POST-MAX GAMING \’e2\’80\ldblquote WHAT IS IT, AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?
The ultimate destination of all PIGs is the post-max game. It\’e2\’80\’99s simply impractical and stupid to attempt to keep the entire population on the leveling treadmill forever. If you try it, it gives you constant balancing headaches, it burns out the players and it leaves your game susceptible to replacement by new games with a newer look and feel that will re-captivate a player who is bored with their current gaming environment. A real post-max game draws its strength from the community, which in turn draws its strength from two major pillars \’e2\’80\ldblquote PVP and RP.
The reason a community draws its strength from PVP and RP is because these two activities are far more likely to build relationships between players than PVE. Any activity that involves two players focusing on EACH OTHER is inherently more involving than two players only peripherally concerned about each other while focusing on a gaming challenge. The basic truth is that if you keep players busy hustling to level, then they don\’e2\’80\’99t really have much of an opportunity to actually get to KNOW each other. They don\’e2\’80\’99t really choose to associate with people based on relationships \’e2\’80\ldblquote i.e. people they like \’e2\’80\ldblquote instead they choose to associate with people based on what gets them their levels fastest. This is an optimization strategy that almost every human pursues whether they know it or not.
If you look at games that put too much emphasis on the leveling tread mill, and/or that drag that process out too long, you can see that the game actually puts itself in a position to be replaced in the marketplace. Think about it from the player perspective. If you are tortured through the leveling treadmill at some point you begin to stop enjoying the game for the game itself and are instead building towards a goal. It\’e2\’80\’99s just hard to quit a game at level 51 when the top level is 60. But by the time you get to 60 you\’e2\’80\’99re going to be so sick and tired of the game that the first thing you\’e2\’80\’99ll do upon maxxing is quit. The reasons you will quit are first, burn out and second because you\’e2\’80\’99re missing a few things from your gaming experience.
1) You don\’e2\’80\’99t have any real concept of what to do AFTER you max
2) You don\’e2\’80\’99t have any real relationships with the community at large because you were too busy to make them. You might really know say 10 people. The rest you\’e2\’80\’99re just acquainted with.
Throw those two facts on top of just being sick and tired of the repetitive nature of that particular gaming environment, and bam \’e2\’80\ldblquote you\’e2\’80\’99re done.
There are a number of things you can do to try and mitigate these effects. If you look at them, you\’e2\’80\’99ll see they\’e2\’80\’99re familiar. UO, EQ and even AC have all done some number of these.
1) Make the leveling process easier in order to get people to the post-max game BEFORE they\’e2\’80\’99re sick to death of the game. (UO and EQ have now both done this)
2) Release PVE updates to the game that don\’e2\’80\’99t require more leveling but do add new areas to explore and adventure in (Velious anyone?)
3) Make changes to try and make PVP more interesting, less harsh, and more voluntary. (Can we say coin-loot-only? Team PVP servers? Divide the lands in two? Factions?)
4) Make RP more prominent and interesting (see AC\’e2\’80\’99s server-wide plots).
It\’e2\’80\’99s a given that the new round of PIGs will have learned SOMETHING from these lessons. Will they have learned enough to make it fun? No freaking clue. But the question is what are they doing about it since they (unlike currently released games) have the opportunity to build their games from the ground up while addressing these kinds of issues.
As you know (maybe), I\’e2\’80\’99ve been advocating the creation of intelligent, challenging, and human skill based PVP for quite some time. I freaking HOPE somebody was LISTENING and this has also been added to the mix. But unfortunately, that\’e2\’80\’99s the kind of thing where you can\’e2\’80\’99t find out whether it\’e2\’80\’99s being done right until you\’e2\’80\’99re playing the game. All you have to go on are generic statements like, \’e2\’80\’9coh yah, we\’e2\’80\’99re doing that.\’e2\’80\’9d Heh.
BUT, what you CAN see more plainly even without playing the game is that games are now building in the concept of territory control as part of PVP. And it\’e2\’80\’99s this that seems to be the logical extension of the current idea of what PVP is. It\’e2\’80\’99s this strategy layer of territory control that is the next generation\’e2\’80\’99s solution to the post-max game. It gives people a reason to keep fighting and playing \’e2\’80\ldblquote a goal to achieve for PVP, just like leveling and item acquisition is the goal to be achieved through PVE.
OK THEN, WHAT THE EXACTLY IS A STRATEGY LAYER?
Strategy layers are. Yes, they just are. I say this because there really is no accepted standard for what a strategy layer is in a game. Games could be busily telling you that they have a strategy layer and really we have no idea what that means, and we\’e2\’80\’99re not even sure if THEY know what that means. But it sounds good, right? Buzz words are always cool.
(As an aside: It\’e2\’80\’99s really interesting to me that the gaming industry actually has no recognized independent authorities on defining the essential characteristics of a genre. Other industries in the software world spawn new categories of products, and companies like The Gartner Group run out and put together high-priced white papers on what ACTUALLY constitutes Groupware, or Sales Force Automation, or Datamining, or whatever. For instance, statements are made like, “It isn\’e2\’80\’99t really Groupware unless it has A, B, C, D, etc.” But that\’e2\’80\’99s a tangential thought.)
Hey! Raise your hand if you think you can trust the PIG industry to turn out an interesting macro-level strategy game on its first attempt. Ok, now raise your hand if you think that the first generation of the strategy layer in PIGs will suck hard.
K\’e2\’80\’a6 I\’e2\’80\’99ll count that up later and tell you how it turned out. 😉
Anyway, all that seems to be tacitly accepted is that there be some way to take and lose territory among player groups. That\’e2\’80\’99s great\’e2\’80\’a6 it kind of adds SOMETHING to the game, but in a limited form it\’e2\’80\’99s pretty much just another thing to get bored of quickly. What we really need are GOOD strategy layers.
ALL RIGHT, BIG MOUTH, WHAT\’e2\’80\’99S A **GOOD** STRATEGY LAYER?
Well, let\’e2\’80\’99s start with what a bad one is, because we have such fine examples. Plus, I just love bashing stuff. (grin)
Territory and Victory are not Inherently Meaningful
Let\’e2\’80\’99s look at some practical experiences on that point. I was discussing some of the pros and cons of territory control and team PVP in the EQ environment with some fellow players and I got some pretty interesting info. I know, I know, EQ is a piss-poor game for it. So what? It\’e2\’80\’99s something to do at the moment. (laugh)
Or how about a little Arcadian hat love on why territory control is a joke in UO.
The common theme here? No one cares who owns what territory. This is either because there\’e2\’80\’99s no benefit to it or no sense of group ownership and pride in the victory even if you DO happen to achieve territory control.
There was an interesting article that Myschyf posted a link to a while back from the Adrenaline Vault about professional sports becoming successful only after they found a way to make people feel like they were a part of the winning and losing:
\’e2\’80\’a6once teams represented something more than themselves, it became easier for the new sports journalists to explain why their games mattered. (Excelsior plays the Knickerbockers? Who cares? New York playing Brooklyn? Now that’s something people had an opinion on.) And unlike rowing, baseball was then able to profit from the spectators attracted by that publicity. Baseball succeeded because it successfully combined municipal/corporate identification with gate revenues to achieve near continuous year-over-year growth.
Basically, you NEED a reason why people should care. Randomly throwing a truckload of people into a “team” and then giving them territory to conquer that delivers no particular benefit isn\’e2\’80\’99t exactly the way to go. And even though it seems that UO tried to tie towns into their teams, there\’e2\’80\’99s simply not enough meaning in belonging to a “town” in UO, because you\’e2\’80\’99re not REALLY tied to that town by anything other than an arbitrary decision.
Shadowbane, at least, already has this licked. They\’e2\’80\’99re making player-formed guilds the focus of territory control. Because the players form these groups themselves, they have a sense of identity that a “faction” or “team” can never have. I\’e2\’80\’99m sure some of the other games in development have figured this out as well, but I can\’e2\’80\’99t claim to be following them all enough to tell you who has and who hasn\’e2\’80\’99t. Nonetheless, it\’e2\’80\’99s an important concept.
SO, if you\’e2\’80\’99ve got teams with an identity, and REASONS to conquer territory you\’e2\’80\’99re all done, right? The strategy layer of the game will be forever amusing. HELL NO!
Linear Nation Combat is Every Bit as Boring as Linear Individual Combat
Here\’e2\’80\’99s the thing. There are two cities, City A and City B. They are in a fight. They attack each other. If all there is to the “Strategy Layer” of conquering or fighting with another city is a direct assault on the front gates, that\’e2\’80\’99s going to be a mighty boring Post-Max game. Oh, it\’e2\’80\’99ll be fun at first, but ultimately it will degenerate into a kind of tug-of-war idiocy that\’e2\’80\’99s mostly decided by who has more people on at any given time.
In order for a territory control system to TRULY be able to call itself a “Strategy Layer” there MUST be MULTIPLE points of contention involved in the achieving of any conquest. And this must apply not just on the broadest scale, but for each individual target. In other words, simply pointing out that there might be more than one city in a given empire is insufficient. The scale of conquering more than one city at a time, or besieging one city to keep it from aiding a neighbor while you try and crack the neighbor is most likely too much for most groups to bite off\’e2\’80\’a6 and really is still pretty strategically uninteresting.
(BTW, just for fun, consider the limitations of technology. Hundreds and hundreds of people all fighting in one location = lag from hell. If you have multiple points of contention you have the opportunity to still fight one “conceptual battle” for a single prize while splitting up the action so that small teams pursue various goals rather than one giant team pursuing one goal at a time. This offers the potentially significant benefit of making sure game-lag doesn\’e2\’80\’99t become a show-stopper.)
The challenge before the PIGs is this. Find a way to make the decisions made about how and where to attack and defend MEANINGFUL. Find a way to assure that each and every conflict over a city is MORE than the simple repetition of a rote pattern. That it\’e2\’80\’99s a unique and thought-provoking battle each and every time.
I want to KNOW that if we took a city it\’e2\’80\’99s because my \’e2\’80\’9cgeneral\’e2\’80\’9d was just plain BETTER than yours. Otherwise I (and everyone else) will dismiss wins as a simply meaningless proof of the concept that whoever has more people online at any given time will win the fight. That will eventually make the whole territory control system feel meaningless and repetitive.
So how do you accomplish this lofty goal of putting real strategy in the strategy layer? It boils down to options and consequences AGAIN, but this time on a much grander scale. What do you use to break up linear patterns and introduce options and consequences at this scale?
I promise to go away and think about some answers if you do. (sadistic smile)
Hey. Can you believe you actually just read all of that? (laugh) Sucker. 😉
The False Prophet
Gratuitous RP Signature