World Theory

2007-06-15

pattern: inflation based expansion

Virtual worlds usually have static and dynamic aspects. For pragmatic reasons most online games provide static environments where the gameplay is fairly predictable. Common wisdom says that metamorphosis is more problematic than expansion...

Unfortunately, continuous expansion without any clean-up can turn the world into an incoherent inflation mess.

Advantages

Inflation solves the long term consequences of hoarding and content starvation without taking anything away from the players by force. If the expansion treats all players fairly this is perceived as being more acceptable than a nerf, even though the overall effect isn't all that different.

Introducing new more valuable content can shorten the gap between older players and newer players by gradually deprecating the old world in favour of a newer world. This assumes that the new content doesn't favour older players over newer players. Unfortunately, reality is often different.

You can keep the world fresh and competitive, which in turn gives you free press.

Disadvantages

The real danger of focusing on growth by expansion is that you create social gaps between groups of players. If the land areas expand too much player density may be too low for good sociability.

You also risk getting a widening gap between hardcore oldbies and casual newbies, creating fractures in the social fabric of established social groups as well as in the overall social sphere of the world.

The addition of new items tend to make older items useless, making the world confusing for both newbies and revisiting players. Revisiting players may feel like newbies and choose not to come back after having a brief look. In addition old play-guides and other non-controlled content become misleading which may cause additional confusion.

And finally, continuous development is expensive. Especially if the foundational architecture isn't solid.

Solutions

Some of the disadvantages can be addressed by recycling and deprecation.

Problem: When adding content it is tempting to focus on high level content. The effect is that casual players feel left out. This increases the gap between harcore and casual, oldbies and newbies.

Solution: Rescaling of the achievement-ladder. Some games do this by extending the number of levels and increasing XP gain at lower levels. Basically, as real time progress, the lower level players get their efficiency improved. This we might call level-inflation. Developers should not forget the lower level players when they design expansions. The synergetic effect is that more low-level content increases replayability.

Problem: Expansions are easier to make than changes, both technologically and socially. Unfortunately, the population growth might not match your content growth. Too much expansion may lead to a less socializable desert, too many trash items and overall lower usability for newbies.

Solution: deprecate content. Maintain several sets of content on all levels, of which one set is meant to be less attractive and phased out. When the popularity of this set is low, remove it or refurbish it.

Problem: Expansions are expensive.

Solution: Plan and design for recycling and refurbishment. High level content that has been deprecated can be introduced as mid-level content, thus retaining those players who never will make it to the highest levels. Removed monsters can be refurbished and tweakd and play secondary roles in new content.

Problem: Expansions might feel like a nerf for revisiting players.

Solution: Design for replayability and let players gain some in-game advantages based on how long they have been subscribers. Even XP or other types of capital.

Checklist

This list is temporary.

  • What effects and how varied are the effects of introducing new content?Have you considered all groups, including newbies and revisiting players?

  • Have you planned right from the start how to deal with rescaling of character-levels? How far can you expand your level range?

  • What are the weak spots in your architecture? Where does it handle growth, deprecation and refurbing? Where does it not?

Related

This article is based on some posts I made to mud-dev in 2004. A level based design is assumed to simplify the discussion, but most of the pattern might apply to level-less designs as well.

0 comments: