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 can 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.