Interactive Streaming

“Even the good plans of wise wizards like Gandalf and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes when you are off on dangerous adventures…
-The Hobbit

 In a post I shared earlier this year, I explored PvE as a business and community driver through competitive play especially in light that the idea many of us old timers recall was Jimmy Woods in the 1989 film, The Wizard.

Taugrim, a faithful reader and blogger commented that one of the inhibitors is that while PvE can be responsive and dynamic, it can be overly scripted leaving PvP the pie slice of unpredictable game play, which can be argued as more enjoyable to watch or require a different level of skill?

In today’s post, I would like to explore interactive streaming as we look back, look at, and look ahead at MMORPGs.

Looking Back – When Theme Parks Out-scripted Game Masters

If you ever sat down with a pencil, paper, and a handful of dice, you usually did so with a group of friends who worked together and responded to the Game Mater’s unfolding story. The pace was slower, but it was real-time, often taking the GM off script, and you got a real sense of every person contributing to your outcome.

When MMOs attempted to replicate this in large scale, it actually traded a personal story or a guild adventure for prefabricated content that was repeatable to any player. Timelines got warped as history of a world in a MMO were at some meta level, but individually you never lost your place in time. All your actions were relevant to you, and meant little to anyone else.

Naturally, when you spend resources to develop content, you want it to go as far as possible. You want the theme park ride to be replayed over and over and attract people who can enjoy exactly what everyone else has. The ratio of developers to consumers could never be attuned to justify non-repeatable content or potentially world impacting consequnces.

Around my 3rd MMO Lord of the Rings Online, I wrestled with this. I actually praised them for taking players throgh story content that was outside of the main thread (as that was predicatable and known). I actually made the mistake (many times) that Turbine as-was would be open to player contibuted content, and on several occassions I offered ideas where players could earn the right to create small stories, quests, dungeons that other players could run (similar to RTSs that enabled map building). I also suggested deed rewards that failfull players could earn to be even sought out or significant named characters in LotRO’s Middle Earth that had a sandbox reason for interacting with players outside of trade or LFG.

These ideas prior to even the sandbox MMO approach fell on deaf ears at Turbine.

Looking At – Storytelling and Encounters are Unidimensional

Sandboxes answered in part some call to a dynamic world that was scripted by players. Twitch evolved to become a business model where people watched people play games, post comments/chat.

Be that as it may, Sandboxes fall short of truly impacting content especially in storytelling or player designed content. They tend to be PvP based as well. Their player driven content tends to be impacting things like skill/class builds, the economy or settlements. Twitch interactions have little to no impact on outcomes of a player’s choices or encounters.

Developers in MMOs today who tell good story/lore, leave this to their own end, which results in linear tracks with somewhat long cycle times of new chapters. Moreover, dungeon crawls that can be highly scripted evolve slower and only break one dimensional plays by offering scaling as responsive to the level of a player or the number of players. Guild Wars 2 makes an honest shot at this, but still falls short of the nostalgic table top RPG GMvPlayer responsive and unpredictable dynamic.

Storyteller, a game with some notariety that did not end up going live, it offered a comic like sequence built on players adding items and characters into the frames for an open ended solution puzzle. It’s inspirational in its design approach as it consider the player as a contributor, and breaks the mold of linear scripting.

Looking Ahead – Storytelling as Collaborative, Interactive, and Unpredictable

How can the ratio of developer to consumer be overcome to produce unpredictable and responsive PvE? Stop trying to think outside the box, but rather redefine the box. Turn back to your players!

What if players could earn ranks, buy ranks, or have some other mechanism that earned them the controls to enemy skills, enemy types, adventure twists, or consequential outcomes to your avatar’s struggles, history, or reputation? Not only that, but do so real-time.

What if developers created not just linear and predicable content, but also tool-kits that enabled and empowered players to design and drop content and lore real-time into the world? Remember when player housing was simply hooks on walls? Players had some freedom to decorate, but it was linear scripted to have certain size furnishings in predefined places. MMOs began to change this. They build the engine stylized, and some games like Wildstar actually made available to players nearly everything that the world builders had used in design.

Perhaps their is hope. With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Twitch, they are asking themselves how to be Twitch if they were to design a MMO. New World suggests a world where players on Twitch could interact with players in game in a meaningful way. It’s a sandbox, but it seems of their 3 recently announced games to be one more focused on traditional PvE.

Since this blog is about the dialectic, I am interested in your thoughts. Do you think PvE suffers from lack of interactive content, world changing content, or repeatable content? Do you think Amazon’s New World is headed in a new direction for sandbox MMOs?