A New Game Model: Bots, Nurturance and Solving the Grind
Itís kind of ironic that EverQuest has just celebrated its 5th birthday, still going strong, and one might have imagined 5 years ago that we would have much better MMORPGs by now, but we donít. Almost every game that has come out since EQ has been an EQ-clone. Actually, whatís more ironic is that EQ2ís biggest competitor will be EQ itself. Notable exceptions (A Tale in the Desert, Sims Online) have struggled to gain a sizeable player base. In a way, everyone is waiting for something innovative to come along, but itís not clear whether anyone knows what that is.
Not that I think I know what the next big thing is, but the following is an idea that came to me after several weeks of playing Ragnarok Online. Iíd like to briefly describe several interesting features of RO before moving on to describing my idea (impatient readers can skip ahead).
Notes on Ragnarok Online
RO caught my attention because it uses 2D anime-styled characters instead of 3D pseudo-realistic characters. It overlays the character sprites on top of the 3D environment pretty convincingly. One benefit of this is that you donít walk into the city and lag at 1 fps (like in SWG). There are several unique game mechanic features in RO:
Transformations Ė There is something seductive about identity transformation on a very primal level. We are fascinated by metaphors of cocoons and butterflies, gray cygnets that become white swans, beasts that turn into princes. Of all the MMORPGs I have played (EQ, DAOC, SWG, RO), RO alone captures the seduction of transformation. Change is gradual in games like EQ and SWG, whereas in RO, you literally change appearances, abilities, and suddenly gain about 30-50% more hit and spell points twice in the course of the characterís career (in the addition to the gradual improvements). The visual transformation paired with the sudden access to several lines of new skills is powerfully motivating.
Repeated Cycles of Rewards Ė Instead of having a linear level treadmill, RO does something very clever. You have a base level and a job level which advance independently. When you change jobs (from Mage to Wizard for example), your new job level goes back to 1 and suddenly you can make job levels very quickly again (allows acquiring new skill points). The rewards cycles in these games are based on well-known behavioral conditioning principles. It entices you with instantaneous gratifications up front, and slowly eases you onto a treadmill that takes longer and longer before you get a food pellet Ö I mean level. So in RO, just when leveling gets slow, you get to experience the instantaneous gratification all over again. Just when you might have gotten bored of the treadmill, it becomes rewarding again.
There are two interesting sociological features of the game which Iím not sure are good or bad:
"Race"-less Ė There is only one race, which for all intense purposes might be called "anime".
Gender Enforced Ė Your characters can only be the gender you put down when you registered for the account. So you canít gender-bend.
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