May 2005

Alternate Advancement Points

So say a mythical MMO existed (and sadly, today it\’e2\’80\’99s quite mythical) that has a very flat player ability advancement curve.

By this I mean, assuming the milieu is modern-day wartime, the player starts as a trained soldier. They can shoot, they can run around, they are a competent team member. Players might be able to train up some skills, such as medic or sniper, but if you take a brand new character into your fire team, he\’e2\’80\’99ll be able to contribute something no matter what, even if it\’e2\’80\’99s just random sprays of lead.

Now, this goes against everything we know about reward structures for character building in MMOs, but based on the madcap race of almost all but the complete newbie to the post-max game, I\’e2\’80\’99m willing to bet that everything we know is pretty flawed to begin with. Take it as read for now, anyway. That being said. What reward structures COULD we use? Three off the top of my head:

– Money. Money is used for the exchange of goods and services, as Homer Simpson has taught us in the immortal \’e2\’80\’9cone dollar buys many peanuts\’e2\’80\’9d lesson. Money drives a large part of our advancement in real life.

– Influence. Call it \’e2\’80\’9cfaction\’e2\’80\’9d or \’e2\’80\’9crank\’e2\’80\’9d or whatever. The political juice you have in the game world with whatever given NPCs, measured numerically. More influence, you get more stuff.

– Knowledge. Maybe unlocking key features of the game world. I\’e2\’80\’99m not sure this is a workable model given the one-to-many nature of MMO play and the fact that every \’e2\’80\’9cmystery\’e2\’80\’9d is posted to the web shortly after release.

The problem with most of these is that they\’e2\’80\’99re pretty ephermal and self defeating. If we use money as an advancement scheme, either we have powerful items that players buy (which makes the game item-centric instead of skill-centric and just introduces a money grind instead of an experience grind) or we have a useless measure of achievement. There\’e2\’80\’99s not much room for middle ground there. Using influence as a gate to the game\’e2\’80\’99s content just means that people will mindlessly grind out whatever \’e2\’80\’9cfaction quests\’e2\’80\’9d are easiest to get to the cheese.

The problem is that not only are the developers enamored of the D&D kill-things-get-points model, so are the players. If we allow for ANY character building, it will become the mark of the player who achieves the most that draws the new baseline that everyone chases after. But swing the pendulum too far the other way and you will have complaints that the game has no \’e2\’80\’9cpurpose\’e2\’80\’9d, because people see their heroic journey in MMOs as going from Zero to Hero in 60 days /played. Diverge from that model at your quite significant financial peril.

So how do we find advancement that works in a flat character development model? How do we simulate character development, and get the same stickiness from it that\’e2\’80\’99s proven to keep the game attractive, without making it an advertisement for obsessive compulsive disorder?

For PVP games, ladders are good. They help measure where everyone is among everyone else, and give a purpose to the most competitive. But that\’e2\’80\’99s not enough – not every game is PvP (although its adherents beg to differ) and not everyone is fascinated by ladders. But it\’e2\’80\’99s a start. You could use the ladder model in new ways; say you have an opportunity for player creativity – maybe stories published in game or in-game plays using scripting tools. You could have Nielsen-style ratings for how popular they were. Entertainment ladders, as they were (perhaps even tied to advertisers willing to reward in other advancement schemes, like money). You still have the problem, though of limited rungs on the ladder. In any list there\’e2\’80\’99s always only the top 25, no matter how large the list.

We say we\’e2\’80\’99re sick of the current grind; but what are the alternatives? For the \’e2\’80\’9cplayer skill\’e2\’80\’9d mantra – what are you rewarding? What, really, IS the point? And does there need to be one?

The most important thing you will read this year!

No, really. I didn’t write it, I almost wish I did.

A complete lack of regard for the life and welfare of those around you, a belief that your happiness eclipses any and all other considerations or consequences visited on people who aren’t you, a willingness to pay any price out of somebody else’s pocket for your own glory- that’s narcissism. You’re the center of the universe, and you can’t make an omelette without killing a few people.

This, like Victimization, is just one of the many makings of what I and a few of my confidantes refer to as the Psycho Internet Chick. They are a hardy and capricious breed, and a life-threatening hazard to any introverted male who spends any measurable amount of time with a computer, and is introduced to the concept of socialization there.

The related news is that, you see, I decided approximately 1 year ago to no longer indulge psycho internet chicks, because these two traits have spread through their number like gangrene. This sounds misogynistic, and it probably would be except I don’t indulge asshole internet guys either- and it’s pretty easy to sniff out and amputate those infected limbs.

Symptoms of Psycho Internet Chickery include:

1. Bringing up that they’re bisexual within the first month of having known them. This is an attention-getting ploy that is designed, with extraordinary effectiveness, to attract male attention, and is pretty much guaranteed lies. Females that are really bisexual avoid mentioning it whenever possible to their male contemporaries, because they’d rather not be imagined by those males in certain positions that you’ve probably seen on the internet*.

(This can be swapped for other benign eyebrow-hiking kinks, but bisexuality is the ringer of the bunch.)

2. Having a romantic catastrophe within the first two weeks of meeting them. This will elicit sympathy, or interloping, from the targeted male. In my case it was universally the prior- I have this thing about not wanting to interfere in troubled relationships. But the threat of it prompting the latter is enough to cause any chick with her head screwed on straight to keep her mouth shut around guys she’s only known 2 weeks — unless, say, she wants attention.

3. Eeyore-like mentality. Never a good thing going on in life, a continual sense of lacking that they must indulge. This is specifically to elicit sympathy, and also the Knight In Shining Armor reflex in a guy, which isn’t half as noble as it sounds. Guys want to endebt chicks to them- obligate them to remain with them after performing some feat of sacrifice or chivalry. Every man believes that this is how romance works until some point in their lifetime, and chicks know this.

4. Indignance at any indication of fault, in any matter, lying with them. Indignance that you, in fact, must apologize for, at which point you may be allowed back into their glorious presence. This is stated with more than a hint of sarcasm- you’ll definitely be allowed back, and although this sounds vague, nothing is their fault. If you catch them with a smoking gun, a stained sheet, or a Republican party membership card, it is less important that they had these things than it was that you had the temerity to have seen inside their purse, come home early, or listened to the Liberal Media (FoxNews excluded).

Mind you, they’ll never defend the undefendable. They’ll only distract and redirect conversation towards the things you’ve done which are now so much worse.

5. A love of ‘naughty’ things. This is almost a standalone, any time a chick says the word that she’s being ‘naughty’ in a cutesy-poo tone is a time that you should be changing your messenger handles.

‘My bf doesn’t know I’m here, but… I’m being naughty!’
‘I’m dieting, but I love this calorie-enhanced white chocolate- I’m being naughty!’
‘I told my parents I wouldn’t drink while borrowing their car, but… I’m being naughty!’
‘I told him I was on the pill, but…’

You get the idea. This isn’t an attention getting ploy, it’s dismissive justification for bad behavior. If you plan to befriend this person, you will sooner or later be the person defied, betrayed, or hurt for the sake of ‘being naughty’.

There’s more, maybe I’ll come back and add to the list so I have it all written down somewhere. But identify two or more of the above in a girl that you met online, and envision the legendary warning of Admiral Akbar upon arrival at this fully operational battle station: ‘It’s A Trap!’.

*Best line from G4 ever.

Yes, the most important thing you will read this year. If I’ve saved at least one life today, my – and ‘Hugh Betcha’s’ – work here is done. Thank you, and god save you, Debbie, where ever you are!