The most interesting topic around right now is how a living ecosystem or smart AI could actually work in an MMO. Now, before you go ahead and comment “but SynCaine, you already told us how it would work in 2011”, the post today will go into a bit more detail, as well as cover some “what not to do” aspects.
At a high level, letting your players determine how an MMO goes forward is a very scary thing for most companies. If you give the players a chance to save the world, and they fail (intentionally or not), assuming failing has a real consequence (which it must if the chance was ‘real’ to begin with), are you ready to face the backlash of a destroyed world and what it could do to your player base?
Most companies are not. The ‘fail’ state is often just a delay, and sometimes players STILL get rewards.
EVE is one of if not the most ‘sandbox’ MMO out right now. CCP gives the players great freedom to manipulate the economy, determine territory control, and fight/harass each other. But that freedom can also result in things like Burn Jita, where the Goons decide they are going to shut down the biggest market hub in the game and kill anyone near it, simply because they can. Would Blizzard ever let players do that? Will SOE in EQN?
The comical part of the above is an event like Burn Jita most likely gets CCP more subs than it costs them, because EVE gets a ton of free marketing out of the great player stories it creates, even if those stories result in some players un-subbing because of them. The willingness to let the players sort themselves out is something most companies are missing, because it’s scary, and the genre has a history of that ending poorly (Shadowbane and its infamous “play to crush”, where the players did just that to the game). But those poor results are not because the players are jerks, but because of poor design. SB failed not because the players choked every server, but because the design allowed and encouraged them to do so.
A living ecosystem and mobs actually roaming/reacting is exactly a test of this; how much control are you going to give the players? Are the players driving the game, or are they simply answering the occasional yes/no question along a pre-set dev storyboard?
The EQN example of a tent city becoming something more smacks of yes/no storyboarding. Why is ‘phase 2’ attacks from an underground cave? Are the devs just predicting players will dig, or is phase 1 of the PQ a digging event that just walks the players to phase 2? Much like GW2 and its ‘living’ zones, I suspect EQN will play it very safe, and rather than a living world, we will simply see a series of pre-planned dev events that players progress through. And just like in GW2, it will feel fake and pointless once you have seen the ride once. The big selling point SOE made was that their PQ takes 2-3 months, and once completed goes away. Neat, sure, but not all that different from the on-rails scripted content of every other themepark.
The mob AI is the same thing. Can the players truly hunt creatures out, or will hunting them simply trigger phase 2 of the cycle? The cycle approach seen in GW2 is again easy and safe, and not just for the devs, but the players as well. How much frustration would the average GW2 player experience if they headed to their favorite farming zone after work only to see that everything has been wiped out and migrated to the other side of the world (let’s pretend GW2 has meaningful travel and not teleporting all over)?
In GW2 that can’t happen, because the devs played it safe. In EVE it can.
If you live in a wormhole, your sleeper sites can be run by visitors, and given the respawn timer and mechanics, this could result in your home being devoid of PvE content for hours if not days (if you get camped or the visitors cycle correctly). This temporary extinction is also noticeable to the players because it happened in a space they care about (their home wormhole), and they can’t simply teleport over to the next zone and farm away.
In order for these things to matter, they must have positive AND negative aspects. If you remove all the negative, your players will notice and shortly stop caring. Those GW2 centaurs are probably attacking a village right now, and no one outside the zone cares because that village burning has zero consequence, no matter how hard a manifesto tried to tell us otherwise. EQN is in its own ‘manifesto’ stage right now. Will SOE dare to make more than just hype out of it? And if they do, will they have the talent to avoid the pitfalls of SB and the like?