One thing that’s always sort of amused me about MMOs is the proliferation of tools that enable you to *avoid* playing them, or at least certain parts of them. Nosy Gamer posted today about how EVE differs from other MMOs when it comes to the prevalence of macros and add-ons. EVE is different. Coworkers who’ve played other online games have often been into developing tools to automate their gameplay.
I’m interested in out-of-game tools for EVE, but more as a data-mining and analysis thing, not for automation. For single player games, modding is about as far as I’ll go. I messed around with that for Neverwinter Nights and Oblivion. If it adds to my experience — helping me understand the mechanics and game world better, or even adding whole new areas — sure, I’m totally for it.
But when a game is set up in such a way that I’m tempted to hire a robot to play some or most of it for me, that’s the point where I’m thinking it hasn’t been designed very well — not in this day and age when we’re no longer paying an hourly rate. Back in the days of CompuServe and GEnie, you paid per hour, so I can understand a design strategy to keep you logged in for a long time. That’s revenue. Maybe some of this keep-’em-logged-in mentality on the part of game designers is a partial relic from that?
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been diving back into my game design textbooks lately. I’ll probably post a reading list here at some point, once I’ve narrowed it down to those I’d personally recommend. While I’ve been reading, questions about what keep a person playing have been at the top of my mind. And by that I mean playing playing, not not-playing, if that makes any sense.
FWIW, EVE has some of the not-playing thing going on, even for those of us who aren’t ISBoxers or botters (nobody I know is), in that you still advance in the game as long as you stay subbed and keep your queues going. There may be other games that work this way, but I’m not aware of them. This is a bit of genius on CCP’s part, really. People will give you money to keep their character advancing, and they eat barely any bandwidth or CPU. Brilliant!
One background task in my head, which started even before I designed my so-called Regency Catfight game for a university project a few years ago, is figuring out how one could make a game in which repetitious play doesn’t really get you anywhere. A game that has meaningful, cool stuff to do when you choose to play it, but that doesn’t require you to sit there for hours on end.
It kind of brings to mind Elmore Leonard’s advice to writers:
“My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”
What if we left out the parts of games that our players want to skip and will actually write code to avoid having to sit through? I know grinds are implemented for a reason, but at the same time, my brain keeps coming back to the “What if?” of doing things differently.
I dunno. It’s probably an impossible goal, but it’s something I think about from time to time.