MMO fluff: What is it?

One of the more common complaints about DarkFall from the players actually playing the game is the lack of ‘fluff’ content, and the upcoming expansion may seek to address this. One question I have is what exactly is fluff in an MMO, and more specifically what would be considered fluff content in DarkFall?

To me fluff content is something you do just to do it, but it has no real impact on anything outside its own context. The best example I can think of is vanity character slots, where you can equip different gear or clothing to change how your character looks, without it providing any benefit to your characters actual performance. (Clearly only in a PvE setting, as seeing what someone is actually wearing in PvP is very important. While amusing, hiding your Titan ship behind a vanity Shuttle would be rather game-breaking). Another example might be emotes such as waving, pointing, sitting, etc. Finally we have fluff like achievements, non-combat pets, and stat-less titles. Achievements are a little tricky, because while some are purely pointless (total number of mounts, pets, whatever), others can be used to identify a given characters competency. You assume someone with the achievement of having cleared raid X has at least seen the raid, and you can use those types of achievements to put together a PUG group.

In regards to DarkFall, the next patch is set to add roaming mobs and/or wildlife to the game, and many are calling this the start of needed fluff to flesh out DarkFall. More toys being added to the sandbox and all that. To me roaming mobs are certainly content rather than fluff, as you assuming they will be aggressive and drop some loot. They will bring variety to all areas of the game, and a bit of unpredictability to the world, but I would say they go far beyond the title of fluff. Especially if they do fun stuff like roam into a hamlet and kill (loot?) afk players, or wander across a player harvesting and chase him for a bit. It would certainly make it much harder/riskier going out naked to harvest for any length of time, and city walls would gain an added bonus since they would keep such mobs out and the players inside safe. Different types of mobs could also roam different areas of the world, so while goblins might roam near the starter cities, Deathless Mages might patrol the center of Agon.

Roaming wildlife is another story. Assuming the wildlife is not aggressive (otherwise they are just mobs that happen to be animals, and DF already has some of those), and depending on whether they drop anything when killed, they might fall under the category of fluff. Personally I hope they do have some drops, but only things like low-rank enchanting mats from skinning (blood, teeth, essence), and natural things like leather and meat. This would make them perfect crafter mobs, and with such low-value drops, they should be easy enough for even new players to take down. Veteran players or those who are simply too busy would be able to ride past the wildlife without drawing agro, or perhaps even scare and scatter a group of cows, deer or sheep (not the player variety, as that already happens).

Another nice fluff addition would be the ability to sit at a table and play card/board games. You could do this way back in 1997 with Ultima Online, so why not in 2009 with DarkFall? Four hour shard defense a little boring? Bust out a table and play some chess while taking turns on guard duty. Waiting for your PvP group to gather? Time to play a quick game of poker using in-game gold. A player-city tavern with a weekly bingo tournament would not only bring guild members together, but also provide everyone else with a good place to party-crash, and everyone loves PvP.

To me even fluff should server some greater purpose than just a checklist of random crap to do or to collect. It should help shape player behavior in a way that benefits not only them, but everyone around them as well. The huge advantage a sandbox game like DarkFall has over more on-rails MMOs is that every player has a lot of freedom in their day-to-day actions, and so fluff is even more effective in shaping that behavior. You will never leave the zone of roaming mobs due to your level, nor will you ever ‘out gear’ the need for leather in crafting or meat in cooking. Once something is added, it’s more content for everyone rather than making the ‘old’ stuff obsolete, be it for a first-day player or someone playing since go-live, and that is the true beauty of living in a virtual world molded by skilled developers. CCP has been doing it for years with EVE, and so far Aventurine is one for one in DarkFall (villages, chaos chests), with everyone hoping they go two for two in October.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in crafting, Darkfall Online, EVE Online, Housing, MMO design, Patch Notes, PvP, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to MMO fluff: What is it?

  1. pitrelli says:

    I like fluff

    I always remember standing outside of goldshire and seeing a wolf case down a rabbit and kill it then return to where it came from…. dont ask me why I just thought it was a neat touch and a nice addition.

    As for Darkfall and fluff, its an interesting one but not something I think will be an outright success unless they have some purpose,they could add in large groups of bison or something similar which could give tactical advantages ie hiding behind them?! Or perhaps make them edible?

    Darkfall and FE are both on my MMO radar for next year so it will be interesting to see how they both progress with patches etc. Any idea how the EU servers are doin number wise?

    • syncaine says:

      The EU server today is fine (from what I gather), after transfers who knows. They will need to do SOMETHING to replace those who are leaving though, and I’m not sure if the expansion alone will do enough. It’s hard to say though, as I think more than most MMOs, DF has a lot of people in wait-and-see mode right now, and who can tell what will get them off the bench and into the game.

  2. sid67 says:

    I love how you term the shortcomings as “fluff” instead of being critical of the lack of completeness.

    To me, all the things you described aren’t “fluff” so much as they are there to keep you from breaking immersion. In other words, they are the details or little things that help keep you connected to the game.

    Wildlife is the most obvious example because it helps to “fill” the world with things you would expect to see in a forest or whatever.

    But even something as “fluffy” as distinct clothing is important. After all, if everyone looks exactly the same — where is the sense of individuality?

    And while neither of these things are game breaking, they are certainly important things to have in an MMO. So when an MMO lacks them, something will “feel” like it’s missing. It’s incomplete.

    But hey– at least your monthly fee is buying you some “fluff” :D

    • syncaine says:

      Appearance clothing and ‘everyone looking the same’ are far apart. You can still look different if a game allows it without an appearance slot. If there is only one set of gear that is ‘best’, then yea everyone is going to look like a clone. The need for an appearance slot in themepark MMOs came about because of how those games chose to implement gear balance. UO did not have an appearance slot, yet the ability to look different from everyone without ‘gimping’ yourself was readily available.

      But overall the notion of ‘completeness’ in an MMO is silly. Even if we go beyond the ‘if you keep adding more, you will never launch’ issue, some additions to MMOs only come about AFTER the players have gotten a chance to play the game the way they see fit. That’s also part of the fun, knowing that if overall the community would like a game to go in a certain direction, a good dev team will take it there. Another advantage to a sandbox over a themepark is that it’s easier to alter the course of a game and add layers were they are needed, without ruining what is already there. If that progress is gradual like in EVE, it more than justifies a monthly fee.

      • sid67 says:

        My point is that you are defining specific shortcomings of a game as “fluff” in order to minimize the fact they aren’t included in the game.

        Whereas, if they WERE included in another game — well, what does that matter? It’s just “fluff” right?

        In point of fact, they DO matter because they collectively add to the sense of immersion a player feels when they play the game. That’s missing — so it is going to “feel” incomplete.

        It’s easy to sit back and say “well, it’s a sandbox…” but I would compare it to sitting in a sandbox filled with dirt. You got the shovel and the bucket and can make some neat things — but it’s still dirt and not sand.

        Now dirt is not game breaking (you can still build stuff) but it’s harder to work with and it just doesn’t feel right. So when someone comes along and replaces the dirt with sand, how do you measure that improvement? Is that just fluff?

        The irony is that after you get rid of the dirt, there will probably be somebody that’s pissed off because now they got sand.

      • syncaine says:

        I’m not trying to minimize them because they are not in the game. I just don’t consider watching a wolf chase a rabbit a ‘must have’ feature in order to launch an MMO like DarkFall. If it’s added later, without delaying other important additions, cool. If not, no worries, but I’ll gladly have the game go live over waiting another month for such ‘fluff’ to be added.

        And the only way the DF sandbox would be full of dirt is if the PvP was sub-par, because that’s the ‘sand’ that builds everything else, and DF has hands-down the best PvP combat I’ve played in any MMO. And while I don’t know what AV will add in the next month or year, I’m fairly certain they won’t screw the PvP up. It will be tweaks, things will be adjusted (AoE magic), but at it’s core it will still be the great system that it was at release. Immersion and everything else is a non-factor without that core, and hence why DF’s future is (imo) so much brighter than WAR’s, or Aion’s, or any other inherently flawed MMO.

        So given that the sandbox DOES have sand of the highest quality, it can now start getting the bells and whistles of a fancy sandbox like EVE, and those bells and whistles take not only time to add due to developer time, but also due to the fact many will be based on current player action. I mean really, who would have predicted that 9 months after launch, the DF community of basement-dwelling sociopaths would be asking for Bambie NPCs and RP-like features to be added?

  3. evizaer says:

    In a sandbox game, the dynamics of the world without players determine how alive the world is. A dynamic world is more than player-run cities and hostile mobs with static spawns. To have a dynamic world, the world should work without player intervention. This doesn’t mean giving NPCs ridiculous powers, it means build a world with non-player agents whose interactions lead to unique situations in an emergent fashion.

    DFO seems like a very static world where the players perform all of the dynamic actions–that’s one of the many reasons I’ve abstained from trying it out.

    • syncaine says:

      While that would be interesting (but might not work, see UO’s original world system and it’s quick removal), what current MMO has this?

      • Adam says:

        Well almost no -current- mmo has this so it’s somewhat ridiculous as a way to criticize Darkfall.

        I’m not aware of anything in Eve that is like this?

        I think in general these games should be thinking about adding a real “ecology” to the game worlds. Especially sandbox games.

        I think http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryzom has some ecology to it but I never got past the “I should try that” stage.

        Maybe wormonline?

        It’s an attractive idea but I also have trouble believing that it wouldn’t have to be a very major focus of the gameworld.

        Imagine Devs and GMs having to intervene because a game bug or just a slight math imbalance caused an extinction of all the bunny rabbits… it could get pretty complex.

      • evizaer says:

        Ryzom does this. The world can operate without player intervention. The NPCs wouldn’t really do anything, but animals hunt one another and move in packs. There are bands of roving NPCs that lurk in the countryside.

        I don’t think it has been sufficiently done yet. I wasn’t criticizing DFO particularly, I was criticizing the state of sandbox games in general.

        Sandbox games are much more directed than they should be.

  4. Der_Nachbar says:

    To me “fluff” is very important in games. Wether they add gameplay content or not, is just secondary.
    The main point of these smaller features is, they add up. If i see that the game designers thought about a little detail like carnivores chasing herbivores in the environment, my expectations automatically rise. And with every fluff feature they grow further.
    So basically a fluff feaure says to me: “Hey, i might be worthless for the overall gameplay, but im out here. And there might be other things to find”.
    They encourage me to discover the gameworld and together they provide immersion.

  5. Scrung says:

    Where’s my carpentry?

    I want to make some thrones and armoires.

    • Adam says:

      I would like to see way more of this.

      It’s sad that all the house bits are random chest drop only in Darkfall.

      Even if it was expensive and time consuming it would be a fun thing to work towards for my place.

  6. Bhagpuss says:

    I wouldn’t call roaming wildlife “fluff”; I’d call it content. I wouldn’t even call non-attackable wildlife “fluff”; I’d call that “scenery”.

    In fact, I wouldn’t use the term “fluff” at all. I don’t personally see a need for a term more specific than “content”, plus a descriptor such as “non-combat”, which in most games covers everything from building a city to /dance emotes. If a player voluntary chooses to do anything that the game permits, that’s “content” and there’s an end to it.

    For that matter, the line between “sandbox” and “theme-park” is a hell of a lot more vague and blurry than people like to make out. It’s entirely possible to use a theme-park MMO as your sandbox, provided you bring your imagination when you log in, while most sandboxes support some activities much better than they do others.

  7. Bonedead says:

    I plan to comment more but I’d just like to say I wish the title was “MMO Fluff: What it is?”

    More at 11

  8. Adam says:

    I can’t resist!

    So the Darkfall players definition of fluff?

    Carebear bait.

  9. sid67 says:

    The thing I find most interesting about this discussion is that one of the main reasons I haven’t even tried Darkfall is because the landscape looks so barren in the screenshots and videos I have seen.

    I don’t know if it’s “fluff” or not, but I have read enough about the game to believe that the game mechanics would appeal to me. It’s just that every time I “look” at the game it seems so unfinished.

    I think Bhagpuss has the right of it — the wildlife isn’t fluff so much as it is visual content. It acts as scenery, backgound or whatever.

    I find that visual detail is important to me. Just as important (if not more important) than having a kick-ass graphics engine. It adds depth to your environment.

    I mean everything Syn said above about good game mechanics and everything sounds good and I can’t argue that’s its not more important.

    But I’ll just say that the lack of visual detail has been really obvious to me and a real big turnoff.

    That was what bugged me about the RvR lakes in WAR as well. They were devoid of life and I found it really immersion breaking.

    And I actually like having mobs aggro during PvP. Sometimes you need to be able to manage your terrain (including hostile critters) to your advantage.

  10. Malakili says:

    It seems like this post actually goes with Keen’s post on progression speed today, in a round about kind of way. Here it seems like “fluff” here is almost getting defined as “content that isn’t related to progression.” The thing is, non-progression stuff seems integral to any MMO world that is trying to be…well… a world, instead of just a loot/progression treadmill. It gets deemed “fluff” because you don’t “need” to do it. I think was Keen is asking for, sort of, is for fluff content. Stuff that you can do, that is fun, that is at least somewhat meaningful, that isn’t just about getting the next item, level, or achievement.

  11. mk2net says:

    This gradual buildup of features that you describe, syncaine, seems to be the standard procedure for most lower-budget mmo’s nowadays. While it may not be the optimal state of affairs, it does allow for a greater overall level of content that under a traditional single-player game financing model would not be feasible.

    What I’m most curious about is your personal take (and anyone else with experience) on the evolution and state of DF’s combat system. From everything I’ve read, the system in its present state rewards one basic build: the battle-mage. Has AoE magic been overpowered from the beginning, or was it a side-effect of one of the patches? Are other PvP builds viable in practice (as in, is there a pretty fair representation of other builds besides the battle-mage amongst the serious players), or is it just that one trick pony? Aside from genuinely wanting to like DF, but not seeing a good reason to jump in at the moment, I’m curious as to how a non-balanced skill system based on repetiion affects the types of combat builds used. I’ve been looking into sandbox mmo’s and which one provides the best system, and so far the best thing I’ve found is Mortal Online, which unfortunately is in beta. I really like Mortal’s “trade-offs” based skill system, where the game doesn’t allow you to become an “expert” at everything at once. Of course it comes down to implementation, and I don’t know if the team can deliver, but the concept is sound in my mind. Interested to hear what you think.

    • syncaine says:

      AoE magic being overpowered has more to do with the number of users than with the actual spells. What I mean is one single cast of an AoE does lets say 50 damage. A single bow shot does 70. So as long as you are fighting one person, and you can hit them just as well with an arrow as you can with a spell, archery is better (not to mention much cheaper).

      The issue is when you have a 50v50 battle, and you have 20 people all dropping an AoE on a single spot at the same time. Now that 50×20=1000, and it’s insta-death for anyone caught in it. Factor in that you can cycle AoE spells from different schools, and the OP aspect of magic comes out. In a siege, where you have to defend a specific spot, the option to spread out is not available, and hence AoE magic becomes the only real option.

      The other ‘issue’ is that to get multiple magic schools to 100 costs a fair bit of gold (for reagents) and time (to cast the spells and skill up). So a hardcore player will get four schools at 100, while a casual might only have one (if that). Since the ‘end game’ is mass combat and siege, the casual can’t compete with the hardcore at that level. They can in small group, where having 100 archery vs 50 is not that big a deal, but they can’t in a 100v100. IMO the 1v1 and small scale combat is currently fine, with multiple builds and loadouts being viable (heavy armor with archery/melee, light with magic, melee with caster support, etc). In a siege, it’s AoE or go home (not 100% true, but basically).

      Finally, AoE magic is considered lame because of how easy it is to hit with it. With the AoE field being so big, even if you ‘miss’ someone by a few feet you will still hit because of the splash. Compared to the all or nothing aspect of melee or archery, AoE magic reduces the actual player skill level of combat, which goes against what DF combat is all about.

      But with all that said, my character has Earth magic at 75, and I don’t have a single large AoE spell, plus even my archery is fairly low. My highest combat skill is two-handed sword (mastery at 40), and I’ve not once felt like I can’t contribute to a siege or PvP. I’m not the superstar, but I do contribute and can more than hold my own in a small (10 per side or less) encounter. So is the balance currently off? Yes, AoE spell damage needs to be turned down or somehow adjusted. Is the game ‘broken’ to the point of being not fun or not worth playing? No, not at all.

  12. Crito says:

    Wish we had a thumbs up options. There have been some really great posts!

    Content transforms a combat-zone into a world. A sandbox isn’t just a combat system but a world, and expanding the world aspects will attract more players.

    For the more competetive – the more world there is the more people will want to explore it and enjoy it and the more people will be wandering around to gank.

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