What’s the story with MMOs?

Image from Wikipedia commonsI’m trying to be brief. My inner editor is holding my inner game designer’s dog at gunpoint and nodding meaningfully at his watch. “Keep it short,” he’s saying, “Or find yourself a new bullet-proof chihuahua.” So I’ll be dropping links and a little commentary, and moving on.

First, Ragnar Tornquist posted on the Secret World Blog about the great story they’ve got coming. He says they’re revealing the story slowly, across the virtual and real world, in little pieces for (I assume) the players to piece together. Honestly, I’m a sucker for that type of storytelling, and it sounds very cool (like most everything I’ve heard about TSW).

Then Jef Reahard wrote an opinion piece on Massively that basically boils down to, “It doesn’t matter how awesome your story is, the vast majority of the players don’t care, and you can’t deliver it well anyway. Also, give players the tools to tell their own stories, since those are the only stories that anyone cares about.” It’s a good read if you care about such things, though Jef doesn’t say what those tools might be or what those stories might look like.

(There’s also a good discussion of Tornquist’s post and player interaction in MMOs at Rock Paper Shotgun if you want to hit all the links.)

I’ve said before that games can help players create their own stories. I’ve also said this is a good thing that can sell games. However, as one of my game designer friends pointed out on Facebook, it’s not cost-effective to support player stories in MMOs. Specifically, he writes, “I think providing strong core gameplay, a simple, interesting, exciting, popcorn story, and robust elder games seems like the recipe for success.”

He’s absolutely right. (WoW’s up to how many million players?) And yet, if you could make the game even more successful by adding player-driven storytelling… wouldn’t you?

Richard (“I invented this online RPG thing while you were in diapers!”) Bartle thinks so. In his talk at the Independent MMO Game Developer’s conference, he proposed that the next generation of MMOs accommodate both the majority of players (who care nothing for story or creation) and the minority (who like creating content). Specifically, he suggested a “theme park” inside a “sandbox” in which part of the elder game is creating content in that sandbox for other players.

It’s a brilliant melding of the two worlds, and I hope that someone out there is making that game.

…and with that, now I have to buy my inner game designer a new dog. I think I’ll call this one Lady British.

Has anyone used the City of Heroes or Star Trek Online mission creators? Do they actually add story? Or just DIY grinding?

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