Wednesday, April 29

Gameplay Cycles in MMO's

Besides player-types, the Exploration, Socializing, Achievement and Killing concepts can also be used to identify cycles, or phases if you will, of gameplay in an MMO.

The Joy of Learning:

This is the first cycle, the first love, the heady days of something new and shiny. Hopefully unspoiled by such things as bugs, server crashes, client instability and downright not working features. Raph Koster feels that the Joy of Learning is a major aspect of all gameplay, and I tend to agree with him. It's not just that the popping the cherry for the first time is a more unique experience than the nth time you do the same instance, it's the uncharted territory effect.

First there's learning how to play the game mechanics. With current major trends, copy-catting WOW, trying to be different from WOW, trying to entise the huge FPS market into paying monthly fees or RMT, this can be short and sour or long and frustrating. You don't want to spend too much time on working out the initial game mechanics but you don't want to leave people floundering. Sometimes a game hits this exactly right, as Warhammer Online has done in my opinion.

Next is learning your class / archetype / whatever. Of course this overlaps, but you generally spend a long time learning your class, often artificially paced by the developers through tiers. Each tier has to bring something new to your class as well as give you #2 of some skills, #3 and #4 of others, or hide this through name changes or minute differences. Mastering your class ultimately becomes part of another cycle, for me at least.

Alting can substantially increase the cycle's length and or start a new one. That's the replay value of alts 9of a different class), provided that the last element to this cycle is of enough depth.

The last element of this cycle, and the one most responsible to extending its mean time is exploring the world and sampling its contents, meeting interesting people and killing most of them. Not surprisingly, I associate this cycle with the Explorer Trait of Richard Barttle's MUD player archetypes.

For me, this Gameplay Cycle generally lasts somewhere in between one (crud game) and four (awesome!) months and since I'm primarily an Explorer type myself, it's the heaiest.

The Ties that Bind:
Ideally, during the exploratory phase of your game-time you also explored the possibility of making new friends, connecting with-, sharing with, laughing with fellow travelers on the journey. You create ties with people, set down roots and establish a reputation and place in the world for yourself and others. This often leads to becoming part of a larger community, most commonly in the shape of a Guild, fansite or, if you're sado-masochistic, Official Forums.

Socializing is important as it ties you to people which, besides being a good thing in tiself extends your enjoyment of the game I believe, long after the newness shininess of the game has been worn off. This cycle really helps going from new and shiny sensation to a comforatable feeling like that of wearing a well worn boot that can result in a truly lasting time with the game. Of course, the drawback is that you often feel obligated to keep playing a game that holds little appeal for you anymore because your friends all still play. Some overcome this by means of multi-game Guilds, but more often than not, relations come and go with the games you play, a small percentage seem to endure and stick with you cross-games. Those you could classify as friends rather than playmates (disambiguation: No off color pun intended)

On a personal note, this is a cycle and aspect of my Player type (I'm a Socializer Secondary) I've left somewhat undernourished of late. I had a great run with Guild Wars, Guild Wars @ Gameamp and Gameamp in general. In EverQuest II I was part of a small but tight knit Clan and my time Vanguard saw of Guild Drama than I've seen in a long time or care to see much of in future. Since then, the almost 2 years since most of which I spent in a 5-team shift cycle, I've not done much in the socializing sphere/cycle.
We had some fun in AoC with the Ampian Forerunners but I for one just couldn't find the energy to make anything of it and my shifting day/night cycle makes it hard to establish persistent connections.

But I've been making the miscalculation of thinking that my Shift Cycle lends itself more to playing US servers. Out of each 10 days, on 2 of these my play-time is firmly US-like, another 2 are either off-time or EU timezone only, and 6 are both EU (late) and US (early) time. So Eu times really are better/just as good I guess.

Replay value of this aspect differs. It's more an extender than a rehasher I think. After a Guild crashes and burns, most of us don't feel up for another bout of Guild Drama. Or not immediately. Still, there's a lot of fun involved in starting up a new Guild, creating a mythos, a pathos and structure. But that sounds an awful lot like Exploration again doesn't it? I really don't see any replay value in friendship either. Again it's something to hold on to. Unless you see rekindling acquinatances as replay, then there is much value to be had.

The Socializing Cycle generally starts while Exploring is still in full swang, so counting from when that aspect starts to have diminishing returns I estimate that the social gaming keeps me interested for an additional 3 to 6 months. Potentially longer, but it hasn't happened yet. Not within a single game anyway. Counting Gameamp and gaming friendships, it's more like 3-5 years and going.

Bigger must be Better:
The next cycle of gameplay, for me is Achievement.
I don't often go for this cycle as I'm like 110% Explorer, 80% Socializer, 10% Achiever and -0,4% Killer but I remember doing this in Guild Wars.
For me Achievement can be one or two things.

- Grinding: Keep killing those monsters until you collect enough tokens of some kind to buy Stuff. Where Stuff in Guild Wars was esthetically pleasing but statistically equal armor. In CoX you grind to either find or pay for those rare purple Enhancements. In most games you can grind for statistically better Stuff. I prefer doing it for fluff, and could wish that that was the only reason for anyone to grind and waste time. When more time means you become 'better' that just adds to the hardcore - casual divide. Statistical rewards mean everyone who wants to stay competitive has to stay on the ball. Sometimes it's not even about competitiveness but just plain peer pressure. Sigh, you'd think we left the playground behind.
Once again, not an Achievement player, so this is all a bit beyond me. Not only that, but i suffer from a conceit that I think my own personal player skills make up for 2-8% statistical difference.

- Raiding: Really a more complex form of grinding with similar dead-end rewards. No-one except some self deluding sods really think Raiding in itself is a good game mechanic. If it were, why aren't there any Raiding from the start games? You don't really need every minute of that long grind to max level to learn your class as you still need to learn to Raid next.

Both gear-based grinding and raiding are really a different take on the levelling game. That it's your gear that starts levelling rather than your character makes no difference. Actually it does, it makes it a clutch, much like "Alternate Advancement", lauded as a Must Have by many, really is just a bandaid on to rigid a class system.

I'd much rather see different things, like

- Long term commitments to in-game assets: Vanguard almost did this. They had you do a huge grind, as a guild, in order to get a Guild Hall built. It involved all the spheres, adventurers would be gathering resources for the crafters who had to crank out tons of materials for the construction and Diplomats had to do hundreds upon hundreds of parleys to get enough Information to acquire a Writ. it combined elemetns of Social and Achievement gameplay and as long as not too many Guild Halls were erected yet, there was a sense of discovery as well.
However, once it was all done and the building was finally up, there was nothing. Upkeep had to be paid and the resident (former) Sims(2) player would badger the crafters into getting him/her furniture to place around. But there really was no continuing effort required. No wonder many Guilds burned out shortly after. Especially the overworked Diplomats (never a big section of players, but near equal effort required) were left to their own devices. They could go on to grind for Fluff/Stat diplomatic sets. PvE Armour slightly reworked into Diplomatic gear and a note saying "You Must Find This Cool".

Age of Conan does it a bit better since your Guild Hall can be attacked, damaged and even destroyed. But that involves the Killing Cycle.

Achievement play tends to get into its own as the 'Endgame', it's no wonder that you can identify Achievement players when they rush through the carefully, lovingly handcrafted content of a recently launched game in under three weeks then complain there is no end-game, only to have their Rant Post on the Official Forums Troll-Banged because he didn't read the launch memo that raiding content would be in Real Soon Now...
Ok, that's not fair to all Achievement Players. I know for a fact that our resident Geek is an Achievement player and he's not like that. He couldn't get through a game in anything under 6 weeks ;-)
Personally I find little in the End Game or Acheivement play to find playable, let alone replayable.
But to many it's what keeps them going on and on and on following after that Tier 23 Carrot.

The King is Dead, Long Live Me!
The Killing Cycle, or gameplay.
Boy am I out of my comfort zone now.
To me this would be a last ditch effort to try and keep playing a game I've long since left.
For some it's the main ingredient though. To each their own. While I can see the glory in surviving being ganked by someone, I can't see the pleasure of ganking myself. It's really not a Cycle at all is it?

Maybe Richard Bartle was correct with his GDC Keynote Address and these 4 leftovers of his original 8 archetypes are outdated. His newfangled three player types, named Alice, Dorothy and Wendy are more apt. Though I must say that I recognize a bit of all three girls in myself. And I also think the more practically profound statement of his address was not this, but how going from Exploring & Socializing gameplay for the levelling and then switch to Achievement or Killing Play for the End Game is the wrong way to do things, is. The profounder statement that is. I should phrase that better, but that's for the next post. The presentation of his address really has me thinking. This post was just a pre-amble to the next one which'll go in more detail about Barttle's speech, just to get your mind set for my further rambling. :-)


  1. By all rights there should be several links in this post, but as over half of them are "NSFW", according to our Smartfilter anyway, so I'd have to jump through all kinds of hoops to get them included.
    In other words, wait till after my work ends or go through "Lani's Shared items" for the past two weeks or so :-)

  2. I've read alot of the links you add, uually do :) So I can see what inspired this pretty epic and darn good read, Bartle's presentation was a good read and his simplistic archetypes made alot of sense to me. Theres a hell of a lot I want to remark to about this post but I've just got in from work and Geekzor is spending the evening repeating endgame content in AoC to apppease his 'achiever' self. I'll be back!

  3. Cool that you read all those. It's a shame I can't do an RSS feed thingy for it with the Google Reader Comments option. Not everything I 'share' is stuff I agree with the poster on. It'd be neat. It'd be neater if we could tke that one step further and just discuss those topics with ease right here. The old "I'd love to discuss those Blogs, but with my mates, not those anonymice at the Blogs thenselves" argument.

    The Presentation is just awesome. I got so much from the PDF, and that's just the shorthand, I wish I had a transcript of the whole thing, or got to hear it. Ah, dreams :-)

    Oh, I fell asleep after work (2 hours of sleep before work tends to do that to me) and now it's time to explore Eriador some more, so linkies will wait another day I'm sure.
    The PDF can be found here:

    Be nice to the other Gerbills on the treadmill ;-)

  4. I blaim it all on Lani. I used to go out there and find some weird bunch of players and joined their guild. But over time my standards have gone up, and nowadays my socializing is mostly happening here on yammob. I am actually missing it. When I returned to Vanguard I had set myself the goal to rekindle the new friends and guild feeling. But I think I am using the wrong game for that. The population is already pretty low, I am playing on a mostly US server, and the majority of the community is doing that endgame thing I don't care for. In a weird way I almost have the feeling that even the era of guilds is a thing of the past. Bartle's three girls are maybe even prove of that. Alice and even Dorothy are loners. And even Wendy does her thing on her own.

    I think it is time declare I will make a new post that perhaps never will be about socializing and cable TV.

  5. Right, blame me again why don't you?

    I concur though. Last time I really got into an in-game community was the first time I started playing heavily with you, Phè. Vanguard :-)
    Since then the lure of a steady, witty, forgiving of my idicities playing-pal has probably played a part in me not finding many new friends in-game.

    Add to that the catering to either Solo or game-spanning Guilds and such and the fact we seem to be picking US servers a lot. I commented on that not being the smartest move, for me anyway.

    I think our only hope may be to join servers that have the MUtants in them whenever we're sharing a game :-)

    P.s. Bartle's presentation kinda says between the lines that we should bring socializing Wendy, back into the MMO's as she's supposed to be the glue that keeps thing together and that we should stop making games for either Dorothy or Alice. Try to find the balance again.