We’ve spent several posts discussing the way that MMORPGs miserably fail to tell meaningful stories. Theme-park MMOs have story and gameplay as separate and unrelated endeavors. Story may motivate the fluff around gameplay, but games seldom require an understanding of the story. The story amounts to text that players are encouraged to skip.
How do we make story a meaningful part of MMORPGs? A dynamic world is a necessity, of course, but with a dynamic world it’s easy for the state of the world to become difficult to figure out for even veteran players. There needs to be a way for players to easily grok the state of the game world in order to allow players to make intelligent decisions that will have meaningful effects on the world. We can do this by creating a robust system for aggregating in-game history. Let’s see what we need to make this happen.
1. We need people who are willing to perform the roles of historians and journalists.
As EVE Online has shown us, players are willing to write about their endeavors in the game world—some players are willing to spend hours writing about what other players have done. These players are the historians and journalists of the game world, taking accounts of the history of the world as it unfolds through player action.
Games that have static stories and recycled NPC bosses have players willing to perform the role of historian as well, but these players are relegated to becoming meta-game historians. They don’t keep track of events as they happen in relation to the game world, instead they keep track of the happenings of guilds and other player organizations as they accomplish feats that have no effect on the game world, but are notable nonetheless.
We’ve already fulfilled this requirement.
2. We need dynamic game worlds where important events occur often enough to keep historians and journalists interested and engaged. We need a supply of things for journalists to report and historians to write about.
Theme-park MMOs need not apply. Sure, the meta-game will entertain some players enough, but there’s not much effect of what is notable and there’s not much that is notable.
We need a world where it is important that players know the political situation. In a world where player-run factions have very limited power and are basically interchangeable, an effective news gathering force is not particularly important. Player-run factions need to be able to effect the shape of the game world in some radical ways.
EVE basically accomplishes this goal.
3. We need the game to track the facts of historical events in a useful fashion that can be publicly viewed (or viewed only by the privileged historian group).
Player accountability is the fundamental principle here. There should be some degree of a factual, unfalsifiable record of what characters have done in the game world. It doesn’t have to be in gory detail—it can be as simple as “A defeats B” or “Faction A completes constructions of X in city Y, these players were involved” with a timestamp. The game could even generate a barebones wiki to allow this information to be easily viewed. Historians can then put details of the event and the significance of the event on the pre-generated wiki pages. Each player can have their own wiki page with their accomplishments, as well—everyone loves a good way to brag and a relatively permanent place to keep track of their achievements in the game.
Managing who can edit what pages in the wiki is a little bit of a challenge, but should not be difficult considering you can easily hold players accountable for edits (because they’ve got their edits associated with their account information). It’s not difficult to track how different players participate and ban griefers while promoting the good writers and experts to moderator or moderator-like status (they would be the historians of the game world).
Meaningful in-game history engages many different kinds of players and is a natural extension of a dynamic game world. I would love to see a game where I can click on a “more info” link next to a city in the game and see a history of the people who have controlled it, what they have done, and what’s going on now. Did someone just gank me? I can look him up and see where he hangs out, who he hangs out with, and what he does. Such transparency emphasizes player accountability and has the opportunity to give significant added meaning to the elements of the game world.