Incentivizing vs Limiting
September 29, 2010 5 Comments
As I see things, when designing games, systems, or anything that involves human interaction and choice, you are always trying to get certain outcomes or results. With games and MMOs in particular, we usually like to have options on how to go about doing various tasks we want to do, and we want to be successful at it. Lately, it seems I’ve been having a lot of conversations about how to get players to act as desired after. In WAR, this is healers who DPS, or Tanks who DPS, or players who solo queue for scenarios, or ignore other players who need help. But this activity happens in all games, it was the Dirge/Troub in EQ2 who wanted to do more dps and neglect their debuffs. In WoW it (perceived) to be Shamans and Paladins who wanted to DPS instead of heal. Sometimes the games change to accommodate these other desired playstyles, making all paths viable, other times, games cut divergent players off by hard-limiting possibilities. Of the two choices, I always prefer the former.
As a player who loves freedom and choice in his games, I never like to see absolutes dictated to its players. Oddly enough, most Westerner’s are the same. It’s why open-ended, non-linear games like the Fallout, Fable, and others along the same line are being released more commonly from game-studios based in the Americas and Europe, while linear Final Fantasy and other JRPGs continue to come out of the East (and anyone who play FFXIII knows it went even further that way). I dislike artificial zone walls and invisible barriers around ledges, I want to stand on the edge of the stone bridge in Kadrin Valley’s Iceheart BO, and know if I take another step, I’ll plummet to my death. It defies the logic of the situation, breaks immersion, and detracts from the virtual world as a whole.
Similarly, I don’t like to see what a player can and cannot due dictated in absolutes based on some current status. It’s part of why I dislike the stance mechanics for Shadow Warriors and Marauders so much, and also why I dislike the shield/two-hander requirements you see on tanks. These are all forms of limiting game design, where instead of creating a situation that the player would seek to optimize and use the best tool for their situation, they are left with less choice. I prefer the route of incentivization.
For instance, Shadow Warriors have three stances, one based on long-range shooting, one on mid-range shooting, and another on melee abilities. In stead of creating hard limitations that don’t seem to make sense based on the needs of the career, create adjustments to each of the stances to make the player want to use them for different situations. When I want to shoot someone from far away, I want to make sure they keep their distance, so why not give a chance to proc a snare in the stance? When I’m using my mid range stance, I want to be able to stay mobile and quick, so why not give me reduced CC times and a speed increase? When I’m using my melee stance, I want to be able to take a hit and not melt when something looks at me cross. Oddly enough, this is the stance in-game that has come the closest to providing a proper incentive to be used, if more of the stances were to follow the pattern of Assault, there would be a lot more freedom in choice and variability in play.
I don’t mean to come off as railing on about Shadow Warriors in particular, it’s just a good example of the design philosophy, and I’m very familiar with the situation. You could look at Iron Breakers and have the same realization. They have a number of abilities that require two-handers, Cave-in is the most often lauded foul ability, but the Blackguard Spiteful Slam ability is just as guilty. The first requires a two-hander the second requires block (thus a shield), instead of creating abilities that ONLY function based on a certain item used, why not scale it to be more favorable to that item instead? So, instead of the knockdown on Spiteful Slam scaling with hate, cause the damage to scale, and knockdown to last 3 seconds if a shield is equipped, or the full 5 seconds if not.
Changes like the above create variability in the career, without denying a class of a useful skill. It also gives players something to really think about when they decide how to play their class. Do I want to use my two-hander and be far more open to damage and more of a drain on my group, but be able to really take someone out of the fight for a good while, or do I wear my shield, giving my healers more time to focus on the rest of my team, but be less of an asset in controlling the enemy? The reverse of the situation could be just as well determined to be the better set of choices to make, but the key is that nothing is artificially denied to a player, and that instead, they have to make earnest decisions about how they want to play.
The more decisions a player needs to make, the better off a game will become, as it will lead to less predictability and repetition. The idea is very similar to that of those often presented in sandbox v. themepark discussions. Increasing freedom gives the players more control, but potentially more difficulty. Limiting options makes things easier, but takes away from the players decision-making process.