Sunday, August 25, 2013

Your daily button-mash, now with purpose!

Anybody remember the show "Lost"? Yes, that one, the adventure story with so much potential which got increasingly focus-grouped down to mass-market appeal until it devolved into some pointless, subservient religious claptrap. Well, back in I believe the second season there was one character which had to enter a code into a computer terminal every day or The World Will Explode! (tm).

That's the sort of vibe I get from the current "must-have" online game gimmick of daily quests. The industry is in a sort of tail-spin with regards to MMOs. They've thrown out all quality, engaging gameplay in fear of alienating customers who now have no reason to play these games, then in an effort to increase subscriber bases they've... stopped asking for subscriptions (OK, sure, why not, I'm certain that made sense in some board room at some point) and then came up with various gimmicks to try to keep players addicted even though they, the developers themselves, had removed anything which might keep anyone invested and involved in their products.
The whole MMO business model is an increasingly ridiculous litany of half-measures meant to mitigate the predictable but somehow unpredicted aftereffects of other brainless half-measures, an unraveling patchwork of terrible ideas.

Like daily quests. I'm sure to executives these sounded like an amazing notion. One: our customers are too stupid and apathetic to set goals for themselves so we have to keep throwing carrots at them to chase, hence, constantly re-appearing "quests". Two, and more importantly: we no longer have any product to sell. How do we keep people logging in when they've lost all interest? Dailies! Log in or you don't get goodies. And if you're not getting goodies that means you SUCK!

So now we, the players, are in the position of Desmond the monk engaging in simplistic, ritualized behavior every day. Or Your Character Will Explode! (tm)
Push the button, get a food pellet.
Behaviorism at its finest.

Yet oddly enough there are ways in which daily quests could actually be integrated into a real MMO (and I maintain, no such beast currently graces cyberspace) to make them a component of players' virtual lives and the greater interactions of the game world, and these have to do with two of my old posts about seasonal content and the implementation of religion or divine spellcasting. A true virtual world should have its own calendar, its own schedule of events, confluence of astral alignments, whatever keeps the universe spinning. If every in-game day corresponds to 0.8 hours of real time, then events which transpire on the day of the full moon in the game world would be daily content in real-world terms. Elegantly. Seamlessly..

Daily incentives to log in are ritualized behavior performed religiously anyway. Why not make it part of an in-game religion? Instead of making players log in for no particular reason, have them log in to travel to that day's holy location to burn incense to Amun-Ra and strengthen his dominion over the world, increasing the effectiveness of his followers' spells. In other words, make the "dailies" a coherent part of the game world, both in stylistic and practical terms.

P.S. I just realized I did not use Ra as an example by accident. A Tale in the Desert attempted to implement some complex mechanics for the growth and distribution of crops and some randomly found plants and animals. Unfortunately I did not play it long enough to have much to do with fishing or papyrus growing, but I did chase mushrooms across the desert. During in-game nights, mushrooms would spawn. They grew in wide bands across the desert, and the location shifted gradually each night as the in-game year wore on. How did I discover this? I did not read it in some online guide. I logged in one day and found my isolated house in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mushrooms. And then the next time I found them slightly north of there. And then as I tried finding the greatest concentrations to gather, I noticed they were distributed in a wide latitudinal bands. And so on. All the information was right there around me, inside the game world, to be discovered. Beautifully implemented.

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