Saturday, June 4, 2011

Immersion in an MMO


When I refer to immersion in this post I’m talking about keeping the player’s attention.  The longer you can maintain immersion, the more revenue a game can generate but it is tricky to accomplish from an MMO design perspective. 

To understand why, think about any experience that has grabbed your undivided attention; it could be anything, not necessarily a video game. Now try to imagine having that same experience with multiple people, where anyone else sharing the experience with you could change the outcome of what was happening. Suddenly that thing that grabbed your attention might not be so much fun anymore. In some cases adding more people could make the experience more fun but humor me here.

If you saw the problem with how your experience would change, you can understand the problem of creating an experience that grabs your attention to the same level in an MMO. I think that this is partially the reason why the popularity of single-player campaigns in MMOs has risen.

I’m not going to discuss how adding more people creates a less immersive experience in this post. You can probably guess at some. Nor will I write about what makes for good immersion. If you think about media that has grabbed your attention, you can come up with some of these on your own. What I will write about is what limits immersion.

The only reason you can get so involved in a video game is that you have nothing more important going on. Something more important could be going to the bathroom, taking your dogs for a walk or going out with some friends. As much as I loved the old 40-man raids in WoW, they took forever to organize. It took even longer to coordinate all players in the raid to do their jobs well enough to get through the encounter. People just can’t spend the same amounts of time trying to beat that last boss, especially after spending a few hours getting up to him.

I don’t think there is any design that can change the amounts of time a group of different people can spend on a game. Moving to a single-player experience takes some of the excitement, from a design perspective, out of creating an MMO in the first place.

The solution to this problem is simple to state. Design a game that allows for people’s real life events and also allows for players to progress in the game if a particular player has to stop playing.

There have been plenty of partial solutions that approach this. Sticking to the WoW example, you can look at the dungeon finder system. Not saying it’s perfect but at least you can fill your missing spot with a warm body. Raid timers are another partial solution. It increases the amount of time you can use to try to beat that last boss and at the same time limits it, thereby generating more revenue.

So, is there something that will solve the problem entirely? I wouldn’t be writing about this if I didn’t already have a solution. It involves some simple redesigns of immersion-friendly features found in previous games (not necessarily MMOs). That’s all I’ll say about the solution though.

Hope you enjoyed this month’s post. I’m working on getting my portfolio together so I’m limiting the number of posts to about once a month. Rest assured I will continue to do these as time allows.