Chewing Through Content

In terms of creating new content, the players I want are achievers and socializers. They are the easiest to satisfy.

Killers

Maybe I should want killers. Many seem to prefer no updates at all. All the new PvE content in the world is useless to them, unless there is something new to harvest that could be of PK use, in which case they will condescend to suffer through a bit in order to get back to the real game.

First person shooters are the purest incarnation of a killer game, and they are not much for updates. A new map, a new gun, maybe a balance tweak. That is fine: there is little new in football, and there is little new in Counterstrike. Anyway, a new gun is either better than your favorite gun (i.e. “imba wtg devs”) or worse than your favorite gun (i.e. “suxx0r”). People seem happy to keep shooting each other on a small set of maps, and if you can monetize that stream of violence, you win.

Some killers care whose head comes back as a trophy, but most are happy shooting sheep in a barrel. Give them more barrels.

Socializers

Socializers want fluff. In their pure form, socializers are not really playing the game. They are using it as a chat room with pretty graphics. If you want to improve social content, you are adding things to the game, rather than building the game.

I am surprised how few social organization tools are developed in-game. Maybe everyone expects socializers to carry on no matter what, or to work outside the normal game structure. Some games hate socializers so much that they do not even have user-created chat channels. If you want to talk to people, form a guild or use /tells. Hey, someone is paying $15/month to use your game as a chat room, at least let him make a chat room.

Seriously, is the whole plan to let someone make a meaningless guild, add a chat channel and a logo, done? Give them some serious guild tools. Add DKP to the game, have an in-game bulletin board for members, add alliance tools between guilds. If you want to get serious, start working a mini-MySpace in-game.

I am getting into the hard stuff, but why? Socializers seem to get jack and take it. After all, if they are there to socialize, worrying about content development is low priority. Let’s get back to that first paragraph: making content for socializers is easy.

The main thing MMOs give them is decoration. Add new emotes and animations, decorative clothes, shiny effects, dyes and tints, music, whatever. The better you let someone define his character in-game, the more options you give a socializer. Give people multiple outfit or costume slots, let them try things on. People will pay you good money to stand in town deciding whether to go with the scarlet sash or the rose sarong.

Make sure that you have lots of pretty fairy options, all the pink things for people who really think of it as paper dolls. Make sure that you have lots of dark emo options, for all the goths who play your game between Vampire LARPs. If you can reasonably have modern options, do so, so now your players are paying to hang at the mall.

I am stereotyping here, and I encourage you to do so too. Some people want to roleplay the extreme stereotype, some people really are it, and everyone else can dial it back to the level they want. My wife’s friend sometimes roams Second Life as a feline swordsman, dueling with a lightsaber-wielding lesbian mermaid slave. (Wow our search results are going to be great this month.) Other people are checking the Second Life fashion blogs for new styles or browsing the new City of Heroes hair styles. What I am saying is that you can accommodate the center by accommodating the extremes, as long as there is a way to dial it back, and there is reliable money in some of those extremes.

In short, give people new dresses for their dolls, even if those dolls are death knights. Paper dolls and chat rooms for some, random costume buttons for others.

Achievers

Achievers are easy. Set any goal, and someone will go for it. It does not need to be useful, coherent, or even possible.

If there is a 5% bonus to be had, achievers will get it. It does not matter if it is a 5% bonus to resistance against damage from boomfazzles, folks will get it because (1) it is another bonus and (2) they may want to fight boomfazzles someday.

Note that there must be something to get. If it is something to do, you are talking about explorers, and that is the next section. It is not enough to go to the mountain at the end of the world and defeat the Dark Dragon of Deathly Doom. You must get a sword or a trophy from the Dragon.

Trophies convert explorer content into achiever content. There are two levels to being an achiever: you must be the best at everything, and everyone else must know how uber you are. The Dragon is worth slaying if that checks off a box in your deed log, granting you +1 Charity. If you are only at the first level of achiever, that is only worth doing if Charity does something useful; if you are at the second, a meaningless but visible +1 is enough reward because it shows everyone else that you did it. You can supplement any in-game visibility by going to the inevitable website where you can track how far you are on Charity and the other traits. Compete with your friends!

So trophies are great here. If you want to keep your achievers busy for another billing period, and a new goal or treadmill. If you give a badge for defeating 100 Ether Dragons, give another one for 1000 and 10,000. Do that for every monster in the game, and keep adding 0s. Players will race to see who can get the first badge for defeating 10,000,000 of something, then who can get the most of those, then start working to see if there is a 100,000,000 badge.

If you like social content but hate socializers, you can convert socializer content into achiever content by gating it. Make all those fancy outfits and hairstyles unlockable through various accomplishments. There are games that grant you emotes as you level. Everyone loves to dance, and if you have the dance that can only be unlocked by slaying ten Dark Dragons of Deathly Doom solo without equipment, you are the uberest player around. Once enough people have the uberest dance, make a new encounter with the Double Dark Dragons of Deathly Doom and Dismay, with the uberestest dance unlocked by slaying each of them twenty times.

Many achievers will not put up with that crap. “I have to camp the dragon to get a dance? Who cares about a dance?” Others need the fancy hat to show that he is the kind of guy who can get a fancy hat, whether or not he wants it. Yeah Bob, sure, you say you can solo the Dark Dragon of Deathly Doom, but where is your dance to prove it? Mmhmm, sure we believe that you did it but you “can’t be bothered” to get the dance. If peer pressure is not enough to do it, add an effect that the uberestest dance makes nearby players perform worshipful emotes while you do it, unless they also know the uberestest dance. Ah, how it unlocks the useful ability not to be humiliated in-town: worth the time investment!

Basically, I am saying that achievers are huge suckers who will grind their/our skulls against a rock because the rock is there, and pay for the privilege of doing so. You just need more and bigger rocks.

Explorers

I used to self-identify as an achiever, but now I am solidly an EASK. I would hate to develop content for me because it is impossible to keep up.

In one way, explorers are your favorite players because they want to see and do everything. They do not waste content. If you put a special pattern in a rock past the cliffs at the end of the world, they will rappel down the cliff to find it. They will try every class, every dungeon, every quest. They will create new characters to see what happens if you make irreversible decisions differently.

But you only need to explore once. Once you have seen it, done. Maybe the content is worth re-visiting as another class or with a different build, but that is still recycled content.

Worse, what happens when they pierce the veil on your procedural content? Once the formula is apparent, its use does not generate new explorer content. It is a previously solved problem written in a different color of ink. The sphex is the opposite of the explorer.

Take my harshness against City of Heroes Issue 10. They revamped an entire zone, added a raid, set an entire chain of story arcs with a task force at the end, added a new NPC group, redecorated another and gave it a tile set, enabled hero-villain cooperative play, and sent alien invasions. Hey, that sounds like a lot.

As an explorer, no, it is not. The zone revamp is interesting, but I can explore it all in an hour. Parts of it are difficult to explore because they have powerful enemies who see through stealth, but that adds more annoyance than challenge. And that is the pure explorer content, because diamonds, hearts, and spades (in their pure forms) do not care about the neat arrangement of rikti monkeys along the water tower. The raid is 30 minutes of content, maybe 10 for what is new rather than just more waves of the same guys. Each story arc is up to 2 hours of content, but that includes a lot of sphexish missions: I can read an entire arc worth of text in minutes, and I already have missions full of those enemies. One mission is enough to fight all the new NPCs. New wall decorations are nice, but by the end of a story arc I am already recognizing recycled rooms. We have had hero-villain coop before, and it does not enable many new power combinations. Like the raid, the invasion is another “okay, done that” feature.

The actual explorer content can be finished in a day. Read the new story arc text, run the task force to see the new toys, run the few other missions that have new toys (let achiever friends unlock them), try a raid and fight back an invasion, then tour around the zone to see the work there. Done. Moving slowly and stopping to smell the roses (or pose for screenshots), that is ten hours of content.

It took four months to develop that. It took a team of people four months to develop that.

The novel that takes a year to write can be read in a day. Don’t make games for me. There is no money in it.

: Zubon

Tobold had comments on this recently.

12 thoughts on “Chewing Through Content”

  1. Part of the problem with satisfying explorers is when you make content inaccessible to anyone but hardcore achievers. I will never see the Black Temple, and I only got to see Hyjal because I snuck in two years ago before they fixed that bug. Heck, even now, I can’t revisit MC (which I never finished) because Ancient Core Hounds will see through my stealth from 40-50 yards away. Same thing with AQ, as I wasn’t willing to dedicate four nights a week to mandatory attendance as was required by the raiding guilds on my server. So, when TBC came out, I reactivated my account, chewed through every outdoor quest, explored every nook and cranny with a flying mount, ran the instances until I could get into Karazhan, and that’s about it so far.

    I really love to explore the game mechanics more than anything else: testing theories, trying unlikely strategies, and making the most of frequently overlooked abilities. The content is what gets me through the grind to see the later game mechanics, and reaching wonderful and hard to reach places are my achievements. I have trouble running it more than once, though, so I’ll often end up dropping my subscription and building characters offline. I still work out heroes and villains, despite never having the stamina to level-cap a character.

    I would tend to agree, though. The box-copy is the only real money many MMO publishers get out of me.

  2. With pretty much everything you describe in the social gamer section, I still can’t believe they haven’t been more widely implemented.

    If you give a badge for defeating 100 Ether Dragons, give another one for 1000 and 10,000. Do that for every monster in the game, and keep adding 0s. Players will race to see who can get the first badge for defeating 10,000,000 of something, then who can get the most of those, then start working to see if there is a 100,000,000 badge.

    Hmm, I think you’re making a false assumption here: that your game is the only game in town. An achiever will balk at a “10,000,000 badge” (yes I know it’s an exaggeration) if he can get easier achiever kicks elsewhere.

    If peer pressure is not enough to do it, add an effect that the uberestest dance makes nearby players perform worshipful emotes while you do it, unless they also know the uberestest dance.

    Add a once per day or hour limit, and this would be fun. Have samurai pop out and chop off the heads of anyone who glitches and so don’t bow for some reason. But a lot of people would hate being forced to bow down to some random person, possibly much less mature than they. :)

  3. One key distinction to make: Everything you say about “Killers” equates them to PvP’ers. They “kill” other players. Bartle’s taxonomy makes no such claim. In fact, in truly competetive PvP with relatively strong balance, there’s very little room for Killers. That’s an achiever’s realm- every victory and defeat has meaning and value. Achievers can handle that. Killers want to grief.

    By Bartle’s own definition “Killers” enjoy “imposition on others” and can get this in many different ways. PvP isn’t always the most effective, though it’s the most commonly understood. “Killers” are also those idiots that will disrupt any socializer’s event just to make the socializers more miserable. Their fun is realizing that they’re frustrating the heck out of other people.

    Thus, new content for “Killers” is dependent on new content for the other styles. Playmates (albiet unwilling playmates) is far more important than playgrounds. Build new content for the others and the Killers will find their best way to usurp it to their needs.

  4. I’m going to object to “killers = griefers.” That would mean that killers are bad by definition. I will go with Zen of Design on that one:

    7. Don’t think killers are griefers. An important subset of the previous point. I see this all the time, an assumption that killers are all griefers and should be removed from the game. Killers are people who are primarily motivated by schaudenfreude. Griefers are a subset of this, but it also includes people who like clean, healthy competition as well – as long as they win.

  5. schadenfreude: malicious joy in the misfortunes of others; literally “damage-joy”, from German.

    I would argue that straight Killers are almost universally griefers. Those that aren’t tend to have a high affinity for another aspect, whether it’s to Acheive a higher number of kills than anyone else, get a ‘Merciless Gladiator title’, or deck themselves out with arena equipment; to Explore the weaknesses of other classes and develop effective countermeasures against their tricks… I can’t really think up anything solidly Social.

    A Killer with no other goal in mind? That reminds me of levelling up on a PvP server, where you’ll find rogues 20 levels higher than the zone content meandering around and dispatching people in two hits… repeatedly. That’s schadenfreude; that’s a griefer; that’s a Killer.

  6. I’m a Killer. I play to beat people, I want them to be mad at themself because they can’t beat me. I don’t have to do this in an MMO, I started in CS. Sometimes while I’m running through crowds of people slaughtering them without getting hit I stop for a second and notice that the next guy in line is Mr. -2 kills and 25 deaths, and I choose to spare him. I do it in MMOs as well, for the most part, sometimes yeah I just want to kill someone for the hell of doing it, knowing that they’re now pissed. Say what you want about killers, but we’ll always be here, pissing you off for being such fucking fagtards (excuse the hostility at the end here, but if you read above people are trying to say I = evil badness who should be done away with).

  7. Now I’m curious. Why is it fun to make people angry? Does the anger have to be directed at you to count as successful, or just general anger with the game/world, etc?

    Is it about a power trip of sorts, about control, that you can manipulate people’s emotions the way you want ’em? Or is it more the feeling of being godlike in a game – an Achiever kind of need? Or something else entirely?

    I’m wondering if it’s projection, in a way, to assume people get angry when you kill them in a game. Won’t some just shrug it off as part and parcel of PvP?

  8. I think the main reason would be because I’ve been gaming since I was one of those annoying kids people hate but don’t tell they hate because they’re so young. I would get so pissed back then, it was ridiculous. I see that as part of the process of becoming a Killer/PvPer/PKer. Once you can accept losing, for the most part, you can start to improve your skills. I’m just trying to turn people to the Dark Side, Mr. Skywalker.

  9. “Some killers care whose head comes back as a trophy, but most are happy shooting sheep in a barrel. Give them more barrels.”

    In the case of FPS games, killers will cross with acheivers via stats tracking I find.. its not the head that comes back as a trophy that matters, its the amount of headshots you got on that head that counts.

    The ‘badge of honour’ is having the highest rank in your friends list, the most headshots with the ‘least likely to get a headshot’ weapon, most miles sprinted, grenades thrown, and so on.

    In terms of WoW, I levelled as a solid EASK player but at endgame thats changed a lot for me. I still enjoy guild activities but as far as grinding goes I’m done with that aspect.

    It seems to me that the only reason everything costs so much or is such a timesink in wow, is purely to keep the monthly fees rolling in. If it takes twice as long to reach a point that can be considered the ‘end’ of the game in its current form then it takes twice as long for that player to stop paying money. Drag it out long enough and you get what we have now. People will keep running uphill as long as there is a hill to run up and Blizzard will make sure theres always a hill as long as theres money to be had..

    If you can add an extra 10 miles onto the hill that looks just the same as the last 10 miles (Burning Crusade and the upcoming Wrath of the lich King), maybe some new trees to run past, or some new trainers to run in, people will keep running..

  10. I’m an explorer, but in order to make the explored location relevant, there has to be something meaningful to DO in the unlocked location. Like a climactic fight, or a special crafting skill. Something that takes some time to master, long enough to give me a sense of the environment as a living location and not just a picture on the screen.

    Putting people into simple categories obscures the truth: it’s how these categories connect together that makes them meaningful in our gameplay. It’s not only the location to be explored, the monster to be killed, the achievement to be won, but how they connect together that makes it interesting and relevant to the player.

  11. This is probably where individual players diverge based on what their motivations are, and what they perceive as meaningful to do.

    I identify as an explorer too, but I’m less interested in discovering game mechanics and number crunching. I only read up about them to sate a secondary achiever need, which is to have an effective character.

    For me, exploring is about finding the less visited places, enjoying the view (pretty pictures, yay – I take screenshots of them though, so it’s something to “do” in my book), mapping (if I get obsessive) and discovering trivia and easter eggs.

    Good stories, immersiveness into the game setting (slightly roleplayish), as well as novel game experiences (yep, even the terrifying PUGs or the epic failures, epic wins are more fun, of course) are part of what I seek in a game.

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