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MMO designers need to focus more on the 'why', not the 'what'
MMO designers need to focus more on the 'why', not the 'what'
August 15, 2012 | By Mike Rose

August 15, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Design, GDC Europe



MMO designers need to stop focusing so much on what players want to do in online games, and instead hone in on why these players choose to put so many hours into the MMOs they play.

Funcom Montreal creative director Craig Morrison referred to author Simon Sinek's "golden circle" theory (shown below) as part of his GDC Europe talk today, noting that the "how" (the systems provided to the players) and the "what" (what the player wants to do) all boils down to exactly "why" these players are making those decisions in the first play.

"Everytime a player logs in, they need a 'why'," noted Morrison. "What we really need to be thinking about is the why - it's the bit that we don't really consider enough. Players need a reason to be playing it. What is motivating them?"

MMO designers need to stop focusing so much on what players want to do in online games, and instead hone in on why these players choose to put so many hours into the MMOs they play, says Funcom Montreal creative director Craig Morrison, who has worked on Age of Conan and The Secret World.

The key issue with this angle in MMOs is that, while the range of different types of players is narrower in more focused games such as Call of Duty, there is a wide range of player types in MMOs, and therefore 'whys' -- from those players who choose to boot your game up every day to progress through the game and level up, to those who are playing to be part of a community.

"No one is your perfect player in the MMO space," he added, meaning that you need to provide a huge number of diverse gameplay elements to satisfy as many players as possible.

A lot of games go wrong trying to focus on the one type of player that is in the majority, he suggested -- "but for that person to enjoy it, they need to be part of the ecosystem that involves all the types of players."

He showed Simon Sinek's "golden circle," which in his interpretation suggests that without understanding the "why" that lies at the core of a player's motivation, it's impossible to understand what players actually want.

Golden-Circle_Simon-Sinek.png

Morrison also cited Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs as an example of what MMO designers should be looking to cover with these whys. In particular, the "belonging" segment was done really well in early MMOs because "you needed a network of people to achieve anything," he said.

However, many MMOs now attempt to focus more on the "self-esteem" section, losing a fair portion of the belonging in the process. "Unless you expose the players to the community and encourage community interactions, there's not that much difference between your game and a single player game," Morrison noted.

Gamasutra is in Cologne, Germany this week covering GDC Europe. For more GDC Europe coverage, visit our official event page. (UBM TechWeb is parent to both Gamasutra and GDC events.)


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Comments


Jon Ze
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Does anyone else feel like this is just intellectual fluff? None of this is actually saying anything.

Terry Matthes
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No, I actually think it says quite a bit. If you don't understand the internal motivations for someone playing a game then at best the game mechanics you develop are just a shot in the dark when it comes to satisfying the players interests.

Danny Bernal
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"However, many MMOs now attempt to focus more on the "self-esteem" section, losing a fair portion of the belonging in the process. "Unless you expose the players to the community and encourage community interactions, there's not that much difference between your game and a single player game," Morrison noted."

I can't agree more. The original few expansions of everquest were some of the best moments in gaming for me ever. I remember having to partner with people to explore and even for things like finding my corpse. It eventually started to feel like I could push a button and teleport over to "work" for some goal for my character. it all went to crap as every feature aimed to please some group and make something easier. travel became trivial, trade skills became trivial. eventually even bosses were trivial. The game lost its charm because it slowly removed my need to rely on the community for support.

Bart Stewart
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This is a good way to look at MMO design, I think. The point that the more players you have, the more diversity in what they enjoy and will want from your game is especially important.

Another way of looking at this can be adapted from the hierarchical model for how to organize the application of force:

Who? Who are you trying to attract to your game or feature? This is the core level of Vision (grand strategy) that defines the purpose, the goal, the meaning of the proposed action. It spans the whole game.

Why? Why will this particular feature help to accomplish the core goal? What are the defining characteristics of the overall goal, and of a proposed feature/system/mechanic, and how good a match are they? This is the level of Strategy, which defines high-level systems that can communicate the Vision. It spans core systems such as the art direction and interface style, monetization model, data architecture, world setting, and core story.

How? How does the set of things a player can do help to create the high-level strategic system that accomplishes the Vision? This is the level of Operations, of defining processes that link individual player actions into an experience that satisfies the strategic requirement. It spans functional subsystems such as combat AI, economy, graphics and audio engines, physics, quest resolution, grouping, and the equivalent of "level design."

What? What can players actually do? This is the level of Tactics, of hands-on actions in a localized setting with immediate consequences, but which all need to combine to accomplish the requirements of the subsystem they exist to support. These are the specific features experienced by players, such as movement, shooting, communicating, mapping, art and audio assets, and controls.

All of these matter. But I believe Craig Morrison's point was that there needs to be someone making sure that that all the thousand-and-one concrete Tactical things that have to get done (the What) all support the Operational needs (the How), which accomplish the abstract Strategic requirements (the Why), which ultimately have to effectively satisfy the Vision of Who that game is for. Without someone working constantly to keep all the pieces pointed in the same direction, the risk of winding up with a jumbled mess that fails to amaze anyone is high.

Nothing's guaranteed, of course. But organizing a complex productive effort by Vision -> Strategy -> Operations -> Tactics at least gives you a fighting chance to make something great.

Michel Desjardins
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Most university psychology faculties stopped teaching Maslow theory about ten years ago. However, the overall concept exists in several other forms.
See Wiki for more public information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation#Need_theories

Whatever game mechanics you are planning to use in your game, a deep understanding of the Why factor is the ultimate starting base. This can be done at the player conscious or subconscious level of thought. It's not just fluff stuff. I did it myself with a MMORPG concept of my own (game to come in a few years). The Why factor analysis is so good that you will all end up slave of my game...


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