I missed my "The Nexus" post this week. I wanted to cover audio pod casts, but I didn't have an opportunity to do my research on the subject. I'm going to get a couple weeks of all the casts I can find queued up for next week while I'm working and get that post up for next week. Sorry for the hiccup, just been pretty darn busy around here and haven't had the time.
Today I want to talk about choice in MMO's. It's a pretty important aspect of the game. It allows players to distinguish themselves and feel like they are more than just riding a rail. There are different types of choices: Permanent choices, temporary choices, and false choices.
Permanent choices carry the most weight, but in the context of an MMO permanence carries both immediate balance concerns and also future concerns relating to both balance and overall game design. Most of the permanent choices that work in an MMO are experienced before you ever start playing. When you choose your class, race, gender, appearance and name, as a player, you are accepting that these choices cannot be undone, they are largely what will distinguish you in the game world.
Other permanent choices can exist in the game, but usually not exclusive choices. I can choose in Neverwinter which companion you want to travel with you at level 14. The choice is significant, three choices with distinct roles. A choice is made and a companion is delivered, but the other two are still available, just at a steep cost. It's very important in MMO's to provide this "way out" of a permanent choice because over the extended life of the game things can change altering the landscape, making previously good decisions turn bad. Using SWTOR for another example. In the original design it was possible for your story companions to suffer permanent death as a result of your narrative choices. In the end that had to eliminate this option because of the effect it could have on crafting, solo content and even future content design possibilities. A Wildstar example exists in the most recent patch notes.
Attribute Spending has been removed. While we do want to retain the design of allowing players to customize their stats, we think having two systems (Attribute spending and gear modification) that accomplish the same end-result was redundant.I said in my Wednesday post, permanent stat allocation systems very rarely make it into a live game because it creates a serious balance issue and is often at conflict with the design of the game. Using Wildstar as an example, each of the revealed classes allows for two roles, DPS and either Tanking or Healing. Each of these roles uses different primary stats. If you are allowed to permanently alter your stat profile you will effectively close off one of those options for yourself, which may seem like a good way to further distinguish yourself, but in a world of thousands of players all it does is draw a line between done right and done wrong, between can and cannot. It makes far more sense in this circumstance to use temporary choices.
It is said that for a choice to matter there must be a wrong choice to make. I wholeheartedly agree. It does not mean that the wrong choice needs to invalidate hundreds of hours of work though. It doesn't need to be a permanent mistake for a player to learn from it and feel rewarded form learning how the right choice benefits them. There is a lot of that in MMOs, and their should be. You can add depth to these temporary choices by providing options that are equally as good depending on play style, or options that excel in certain situations. Players will distinguish themselves by recognizing these situations and reacting to them. Having a robust collection of temporary choices actually allows for a healthy game that avoids the dreaded false choice.
False choices are when a game offers to you a choice that doesn't do anything or one that there is only one correct option. SWTOR was filled with false choices in the story. Each time you were offered the choice to kill an NPC they would either die or they would leave never to be seen again in a way such that everyone would assume you killed them. The old World of Warcraft talent trees were a false choice most of the time, there was only one correct solution to the puzzle presented. The only way a player was distinguished for another of the same type was determining who read the forums and who didn't.
I want to see Wildstar avoid as much of these false choices as possible, and I think the best way to do that is by offering a deep array of meaningful temporary choices that have benefits and consequences, that work in certain situations but not others.