Stable vs. Decreasing Options (MMOs)

Before I begin, this could be seen as another way of talking about Horizontal vs. Vertical design. As well, what I'm pointing out isn't "what's wrong" with anything, it's just my observations of what things are. This post was inspired by Spinks post about obsession with choices, and may be considered something of an open response to that as well.

I'd like to begin by focusing on the differences between two games that are very common in Japan, Shogi and Go. Specifically the different balances in creative versus technical options available to players at a given time. A creative option could be thought of as one that is asymmetrically balanced, though the choice is made between two different options neither one is inherently better or worse than the other. A technical option on the other hand is where the choice is between something of high value and something of low value, in other words even if there isn't necessarily a "right" choice there is one that is mathematically/logically better.

In Shogi, the creative vs. technical options are kept in near perfect balance on the board, though are traded between players as the game progresses. To capture a piece in Shogi means to have that piece to play yourself almost anywhere on the board. This means that as a player begins to loose they are forced into a corner where their choices are limited to various technical options to improve their situation, while every time the opponent captures one of their pieces it increases that opponents creative options. If you were to change the king in Shogi from being the Achilles heel of the team to instead being completely invincible, it is conceivable you could have a game of Shogi that both never ends and continues to generate interest.

In contrast Go has exponentially higher options from the outset, and to begin with they are all creative options. Experienced players know of technically good openers, but even in that case they have to choose from the set of openers they know which is a creative choice. As stones are placed the number of total options reduces and the ones that remain become increasingly technical. After both players have finished staking out their opening positions comes the central game where the creativity and technicality hovers around the sweet spot between the two. There are many creative options, and many technically correct options. Having a good result depends on you understanding how to use creative options to situate yourself somewhere that your own particular set of technical skills gives you an advantage. Towards the end however, the number of creative options sharply declines and is instead the players vie for advantage through finding best technical moves they can make.

When Go enters the endgame the board metaphorically calcifies. If you kept playing without passing you could eventually bring the board to the point where the only open spaces are the ones that have been completely closed from entry. Barring any spots of infinite repetition, the game will always end simply due to how pieces interact with each other. You couldn't change a single rule and continue the game infinitely, since the very act of playing destroys options.

If I had to say which game WoW, EQ2, and LoTRO remind me of, it's Go. The player begins assailed with options, while veterans will recognize some as better than others in the long run the simple truth they are all creative options to begin with. As the players gain levels they enter a sweet spot where there are technically correct choices, but there is also a good variety and some options that are purely creative. Towards the end, the game calcifies, builds are no longer good enough or better, they are right and wrong, classes are right and wrong, and the methods of following through the final bits of progression are left almost entirely to technical options. In time, the board is essentially calcified with nothing but the infinitely repeatable Ko moves left.

I don't think any MMOs I've played to date remind me of Shogi. There are certainly some closer than others, but I don't think any of them have that tit for tat mentality down. Far too much inflation. Of course, that may not be a bad thing, Shogi could be a terrible MMO.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I wonder if Guild Wars might have been a Shogi type of game, as you got to collect more powers which gave more options as you ran through it.