Farming…again and again and again and again and again

Ok, I haven’t posted much lately (for lots of good reasons, none of which I will bore you with here), but after reading Ethic’s recent post on farm status I couldn’t resist opining a bit.

Several of the comments posted on his topic seemed to confuse the differences between repeating the same quest/mission/instance over and over to obtain a piece of loot with the satisfaction of repeating a quest for the thrill of achievement or the sheer fun of adventure, or even the replayability of games like Tetris or Minesweeper, where the gameplay is repetitive (then again, it is the same for Chess and Monopoly, isn’t it?).


The problem with farming is the goal or end result. Like rats in a laboratory, gamers are trained to do the same tasks over and over (sometimes they are quite mindless or time consuming) in a very rote pattern to get the nugget of food at the end (or in the gamer’s case, boots +1). At some point, the enjoyment from completing the quest (or whatever) and getting the reward at the end loses meaning and is repeated solely for the acquisition of the same item (for sale, trade, guildmate, friend, whatever).

This is quite different from the repetition in a simple game…tetris, minesweeper, chess, whatever. While those games may seem (from an external perspective) to be terribly boring and repetitive, each game stands alone and requires thought, strategy, tactics, and effort. This is doubled when playing against an opponent whose moves vary as much as yours. The rewards here are 1) the game itself 2) the challenge, which always varies from game to game and 3) the satisfaction of beating your opponent, getting a high score, or merely doing something stunningly clever (even if you lost).

In contrast, farming is always the same. Sure, you might try a different approach to killing the bad beastie at the end with your shiny boots, but ultimately, farming can get to the point where you can do it in your sleep, or macro it. THAT is what drives many of us nuts.

When we talk about doing something new or different or better, our arguement is (well at least this is MY opinion) that most MMORPG developers out there simply can’t think out of the box, don’t have a solid grasp on designing a MMORPG to start with (side note…I will submit to you that any team of programmers and artists can build an mmorpg, but very few can create a *good* one), or management interferes and insists that the game be like other “successful” titles.

The problem with THAT is multifold…first, I submit to you that successful games are successful not because they are good or awesome, but simply that they are the best out of the current offerings (like most political races…they all suck, but you have to vote for someone). Secondly, MMORPGs are essentially clones of each other. “Oh hey, that game sold well, make one just like it, but change the story around a bit, and we will market it as the best next-generation game ever!”. That happens in this industry more than people realize.

Actually, while I am on that point… pick ten mmorpgs…five that are commercially available, and another five in beta status. Compare 1) screenshots 2) character races 3) professions 4) magic spells/system. How many of them are nearly identical? How many are trying something different?

Relmstein commented “Why take a risk on a non-standard MMO when most of them have been horrible money pits?”. Good point, but not a good argument. First, I refer to my comment above…anyone can make an MMORPG, but very few people really know how to design one. Give me a bad non-standard MMO money pit, and I could probably come up with half a dozen bad design decisions that were made that if done differently would have completely changed its “grade”. In other words, most MMORPGs that get an “F” could have made at least a “C” if they had some some basic things differently.

Another point that should be made here is that non-standard should not mean “totally off the wall bizzare and completely different from anything anyone has ever seen!” which usually means crap. Non-standard should be “not the standard” or “different than what you would expect”. Personally, I want to build something non-standard… that means, different, better, unique, and original. Not weird, awkward, nonsensical, crap, and boring.

Our industry is in danger of decline, even as the size and revenues are gaining momentum. Most of the “new” mmorpgs I have seen out there are more of the same and “just like EQ” or “just like WoW”. Screw that. Give me something different. I am tired of choosing chocolate or vanilla, with or without nuts. Give me peppermint, cinnamon, rocky road, peanut butter, butterscotch, toffee, cherry, and rootbeer. But please, dont give me limp lentils, soggy cauliflauer, broken broccoli, or squash.

Back to farming…there are other ways, but everyone is so used to the same old model that they default to it and don’t bother trying to try a different approach. Why do we farm? Because the same static mobs drop the same static loot items. Why is that? Because that is the easiest way to develop things, and it isn’t hard for the designers to make content.

So, we spend hours killing rats at the rat spawn, waiting for the king rat to come out so we can kill him to get the “king rat tooth” and the “golden ring of rattiness” that he always (or “sometimes”) has on him. What is the “non-standard” alternative? Hrm, there are a couple of ways, good and bad. Personally, I favor 1) more of an emphasis on player crafting and less on generic and static gear (I swear, if I see another bard wearing cobalt armor I’m going to rip my eyeballs out) 2) loot tables! Sure a creature may *tend* to drop something from table y, but he has a small percentage of dropping something from tables x and z, 3) quest items should simply be quest items…nothing like boots +5 every time, all the time.

I’m not saying that either or both of those is the perfect answer, but they are sort of non-standard, but not crazy design mechanics that have no real reason or rhyme behind them. Plus, neither is very far from what we are currently stuck with.

By the way, instanced farming is a dumb ass idea. Yes, I said it. It is a dumb ass idea. It is a hack solution to a problem, with no real effort of actually solving the problem. Then again, they already backed themselves into a corner with the whole static mob drop thing, so I guess this isn’t all that bad an idea (if their goal was to give everyone equal opportunity to farm a spawn instead of fighting with another player for it…oh wait, isnt WoW a *multiplayer* game? Why is everything getting instanced now? When are developers just going to admit they are making great single player games (or lan style multiplayer games) with a fat networking pipe in the back)?

Ah, but I digress. Yeah, this is a long post, I’m making up for lost time.

So to summarize, repetition is not bad. Repetition because there is nothing else to do, or because it is the only way to get the same damn item everyone else has, or because the designers couldn’t come up with any original design or content ideas, are all bad. When repetition becomes rote and something that can be macroed, its bad. Repetition that is at the same time full of variety and challenge, with a reasonable reward a the end is a good thing.

All good things in moderation.

Ok, let the comments begin. Am I wrong? Off-base? In the wrong ballpark? Dead-on? Genius? Lunatic? Or just another boring opinionated ranter?

If anything I type is remotely of interest to you, try checking out my book (OMG shameless self-plug!). It’s on Amazon, but I get a fatter royalty if you get it from LuLu. Thanks : )

Robert “Nicodemus” Rice

Booyah!

18 thoughts on “Farming…again and again and again and again and again”

  1. Interesting point, the comparison with chess and such… I personally think one of the biggest issues is the way you control your player in pretty much any MMO. The indirect “klick the button and watch the guy attack” makes stuff a lot more static; once you found out a good order to klick those buttons, why bother with something else? In comparison, think of Counter-Strike. Basically, that’s been de_dust with the Colt and the AK since 1999 or something – and still, people are playing it. Even I enjoy the occasional round or two, and it’s usually good fun. Heck, it’s not unusual that someone scares me really bad by ambushing me or doing something unexpected. Nothing like that rush of adrenaline!

    These are my points really: Give the player more direct control, and do unexpected things, and do that in any encounter. Of course, there’s still the problem of technology (bandwith, players with better hardware etc.) and I suspect that many people won’t be fond of such a system – probably even because they are unable to farm half asleep ;) Oh well, that’s why I’m looking forward to Hellgate London (http://www.hellgatelondon.com/) – not a MMO, but the Diablo&FPS-style gameplay might just be what it takes to transform an otherwise boring hack’n’slay into something that thrills you whenever you play it.

  2. Spot on. One reason for farming, and the grind, is trying to spread (the often shallow) character development over the ‘standard’ content – kill 10 rats, kill 10 orcs, kill 10 dragons etc – be it items or xp – the quantifier for your character’s attributes is numerical.

    What I want to see is monster behaviour – if orcs get attacked, they rally, if they lose they retreat, tighten their defenses, migrate etc, with less reliance on them dropping item x, or xp, or for ‘collect 10 orc heads’ quests.

    Instance farming is silly – they should be used for gameplay that can be tailored for the player. Otherwise design the game for people to play together, with less reliance on greed and self-interest. (wheres my epix? :P)

  3. Having just started playing WOW a little while ago, I agree with your sentiments. Most of the established players in my guild are so intensely focused on acquiring special loot and running instances to get that loot. The showing-off can be a little off-putting to be honest. I don’t understand why I am supposed to be so envious of them because they have this piece of virtual armour that does neat things so they can kill Hordies faster/better.

    The high level folk ran me through Deadmines recently and the entire experience was completely unenjoyable for me. I was a level 18 Warlock, they: 60 Priest, 40-something Rogue, 30-something Rogue. All I did was pick up loot and try not to aggro the monsters. Later, the 60 Priest was talking about doing more runs to get a Siamese Cat. If the entire WOW experience for me was like that Deadmines run, I would quit.

    Honestly, I like playing and exploring and talking to people more than getting special loot, and the people who have been playing the game a long time don’t seem to understand that. The 60 Priest is pressuring me (through my BF) to powerlevel to 60. And he will sometimes whisper me to show off some new piece of rare armour he got in an instance.

    In all of my RPG experiences, both offline (table-top) and online, my joy has never come from having the shiniest toys. It’s always been about the achievement and the challenge and the social aspect.

  4. about 2 months ago my rogue dinged 60. Many of the players in my guild told me grats followed by, its all downhill from here. At the time I didn’t really think about what they were saying because I was happy to be level 60; I was happy to be on the same playing field as everyone else. Now my experience has begun to take a turn for the boring. It started in small ways like noticing that everytime I logged on, the people in my guild were always in places like Strat, Scholo, UBRS ect. Then after running many of these instances a few times I thought to myself, This sucks! Farming the same place by myself is actually more rewarding to me, not because I don’t like the people in my guild because we get along quite well, but because when I farm by myself, I can rely on myself and the amount of gold or loot I bring home is solely in my control.
    Raids require dependece: dependence on other players-especially priests- dependence on attendance, and dependence on professions;good luck running MC without fire resistance pots. I love running instances as most of them are still new to me, but wiping 5 times in a row and having nothing to show for it except a repair bill seems counter productive to me. Even if we had an instance on farm status I know that I would grow tired of the scheduling, repairing, and most of all, the dependent repetition.
    Perhaps we are expecting too much from MMO’s: they may never have the options, replayability, or story depth that a single player RPG has because they aren’t designed to give a rich deep experience, they are designed to make money for the parent company and as such the designers will continue to make MMOs with end games centered around farming.
    Consumers vote with their dollars and as long as MMO’s that are farm based continue to make the money, other companies will copy their business model, and the cycle of crap will continue.

  5. And thus, didst the fog quell it’s hazy attack on my brain and release my thoughts to the clear blue skies. Thanks Nic, that’s what I’m talking about.

  6. hehe shameless plug indeed, your one reviewer is even more shameless ;P

    I have to admit I do plan on picking your book up as I am very interested in the evolution of MMOs (from various angles).
    I liked what oyu had to say about the copy cat cowardice that permiates the industry. Good read.

  7. Remember Gauntlet, the old arcade/8-bit game? Gauntlet had something called a “monster generator”. If you could kill all the monsters around it, you could destroy the monster generator, which was usually the best way to get past the level. Well, I guess WoW and other, similar MMORPGs borrowed the monster generator idea, but made it invisible and invincible and stuck one at the bottom of each dungeon.
    Seriously, once I’ve killed Onyxia she should be fricken dead. I mean dead dead, for everyone, the whole server. Dead means dead. I shouldn’t be able to farm her for phat lewt – the whole idea is ridiculous.
    Once I’ve killed Onyxia, her lair should be open for me and my crew to set up shop. We’ll mine the ore, start making fortifications, make some really kicking swords and armour for our fighters, maybe even for the NPC guards that we’ve recruited. Sure, we’ll “farm” the mithril ore vein, in preparation for the inevitable attack.
    So some other guild comes and attacks us, and actually manages to drive us out. Our group suffers heavy losses, mostly in terms of equipment. Many of our members will have to train hard to get back up to their former fighting abilities after this.
    We retreat with tails between our legs to our previous outpost, a little town we built in the Barrens . Much to our dismay, a splinter tribe of orcs (NPCs) have defeated our NPC guards and conquered it, so we’ll have to take it back in order to start rebuilding our forces and maybe plan a counter-offensive. In our absence, the NPC orcs have built a wall around the town, but thankfully one of our members is an orc – albeit of a different tribe – and manages to bribe the guard to let him in. Once inside, he kills the gatekeeper and opens the door for the rest of us. The rest is a slaughterfest…
    Don’t come tell me this is too hard, or I’m dreaming, or it’s too processor intensive, or whatever. This stuff is all possible in MMOs today. The hardest bit is handling the NPC actions and AI, but using some abstract algorithms even that is not too difficult (wait until the area has gone without player visitation for a few hours to avoid concerns about integrity of the timeline, run a Civilization-style algorithm where NPC guard forces are compared with NPC orc forces, and resolve the results in the world). Player vs player combat and area soverignty is a piece of cake to implement and would add oodles of fun to a currently quite dull and predictable game.
    By the way, chess is fun because you’re playing against another player whose actions you cannot predict – and if you think you can, he might know you think you can, and double-bluff you. NPCs don’t double-bluff and will therefore be completely predictable at all times regardless of how complex game AI ever gets. If you want dynamic, ever-changing gameplay, relying on other players to create the “content” is the only way to go – and given the first M in MMORPG, the natural way to go.

  8. Your post triggered a thought that I would like to share. The macro-level repetitive nature you spoke of is exactly the issue. And it’s not just instances. For example, I used to farm a dungeon in AC1. It was not instanced, usually always people in it. But I used to farm like a madman. Alot of times, if I came in, others would just leave rather than fight for the mobs. The reason being that I had surmised the spawn patterns. Where they pop, how long to repop, and the most efficient way to clear a room. I could do it with my eyes closed once I had cleared the room once. The keystrokes and timing were repeated so many times I no longer had to be looking at the screen.

    Was this fun? For a while it was. And I supose it only stayed fun for as long as it did because I would often take breaks from the dungeon. But eventually, it became strictly about the loot. I had found a rapid and easy path to in-game riches.

    On the same card here, I liked outdoor hunting in UO better than I do WoW. In UO, you had a general idea where a monster type could be found, but they moved around alot, and had random spawn points in the general area. In WoW… I can for instance go into the woods, and kill something. Wait for it to respawn, and I know exactly where that thing will respawn. Every time. AC had that issue as well.

  9. I think instances are what makes WoW so popular. A lot of people do not enjoy PvP, and don’t want to deal with selfish “node ninjas” and the like. Or the players that flagged during world events like the AQ gates or scourge event, jumping in front of other players to trick them into accidentally flagging and then killing them. Instances remove the greifing for the 99% of players that simply don’t want to deal with it.

    We want to play with others, but we don’t want to drag all the problems of real life into the game with us :)

    What I really don’t like about WoW is bosses in the first place. to me, bosses seem an old way to solve a problem when computer AIs were limited: to put a hard event at the end of a level. They just double the health, attacks, and give them special abilities. But thruthfully, you’d think the more intelligent a species is the more likely their bosses are merely the biggest and toughest, but instead like humans the bosses have different skills. The big challenge would be the bodyguards, not the boss himself. Now that computers are so much more powerful, I wish developers made much more advanced and intelligent bosses to fight. They still are the same: once you learn the script you just follow the script and you win. They’re about execution. but an intelligent boss would be different every time. And intelligent mob would target healers first like players in BGs do, etc. Instead, healing causes half threat which makes sense for beasts but not for intelligent mobs. I have digressed , but smarter monsters is something i really wish I had.

    I’m tempted to try LOTR MMORPG for that very reason once they let the players play the monsters.

  10. “I’m tempted to try LOTR MMORPG for that very reason once they let the players play the monsters.”

    What does the Horde consist of? Orcs, Undead, Trolls and Minotaurs sound like monsters in my book. One of Blizzard’s major concerns for the Burning Crusade expansion was to add Blood Elves because the Horde didn’t have a race that was “pretty” like the Alliance races. Seriously now, how much of a slave to mass appeal can a company get?

    The world isn’t balanced, or static. Conflict, challenges and victories are all based on dynamic elements. Without injustice, there are no fights to be fought and no reward in the victory. Entropy increases in a closed system, as it should, and your job as maintainers of a virtual world is to fight an uphill battle against this entropy in baby steps – not eliminate it completely by changing the laws of physics.

    What Blizzard wants is a game that needs no maintenance, which is understandable because their support staff costs must be astronomical. They try to achieve this goal by limiting the choices the players can make – if not by technological force then by legal, via the EULA. The result is a theme park where you can play with your friends, not a world that you can experience and help shape. Grinding an instance is a totally acceptable activity in such a game – you’re riding a rollercoaster with your friends, over and over again, leaning this way or that to try get the best experience out of the ride.

    That is not a virtual world, nor is it really a game, unless riding a rollercoaster is a game. It is entertainment, and really a quite passive form of entertainment at that.

    To me, that is not the future of MMOs, and I truly wish I am right. :)

  11. Everyone has already said most of my thoughts, and very eloquently at that. I’ve whined so much about the repeativeness of WOW, that I’m even starting to bore myself. As many have said, as long as we the players, pay for and accept such games they will continue to be made. Even if I wanted to cut the game some slack and say that perhaps this problem is harding to fix than we think, it still pisses me off.

    It’s not like we havent played other games with the grind and KTRs. I know I have. For me it’s the fact that, not only does it take 40 ppl to do it and real coordination, they had the balls to make it take hours to get the job done. Hours, upon hours. And somehow people are eating it up.

  12. Don’t come tell me this is too hard, or I’m dreaming, or it’s too processor intensive, or whatever. This stuff is all possible in MMOs today.

    It was going to happen, in a game called WISH, everything was dynamic there were no named monsters, the world changed according to player actions.

    If an area was never explored and the inhabitants culled then the monsters there would get stronger, if you killed off the troll in its den then it was gone and the den was empty till something else moved in.

    They had plans for other ambitious stuff like 1 server for everyone to play on, and some flawed ideas for an MMO like point and click movement, but the idea of a truly dynamic world was there.

    Unfortunately they cancelled citing a lack of interest as the reason.

  13. Aww…. Another one? Dawn had the same dynamic world vision (not Vision), but Glitchless dropped off the face of the Earth.

  14. Companies are very simple creatures and they almost always follow a simple rule. Compare the costs with the gains.

    At the moment a lot of studies say that we are in a era where computer programmers are in short supply. Despite outcrys at outsourcing, a lot of evidence exists that we simply do not have enough enrolled college students to support our current computer programming needs let alone grow them. This has guaranteed that the cost of game and software development stays very high. Most people blame the dot com bust for scaring away students but others say a lack of science/math promotion also plays a part.

    Whatever the reason, a lot of suggestions in the last two posts were great ones and very possible with current technology and server architecture. The problem of course is that it would take more programming hours to produce and raise the already substantial costs of development. Its very hard to convince companies to spend extra money and start from scratch rather then use the already existing template of Everquest.

    The best chance anyone has of seeing something new in the MMO market is by indy companies introducing new concepts on a small scale and allowing their games to grow on popularity. Look at the real time skill learning in EVE which a lot of people like since its doesn’t require large amounts of play time to advance. Now Eve Online doesn’t have huge subscriber numbers like the standard MMORPGs but it does have enough to get noticed. I would be very surprised if at least one Skill based fantasy game in the next year didn’t have a real time learning system like EvE Online.

  15. High game budgets are mostly the result of fat and slow mega-publishers.

    Anyway, you are right. Small companies are going to change the industry. The problem is that most small companies dont have any experience to leverage and tend to make the same mistakes the big boys are making.

    I think there are a few exceptions (*cough cough*) but we shall see I guess.

    Robert “Nicodemus” Rice

  16. If an area was never explored and the inhabitants culled then the monsters there would get stronger, if you killed off the troll in its den then it was gone and the den was empty till something else moved in.

    The same idea was originally planned for “Ultima Online”, but they had to drop it.

    The first problem is that it adds too much downtime for the players. Suppose my friends and I are in a group and we’ve got just enough power to kill trolls. In a static game, we just go to one of the areas where troll-level enemies spawn and explore it. If we push too far into unknown territories and run into dragons, then we retreat, remembering the area so that we can come back when we’re stronger.

    In a dynamic game, we’d have to wander around for an indefinite period, stepping over rats and hiding from dragons, until we finally found a troll cave. It’s more realistic, but less fun.

    The bigger problem is that it become very hard for the designers to balance. What happens when there are always a lot of players hunting trolls, and never enough trolls to go around? In a static game, you can just increase the spawn rate, or add a troll spawn to an underpopulated area somewhere.

    In a dynamic game, increasing the spawn rate has more implications. The added trolls expand into nearby areas, killing off the rat population or fattening up the dragon population. So now we need to look at those areas and see if they need rebalancing, too. The monster population in any given place isn’t an easy-to-calculate number; it’s the solution to a complicated set of differential equations.

    So, really, a truly dynamic model is probably impossible. The goal for the next generations of games might be to create some static rules that are complicated enough to create the illusion of a dynamic world. (Every once in a while the troll spawn skyrockets and people have to set up a desperate defense at the town gate. And there’s enough warning that you can find out about the invasion and get to the gate before it’s over. Also there’s enough stuff going on elsewhere in the world that everyone doesn’t flock to this one town and crash the server. And there are enough other things to do that people can get their “troll” medal and move on; they don’t farm this one area. Even so, you’re always going to have the problem of people racing through the low-level quests so they can get to the endgame quests as fast as possible and run them over and over again.)

  17. First of all, its not that hard. Instead of having “spawn point 0492: Troll” at specific coordinates (just to the left of the big rock at the cave opening to the Troll lair) you could do something like designate a small region as the Troll area, layout a grid and flag each grid point as “allow spawn” or “no spawn”. The area (lets say 50×50 grid with 100 possible spawn points) could be set to have a max of 30 spawns (“light” or “moderate” spawn activity). So people looking for Trolls would always find them in the area, they just wouldn’t necessarily always spawn at the exact same spot on a predictable basis.

    If players rarely hunt in the area, the frequency of spawns could increase (with a maximum), or if it is overhunted, the frequency could be dialed down fairly easily.

    By changing the quest model and removing specific static loot (or “epics”), you remove the need for people to farm the quests for items. Personally I think that high level gear, like epics, should be player crafted to start with, but thats a different story for another topic.

    A set of mechanics could also be put in place for NPC mobs to migrate and stuff…if players can create towns, build defenses, and so forth, there is no reason (in my mind) that some creatures (like trolls) couldn’t or shouldn’t do the same. Balancing this is more of an issue of making sure there are some restrictions and limitations in place (otherwise, noobie town could get overrun with rats in pretty short order). Maybe some types of creatures (rabbits and wolves) are natural enemies and one is designed to restrict the population growth of the other.

    Anyway, there are a few ways of doing things and more than one unique approach.

    To answer the question of designer balance and what happens when there aren’t enough trolls to go around…well, the players can go hunt something else. Explore the world! I would venture to say that 80% of every MMORPG out there is never seen or experienced by gamers, particularly after the first year.

    Once the early gamers go through things, there are invariably tutorials and guides that say hunt here, then go there, then get this item, then hunt there, and then go over there. Bingo, level 60.

    I want to give gamers choices and variety. I want the game experience to be unique and different for every player. Maybe I don’t want to hunt trolls when I hit level x…I should be able to just wander around and find something else. Maybe there is a small settlement of stone ogres deep in the mountains that no one else has hunted yet, because no one has bothered to explore. And because no one has been there and other areas have been overhunted, maybe the loot tables for these guys has been cycled up….This sort of approach rewards the things that people should be doing in a huge mmorpg world to start with. Explore! All too often mmorpg gameplay is diminished into nothing more than a very linear experience that is the same for everyone.

    Robert

  18. “In a dynamic game, we’d have to wander around for an indefinite period, stepping over rats and hiding from dragons, until we finally found a troll cave. It’s more realistic, but less fun.”

    “The added trolls expand into nearby areas, killing off the rat population or fattening up the dragon population. So now we need to look at those areas and see if they need rebalancing, too.”

    “So, really, a truly dynamic model is probably impossible.”

    You’re missing the point. In a dynamic game, you’re not playing to fight monsters that are optimally balanced against your own level for maximum XP gain. You’re playing to experience living an alternate life in a fictional, virtual world. If your alternate life is as a badass fighter, so be it – but your experiences as said fighter in a dynamic world ranges from hunting rabbits for food, to running from dragons, to killing trolls. As a player, you would set your own goals for your character, goals quite distinct from “reach level 60, raid instances, get loot, PvP in Battlegrounds” which is the default goal that 99% of the population of WoW share because it’s engineered into the game.

    So you and your friend would not be wandering around looking for trolls to kill, you would be out travelling between towns, or searching for lost ruins, or looking for a druid to help you make some healing potions, and in the process you’re stumbling over an encampment of trolls, or bandits, or rats (which you promptly ignore), or (unlikely) a dragon (which you need to run from).

    Balancing an area is not be necessary. Let the players face the consequence of their own actions – if they let trolls run rampant, eating all the rats and themselves becoming food for dragons, the players in that area will have to face tougher and tougher dragons until balance can be restored. If the players are given the tools to do so (perhaps druids would have the ability to transplant species from one area to another, for example), they would be able to restore balance themselves, and doing so would be just another fun aspect of the game. If balance could not be restored by players’ actions alone, then the GM’s could run a plot to do so.

    In my favourite MMO currently on the market – Eve Online – if a corporation run by older, richer players go into a region of space and buys out all the ships available to a certain faction, then those ships will be unavailable in that region until someone else does something about it. This could be a move in a well-planned multi-faceted attack on another corporation, and if encouraged by CCP and the Eve player community as another aspect that makes Eve fun. While the other corporation may disagree, they have now been challenged to build a fleet of new ships to defend themselves (rather than relying on the open market), which in itself is another fun aspect of the game. CCP has designed this functionality into the game as a method for players to create IMbalance, and minimal effort has been taken to correct the balance from “up above”.

    And no, you cannot make a truly dynamic game, because you’d require something akin to the Earth Simulator (http://www.es.jamstec.go.jp/) as far as computing power goes – and that’s just for the atmosphere. But many games portray an illusion of true dynamism by using cheats and shortcuts undetectable as such by humans, and implementing true dynamism only on a very high level or only in specific cases. For example, you could make wildlife population static but monster population dynamic, or make food supply static but weapon supply dynamic. The main task is to shift the players’ focus away from a static goal onto a dynamic, constantly-moving goal, and you cannot do that by engineering a world that guaranteed looks the same tomorrow as it does today.

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