Infinite progress and beginner-friendliness are conflicting concepts. Resetting your MMORPG regularly solves this contradiction. When done right, this can even increase player retention. The Vortex Worlds are an example of a fantasy setting that shows how it works. Discover them!
The Vortex Worlds are a design example in a fantasy setting that shows how to design an MMORPG for an unlimited lifespan. This means creating strong player retention without burning players out and without the need to create new content extremely fast.
Table of Contents
A threat to the world
The players’ home is a paradise world with one flaw: a terrifying volcano in its center. The lava in the volcano rises with each day. When it reaches a critical level, the volcano erupts and destroys the world.
Luckily, there is an artifact left behind by an ancient and forgotten race.
Each time the volcano erupts, the artifact will use a portion of its power to warp the entire world four weeks back in time. This is the reset.
The aim of the game is to drain all lava from the volcano and end the threat forever before one year has passed and the artifact has run out of power.
Players can work together to slow down or even reverse the lava rise by several mechanics. The more powerful and numerous the player characters are, the better they can delay the eruption.
Competition is a strong motivation that is in the focus of most games and MMORPGs. However, human nature is more than just defeating others. Rather, humans are social beings and love cooperation.
Therefore, cooperation is the focus of the Vortex Worlds. The more organized the players work together, the more they can advance. Protecting the world from resets and reaching higher character levels goes hand in hand.
Home and Strange Worlds
The players’ home is the Home World with the volcano. Also, there are portals that open temporarily to high-level zones, so-called Strange worlds.
The Vortex Worlds include:
- the paradise Home World with the volcano
- a theoretically infinite number of high-level zones, so-called Strange Worlds
The Home World level range is 1-20. A typical zone in the Home World has a level range of 5. The Strange Worlds level range is 21-100. A single Strange World is about the size of four Home World zones and has a level range of 20.
Character progression via items
In a game with frequent resets, character progression must be dynamic with intrinsic catch-up mechanics. It is not the aim of the game to enforce the same level grind on players over and over.
Therefore, character progression is mostly based on items. Items have a level and give a certain amount of attributes.
A player that equips level 10 items in all slots, has a character level of 10.
Character progressions via experience
Gathering experience is a strong motivation and a defining game mechanic for RPGs and MMORPGs. In the Vortex Worlds, players are awarded experience for activities within their level range. So far, there is no difference to any other RPG.
However, when enough experience is acquired, players get an experience pearl. This pearl has many uses. High-level crafting and mighty spells may require experience pearls. They are even tradeable. However, the most basic use is to level a ring with it.
Rings are like normal items with one exception. Players can increase their level with experience pearls. The player can get level 0 rings from any merchant. There are rings for every attribute. So, let´s say there is a level 0 dexterity ring. The player applies a pearl on the ring to craft a level 1 dexterity ring.
The highest level a ring can reach is equivalent to the highest level enemy the player has defeated.
Keeping low-level content relevant
RPGs and especially MMORPGs struggle with the task of keeping low-level content relevant. A similar problem arises when players of different levels want to play together.
Some games decided to adapt the level of the enemies to the player or vice versa adapt the player level to the enemies. However, temporarily altering world or player power damages the feeling of progression, persistence, and immersion.
In the Vortex Worlds, there is another approach. When players want to do low-level content, they take off items. This lowers their level in a way that is consistent with the game mechanics.
Rarity and item level
Rarity and item level are genre-defining game mechanics. Each item has an item level that describes how powerful it is. Furthermore, each item has a rarity that describes how frequently it appears in the game.
|Rarity||Appearance in the Vortex Worlds|
|common||the worst items in the game, yet better than nothing, sometimes found in normal creatures|
|uncommon||a common quest reward, rarely found in normal creatures, sometimes found in bosses, every player will sooner or later fully equip them|
|rare||outstanding quest reward, almost never found in normal creatures, rarely found in bosses, a casual player can hope to equip some|
|epic||rarely found in Strange World bosses, the best players can hope to equip some, the best items in the game except legendary weapons.|
|legendary||the best weapons in the game, only the mightiest guilds might have one or two, reset-persistent|
|artifact||noncombat use only, their existence is a myth, only a few players ever see one, reset-persistent, account-persistent|
Each item gives attributes corresponding to its item level. The complete distribution of items in the Vortex Worlds is shown.
|Tier 1 Strange World|
|Tier 2 Strange World|
|Tier 3 Strange World|
|Tier 4 Strange World|
Properties of legendary items
There is one legendary item for each weapon class. There is no armor legendary. The legendary item has a maximum item level of 100 and gives the appropriate attributes. However, it has an additional effect that is worth 20 item levels. Therefore, it is by far better than a level 100 epic item. Legendary items are reset-persistent.
Since all legendary items are best-in-slot, they must not be directly farmable. Otherwise, players would purely focus on these items. On the other hand, assigning the items completely randomly feels unfair.
How to get legendary items
Legendary items come into play in the form of legendary shards. If the players collect 100 shards and defeat a raid boss guarding a forge or something similar, they can craft the item.
The legendary shards are not specific to a particular legendary. Rather, the players can choose which legendary weapon to craft.
Legendary shards are tradable, reset-persistent, and indestructible. Players can choose to sell them or work towards a legendary item. The drop rate of legendary shards is such that there is enough for one item every 4 weeks.
Properties of artifacts
Artifacts are not only reset-persistent. Rather, they are account-persistent. Something the player keeps between servers. They are an important long-time goal.
Artifacts are the most powerful and most wanted items in the game. At the same time, they offer no direct value in combat.
How to get artifacts
Some artifacts are almost impossible to gain. Others only with unbelievable luck. Finally, there are artifacts you get if you only work towards them long enough. Some are loot from the most powerful and most rare bosses.
- deck of many things
- the largest bag in the game
- silver reins (flight speed increases significantly)
- appearance options for character creation such as glowing eyes, horns, etc. are unlocked
- a playable race
- a rare mount
- access to a tavern that only owners of this particular artifact have
- ability to speak a language that only other artifact owners understand
- certain items (stats not better, but cosmetically spectacular) can only be learned/produced if certain artifacts are in possession. Anyone can wear the manufactured items
- special guild housing facilities, which in turn give noncombat-related advantages to the respective guild
Rarity of artifacts
Artifacts are the rarest items in the game. Consider that perceived value and quantity correlate negatively.
If you want them to be of any worth, don´t create a zoo of mounts or a phone book of titles.
Artifacts are no skin content. As a rule of thumb:
- Each additional artifact in the game reduces the value of the other artifacts
- the more visible an artifact is to other players, the rarer it should appear
- there must always be an artifact that players want
- The best artifact is something that everybody knows, everybody wants, and nobody has.
Artifact progression ladder
You can distribute artifacts in a progression ladder. So what´s that? Players that manage to get an artifact unlock ways to get another artifact. This can continue forever.
A way to keep artifacts rare is to make the artifacts in a progression ladder be slightly better versions of their precursors.
A cycle is the time-span between two resets. Not everything is lost in a reset. Therefore, each cycle is different because the conditions are different. As a consequence, players must adapt their strategies each time. Veterans have a certain advantage over new players. However, both start at the same line.
What is lost and what is kept in a reset
As a rule of thumb, anything character-related is kept, and everything else is lost.
Things that are lost in a reset:
Things that are kept in a reset:
- legendary items and artifacts
- fighting skills
- crafting skills
- crafting recipes
- reset-persistent bank slots
- the metagame knowledge of the player
Reset-persistent bank slots
So what´s the thing with gold? A reset destroys all gold. However, players in the Vortex Worlds can buy reset-persistent bank slots that preserve items between resets.
These slots are costly. The average player might get one slot per cycle. However, you can pay in installments. Therefore, these slots are a way of preserving gold and a few selected items.
To gain resources and win the game, there are several interrelated options.
Raid the Strange Worlds
There are portals that open temporarily to high-level zones, so-called Strange worlds. Every two hours, one portal opens to a Strange Worlds. Each strange world holds its own challenges and opportunities.
It is up to the community to decide at what time and to what Strange World a portal opens. Therefore, the game implements a selection mechanism. If you want to read more about channeling content, read here.
Also, the portal opens for only five minutes at the beginning of the two-hour period.
These mechanisms serve the following purposes:
- channel an arbitrary amount of content
- prevent splitting of the player base
- reduce organization effort for large-scale group activities
Each Strange World offers tasks in the broad level range to engage players of a similarly broad level range. The tasks include farming, quests, dungeons, raids, and other specific group content.
Design, build and farm dungeons
In the Vortex Worlds, players can create dungeons. The implementation satisfies the checklist on user-created content.
Every player can design dungeon blueprints. In a theatre, groups can build these blueprints for fun. However, they don´t gain loot this way.
To actually build a dungeon, players have to form a guild. Guilds can earn guild homes. These homes are the places of persistent guild dungeons. These dungeons must be populated with mercenaries, caught creatures, or even bosses.
The guild members themselves and other player groups can farm the dungeons. Dungeon blueprints and caught creatures are tradeable.
It can be a raid’s aim to catch a hard boss to make it later available in their guild dungeon.
Read details about the user-created dungeons here.
Almost everything is craftable and tradeable. There is a high demand for crafted equipment because a reset destroys all items. Crafting usually means combining common materials from the Home World with rare materials from the Strange worlds.
New recipes are learned by disassembling looted items. A crafting tree implements a progression mechanic.
Each extension of the game adds strange worlds of different level ranges. The game’s maximal character level keeps the same, and the player can hardly ever reach it.
Therefore, each extension increases the skin content and leaves the game mechanics intact.
Players can use resources to advance themselves and their Guild Dungeons, or they can use these resources to stop the volcano. You may decide for yourself whether you need PvP in your game.
The Vortex Worlds detail novel design ideas for a fantasy MMORPG.
(Last Updated on April 1, 2021)