Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Limited and Unlimited Goals

Why do people play MMORPGs, and what are their long term goals in the game? The Bartle Test lists player types as being achievers, explorers, socializers, or killers. But if you look at these player types, you'll noticed that they work on different time scales: You can socialize or kill other players in a MMORPG forever. Exploration and achievement is limited by the amount of content the developers provide. At some point you have seen all the corners of the game world with nothing left to explore, or killed the last raid boss with nothing left to achieve. Socializers and killers have unlimited goals, achievers and explorers have limited goals, with the limit being game content.

Watching behavior of players in World of Warcraft, it appears that achievers and explorers dominate that game. Of course there is a lot of socializing going on, but that doesn't appear to be a prime motivation. If people were valuing social contacts more than achievement, they wouldn't guild hop that much. And killing other players appears to be a rather weak motivator. In fact WoW had to modify their PvP system to add more achievement motivation in the form of PvP epics to get a significant number of players to participate.

Now the big question is what motivations will be at work in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning? WAR is primarily a PvP game, but will people engage in that RvR because they simply like to kill other players, or will they participate because of the RvR rewards, trying to achieve maximum renown rank as a parallel level to the regular character level? Or in other words, will they continue playing once they reached the maximum renown rank and a keep? Obviously a killer type would, and an achiever type wouldn't continue when he reached the top.

Another question is how you prolong long-term motivation with expansions. As much as WoW expansions can be criticized for coming not often enough to keep the average achiever or explorer entertained, they seem very well designed to solve exactly the problems of these two groups: Add more zones to explore, and new levels and dungeons to achieve to the game. Their impact on socializers and killers is generally small, although WotLK at least offers new forms of PvP for the killers in the form of Lake Winterspring. I can see how WAR could add new pairings of races and expand the game for explorers. But how will they add something that would appeal to the achievers or killers? While an expansion that adds raid content is great for achievers, it pretty much spoils the fun of the killers, as Mythic learned from their Trials of Atlantis (DAoC expansion) fiasco.

I am pretty sure that WAR will have great success among all classes of players, as it offers new content to explorers and achievers, more PvP to killers, and a range of improved guild functions for socializers. How long that success will hold up depends on how many killers there actually are in the customer base. The achievers will probably end up enjoying raid PvE centric games like WoW more. The socializers will go where their friends are. And the explorers aren't staying long anyway, because new games lure with new content.

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