Where are the atoms, Lebowski?

Last time, in Quests: Splitting the Atom, I proposed that we start thinking of MMO gameplay and story in smaller chunks. These “scenes” would be triggered based on player resources, and players could manipulate them (deliberately or inadvertantly) by spending, trading, and gaining resources.

Effectively, I suggested that we should deal out content based on the player economy. There’s a problem with this, though: a lot of players hate having to think about the player economy. They don’t want to sit around playing eBay, they want to hack up monsters.

So how to we separate the player economy from the auction house or the market window?

Well, virtually every MMO I’ve seen embeds resource management into core gameplay. When you go into a fight, you’re trading renewables (hit points, mana) and consumables (potions, ammunition) for other resources (XP and money). It’s a transaction, albeit one with a lot of variables and some random elements.

We can embed similar transactional models into other parts of the game. At the most basic level, consider letting players “like” actions taken by other players, but at the same time, give them a point that says that they “like” certain types of actions a lot. Build the UI around this so that instead of a Facebook-type like button, there’s a character action attached to it, like applause.

We ┬ácan go beyond the reputation economy, though. Sneak past an enemy player in PvP. Your Sneaky score increases, while they get a Thickheaded point. Neither of these is actually a bad thing: every transaction aims at opening up more content. Your decisions, successes, and failures determine what kind of content you’re given.

So now, what we have is a situation where player actions determine character traits that control what content is offered. Assume we’re still working the other angle from my previous article: that content aims to draft players to help and hinder each other, rather than move more towards fully-scripted devs-tell-you-a-story gameplay.

5 thoughts on “Where are the atoms, Lebowski?”

  1. I’m recovering from a night in the sleep lab dealing with CPAP settings, so cannot make the articulate argument I’d like to, but….

    I feel like too much analysis in terms of “transaction” may end up missing something crucial, about the extent to which some players are really looking for escape from a market-shaped reality. They aren’t looking to buy or sell but to achieve, to discover, and to do other stuff that is essentially non-economic, often anti-economic. They tend to be less articulate about this than people who have a thoroughly reasoned and footnoted theory of their gaming desires plus roster of specific-to-the-situation expectations, but they’re still there, and it’s easy to end up missing out on the by…not necessarily bad presuppositions, but limiting ones.

    I don’t at the moment have an alternative to propose, because I seem to spend more time dozing off again than handling research into social dynamics in non-economic terms. So I just note the point and hope to fill in on it some other time.

  2. Bruce Baugh, just because he speak of something in terms of economic doesn’t mean that it will feel like doing a trade while playing.

  3. The players who don’t want to mess with the auction house are exactly the people I want to address in this post. I haven’t found the whole solution, obviously, but it’s something I’m working on.

    Most games already do a pretty good job of presenting a resource management mini-game as combat. The trick here is to wrap other resources in similar ways.

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