Richard Bartle wrote his treatise on MUD player types back in ’96. His assertions have been rightfully questioned and we have generally found them to not be a robust enough platform for player motivation. They do have another purpose for which they need only minor tweaks however. Activity types.
However, Bartle gave each one certain connotations in terms of how they interacted with players, the world, or each other, for my purpose we will be tossing those out wholesale. For instance, a killer activity is any activity in which the player kills another player while an achiever activity is any activity in which the player is put in direct competition with their peers. As you can see there can and in fact must be some overlap. However I would also like to add one more group before we begin, creators. Creators are most directly related to crafters, but can also be player housing, armor painting, or pet raising.
So why go through all of this, well primarily to better understand the current MMOs on the market. This group of activity types is fairly limited, but it still covers the vast majority of what we want to go into. First I’ll take a quick look at some of the games I have played well enough to comment on.
WoW is the obvious starting point to any MMO discussion so I thought I would go ahead and get it out of the way. What I have seen from WoW is that they are the epitome of mainstream, streamlined, generalist, easy and shallow. Probably one of the most amazing facets of WoW is that they actually did manage to strike an incredible balance of everything but killing, and then worked that in later. WoW’s fundamental mechanic, grind to x so you grind faster, gave it a very single minded purpose without distractions, and built on the corner stone of achievement game play. Exploration was given slight xp bonuses as well as slightly out of the way quest givers allowed explorers in while not fracturing game play focus at all. Social elements were added in the forms of instances and dungeons again feeding back into the main achievement style and finally creation was an alternate form of advancement as well as adding certain buffs. Killing, while existent didn’t receive it’s real focus until battlegrounds and even after addition was polished and demolished until it became as easy and focused as the rest of game play.
WoW is not, however, by any means a perfect game. Not even for achievers. The problem that WoW has, which will not effect their bottom line but certainly does effect a large portion of their player base is that they gave up a great deal of depth to make access particularly easy. There isn’t enough to explore nor enough of a reward for doing so to keep focused explorers engaged, there aren’t enough social tools nor enough reason to connect to please fundamentally social players, creators are required to hit their highest possible levels before they see any real use and even then have to compete with hundreds of others on their server if they are lucky enough to have so little competition. The killers don’t get to feel as though they’ve done serious damage, and achievers are faced with the brutal reality that their greatest achievements were well and truly worthless.
To add insult to injury, it only really takes you wanting more of any one activity to make the game start to feel hollow to you, and most people who are reading this blog are fairly far into multiple groups.
EVE may seem to be the opposite far extreme, but I would posit that it is really not. It’s done something very similar to WoW in fact. They took a corner stone of killer activities and built the entire game around it, keeping the activities in check and focused back into that. What they did very differently however was they exchanged ease of access for depth. An explorer can spend an entire career in EVE and not see it all, and certain types of exploring are very very profitable. Creation in EVE, in terms of crafting, is very well designed and thought out. Creation activities in EVE carry a certain amount of gravitas with them as well, since they have a direct effect on the capabilities of the killers. Achievers aren’t given so much a set of activities as they are a form of expression and they make use of it to the full extent. Best off all in terms of achievement, whether it’s piloting a titan or getting a 6:1 Kill/Death Ratio it is all dependent on your own skill making the achievements worthwhile.
Social tools are probably where EVE has consistently fallen shortest. Despite their excellent community the number of purely social constructs in EVE has remained relatively low. I believe this is a large part of why so many players are looking forward to Ambulation, it will be a chance to better explore the social side of the game. It may also be a chance to explore the social side of creation.
Of course EVE paid a heavy price for all this, their barrier to entry is at least exponentially higher than WoW’s. While they certainly maintain an excellent player base they don’t stand any significant chance of breaking the multi-million subscriber barrier in the next few years.
I could go on with Guild Wars or Tabula Rasa, but for now I’d rather focus on how we can use this when making MMOs. What exactly are these measurements useful for?
A good starting point would be cornerstones. Both of the examples I used above created a focus within their game that is truly inescapable. No matter what you are doing in WoW it’s to achieve the next macguffin and no matter what you are doing in EVE it is built on/funded by the frozen corpses of dead player characters. In TR it’s actually about exploring, but it’s an exploration of the lore and literature rather than a literal exploration. Guild Wars is built schizophrenically around exploring or killing while neither incorporates more than a cursory creation mechanic but both contain fairly robust social and achievement mechanics.
Another take away is that MMOGs are, presently, lagging far behind in the social component. There are more than enough meta game tools to sate player’s appetites, but we could still do with a certain grouping of advancements. In game message boards are a very good example, I have seen only one usage of these, however. Any sci-fi MMO can leverage these to the benefit of RPers and much the entire player base. Fantasy games can have an option to disable the menu to increase immersion, but they can still benefit from these as well. If you add on a program such as PlayXpert (PXP) you may find that players become more socially engaged with your game as friendships grown in game are fluently translated to out of game and vice-versa.
As much as I know I have certainly missed more activity types or have shoe horned them into these, they have worked reasonably well as a group of quick and dirty metrics from my perspective. Perhaps most importantly, since I am not a scholar and am simply trying to state what I have seen with a relatively broad brush, they should be judged as a speedy and stylized way of expressing the complex relations of players and activities and not as a comprehensive list or set of metrics.