Friday, January 28, 2011

RPG's as a Social contract

I need an overarching theory for evaluating the design of a MMORPG video game. I have chosen the Role Playing Game as my unit of analysis. I don't think the size of the game is a major factor. Hence, I have ignore the MM or massively multi-player part. I do think that size will be a factor further down the line. But, initially I am going to ignore it. I also believe that the statements I am going to make will apply to role playing games that are not implemented on computers. The great thing about a blog is that I don't have to get it exactly right the first time. I can express my current thinking and change it later as I learn more or gain more insight.

The overarching theory will be that of the social contract. The game master enters into a social contract with the players. Usually, this contract is implied although I am going to try to make it more explicit. The game master agrees to do certain things in providing the game environment. And the player pledge certain things as well. The design of the game can then be evaluated in terms of the obligations of the game master and how well those obligations are met. At the level of the game design, a game that is way too hard or way too easy; way to simple or way  to complicated; would be a poorly designed game. But, even if the game were well designed it may be implemented poorly. On the other side of the contract, players who play merely to interfere with the enjoyment of others (commonly known as greifers) are not good players. Player who do not wish to spend the time to learn the game and constantly complain are not good players either.  Those are broad brush extremes that I will flesh out later.

Further, the contract is hierarchical. A well designed game could have a poorly design quest, for example, or vice versa. The ideal game would have all elements contributing to and consistent with the overall game design.

Well, those are my thoughts for now. I will add and/or modify as I think this through.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I've been a little remiss in posting to this blog. All I can say is that I have been busy and I view my blogs as on going journals where I accumulate thoughts over time rather than daily postings of current events. Whew! OK, I feel much better now.

I have been focusing, almost exclusively on World of Warcraft. It is an amazing thing to study. Yeah, yeah, I know, its fun to play as well. But, I seriously doubt that it would have held my attention for this long if it were just fun.

Cataclysm came out in December and this is the third majorly successful expansion of World of Warcraft. I tried out the new characters (Worgen on the Alliance side and Gobblins on the Horde side) and I have to say that the expansion designers did a pretty good job. They also fixed a number of my pet peeves which is always good.

As I play this game, I am always reminded of when I first learned operating systems. There are many parallels. They are both wonderfully complex. I find myself amazed that somebody actually thought things through as well as they did. And the devotees seem to have way too much invested in the learning curve to acknowledge the flaws.

My highest toon is now a 77 which has two major implications. First, I heard that the game changes dramatically when you hit 80. I have heard other such claims in the past which have turned out to be way over stated. But, I will wait and see on that one. Second, Cataclysm raised the bar from 80 to 85 and I have no idea what that will mean. Will it be just more of the same. Or will it be a whole new world. I have no idea.

Most of the changes I have noticed in Cataclysm (Cata for short) are positive changes. Some very positive. It would be interesting to take them one at a time and pick them apart. I may even do that some day. But for now, I have something else in mind. As I play one of my characters and pursue quest after quest I often get a visceral reaction to the quests which ranges from "that was a really good quest" to "that was a majorly dumbass quest". In a fit of frustration, I wrote in guild chat "I am getting tired of doing quests that were designed by people who got C's in design school." One of my guildies types "Agreed".

Being a reflective person I began to wonder what differentiates a good quest from a bad quest. It there some sort of theory that would allow one to assess the quality of a quest? Is a quest good because it matches a theory of good design? Or is it good because people say they like it? This has given me much to think about. I think World of Warcraft will become an object of study in the future much like, say Moby Dick or The Brothers Karamazov. Designers studying WoW will point to its major design success and its major design failures. Next time I am pursuing a majorly dumbass quest I am going to try to curb my frustration with the knowledge that this will be a good example for designers of the future of what not to do.