Current Issue: Vol. 7-1 (03/09/2009)



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DRAVEN: HOSTILE ARSENAL`Crusade GUARDIANS PierceTheVeins Fenris Mastermind Vengeance LEGION ELITE Imperial SUPERIOR Descendants REVENGE AllStars CONQUEROR CONQUEST Renegades Celestial Beings Enrage ... [go]

Ashraf Ahmed : real-world context can be inserted into a virtual world, effectively turning the virtual world into a forum for real-world contexts. ... [go]

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Engineering Relationships


The effects of game mechanics can be explored on many different levels. On the lower tiers, we can look at how the rewards system enhances or diminishes the appeal of the game. On the higher tiers, we can look at how game mechanics influence community-wide behaviors or phenomena. For example, it is probably fairly obvious that the game mechanics of an MMORPG affect the economy that develops within the game. If there are limited ways for the currency to leave the player market (through NPC vendors, death penalty, etc.), then inflation will eventually overtake the economy and be difficult to control. But it may be less obvious how the game mechanics of an MMORPG affect how relationships form and develop within the game. By comparing the game mechanics of EverQuest (EQ) and Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC), this essay explores how these game mechanics can shape the relationships that form in MMORPGs. While more theoretical than empirical, the ideas presented are all testable hypotheses. An understanding of the effect of game mechanics on social phenomena has an impact on the design of future virtual environments, as well as helping us understand how social context affects us in the real world.

Encouraging meaningful relationships is much more than just enhancing the communication interface. While clearly a necessary part of building relationships, having a communication channel doesnít do any good if players arenít encouraged to interact with each other. It also doesnít do any good if players only interact for superficial reasons. To foster strong relationships, a game needs to provide players a large potential to interact and increase the likelihood that each interaction creates a relationship between the players involved.

Downtime During Fights

Forcing players to group to fight a tough mob is a typical way to get players to interact, and most MMORPGs make it very difficult to solo as the playerís level increases. But perhaps the amount of downtime between fights is also a crucial element in player interaction. DAOC streamlines combat and minimizes downtime during grouped combat. Mythic does this by making most buffs consume no mana, and by having fast HP and mana regen among other design elements. Typical grouped combats in EQ, on the other hand, are separated by pronounced intervals of downtime. Among other design elements, HP and mana regen are slow, and buffing a group consumes most of a clericís or druidís mana, after which the group has to wait until the cleric or druid has regained that mana. Also, typical battles with a mob are shorter in DAOC when compared with EQ, and the rate of mob encounters is higher in DAOC than in EQ. In effect, what typically happens in EQ is that a group fights for 5-10 minutes and then has to rest for 3-5 minutes, while in DAOC, a group can fight continuously for long periods with relatively short rest periods. Even though players are together in a group and might be inclined to talk to each other, they canít really develop meaningful relationships easily if thereís not enough time to talk. By streamlining the group combat experience, Mythic may be shortchanging themselves in terms of potential relationship formation in DAOC.


Apart from situations where players are already grouped, game design elements can encourage players to interact with each other on a one-on-one basis to differing degrees. EQ, when compared with DAOC, has a system where players are more dependent on each other. For example, a lot of crucial or useful abilities in EverQuest are utility spells that only certain classes can cast on others. Among these are Bind (safespot creation), Resurrection, Clarity (mana regen), Spirit of Wolf (movement enhancement), Teleports, or Invisibility. In DAOC however, Bind is an ability all classes can perform by themselves, cheap public horses take the place of Teleports, Resurrection is a low-level spell that several classes have, and most utility spells can only be cast on the character or on group members.

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