemed as "quit moments". When a player dies, the player is obviously in a negative emotional state (nobody likes to die -- even if they know they failed or deserved it); by compounding this with frustration *towards the game*, you further the "quit moment" and increase the likelihood the player will quit and cancel their sub -- thus resulting in lost revenue. From a business stand-point, why increase the likelihood of lost revenue across a broad spectrum of your audience? This further kills your "no-win" scenarios because you guarantee frustration in your populace that is greater than the niche to which these features cater. Subsequently

  • I think it takes away from the adventuring draw of the game....

    I disagree. I think it adds to adventuring because it gives you multiple goals. Not only are you trying to maximize your current level of power, but you're also need to consider long-term effects for developing your family. It adds another level to the gameplay. Plus, it allows you to play alts without feeling like you're "wasting time" because all your characters can work to achieve common goals.

    As with anything, of course, it can fall victim to poor implementation. And, if you do try it and don't like the system, I suspect there will be tons of other games that will offer you the tried-and-true adventure draw you prefer. ;)

    Have fun,

  • With roughly 250k subscribers, EvE is not one of the largest MMORPGs but certainly economically viable.

    You misunderstand the point here. The original EverQuest (EQ1) had a brutal system where you could actually lose a level if you got killed too much. You could also lose all your gear if you didn't get back to the location of your death before the corpse disappeared. EQ1 had a peak of 440k subscribers, beating EVE quite a bit.

    Then came along a game where you didn't lose xp, you couldn't lose equipment, and "death" was a few minute run back to your corpse plus a possible repair bill later. If you wanted to pay a more in repair, you didn't even have to run back to your corpse. That game has about 2,000,000+ subscribers in North America alone (and many more millions worldwide). Perhaps you've heard of this game: World of Warcraft. Death penalties are just one example where WoW made it impossible to really "lose". Add death penalties into WoW and it loses one big element people point at to show that the game is superior to others.

    So, the point isn't that you can't possibly make a game that has a significant chance of loss for the players. The original EQ is still kicking. The point is that when a developer/publisher takes a look at design and then consider the subscription business model where "more people = more money", they're going to take the path that results in more possible players *every* time. Having that chance to lose big means that people eventually lose big, get pissed off, and quit your game. Worse, they'll probably bitch about it on a public forum and scare away other potential subscribers.

    So, why does EVE have significant loss? It appeals to the current rabid playerbase that feel the need to post about EVE in every story that mentions MMOs. :P CCP also had an interesting situation where they didn't have to maximize revenue immediately. Note that EVE was originally considered a commercial failure, particularly for the publisher that originally put boxes in the stores. This would spell the death of most game companies. CCP was able to weather that (due to government funds, as I remember), and EVE was able to grow to it's current position over a long time. A publisher that invested heavily into a game today wouldn't put up with that BS; that's why the grandparent added the word "publishers" to that line. (Really, most developers like lots of money, too, which is why I don't think that addition is necessary.)

    Anyway, this isn't to say that I don't agree with your assessment about the possible pros of serious loss; it's one of the things I still like about M59 because the victories and losses have serious consequences in the game But, people who want to make the big bucks are going to pick the design that gives them the most profit.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl