on Feb 20, 2007
Looking at the comments on my previous posts regarding Eve Online, I see some of the fans enumerating the game’s strong points. Some of these points are things which I thought were the chief weaknesses of the game. This confirms what I’ve suspected for a while, which is that there are very different groups of people playing MMO games with entirely different expectations and motivations. I see two distinct types of players. Their desires are often at odds with one another, so that there isn’t really any way (that I can think of) to can please both groups.
These gamers appreciate the opportunity for risk. They seem to favor the PvP aspects of a MMO game, and see the single-player solo play as simply a means to the PvP end. They value conquest, overcoming enemies, amassing power, gaining prestige, and the thrill of victory. They approach these games the way other people might approach team sports.
These players are likely to keep an eye on the rankings (if the game has any) and they are going to take game-balance issues very seriously.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are people like me, who don’t really need any of that. For me these games are about accomplishing goals and building things. Some people can maintain a garden, paint miniatures, or build a ship in a bottle, and they enjoy the process even though there is never any risk. They never worry about someone scuttling the ship or about their neighbors getting together and ganking the tomato patch. It’s a totally different experience.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is simply a way to share the experience with others. Building a model train with wonderful scenery is fun, but it’s even better when you have someone visit and see what you’ve made.
These two groups are fundamentally at odds with each other for what they want out of the game. If you gear the game towards competitors, then the builders are going to get very upset about how their project – their ingame persona – keeps getting destroyed or sustaining setbacks. It’s no fun building a sandcastle that gets kicked in every ten minutes by some sadistic jerk.
But if you favor the builder style of gameplay, then you’ll have a game with only minor or minimal setbacks, where players cannot get ahead at the expense of others. For competitors it will be like playing a sport without keeping score. What’s the point? If the game is built with no outlet for competitors, then they will struggle to find some other way to compete and conquer. This is probably where a large number of “grief” players come from: They are simply competitors trying to have fun in a world made for builders.
What is interesting is that within the context of an MMO game these two types of people are able to come together and have fun, more or less in spite of one another. I see a lot of different ways of trying to accommodate these two groups. In Eve Online, the best mining places are found in uncontrolled space, where players are free to blast each other at will. So, they put some prizes out there in PvP space so that builders will be tempted to go out there and be targets for competitors.
If you go into the forums of an MMO game, I predict that the most intense debates on gameplay and balance are really struggles between these two types of players, who each want to get more of what they like out of a game.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.