Gameplay that promotes interaction whereby consumers and contributors exist together allows interdependence. A wonderful thing this, as it is just one spontaneous reactionary step from involvement: the lifeline to online gaming.
Part two of the mini-series details how consumption and contribution work together. As a sidenote, how convenient that the topics I cover at present are ones concerning the act of giving. No, I didn't plan it, but it does suit the season.
I Treasure Your Trash
Last post might have been interpreted as: "contributing is good, consumption is bad". That's not entirely true, but the following is: consumers require contributors, contributors do not require consumers. It helps, mind you, that people consume what a contributor creates, but it isn't a requirement.
The issue stems not so much from the fact that there are consumers and there are contributors, but the precedent they create. Contributors who live in an isolated world and do not see their creations used don't contribute much, in effect, to the social aspect or interdependence of an online game world. Consumers are sinks for content, parasites. When either side is left to its own devices, it ends up in its own demise. This post tackles how it can be avoided.
What a designer is to do is generate game mechanics that allow simultaneous consumption and production of content. The manner in which this achieves can be done in two ways: the inter- and the intra- of game styles. This will be done from the point of view of a 5man group, within general gameplay styles. The gameplay styles can be further segmented (a micro PoV) or expanded (a macro PoV), as well as the group sizes can be modified for consideration as well. The importance is the thought process: the reasoning behind design, and not just design itself.
For example, let's take the PvE scene that most any MMORPG has. What benefit comes from running a 5man group, outside of the extrinsic rewards to the group proper? No benefit for consuming content comes to those outside of the group. It's a shame!
Let's say we tackle instanced, 5 man PvE content. And our group is successful. As it stands now, big woop, we all go home with the phat lewts, possibly requeue and we think nothing of it. A chance at immersion is lost, and at the extremes we see now, we don't even notice those around us. Everything in the game ends up being taken for granted.
But what if that boss we downed in the 5man was protecting a stone. And the stone that the boss was protecting was empowering NPCs of similar type within a given region, effectively weakening them based on our success. Or what if we fail to down the boss, and as a result, the boss sends an attack squad to a nearby town, effectively putting strain on daily dealings within one's faction/corps etc. What if a success at an endboss in a 5man means less trash for larger, related raids? Or the failure means less trash drops for the raid? What if a raid ups the drop chances of higher level loot inside of 5 mans? What if solo content in the world decreases the morale of 5man elites in surrounding areas?
What if instanced PvP victories meant a strengthening of all town guards? What if the losses meant a decrease in town guard numbers? What if world PvP (when such a concept did exist in the genre) spawned town NPC scout patrols to support the battle/mop things up? And the ideas at play don't even require a negative possible outcome, they just involve the concept of consuming content, and producing something else as a result. Different groups of interest, working individually, spawn content or modification to other groups of interest. Gone would be the days of bickering between small PvE and raiding PvE camps!
Now this is where a game truly can become comprehensive, bringing all aspects of play together under a single roof. Imagine that you have a centerpiece for player housing (socialization) that requires the rarest of materials (gathering) to craft (crafting), only to be obtained from an elusive (exploration) rare spawn of elite nature (group PvE) always found in the regions vaguely located between faction hubs (world PvP). Well, holy sharkbites, batman! We've just designed a system of interdependence across gameplay styles. Or perhaps a leet new pwning ability (PvP) can only be uncovered after making magical snuff (crafting) that leads the gamer on a path of exploration (exploration) through dangerous ravines (PvE) to find an elder spirit that gives the player a quest (storytelling) of epic proportions that lead to him/her uncovering the ability to tap into this new ability...
The beauty with comprehensive game design is that you allow players to work on individual goals while still achieving a group purpose, and vice versa. I don't need to be pushed into raiding as I can 'raid by proxy' through my contributions of a 5man. And I don't need to seek out PvP as I can spawn conflict just being out in the open world collecting rare materials. Having what I do as a gamer influence and increase what others can do is the beautiful fallout from this design perspective.
Again, as I consume desired content, I'm creating content for someone else. Mind you, I am allowing the content of the designer to be consumed, while insodoing, creating derivative content by the playerbase for the playerbase in other areas. I'm effectively prolonging the life cycle of content of all types, giving rise to the good kind of 'downward spiral'.
At the onset of this mini-series, I claim that there is a disease of late. Some of these concepts are sparsely applied to recent titles, and some of them were even readily applied in the past, but we don't see them applied across the board in our times, and to me, it's a shame. The opportunity for designers to bring players together, have a community that builds itself based on mutual needs and gains is both hands-free for the developer and self-correcting for the playerbase. True opportunity is missed, and it truly is as simple as a handful of 'if' and 'else' statements coded into game mechanics at all levels. No, I'm not a professional programmer with 20 years of experience, but I'm enough of a script monkey in my own field to understand the relative ease of the suggested operation.
It's ironic to see how hard designers focus on crafting an intriguing, unique, individual experience. In seeking after achieving these ends, the goal becomes increasingly elusive. The answer for interesting stories the individual experiences lie in focusing on the group, the world, the individual's place in it, and how all the pieces fit together, rather than attempting to revolve all gameplay around the individual.
Now, how 'bout that game within a world, with both sides benefiting?...
Previous post in this series: sources vs sinks.
Upcoming post in this series: timesinks.