Jack Emmert heads up design over at Cryptic, of course. And it looks like he just delivered a keynote at th Serious Games Summit in DC. Serious Games Source has a write-up. Among the things that jumped out at me:
- He defines the canon of Western MMO’s:
- Ultima Online
- Dark Age of Camelot
- Star Wars Galaxies
- World of Warcraft
An interesting list. A while back on MUD-Dev, similar questions were posed, and I listed a fairly different set, which included key text games such as LambdaMOO, DartMUD, and Gemstone, plus some of the off-the-beaten-path modern stuff like Second Life, Tale in the Desert, and Runescape.
- He lists keys to retention as being
- “Make players own stuff”, which is of course in the Laws and has been for years.
- Grouping, which seems to run a bit contrary to recent trends towards “playing alone together” — although he later mentions that forced grouping is something players hate.
- Interdependent player roles and classes
- Interestingly, he focuses on fear of strangers as a major barrier to enjoyment. I think I agree with this one pretty strongly, but I can’t recall having seen it stated so baldly anywhere. He lists the sidekicking feature as a way of overcoming this, but I had always seen sidekicking as primarily a mechanism to prevent levels from tearing groups apart.
- Another interesting tidbit is this one about the bases feature in CoH:
“We spent more time developing [bases] than any other feature in City of Heroes or City of Villains,” he says. Although bases are built by a team, Emmert and his team viewed them as being “incredibly, incredibly individual” because each piece of the base is designed and added by individuals.
“What happened was players hated it. It’s the most underused facet of the game. It received almost no coverage in the press. And there’s nothing like it in any other MMP.” Emmert’s hypothesis is that “people don’t like contributing money to a group to express individuality. … At its heart, these MMPs are individual game experiences in front of a computer terminal.”
Jack concludes by saying that game design is really a relatively recent discipline, only 10 years old or so; by making this claim, he’s basically saying that folks like Dani Bunten Berry and Richard Garriott and others were “just programmers” when they designed some of their classics… Hmm, gotta disagree.