Monday, April 20, 2015

Game Persistence & Content Recycling, and Why We Need It

To bring you up to speed, in MMOs, the ‘worlds’ are said to be persistent. What this means is that whether you are logged in or not, things are happening. Other people are logging in game and moving around, resources are spawning and being mined, enemies are being destroyed even when you don’t have the game running. In a single player game, nothing happens until you load it up. For example, in Skyrim, nobody moves around, the time doesn’t tick and the world stays still while the game is off. In Elder Scrolls Online, the game is still going on even though you aren’t playing it. That’s persistence.
Next is content recycling. What this means is that when you beat an enemy, or mine a resource node, or complete a daily quest, you can do that all over again. The enemy will respawn, the resource node will come back and the daily quest will be back for you to take again tomorrow. MMOs and some games do this so you have something to do when you don’t have any immediate goals, or a way for you to level up towards the next bit of content you want to do. This isn’t always fun, and often associated with grinding (repeating a task towards a reward), but it’s something to do in a game you want to keep playing and can’t continue on to the next step of your quest or task yet.
Now, to the heart of this post. There are many complaints and dream games where people don’t want to go through recycled content, but most, if not all, MMOs have you go through it. If you played a MMO then this might sound familiar, “Man, I’m tired of doing these dailies.” Or “Wouldn’t it be cool if when I beat the dungeon boss, that was it. He never spawns again.” Both of these are issues on recycled content.
Now most of you will probably already know this, but content takes time to make. It has to be thought out, planned, programmed, tested, fixed and balanced out in order to bring it to you, the player. Some content tends to cut corners, which is why some of it is buggy, easy or hard, gives too much/too little reward, etc. But the main story is usually pretty balanced out and works most of the time as intended. What this boils down to, is that there is no way a studio can push out enough content to keep you satisfied all the time. So they come up with ways to keep you entertained and busy while still playing their game, hence daily quests and recycled/repeated content.
To get to the persistence part of this post, the game has other players playing the game along with you. Unlike a single player or cooperative player game, MMOs allow other people to play in your world and can be on different quests, or even the same quest but on different sections. That means it would be unlikely for them to offer up a unique quest to one player and not give it to all players because the developers cannot create enough quests for each of us to have our own individual quests.
The current design and model of MMOs do not allow for non-recycled content, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. I am inferring to player generated content and computer generated content. Now player generated content has the same issues as studio generated content, in that there just isn’t enough being created to give us all unique, non-recycled experiences while playing, however computers can generate this all day long every day. The issue with computer generated content is that it lacks special touches and human experience because how early in development computer generated content is.
Landmark seems to be pushing the boundaries the most right now with player and computer generated content where the computer generates the landscape with some added touches by the studio and then the players pulls from that and adds to it with their own final touches and human expression. There is a lot of potential there, but the game is still in a beta state according to Daybreak Studios (formerly SOE). They have a ways to go and more tools to build for this, though. There are other games in development that are also trying to build on these two concepts. Crowfall for one, and Trove as another. Trove however is released to the public to play now if you wish to hop in.
As for the future of MMOs, it’s hard to say. My two cents are that player and computer generated content will become more of the standard and what MMOs should be heading towards. As for now, we need recycled content because we want to keep playing our favorite MMO, else we need to come to peace with the fact that sometimes we need to stop for a while and/or come back with a fresh perspective when new content is released. That’s what makes MMOs so great, because they are persistent worlds that have content added to them over time, unlike a single player game where it’s pushed out and that’s pretty much it, except for the occasional DLC that might come afterwards.