Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

How to get people to Talk

Posted by Ben Zeigler on December 31, 2006

As I rambled about yesterday, I think the long-term success of an MMO has more to do with interest in talking about it than in actually playing it. But, what determines the ease and interest in talking about a game? How well does a game like City of Heroes do this, and how could it do better? Here’s a loosely-related group of suggestions for encouraging scintillating conversation:

  • When being discussed by a Wider audience, a good name is essential. I think City of Heroes is an extremely good name, as is World of Warcraft. Saga of Ryzom? Not so much. Make sure to pick a name with a memorable and unique acronym. stupid Company of Heroes
  • You need a thematic or gameplay hook that can easily identify a game within a crowded field. “It’s just like World of Warcraft, but the graphics are better and it involves Hammers” is not a valid thematic hook, sorry.
  • If you can, have an army of fanboys willing to buy any game you make. This one helps a lot.
  • For discussion by any audience, your gameplay needs to be easily describable. If the experience is too rapid or disjointed to form a smooth narrative, it will be hard to write about. This is a problem for City of Heroes. The time scale of gameplay was designed for optimal fun, but it’s faster than the natural time scale for narrative. On the other hand, a game like Eve Online that runs at the same basic time scale as real life is much easier to translate into compelling narrative.
  • It also helps if the game system mechanics are based in common principles. If you generate combat results in a completely novel way, all of your players and outsiders will attempt to interpret the results in terms of a common system, fail to do so, and conclude that you implemented it wrong. I’m not saying you need to clone an existing MMO, but your primary game mechanics should relate to SOMETHING standard. As an example, Enhancements in CoH aren’t really like anything from existing MMO’s or superhero games, so they’re confusing for veterans and notices alike.
  • For Deeper discussions, a conscious decision needs to be made regarding how important it should be to the overall game experience. If it’s too important, players who aren’t willing to get deeply involved will become bored and leave. If you go out of your way to make it unnecessary, a smaller percentage of your players will become deeply involved in your game. City of Heroes is purposefully designed so players should be able to reach max level without ever touching the forums, while a game like Eve encourages all of it’s players to become masters.
  • There’s another thing developers can do to encourage deeper discussion: get involved. This is an extremely tricky area that is complicated by all sorts of legal and business issues, but most developers have realized the benefit of this. As general advice, some people should be encouraged to engage with the players, and others shouldn’t be allowed anywhere NEAR an internet forum. There’s the occasional gaffe and misunderstanding, but I like to think that the developers who post on CoH’s forums do a good job of keeping involved (ie, not me).

I’ve got a bit more to say about encouraging players to become deeply involved in a game’s community, but that’s for another post.

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