GDC Mobile: Connecting Mobile Games and MMOs
In the final talk of this year’s GDC Mobile summit, Dan Roy focused on what motivates players to invest significant time and attention to MMOs and how a mobile/PC cross-platform game might help drive that enthusiasm.
Roy began by describing the primary motivations that lead players to attempt mastery of a MMO. First was personal visibility of mastery such as gaining level or successfully completing a quest. This was followed by the social visibility of mastery such as devoting the time and effort to reach level 70. This is closely tied to the social relevance that this mastery carries with others who see the player’s character and say “Wow! You’re level 70? I want to be more like you!” Roy then looked at several mobile and PC games and examined the ways in which they succeeded or failed at satisfying these primary motivations.
Magic the Gathering is an example of a low-tech mobile game. Increasing mastery is personally and socially visible among fellow players. Because it is small and portable, playing, trading, and discussing the game increases its relevancy and visibility. Its portability also brings the game into new social contexts, evangelizing it just as mobile can do for a MMO.
Ragnarok Mobile Mage is an example of a mobile companion to a PC MMO in which players can earn in-game currency to transfer to their PC game. However, because it is a simplistic, single player experience, it provides little social relevancy. “It sucks. It’s terribly designed,” Roy said.
Armada Kingdoms is a mobile MMO that plays like a slow paced real-time-strategy (RTS) game in which moves take many hours to complete. Because player actions take place over an extended time frame, users can log-on to give orders and then log-off and receive status notifications by email or in-game SMS which helps keep them engaged over the long term. Travian is a browser-based MMO that also plays like a slow RTS, but one in which in resource maintenance drives player check-in behavior.
Roy also discussed The Violet Sector, an unusual, text-based MMO that is cross platform over the web or WAP on mobile. In the game opposing teams fight running space battles but can only perform a limited number of actions by appointment over three hour turns. Games like World of Warcraft are described as synchronous in that a player’s character only exists as long as they are logged on and playing. Armada Kingdoms is asynchronous because players login, perform an action and log-off, leaving their character as a persistent presence in the game world. The Violet Sector however, is different from synchronous and asynchronous play in that its appointment system assigns different appointment windows to different player roles. This drives home the importance of attendance and makes its social relevance highly visible.
Roy then outlined some hypothetical changes to World of Warcraft that illustrate how a mobile game can be integrated with a PC MMO in ways that help bring relevancy to players.
Auctions and crafting were obvious areas that could have a mobile component while the armory could provide a place for players to show off their items. Maintenance tasks such as pet hunger could be tended to by mobile.
There are also social networking opportunities in World of Warcraft that could be done on mobile. Text and voice chat are obvious candidates for mobile, allowing players to keep in touch with their guilds when they are away from their computers. Also, things like browseable profiles and screenshot albums could be easily implemented. RSS-like news feeds by mobile could provide players with info on who leveled up or who joined a guild. Players might enjoy rating content that could be viewed on mobile such as rating quests or avatar appearance. Once the technology improves, Youtube style videos of World of Warcraft activities could appear on mobile. “It’s the perfect activity for mobile because it can take up as much or as little of the player’s time as desired,” Roy said.
Combat could be designed to integrate mobile as well. With player versus enemy encounters a special kind of combat that was slower or turned-based be could be implemented on mobile. Player versus player could also be done on mobile using Duels.com as an example in which equipment and spells are chosen and then combat auto resolves. Team play with mobile players assisting PC players could work also. It would encourage mobile players to think strategically, giving buffs or debuffs to PC players, setting traps, or casting area of effect spells.
With a little creativity leading the way, integrating PC MMOs with mobile could be a very natural development. “If you have a mobile game, why not make a web component? It’s cheap to develop,” Roy encouraged the audience. “Making a cross-platform game reduces friction and keeps players interested in your game.”