Permanent Character Choices in a Classless Game (or, “Werewolves!”)

Most modern MMOs require the player to make very few permanent choices. Permanent choices cause stress, especially in games where players feel they need to make “the right choice” in order to be successful (or “viable” or “allowed in groups” or “ungankable” or…). But on the other hand, permanent choices cause players to bond more closely with their characters. Every game has some amount of permanent choices…

Almost all MMOs force players to pick their character’s sex, appearance, and name before they play. That’s not very stressful because players assume these attributes have basically no effect on gameplay. Whether they name themselves “Atrigorn” and “StabMasta”, whether they’re nine feet tall or two feet tall, players know they’ll be having precisely the same adventures and experiences as other players. So these choices are considered fluffy, unimportant aesthetic decisions. (Ha ha, but boy won’t they be surprised to find out that in my game, female characters whose names begin with a vowel get a +15% damage boost from fire magic! (Just kidding.))

The choice of a playable race is usually the first stressful choice a game forces on players. The typical character-creation GUIs will make a big deal about how “elves make great archers, but are poor at cooking” or “dwarves have innate gem sense, but they’re afraid of true love” or whatever random abilities and modifiers this game has glommed onto their races. Then the player has to try to figure out which of these races is going to be the most fun for the way they want to play — typically impossible if they haven’t actually played the game before.

The irony is that race selection is usually stressful for no good reason: that +5 bonus to archery or that special “gem sense” ability may have an effect early in the game, but they’re almost always meaningless by the time you’ve been playing a while.

That’s why race selection is often a poor implementation of a “permanent choice”: it’s stressful, but it doesn’t have enough payoff.

A more successful permanent choice is class selection. Picking a class is usually stressful too, but players get a lot of benefit for having made that choice. Each class can have unique skills, combat styles, quests, tutorials, and so on. When the payoff for picking a class is a more structured game, it’s usually worth the pain because the game is better as a result.

Older games had many more choices on hand — allocating “attribute points” or selecting “skill proficiencies” or so on. Most designers nowadays will shy away from making players pick this stuff early on, unless the game is intentionally trying for an old school D&D vibe. Why? Because these decisions are stressful, and very complicated, and the payoff isn’t very big. In some games it may be as small as a few percent extra damage per second. Contrast that to the payoff for picking a class, and there’s no comparison.

If you’re going to make players choose something permanent, it should be important. But maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree. Why make anything permanent? Because psychology, that’s why.

We’re Happier When We Can’t Change Our Minds

We’ve seen games where every single element of your character can be changed. If we’re trying to avoid stress, isn’t that the best solution?

Not really, not in the long term, and the reason is that our brains are pretty sketchily put together. We feel less stress after making a permanent decision than after making a changeable decision, because when it’s permanent, we can easily rationalize any small flaws in our choices. When we’re stuck with one thing, and then realize it’s not quite ideal, our brains kick into overdrive to give us reasons why that’s not such a bad thing after all. “I like playing slightly gimpy characters,” you might say. “I picked skills to match my character’s personality, so who cares if they’re slightly non-optimal,” you might say. Or you might use the ever popular “actually this character has a lot of hidden power, and there’s not as big a difference between the choices as it seems anyway.”

These rationalizations are all going to be true, to some extent. But rationalizations also help us gloss over problem areas. Our brain’s rationalization gland works best when we can’t change our minds anymore. If you can change your mind, you’ll keep poking at the decision, second-guessing yourself, wondering if you made the right choice. (That’s on average, of course. This phenomenon affects different people to different amounts, and not all problems can be rationalized.)

And the “stress” of double-thinking your choices isn’t always bad. For some game decisions, the whole point is to create impermanent choices that cause a pleasant kind of stress. For instance, deck-building games derive much of their fun from the constant mental re-evaluation of whether you’ve made the best choices or not.

I’m not saying that all decisions should be permanent — far from it. But you should avoid the natural tendency to give people a way out of their important decision “just in case.” The majority of the decisions in the game should be changeable. The others should be permanent.

And don’t be fooled by what people say they want. If you poll people, nearly everyone will say they prefer being able to back out of all decisions, but really they’re often much happier without.

[This psychological tendency to rationalize things we can't change is becoming relatively well-researched; for more info, start with Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. It's an incredibly accessible book and should be required reading for any game designer.]

Join the Club

Another aspect of permanent decisions is that it creates a group of like-minded people that you instantly have something in common with. The more important the decision is to you, the stronger this cliquishness is.

For instance, most people who play a certain class in WoW don’t really feel a lot of camaraderie with others who picked the same class — it’s not a very important decision. But if you picked being a Hunter specifically because you love taming and collecting pets, you’ll find communities of likeminded people who want to talk and play with you.

You’re Different — Just Like The Other People In The Club

These cliques form in order to have like-minded people to talk to, but they can also form around any decisions that help a character stand out from the crowd. The more exclusive the decision is, the more valuable it is to be a member of the resulting clique.

In real life, we see this same logic in fraternity hazing rituals: the more painful it is to belong to a club, the more valuable it is to the people in it.

If your game is going to have permanent and meaningful character choices, it can be useful to make some of the choices more painful than the rest. Players that willingly suffer such a hazing process will feel special, and will tend to bond with other people who are special  just like them.

(Obviously this idea can be taken way too far. It has to be done pretty carefully in order to get good results.)

Project Gorgon: A Free-Form Classless Game…

When it comes to making permanent choices, I have a bit of a dilemma in my game. My game doesn’t have classes — it’s entirely skill based. And the skills are designed so that you can pick up lots and lots of them. I’m using skills as a tool to help structure the game’s content and lead people into it.

Here’s a real example: you might start out picking some mushrooms, which uses the Mushroom Picking skill. When you’ve reached a certain point in this skill, you discover an NPC that can teach you a new skill: one that lets you grow mushrooms in dark corners of caves and dungeons. From there you may branch off to the skill for creating fungus-based poisons, or maybe you’ll discover the ancient language of the long-lost fungus-people (which in turn will lead you to master their ancient art of growing to twice normal size). And so on.

All of these skills are under the “Mycology” super-skill. Anyone can dabble in any of these skills — after all, the skills are designed in tandem with the game’s content, and I only have so much time to create content, so I can’t really afford to block off big chunks of my game and say “oh no, you can’t experience this chunk of the game because you don’t have enough skill points.” That’s also antithetical to the target audience: the people I’m hoping to attract are the ones who want to discover a vast breadth of game mechanics (and won’t be too upset that most of those mechanics are pretty shallow). It’s aimed at explorers, in other words: people who want to explore the world, discovering new things, mastering new skills.

Okay, great. But what about differentiation? I mean if everyone can learn all skills, eventually everybody will be identical, right? That’s a classic worry, and generally pretty overblown due to how advancement curves and expansion packs work… but players will still worry about it. After some amount of time being “normal”, many people will feel the urge to be “different”.

They can do this by maxing out certain skills that have very steep progression curves — this is how people differentiate themselves in crafting skills in WoW, for instance: they push their chosen craft skill as far as it can go, which takes a lot more effort than most people are willing to put in. But that seems like only part of the answer.

So I’ve got another differentiation tool in mind: permanent game experiences that change and alter you. The ideal permanent decision is one that:

  • Players can research at their leisure
  • Can’t be undone, ever
  • Has significant meaning to gameplay
  • Isn’t something everybody would choose
  • Has a somewhat painful initiation process

With that in mind, I’m planning to implement several content-based choices for players. Let me give you an example.

Under a Full Moon…

In a village near a small forest, the townsfolk constantly worry about werewolves. They come out during the full moon, and if they bite you, you’ll be cursed with the dread disease! There is a cure, but it has to be administered quickly to be effective. Once someone becomes a werewolf under the light of the full moon, their fate is sealed.

Actual game mechanics:

  • “Werewolf” monsters appear in this forest, but only during the three days of the full moon (in real-world time).
  • Players that are bit by these monsters have a chance to contract “lycanthropy incubation”. This disease doesn’t do anything to them — it just sits in their status window. But it doesn’t go away, even if the player dies.
  • The NPC villagers can help a player create a cure for Lycanthropy Incubation. It takes an hour or so of effort to collect the herbs and ingredients. If they do this during the next month, the disease disappears completely.
  • If the player doesn’t cure it before the next full moon, the incubation period ends and they are werewolves forever more. Every month during the 3-day period of the full moon, they involuntarily shape-shift into wolves.
  • In wolf form, they have potent claw attacks, but they can’t wield most equipment. This makes it impossible to use many combat skills, such as swordsmanship or fire magic. Other skills are synergistic, though: players who have mastered ki healing can still use that skill as a wolf, for instance.
  • Townsfolk generally refuse to interact with wolves in any way.

For the next three days, the player is kind of screwed if he had other plans: he won’t be crafting any armor or weaving any cloth, that’s for sure. He’ll discover a small enclave of werewolves in the forest, where some primitive necessities are available — buying and selling supplies, perhaps access to an auction house — and there may be a simple kill-quest or two here, but mostly, he’ll have to spend the next few days discovering what he can accomplish as a wolf.

When the full moon ends, he’ll be able to revert to normal form, with a few improvements (for instance, perhaps his “improved sense of smell” gives him a bonus in combat even as a humanoid; that sort of thing).

He can also transform back into a wolf at will — turning into a wolf is easy, in fact. But it takes effort to get out of wolf form. Reverting to humanoid form requires a skill check, so until the player increases their Stop Being a Wolf skill, they’ll end up stuck as a wolf for a while each time they transform. In a similar vein, wolves have several different combat abilities, but at first they’re mostly inaccessible — they have to be trained up. So using your wolf form as a day-to-day combat technique it will take effort to master those skills.

And every 29 days, the full moon comes again — and once again the player is forced to be a wolf for three days.

Decisions with Permanent Repercussions

Lycanthropy is one of three such choices that I intend to launch the game with. I hope to eventually do more than that — in fact I have 12 different ones planned, but the time constraints are very tight. These work well in live updates, though, so I intend to add more after the game is launched.

You probably get the general idea by now, so I won’t go into much detail about the “becoming a druid” or “selling your soul to a demon” choices. They all follow the same formula: it’s something you have to willingly fall into, it has potent up-sides, and it also has debilitating down-sides.

The net result of these changes is an increase in power, but a decrease in versatility. The player is thus choosing to specialize themselves. By doing so they also join a “club” — the club of players who also made the same choices. Hopefully this will end up being a fun mechanic and a way to help create social bonds in the game. Hopefully. But I don’t know for sure.

The Plan So Far

It feels a bit odd to talk about game mechanics like this before I’ve implemented them to get a feel for how fun they are. (I haven’t even gotten the bugs out of the “turning into a wolf” code yet.)

I’ve left out pages and pages of details that help bring the idea to a coherent whole — I’ve already spent way too long on this blog post, and it’s way too wordy as it is! But I’m still worried I’m omitting some detail whose absence makes the plan sound completely insane. So if something sounds crazy, it’s probably due to details I’ve left out… but then again, it may be because it’s crazy.

I’m not really worried about the little details, because they’ll all change during implementation. But I do have concern that the overall balance won’t be obtainable. It may be impossible to counterbalance the down-side of being stuck as a wolf every month. The up-side can only be made so good before it becomes too good. If players feel that they “have to become a werewolf to be competitive”, that defeats the whole point. I can’t really tell if I can balance these concepts until I implement them and get players to test it out.

But flexibility is the key. I’m confident that if my original plan isn’t fun, I can find something that is fun and fits the same goals. As always, I want to stress that an indie MMORPG must take risks and try new things. You have to enter uncharted territory. You can’t recreate WoW. WoW already did that. Try something new and iterate on it until it works.

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22 Responses to Permanent Character Choices in a Classless Game (or, “Werewolves!”)

  1. Mike Grem says:

    This post was pretty interesting, I have to say. I never really thought about permanent decisions in the way you present here, it’s a very cool way of looking at things.

    Also, your skill system sounds amazing. If that’s your actual Mycology tree (or if that’s anything like what it’ll be at launch), then I think you can guarantee my girlfriend will play it. And I can’t say I’m unexcited either.

  2. Stabs says:

    Sounds awesome!

    A-roooooooooooooooooo!

  3. I definitely agree that it is better to push irreversible choices beyond the character creation screen. In pretty much every MMO I have ever played, my first choice has been “wrong” and caused the abandonment of the character in question. Attempting to play a class you’re not enjoying, and feeling locked in due to time already spent, can hugely impact your entire game experience, and could easily push someone off the fence about the game in the wrong direction.

    That said, at the risk of luring you towards punditry, I’m curious about whether you think WoW’s notorious Bloodsail Buccaneers qualify as an irreversible choice by your criteria. Technically, the decision can be reversed, and one can ponder whether the gameplay impact of going Pirate is “significant” enough to justify the costs. That said, I think the case study does show some of the impact that this kind of change has on designers. For years, every time Blizzard added a holiday event or an achievement that relied on a secondary skill that could only be trained in the goblin towns, Bloodsail players felt that the cost of their decision had just been increased in a way that they could not have anticipated when they made the choice. Nowadays, all the secondary skills can be trained everywhere so they don’t have to worry about this anymore.

    To extend the analogy to werewolf example, what happens if a full moon falls on your game’s Christmas-equivalent? I suppose it would be immersive for your character to be hiding in the shadows, excluded from the holiday, but would the net effect on the player be positive or negative? You could implement a lesser version holiday in the animal camp, but does that become cost prohibitive, as you have to start worrying about Druids who become werewolf demon-thralls?

  4. Eric says:

    Green Armadillo – great response. Without getting too pundity my quick answer is “the devil’s in the details.” I’m very concerned about making sure the benefits of being a werewolf are somewhat proportionate to the down side. But I don’t believe anybody made that effort for the Bloodsail Buccaneers (also known as the “you can totally screw yourself for a hat” faction). It’s tough to rationalize the down sides of this choice, and the confusing way the system was implemented made it extra weird and squirrely.

    (It really looks like an homage to EverQuest: it’s modeled precisely like the myriad ways you could damage your factions and ruin your character in EQ1.)

    One of the reasons that the Bloodsail Buccaneers have become a particularly hapless example of a permanent game choice is that the live team pays them almost no attention. I’m assuming that’s because there’s so few people who would be affected that it doesn’t seem worth the time.

    This is one of the traps of live team mentality: you spend your attention on what most players are doing, which often means you don’t spend attention on things that are so broken that nobody uses them… even when just a tiny bit of attention would dramatically improve things. It’s hard to keep track of everything in your game, and I’d have pity for them if their maintenance team wasn’t bigger than most company’s dev teams.

    /pundit

    In the werewolf example, the cost presented to players is that you have limited capabilities for three days each month. So as long as holiday activities last longer than those three days (say a few weeks for Christmas), that doesn’t really cheat their expectations.

    On the other hand, from another point of view, any new content I add to the game, anything of any kind, will be cheating them. If I add new game system X and wolves can’t use it, werewolves could feel cheated because they had no idea that someday game system X would exist. “Now that you’ve added knitting, all I want to do every day is knit, and you robbed me of that!”

    I don’t really have a good answer for that — I’ll just have to judge each complaint on its merits, and when things seem particularly egregious, address them. For instance if an NPC is deemed to be too important to be unusable for three days, I can mark them as being “werewolf-friendly” so wolves can interact with them.

  5. Eric says:

    Mike Grem – yep, that’s the actual planned Mycology tree, give or take. At the moment only a couple of those are implemented, though, so I guess time will tell what I can manage to deliver.

  6. Takezo says:

    This all does sound very interesting. Delaying permanent choices sounds it could be a fun mechanic, and I’m a sucker for open skill trees.

    The werewolf choice definitely makes me think of vampirism in TES games — if you choose to cure the disease, does that mean you can never contract it? Or is it just that once you “turn” you can never go back?

    And the vampire craze must be tailing off by now, but have you considered adding them? Not sure what the root of this whole werewolves vs vampires thing is, but having factions opposed in some way could be fun also, even without direct PvP.

  7. Shawn says:

    It sounds fascinating. I think one of the best points you made is how important it is to defer those permanent decisions and make them something the player can do whenever they feel like they have enough information about it rather than forcing the decision to occur at a particular point before they can move on. When I made my first character for DDO I spent at least an hour on the forums making sure I chose the right race, class, attributes, skills, feats and so on. Its actively unfun to realize after a week of play that you happened to choose a severely underpowered class before you had any idea what it would actually play like. The more time the players have spent in your world the better an idea they will have as to the effects a permanent decision could have and so many MMOs making that decision come before you have *any* knowledge are really missing the mark. I do miss my decisions actually having a permanent impact though. It sounds like you might have found an excellent balance here, I’ll be really interested to see how it plays out.

  8. Hagu says:

    I did not make my WoW class or EVE race choice without having first spent many hours reading about the consequences. Developers can make me not play the game but I am uncertain if they can force me to make an initial important permanent decision without information.

    Does the game alt policy change the dynamics? If players assume they will end up playing several characters, then a lot of the concern over “I won’t get to experience X” goes away?

  9. Fig says:

    Sounds like fun! It’s true that newer content may make it difficult for players to interact with that content if they’ve made a previous permanent choice, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It adds to the impact of that decision, and is something that needs to be weighed beforehand.

    I know you’re not a fan of suggestions and ideas, but as a gamer, one mechanic I’d really like to see in a game is a rating system that changes the penalty for death. An example would be a player who constantly griefs others is sent to Hell or an underworld, and their corpse can be picked clean of items, gold, etc.; a player who has a better rating goes to Heaven or an afterlife of some sort, and their body is protected from looting. I’m not sure how such a system could be implemented to minimise abuse, but I think it would do a lot to prevent the whole ‘griefers’ vs ‘carebears’ thing by providing a means of moderating risk.

    Not mention, such a system would also make for an interesting permanent choice.

  10. SAJ says:

    I applaud your idea of indie’s taking risks, because I (as a player) have pretty much completely stopped playing MMOs–their nature as pretty whack-a-mole games shows too much to me now.

    It will be nice to see some innovation in this type of game.

    As a player (my only game design experience is the early days of MUDs and I am trying to build an XNA turn based strategy now, so I claim absolutely no game design credibility), I would caution you that the werewolf experience needs to be novel and fun, even if not more powerful, or I would simply not play during the furry days of the moon. And you know once a player finds any reason not to log on in a given day….

  11. Anthony says:

    Would love to hear what goes into becoming a druid. The whole idea is great and sounds similar to the types of things I want to do if I get to make an rpg.

  12. mavis says:

    From a player perspective I’m a little worried about the werewolf example – because it sounds like something you could stumble into without knowing…. And I could certainly see a set of circumstances where I get bitten and then before I realise it – my timer is out and I’m now stuck with that. And if a permimant choice at the start of play sucks – a permiment effect dropped on me once I’m heavily invested in the character is much worse if it carries a negative effect……

    A better idea would be to give the player the choice to remove it until the point they willingly invoke the power – an active player choice…. So it’s possible to life as a werewolf – to see the downside – to carry the curse well still having the option of removing it. But the minute you take the positives in day to day life – your stuck forever – you’ve accepted it…… And that fact needs to be telegraphed massivly…..

    On the other hand the idea seems good – and the selling your soul example sounds about right……….

  13. Ian Whitchurch says:

    “The net result of these changes is an increase in power, but a decrease in versatility.”

    *cynicism mode on*

    So are they a dedicated tank, a dedicated healer or dedicated DPS ?

  14. David Bowman says:

    I greatly enjoy reading all of your posts. We are debating internally a tangential topic; should the choice of class (a permanent decision) be reflected in which appearance assets you are allowed to use? There are art quantity issues in this, but it really comes down to do we let players wear any item we make, or do we reserve some portion (up to 100%) for their class? It’s inherent in the nature of our game that you pick one of three classes, but you won’t know all of the items that you can wear in the game because we will be continuing to make them as part of the live content support. I’m in favor of letting everyone wear what they choose, but the counter is that it will make them less distinct. According to being different together it seems like we should indeed reserve at least part of the content.

    Project Gorgon sounds like exactly the kind of MMO I would play. If you need someone to test who will give consistent feedback, endures bugs well, and has experienced the full dev cycle, let me know.

  15. Eric says:

    @Hagu – yes, I think the ease of re-rolling your character very much affects your opinion of “permanent” choices. This isn’t just about the game, but also about the player: someone who has much more free time is more likely to see re-rolling as an option. They may still HATE that option, but they’ll see it as a possibility. (Whereas people with less time won’t see it as an option at all and won’t worry about it.) I think that’s one part of why the players who spend the most time in the game are often so angry about such tiny little imbalances: they feel pressure to re-roll, restart, redo everything, and they don’t WANT to do that. Whereas other people don’t feel they CAN re-roll, realistically, so they are less upset about tiny problems. They rationalize them better.

    @Fig: I definitely *am* a fan of suggestions and ideas! On the other hand, my game is very PvE oriented so I’m not sure how useful a “heaven and hell” system would be.

    @Saj: I agree — I think that’s becoming readily apparent as I play with it: it needs to be a unique experience rather than just a spreadsheet tweak. That unique experience offsets a perceived cost much better than, say, 5% extra damage. But it’s also harder to make happen.

    @mavis: Unless you only play very rarely, I don’t think it’s too likely to happen by mistake. The “dormant” disease will remind you that you have this sickness and should get it cured before it’s too late. And it’s also actually pretty hard to “accidentally” stumble on werewolves — they’re only in one place in the world, during a certain time of the month. But if people do end up becoming accidental werewolves, I’ll have to look at it again, and if it’s a common occurrence, fix it. I’d rather not let them leave it on them for an unlimited length of time; it will be too easy to not choose, in that case.

    @Iam Whitchurch: I don’t have those combat roles… and combat has a somewhat lessened importance in the game anyway. But I get what you’re saying! In a game with well-defined roles, being “diverse” inevitably means being “suckier than the specialized person”, which would mean that if werewolves are better at DPS, they’d be seen as “mandatory” to be a good DPS. I hope to sidestep that, or at least put it off a long time, by having a completely new set of combat systems, and also by rewarding diversity more strongly. But proof-pudding… it’s certainly something I worry about.

  16. Eric says:

    @David Bowman: Sandra and I have different opinions on your topic. I think that it’s perfectly okay to separate appearance options based on class: it helps people understand what class you are, it helps people in that class bond a little more closely, and it can help players understand the game’s mechanics more intuitively (e.g. a guy wearing robes is not supposed to get hit very often; a guy in heavy armor can survive more damage).

    Sandra thinks those benefits are too small to pay for the downside of limiting player individualism. Players have a natural desire to A) look good and B) look relatively unique, and you’re going to need every asset you can get to accomplish that — limiting people to a third or a fourth of all your assets can really turn those players off. (Unless you have a TON of assets.) It boils down to this: if you want people to care about their appearance, they have to have a choice in how they look!

    I can certainly see Sandra’s side of this argument. I think it boils down to what your target audience will identify with. For instance, if you plan to sell cosmetic items as a main source of revenue, then you’re hoping to attract players who have a lot of interest in their appearance and individualism. So you probably shouldn’t lock them into a very small set of clothes early on — they need to have lots of free choices to try out before they’ll settle on buying expensive choices from your shop.

    On the other hand, a game based on tanks or mechs or so on should avoid letting people look like things they aren’t. The more “gamey” your game is, the more important it usually is for people to be able to distinguish different game roles at a glance.

    (And thanks for the offer to beta-test, I’m sure I’ll take you up on that in the future!)

  17. Eric says:

    Jonathan C. pointed me at this Youtube video. Pretty interesting take on choices. It’s by a psychoanalyst, which means you should take it with a grain of salt, but it does have some interesting observations about choice and choice-paralysis.

  18. Tom H. says:

    I’m getting a very positive ATitD vibe off of this. Color me excited!

  19. ccmcgregor says:

    Fascinating to see the inside of the development process.

    I love the idea of doing things in game that mean you learn new skills – not by approaching a class trainer and clicking 5 times, but by actually doing the thing. Picking, then cultivating, mushrooms. Riding. Swinging a sword.

    And the idea of permanent irreversible choices is great. The anticipation & bonding in the wolf community when the three days approaches would be something to see – as would the reaction from the non-wolves. The gameplay that might emerge from a group of forced wolves (as opposed to individuals morphing when the choose) is mind boggling.

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if you didn’t try and balance the “down-side”, especially during the 3 days. Treat it like what it is – not as a disadvantage but as a fact and an RP event. You’re a wolf, you can do wolf things, you can’t do other things. That’s your choice when you go down this path, and you know it in advance. So don’t necessarily expect balance for those full moon events. That makes the choice much more immersive and serious. Introducing a wolf auction house on the other hand…

  20. Jason says:

    The pseudo-mmo text game Echo Bazaar has lots of permanent choices, many of which give you a mark on your character record but not much else. People are a big fan of these, but some suffer from a notable problem: content caps.

    A series of rare opportunities gives you the chance to Search for Mr. Eaten’s Name. This is a very cool quest that requires a lot of serious sacrifices and rewards you with some cool lore secrets. It’s clearly designed to be a niche choice that few people will opt for. those few people make some sacrifices but get to feel like they’re part of a special club.

    Unfortunately, people can complete content faster than it gets added. Now they’re sitting around bored, and see only one thing they haven’t tried: the Name quest. Now nobody’s happy.
    The “special club” contingent is unhappy because everyone can brag that they’ve done this quest.
    The people who only did it because they were bored are unhappy with the sacrifices they’ve had to make.

    So beware: “special club” choices can run into trouble if you’ve got a population sitting at the content cap.

  21. Is your game one where balance and “competitiveness” are important aspects? I wouldn’t want to get too stuck worrying about balance if I was working on an indie mmo.

  22. Jules says:

    That sounds like a nice, neat idea. I’d definitely want to give something like that a try. I have a slightly different approach to making characters choose in a game plan I’m not working on yet (it’s for the project after the current one, if that ever gets truly off the ground…); the project would be a very story-heavy game which is progressed periodically with scripted one-off events (everyone gets to experience the event the first time they log in after it goes live). After the players’ home has suffered a devastating attack, they find the home of the race that attacked them. But the actual perpetrators of the attack aren’t there; they’ve moved on and are unlikely to return. I hope to split the players into two groups: one whose basic attitude is to storm in and destroy as much as they can, and another who are more diplomatic, and therefore have the players face off against each other. Basically, a complete change in the structure of the game, breaking old alliances, forming new ones.

    Yes, I worry about this idea. Do I really want to mess with how players interact with each other at that kind of level? How many players will throw their hands up in disgust and leave?

    But it would certainly be memorable, and I’m pretty sure that I (at least) would find it fun as a player, so I’m guessing that there must be other weirdos like me out there too…