To continue on my line of game design laws for MMOs, I decided to make it easy on myself and just head straight into it and look at Raph’s first law of game design. This rule is actually four in one. I think the point of it was to get under your belt the four most obvious things that a designer should keep in mind. The rules start with a general line stating: “The secrets to a really long-lived, goal-oriented, online game of wide appeal.” I will go into each individual portion seperately.
a) “have multiple paths of advancement (individual features are nice, but making them ladders is better)”
I do think this rule still relates to MMOs. You see multiple paths of advancement in nearly every game. In addition to having your standard adventurer lines, you also have tradeskills, and now you even have alternate advancement in nearly every game which just adds something else on top of the adventuring line.
I don’t however, think that this frame of thought is actually growing, in fact the reverse. I think what was more thought of here is the creation of different ways to gain levels. Instead, we have reverted to a single way and in many ways turned away from many advancements made in the genre. About the only truly alternate way to advance is perhaps that youi can gain a miniscule amount of xp from unlocking a map section in WoW. I don’t even think this is what was had in mind.
I think Raph was correct on this one, it is difficult to refute it. But I don’t think that any MMO right now is really taking advantage of multiple paths to advancement.
b) “make it easy to switch between paths of advancementt (ideally, without having to start over)”
This is an interesting one, again I think this should be correct. Players shouldn’t need more than a couple of character slots because if they wanted to switch stuff they should. If you include the parenthesis, this ideal never really was in play past a few games many years ago, nothing recent.
However, I do think this is an ideal that WoW thrives upon believe it or not. It may have been one of the best decisions they made as a game. By making leveling so easy and fast, they have created a game where most players have more than just a couple of max level players. People love playing alts on that game, and it was a great cover for the fact that there was little depth to the game. Instead of creating a game with a lot of depth, they created a shallow game that had a lot of starting areas so that a player had reason to not sit around at high level, it promoted alt-itis.
I think for this reason, WoW very well may have proved that not only is it not ideal to switch between paths of advancement without starting over, it may be just as good, if not better, to force the player to start over. One benefit to doing this is that you get a system where a player might get sick of tanking one day and go log in his healer. No matter how quick you might make it to switch between skills and/or classes, it may never be as quick as it is to have two high level characters and just log in with the other one.
Personally, I think players may still wish to start an alternate path without the middle step, and just being able to do it on the same character. I mean imagine Ultima Online’s system where it just becomes as easy to level to grandmaster as it is to max level in WoW. Or what if you could just skill trees without having to retrain or anything maybe just with a 24-hour timer so people can’t do it back and forth within a group. The need for alt-itis really goes down and I think that solution is problematic anyway. However, if the reason you are doing it is to hide lack of depth then by all means, force the middle step.
c) “make sure the milestones in the path of advancement are clear and visible and significant (having 600 meaningless milestones doesn’t help)”
I believe this may be one of the more refined laws that Raph made up many years ago. I mean take Ultima Online for example. You wouldn’t know that you had gained a point in a skill unless you looked at a window constantly, and when you did, you got rewarded very inadvertantly. Forward to the following generation and you saw more visible bar that went up and drums when you leveled like in DAoC. Now adays, in WoW in particular, a level is huge. You flash, a sound goes off, etc. It is like a mini-fireworks display all in your honor. And unlike UO, every level counts for something now. You look forward to the new spells and abilities that you get, not the “get something every 5-10 levels of old.
d) “ideally, make your game not have a sense of running out of significant milestones (try to make your ladder not feel finite)”
This is actually a very curious entry by Koster as I think the only MMO to have done this was Asheron’s Call and even that wore off eventually. It always feels finite usually however. UO had the 100% of a skill (after all how do you go over 100%?), and every other game since then has had the level cap publicized and known about before launch comes around. They definitely aren’t going for a “running out of significant milestones” type of feel.
Which is odd, because I never really thought about it but this rule makes a lot of sense. After all the MMO genre shares a lot with the original arcade games which were designed from the bottom up to not be finite. After all the base pay structure of MMOs requires the same mindset by developers that you want people to keep chugging the quarters in so that they can get to the next level of the game right? So why don’t developers think of this ever? Is it because no developer today was around to even play games back in the 80s when there were arcades? Kind of sad, there is a lesson to be learned here by MMO devs all the way around, which may be to the chagrin of the average MMO player.
The only real similarity for this rule and modern MMOs is the badge system in both City of Heroes and Lord of the Rings Online. In both of these games this badge type system allows the player to earn these merits by doing various things from finding new locations, killing so many orcs, doing so many quests, etc. And some of these badges, and/or combinations provide abilities and enhancements in and of themselves. It is a great system which further two of the sections of this particular rule very well. Because these badges are so numerous, it often does feel like they are never-ending and on top of that, it is really easy for devs to add more which makes them even more never-ending.
I don’t think these four rules are generally disagreeable. I think that they may not have been used, but I think all of them are pretty good and worth using. I think certainly times have changed on some and made me view them perhaps a little differently than they were originally thought of, but they are still quality rules to live by.