How to channel content

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Content needs the right presentation to the players to develop its full effect. You neither want content wasted nor players bored. Read how to bring the right amount of players to the content of their desire.

Table of contents

Regions of interest

Players don´t run around randomly in the game world. They visit areas that are essential to their progress: regions of interest (ROI). They will even take the shortest route between ROIs.

Therefore, the distribution of ROIs is equivalent to the distribution of players.

ROIs fall into several categories:

  • level
  • infrastructure
  • other

A quest giving NPC is a level ROI because it is only interesting for players of a particular level range. The same accounts for creatures. They are mostly only interesting for players of the same level range. An exception to this rule might be creatures that are farmed by higher-level players. However, this usually indicates a design flaw.

Infrastructure ROIs are mailboxes, taverns, flypoints, tradeposts, crafting stations and other manifestations of civilization.

Also, there are ROIs that fall in neither of these categories. Examples are bottlenecks in terrain design where every player needs to pass, or spawning points of new players.

The distribution of ROIs determines game pacing, world richness and the feeling of the world size.

ROI density and game pacing:

  • a place with sparse ROIs is boring
  • a place with dense ROIs can be considered overwhelming, or feel crowded and feel artificial (quest hub, zoo)

What is wilderness:

  • a place with sparse infrastructure ROIs is considered wilderness
  • A place with ROIs of different levels is considered dangerous and interesting

Travel between ROIs:

  • the subjective distance between two places increases with the number of relevant ROIs between them (this is also true for terrain landmarks)
  • players like to follow short ways between ROIs

Content selection

Content rotation

Content voting

Randomly select content for all

Random individually

Temporary favorite for all

Player selects content individually

Players vote for all

Players unlock individually, select for all

Drawing a ticket

When you want alle players in on place you can use the Limiting Actions strategy.

When you channel content with content rotation, you might have zones that are temporarily available. It is of advantage, when access to these zones is limited to a very short time frame, so let´s say five minutes.

Imagine the sci-fi setting of Spaceship Golgossa. Every two hours there might open an gigantic elevator door. The door stays open for five minutes. Then the elevator brings the players inside to another zone.

This mechanic is immersive and plausible and channels content well. However, you will have many players in close range. In the worst case, the entire server population is in the elevator.

One solution is the Limiting Action strategy. Players in the elevator cannot cast spells.

A better solution is the Spatial distancing strategy. Why not have 6 elevators at different ends of the zone. They all open at the same time and have the same destination. There would still be one favorite elevator. Maybe the one that is closer to your biggest trade hub.

The ticket strategy is a convenient and safe way to distribute players among the elevators. Say you have five elevators, and want a maximum of 50 players in one elevator. Your maximal server population is 250.

Have players draw a ticket before they are able to enter the elevator. The ticket limit per elevator is 50. In a fantasy setting, you can call it a portal attunement process.

About rarity

Rarity is an important concept in MMORPG that is full of contradictions. Rarity has three components:

The ideal rare virtual good is something everybody knows, everybody wants and nobody has.

Something everybody knows

Players can only crave virtual goods they know exist. In-game players discover rare virtual goods in another player. Out-of-game players read about virtual goods in wikis and guides.

You can rely on out-of-game sources. Even the rarest virtual good will be known. Your enemy in this case is abundance, the opposite of rarity. Even when all your virtual goods are rare, having too many of them results in abundance anyway. With each additional “rare” sword, the other ones lose uniqueness.

Therefore, it is common to outright display the rarity of virtual goods with different methods: colors, keywords, symbols, and others. You may want to extend this system. An in-game display can show how many players have a particular virtual good.

Something everybody wants

Rarity itself bears a value. Think of gold or diamonds. Their use is almost entirely decorative, yet they bear a high value due to their rarity. It also helps that they are durable. The same is true for virtual goods: rarity and durability.

Some virtual goods like weapon skins or titles are also entirely decorative. Others may in addition be of unique use. This can be a special spell, legendary item, or a keycard to open an otherwise closed level.

The most attractive virtual good is rare, durable, and useful.

It is easy to create something everybody wants. So most games overdo it and create the opposite of rarity.

Something nobody has

Probably the most difficult component of rarity. Time destroys rarity. Players will make even the rarest virtual goods common in the course of time.

Item retirement mechanics help to keep the rarity of items. At the same time retirement works against the attractiveness of rare items. What is with mounts, titles, and skins? Do you need retirement mechanics for these virtual goods as well?

Many games work with items outdating against these problems. They add ever new rare items of ever-higher level into the game. The result, however, is abundance.

A sustainable solution is a metagame with a two-level rarity hierarchy. On the inner level are the virtual goods in-game. Draw the balance after a meaningful time period like one year. Give credit to the champions and close the season. The score each player achieves adds to the second rarity level. In the next season, each player starts anew.

On the outer level, the player can gain out-of-game rewards. You may even do something crazy like selling real-life items (cards, caps, shirts, paintings) to players who have qualified themselves with appropriate rewards.

About Persistence and Resets

Two coins of a medal

Resets and Persistence are two coins of a medal. Persistence means a shared world state. As soon as multiple players are involved in a persistent system, you need resets. Resets come in many ways and forms:

  • reset of an entire game world due to technical issues = server rollback
  • reset of an entire game world by design = cycle
  • reset of a particularly interesting area = instancing
  • rolling resets of mobs = respawn after death
  • item reset for the avatar in a permadeath game
  • item outdating = soft item reset that is active as long as there are better items
  • content outdating when a new expansion comes out
  • NPC behavior, which is “instanced” for each player can be considered a reset

Resets are highly flexible:

  1. Resets can occur at fixed intervals, triggered, or sneaking.
  2. Resets can affect any persistent world state.
  3. Resets are independent of each other.

Improve Resets

The flexibility of resets opens a variety of design opportunities. Today, the most typical combination for an MMORPG is content outdating, item outdating, and rolling resets of mobs. Also, areas of particular interest are instanced. Can you improve on that?

Improve content outdating

Instead of content outdating, you can add content that is of the same level range, players already have. To make this content relevant, you need another form of game world resets. This can be a limited server lifetime or cycles that come at fixed or event-triggered intervals.

Improve item outdating

Item outdating is a very clever item retirement mechanic that makes players crave better and better items. You can´t really advance that. Rather, you may want to apply additional item retirement mechanics.

Improve rolling resets and instanced areas

Instead of rolling mob resets (= respawn after death), you can have mob permadeath. Usually, this happens in instanced dungeons.

You can expand this pattern to entire zones that are temporarily available to all players. The difference to instanced dungeons is that such “temporal zones” exist in one instance for all players. In these “temporal zones”, you need a system of fair loot participation to prevent both freeriding and creature jacking. To achieve this, create a loot participation system that counts and weighs the number of interactions of each player with other players and the slain creature.

Another idea is to give players the ability to respawn mobs. Imagine a world, where some players are “life-givers”. In this role, they gain loot when reviving creatures back to life. In the revive process they have to heal the damage done to the creatures by regular players. To make it interesting, “life-givers” have a certain degree of freedom in deciding about the abilities, name, and position of their revived creature.

Cooperative matchmaking

Creating groups is the equivalent of matchmaking in cooperative multiplayer games. While matchmaking theory is very well developed, group creation is less elaborated. Let´s see what’s beyond group finder.

The setting is a game with cooperative gameplay. A limited number of players play each game. There is a lobby with a big pool of players with persistent player identity. To begin a game, a small party is drawn from a pool of players online and waiting. The actual game is performed.

Private rating of other players.

At the end of the game, each player can optionally rate his teammates: Would you play with this player again?

The rating is private and optional. Neither do the other players know how they were rated, nor if they were rated at all.

This is important to prevent negative feelings or outrage when not rated. The rating is neither a progress ladder nor a reward or punishment. Moreover, it is a preference setting of the rating player.

By collecting the ratings, you build something that is called a sociogram. When it is time to gather the party for your next game, use that sociogram to group people together that are sympathetic to each other. Vice versa, avoid grouping people that dislike each other.

The design can neither increase the number of available players nor shorten waiting times. Rather, game mechanics that already divide the available player base like game mode selection or game map selection don´t work well together with this mechanic.

The design can work well together with other community features like guilds, friend lists, etc.


under construction

Game design considerations.
Design Doris

It´s not only about the quality and quantity of content, rather how you present that content to the player.

(Last Updated on April 25, 2021)

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