Design of Theme Park MMOs

Yesterday I accepted the suggestion that design should lead users to the right action. If what feels intuitive is wrong, change whatever part of the game is encouraging failure. I was talking about interface design, but this is how we get theme parks, isn’t it?

The trail of bread crumbs leads you from ride to ride. Follow the big symbols over NPC heads and then arrows to whatever they want. One ride sends you to the next. “The right thing to do” is so obvious that we strongly notice sub-optimal ordering in quests and trip combinations.

We can complain about dumbed-down design, but it is good design in the sense that it provides good guidance, works with users’ intuitions and expectations, and is a big improvement over games that have one “right thing to do” but hide it behind an illusion of freedom. We expect games to have a goal and a victory condition and something to do, rather than toys or worlds where we expect to make our own fun.

EVE Online is a wonderful sandbox with entirely user-defined victory conditions. Those design decisions go well together: there is no way to “win,” so there is limited guidance about the “right” path to take. (It is an improvement that certificates help you figure out the steps on common paths.) World of Warcraft is a wonderful theme park with very clear paths and velvet ropes to make sure you stay on them. The middle ground is harder to establish.

: Zubon

3 thoughts on “Design of Theme Park MMOs”

  1. It’s funny that we take WoW as the gold standard for theme park games, but there are single player games with much much better tutorial modes. It’s one of the things which struck me with console games, they tend to do a really good job of teaching you to play.

    I’m told by friends in the beta that the WoW tutorial for new players gets much much better in Cataclysm. These clear paths and velvet ropes we have currently? Not as much as an experienced player would think.

    The other problem is that even with a good tutorial, if the MMO is deep enough, players who make good use of addons, offsite resources and wikis/blogs/guides have a significant advantage. So the tutorial, at best, teaches players to be sub par.

    Or in other words, I think in MMOs, tutorials need to find ways to encourage players to talk to each other and to know that the information is out there. But how do you really do that when the hardcore have no interest in wasting time with the noobs?

  2. I’d like to see, forgive my ignorance if something like this exists and I’ve just missed it, a game that started out like Wow or other “Theme Park” Games for early content and ramped up towards a more open sand-box end-game.

    1. Then you can annoy people at both ends of the theme park vs sandbox continuum! :P

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