Telling Stories in an MMO – Part 1

Content creation.  It’s one of the holy grails of MMO creation and it can easily turn into an albatross around the necks of the developers that are trying to keep an MMO alive.  Content creation suffers from both a poor definition and a lack of clear understanding of what makes up content sometimes.  The individual acts of making a video game while often taken in aggregate are each acts of content creation.  Visual design, story,  sound, or combat mechanics (if your game has combat), are all individual acts of “content creation” and are worth a deeper look.

For this discussion, Bartle’s taxonomy might be beneficial to help us understand what different users might consider as content creation and help us to understand the subject a bit more holistically.  Also, as we apply Bartle’s theory, some interesting patterns start to take shape.

Killers are in the game to get in there and kill.  While Bartle’s definition of killers probably needs some tweeking for the modern MMO age, his designation still works well for our PvP crowd.  They look for low learning curves to enter a game and to “win.”  Killers don’t care about lore.  They don’t really care about missions or quests, though they may do them if it helps them level faster or get to being better killers.  Content creation for them involves finding new and exciting ways to kill other players.  Here, new gameplay mechanics matter most to the killer.  New player archtypes, new skills, new combat mechanics, all of these things will excite them.  Anything that increases their repertoire of tools available to them.  These are content items that killers will care about and want to see more of, and more refinement of, as they continue to play the game.

Explorers get in there and go.  They just want to see everything, to open up the entire map.  Let them go to the places that nobody else has gone, and see what nobody looks at regularly.  They take the screenshots over the distant mountains.  They hunt the rare beasts.  If the game devs put it in, they want to discover it.  New maps, new creatures.  Seeing the new.  These are the content that matter to explorers.  They may also be interested in modes of travel, though how they get somewhere is less important than just getting there eventually.  They may not necessarily choose to engage in a given set of content, but they will certainly move to see it at least once.

Achievers want to win and they want to be the best.  They will take the time to learn the skills, acquire the resources, do the quests.  They live for the ding and for the acheivement window to fill up.  Crafters and marketeers fall into this category.  Any content that has a closed loop for completion, they will particularly pay attention to.  They will do new missions and new lore, especially if it lets them get another complete flag at the end of it.  Systems that have a large acquisition cost like crafting, or have a designated path to completion, like leveling, all appeal to them.  Even systems that let them diversify their skill sets in an attempt to optimize their builds and maximize their output will also appeal to them.

Socializers just want to be with each other.  They want spaces where they can grow and hang out and engage with but not necessarily care about playing or “winning” as much as the other types.  Anything that lets them express themselves more to their peers will appeal to them.  Power customization, new outfits, new emote,s all excite them.  Another aspect to this that I think gets overlooked often, easy teaming.  If teaming is easy and beneficial then Socializers will gravitate towards this game play.  This has a doubling down effect because good Socialisers also believe in being good teammate,s which encourages good game play.  This bleeds into other areas such as skill optimization in their builds.
Once we’ve analyzed this breakdown of content desirability, we see patterns emerge that can be exploited.  We also see that almost none of the 4 Bartle types care all that much about game lore or story missions as content.   Combat mechanic updates, new ways to get around, changes or updates to the crafting systems in the game, and new costumes or team content seem to be able to drive people to the game in ways that would guarantee better engagement than traditional story/lore updates would.

And it’s very much worth thinking more about how story/lore updates are the primary means to advance the narrative of their game and promote it as the primary content for people to play.  Perhaps MMO’s focus too much on the narrative of the game and not enough on core mechanics as content to update.  Perhaps we’ve become so used to lore and mission content “updates” that we won’t accept a new update as worth anything without them.  It’s clear that game lore can make or break a game.  But let’s talk about that next time, as it figures into other discussions about content creation as well.
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