Building off of the last post, I thought it best to perhaps expound the concept into a mini-series of postings. There's a disease haunting MMORPG game design of late, and it's important to give the illness a name in order to best combat it.
Before jumping into things, I want to make an announcement about a tentative move. When jumping into the blogging world, I mimicked one of my main blog favorites as I knew no better. Now, having expanded sites of interest as well as made new connections with other critical thinkers, I realize the better location is elsewhere. Some of my readers have expressed interest in certain features to make them able to follow postings easier, of which blogspot does not have embedded support for. As this is a tertiary hobby, I am not committed to coding up features of my own or tracking down those who have- it is very much take it or leave it when it comes to software that facilitates this hobby. I haven't made the move... yet, and it might not happen, but I've spent my free blogging time of late researching it.
Washing Ones Hands Of It
The issue is cultivating systems that encourage a behavior of consumption. And ironically, the same design process is what leads so many to tire of the genre, and rid themselves from its participation. Involvement stems from both player-content reaction as well as player-player.
The core of online games are community. This is true for singleplayer games as well, but in online games, other players are the content. This becomes problematic when trying to build social aspects of games. With players treating each other merely as the means to an ends as a result of game mechanics, the experience is cheapened. Other players are barely even noticed!
It's important to note that gamers behave in a reactionary manner to the systems they are confronted with. Even sandbox design limits players in what has been coded into play. Designers thus have a responsibility in crafting the behavior of their audience.
Hope Springs Eternal
Designers should want to cultivate a behavior of content generation in their players. This content generation can come in the form of socialization (facilitated via chat channels), economic activities (facilitated via trade channels or auction houses) etc.
Content runs out. It's imperative that systems in a game facilitate players generating their own. Not simply from a standpoint of consumers consuming more, but from a standpoint of interaction.
It's not enough to breed players into thinking logging into a game, consuming content, and logging out is game design. The game should allow and promote meta-game planning (elusive optimization, events, organization of organizations...), content creation (items, abilities, events, quests...), and plain ol' good hanging out (locales of interest, minigames, housing...)
A Quick Fix
While there is a lot to be said for coherent, unified content design (stemming from the designers themselves), some of the best creations that rival even the content from the world gods themselves come from the playerbase. Allowing the playerbase to be expressive is not a bad thing, when properly facilitated. History shows us that people stick around longer when their input is valued. If I can make a difference, however small, I become vested.
Content design should be equal parts content as well as the tools that are made to provide said content. Engineers design specialty equipment to create their prized products. Where would we be as a genre if content designers provided not just the jets that give us thrills but also the tools to make jets of our own? Undoubtedly, a better place.
I'm not advocating for sandbox design, nor for a themepark approach. I'm advocating for a world of immersion, whereby both exist alongside one another. Only possible with the proper tool set, it gives rise to a place for people to be part creator, part consumer. And, goodness me, do we need balance amid the growing plague of the consumer mentality.
Upcoming posts in the series: interdependence and timesinks.