Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Massively singleplayer online roleplaying games?

If you read on blogs about EVE Online, you can find the most wonderful stories, often involving treachery, betrayal and assassination. Then when you read blogs about stories that happened in World of Warcraft, including mine, they feel rather tame by comparison. Sometimes there is guild drama, usually about raid slots or loot distribution. But often people just tell about zones they explored, quests they did, or boss mobs they killed. And because Onyxia is always the same, all the stories on "how we beat Onyxia" are somewhat similar. So why are not more people playing EVE, if it is so much more exciting? Because that excitement is player-run, and not really part of game.

I received an interesting e-mail recently, from somebody who talked about his favorite game: "Face of Mankind is a completely player-run game. While there is very loose guidance by the devs and GMs, all missions, faction events, and structure is handled by and for the players. It's a double-edged sword - the freedom creates a very genuine sense of reward when players are successful, but it also leads to gross mismanagement and abuse of power by people who gain stature through seniority. Still, when this game was in open beta and had swarms of players, I was hooked." and then asks "Is there something else like Face of Mankind? Something player-driven with lots of breathing space for RP? Something with freedom and exploration? I am told that EVE is a game I should look into, and I indeed see many things on the surface that are quite appealing, but after three trials that I gave up on after a few days, I don't see it."

I had the same problem with EVE, I played it when it came out and gave up on it before the free month was over. The player interaction was exciting, but not always in a pleasurable way, like when I was ganked by another player and podded (killed). But most of the time you don't interact with players, you interact only with the game itself, like in any singleplayer game. And as a singleplayer game, EVE isn't so hot. There is too much boring asteroid mining, and equally boring long spaceflights.

World of Warcraft on the other hand is a great massively singleplayer online roleplaying game (MSORPG). You can have thousands of hours of fun without interacting with other players. There are so many places to explore, quests to do, monsters to fight, and items to collect that you never get bored just because you are alone.

Now theoretically you could have both, a great MSORPG with exciting player interaction added on top of it. But practically there is a problem with player interaction often driving away more customers than attracting it. The "Eve Intergalactic Bank" is a great story, but the hundreds of EVE players getting scammed out of large sums were probably pretty angry. And the other story with the guild being infiltrated, it's leader killed and all the guild money stolen makes you wonder how many of those guild members quit the game in disgust.

So most MSORPG have only neutered player interaction. Limited death penalties when being killed by another player, or even no non-consensual PvP at all. No stealing, nowadays not even real killstealing or ninjalooting any more. There is a "bad word" filter integrated into the chat system. Toontown even has no more open chat at all, you communicate mostly with pre-designed safe phrases, unless you know the other player from outside the game and exchange a secret code with them there. The stories of World of Warcraft sound so much more harmless because there really isn't much you can to do another player. But apparently that is what the majority of players wants. A few people would love an alternative WoW in which you freely kill and loot other players. But experience shows that there are always many more victims than player killers, and in the end such a feature only harms a game.

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