TED talks are some of the most inspirational pieces of video I have witnessed throughout my travels on the Internet. Dan Pink’s talk tickled me a couple of days ago because it articulated exactly what I thought were the design principles that will steer the next generation of MMOs. He presented three words as the keys to higher knowledge worker productivity and happiness: Autonomy, Master, and Purpose. It turns out these three words crystallize the design guidelines I have been thinking about and working on for at least a year.
Let players enjoy what they want to enjoy. Give them the ticket to a place where they want to be and let them have a ball. Barriers like long vertical advancement may make more money, but they lead to less fun. But if we harness Autonomy well, we don’t need long vertical advancement because the well-designed game engages the player in a happy cycle of finding goals that the player thinks are fun and interesting to solve—and this goal-renewal will happen organically.
Give players the tools they need to learn to accomplish goals that they want to accomplish. Learning is crucial. Players get excited when they master a difficult task or encounter a unique challenge and complete it. Without sufficient mastery being possible, games become boring and trivial.
Tie together player actions with broader purposes. Allow players to create social structures that are purpose-driven and suited to do what players want to do. The game tasks need to be tied together by larger goals shared among players. A success or failure shared with others can become a great memory and a reason to keep playing.