Cost Disease

GM-run events in MMOs do not scale well, and their compromises mean they pretty much have to be lousy.

MMO PvE content is designed to scale well, in whatever way it scales in your game. If you make a good quest or instance, you can have it running on hundreds of servers at very little additional cost. Having 10,000,000 people play WoW takes far less developer time than having 100,000 people play each of 100 MMOs. This is mass-production, with increasing returns to scale. Computers are good at copying the same thing for more people.

Developer-piloted NPCs do not scale well. They can be in only one place. If you want that NPC to appear in more than one zone or on more than one server, you need multiple humans to pilot them. Programmed and scripted events can be copied, but the human interaction portion cannot. If you want to give every server an equal experience, you are going to need a script, reducing the human element; you are going to need either staggered starts or a large team; and if you have staggered starts, you need some way to cope with people from the fifth server knowing the script already. Sadly, the end point must always be the same, because you cannot support divergent servers. Any human interaction affects only the storytelling, not the plot.

If the developers of EVE Online, Darkfall, or A Tale in the Desert (all sandbox-y games in increasing order of PvP hardcore-ness) want an event, they can go do it. There is a server or two. They do not need to worry about divergence or repeat performances. Single-server architecture is a grand thing. Similarly, players can run their own events and affect the world. Even if most of the “events” are from people who want to watch the world burn, you have a much larger upside potential.

: Zubon

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5 thoughts on “Cost Disease”

  1. Having driven an NPC during an event, I can tell you that it honestly is not that much fun. Sure, it sounds great, and if all you have to do is kill PCs (it happens) it’s easy. More often you are there to tell a story, or run a script, and only the smallest fraction of players are interested in the story. The vast majority will spam any channel they can find begging for loot, complaining about the script we are obviously reading (I used to hotkey my text ahead of time to avoid typos), and griefing people who are actually involved.

    There are those times though that it all comes together. You have a good story, the right people show up, and it’s fun. Usually these are quick, unannounced, and random. These rare gems are the reason game companies still try to do them.

    1. I used to run events in EVE Online way back. I had pretty much the same experiences. Most of the time people follow you around trying to mess up the event. It was rare to find people willing to play along. Our events generally ended up being more like a play than something the players got to be a part of.

  2. I’ve always found it a bit strange that MMO companies so persisently try to deliver to their customers products and services that most of them manifestly don’t want. What Oz says reflects exactly what I’ve seen from the player side, namely that only the “smallest fraction” of players want to listen to the story or act out the parts in any event like this.

    What the huge majority of players always seem to want is a big fight with lots of loot. When an event is basically that, the zone will fill up until it crashes and complaints will largely be about inability to paricipate and/or receive rewards. It seems self-evident that this is what customers want, and yet MMO houses insist on offering them roleplay events instead.

    In my experience, most players greatly prefer server-run scripted events, like the seasonal and holiday events most MMOs put on, where something happens for a limited duration but in a predictable way and with set rewards for participation. Events run by actual humans seem like a weird and intrusive incursion.

    1. That speaks well for Rift. If the dynamic content people want is masses of scripted punching bags to appear like surprise pinatas, Trion has the audience nailed.

      1. It’s true, although it was not always this way.

        ‘Back in the day’, UO had both GM and player-run events that were never about the loot, and while Dreads would sometimes ‘crash’ them, that itself was in the spirit of the game. AC had monthly plot-progression events that generally went well. Hell even in DF the last GM event was 50/50 pixal chasers / MMO players.

        So it can work, you just have to design a game that deters the Generation Me types, and that means you fall into the ‘dreaded’ niche. Oh noz.

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