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Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:08PM Netu said

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I wanted to type up some long, thoughtful response, but really all I can get at is this:

You're absolutely correct. I had thought the same thing ever since I heard the announcement of the "fourth pillar" and have felt a bit squeamish ever since then. I always felt it was just a cheap attempt at bringing more content that will ultimately do the same thing, just in a different spectrum. We will still grind out these "stories" in order to obtain "loot," and we will still do the metagame to know the quickest way to get to the best "loot" so we can "win" with the outcome that is very much predetermined and in no way going to actually effect the game world.

And that's a *damn shame.*

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 5:08PM DancingCow said

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@Netu

The article isn't all that.

For starters the first MMOs to bring player generated content to us were Ryzom and CoH - so I don't know why Jef has singled out Cryptic and SOE.

Then there's the fact that while Jef lauds CCP and Eve for its great sandboxiness and how that allows players to create their own story, he fails to recognise that TSW's Hollow Earth / Agartha aims to do the same.

And then there's Exodus. PvE content generally has no permanent effect on the gameworld but TSW has already planned a major story event which will permanently change a major game location based on how players respond to it.

He also fails to explain how player generated content actually adds story. Take CoH for example. Their mission architect's primary impact was to speed levelling. How much did it add to story? Not much at all.

Personally I'm for player generated content, but I think Jef's blogpost is total bollocks and primarily for a single, obvious reason - every criticism he launches against dev created PvE content is equally applicable to player generated content + with player generated content there's generally no sense of cohesion in terms of story. The only story benefit is volume.
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Posted: Apr 12th 2011 6:45PM C Rose said

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@Netu

I too agree some developers are becoming lazy and unimaginative when it comes to story. WoW Cataclysm comes to mind, and I'm not a WoW-hater by any means. Blizz seems less passionate about their content and more passionate about their profits now.

Although I do agree with some of the points in this article (even though at times it does come across as jaded and bitter) I will say that the whole "User-created content is the saving grace of MMO's" thing is a bit of a stretch as well.

In a perfect world, yes, players would create some compelling content to supplement the dev created narratives. However, in the REAL WORLD, even if the game designers gave us the tools with which to create all the story we could imagine, I think after the initial onslaught of user created content we, as human beings tend to do, would slowly lose interest and focus and content would become stale anyways. So I feel it's tough either way you slice it.

Lastly I definitely agree that all this "4th Pillar" business is getting old. It was ok when Bioware, who have a great track record and knack for story, starting touting it, but now every MMO on the market thinks they have to advertise their "4th Pillar" as a main aspect of the story. It comes across as very FOTM-like.

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Posted: Apr 13th 2011 1:35AM DancingCow said

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@Tempes Magus

Re CoH - your timing is about 2 years off.

Cryptic sold their share of CoH back to NCSoft in 2007. The mission architect was released in 2009. Credit for it belongs squarely to NCSoft / Paragon.

I believe (hope) Jef was referring to STO's foundry thingy when he credited Cryptic.
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Posted: Apr 13th 2011 6:36AM UnSub said

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@DancingCow I believe that when Jef mentioned SOE, he was thinking of SWG's Storyteller system.
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Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:23PM eyeball2452 said

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I agree with this blog ... we should all just give up now. I hate when forum posters use generalization and "common thought" to support bad positions. I hate it more when generally respected blog sites use the same flawed logic to support the same bad arguments.

Just because developers choose not to focus on writing good stories doesn't mean it can't be done.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:23PM kgptzac said

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well said. there are simply too few mmo out there that truly give players enough freedom to make their own stories. the industry really needs to expand and diversify on this aspect.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:31PM Dunraven said

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Here is the problem I have...the article should like it's coming from a grumpy old man that is telling these fourth pillar kids to get off his lawn.
Quite honestly a lot of folks my age ( and yes this will buy me immediate contempt from the comic shop guy types) are done with the archaic vending machine gameplay where you grind these bots and get a prize, we want something deeper and that something that is dynamic ( as dynamic as current technology allows ) gameplay that includes a compelling story, yes my own story is important but that story means nothing if there is not a dynamic and ever changing world to act as a foil, and Joe player has a better chance of writing a story that both sucks and blows than not., so no I don't want to wade trhough a sea of crap just to find the gem.

That in no way means I want to wade through a half-ass professional tale just to get a shiny either.

Older gamers tell me "you want a Holodeck kid..you damn right I do, but until that day I will settle for a Dynamic interactive Persistent world where I can have adventures with my friends and not have to deal with Fippy Darkpaws retarded cousin attacking the same camp every ten minutes.

Posted: Apr 14th 2011 8:33AM mysecretid said

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@Dunraven

Agree with your "grumpy old man" assessment of the argument here.

Jef's rhetoric /sounds/ compelling until one looks closely at his terms.

He's essentially saying, "All good MMORPGs are made of X. Storytelling requires Y. Therefore, no MMORPG with storytelling in it will ever be any good."

If you agree with Jef's basic presumptions, then his reasoning will seem to make perfect sense -- but his position tacitly presumes an absolutely rigid and /static/ definition of what makes a functional MMORPG.

The point being, MMORPGs have changed since their inception, and will change again over time, as all game types have changed and evolved.

I daresay that the public's continuing interest in the "fourth pillar" of storytelling in MMORPGs (an aspect which Jef all but dismisses as a mere developer marketing ploy) is a /symptom/ of player desire for some sort of difference, some sort of evolution, in the way MMORPGs as we know them are made and played.

Will SW:TOR be the significant shift in what MMORPGs can be that many hope to see? That's almost beside the point.

The initial interest in RIFT, because it made a handful of changes in the way a fantasy MMORPG can play; the ongoing anticipation for Guild Wars 2, because it too claims to be bringing a measure of difference to MMORPG play; the almost palpable hope that Star Wars: The Old Republic will bring something engaging to MMORPG play through story ... something beyond what gamers have seen a hundred times before.

Jef's argument is ultimately a reactionary one, posing as a reasoned one -- borne out of a predisposed bias he may not even be aware that he holds:

"All MMORPGs can only be X. Any attempt to deviate from X is not only foolish, but impossible by definition".

None of the games I mentioned above may change the parameters of MMORPGs as we currently know them, but the /desire/ to see something in addition to "business as usual" in MMORPGs persists.

And sitting on Jef's metaphoric porch with a shotgun shouting, "You damn storytellin' kids git offa my lawn. You'll play it the way we allus done, and you'll damn well like it that way!" isn't going to make attempts at innovation, and the desire for innovation, go away.
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Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:39PM Vimana said

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It is very true and I agree. You can see it in just about every new MMO.....top heavy games with players having nothing to do a month after launch. Game designers can't put in enough content. Giving the power to the players to create their own stories seems to be the only sustainable way to combat this. Eve is the best example of this....and hopefully CCP continues this with WoD!

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 9:28AM fallwind said

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@Vimana Here's the problem with what CCP did: they created a great place for players to make their own story at the expense of any structured story at all. New players don't have tricked out battleships to throw at a battle, or stealth ships for covert-ops. All they get are the same dozen or so level 1 missions followed by... the same dozen or so level 2 missions.

The initial grind in Eve was worse than any other MMO I've ever played. By the time you actually can make your own content you are so bloody sick of what CCP made that anything seems better by comparison.
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Posted: Jun 16th 2011 3:17PM EatGrunts said

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@fallwind You should try the pvp aspect of eve, which is where the user generated content is. You don't need a battleship to be competitive in eve. Just like you don't always need job experience to get into some job in real life, you can easily find a corporation willing to help train players to be competitive. Yes, I am/was an EVE player so I may be a bit biased, but I didn't even use a battleship for the first 3 years I played the game because I found a few corporations that helped me become a better EVE player without having to use the biggest ship in the world. Almost any ship can take down any other with the right tactics and setup. Yes, you do have to take time to train up a bit, but once you can use the right equipment, you can be almost just as competitive as others that have been playing for years. The game doesn't tailor to people who like to play with themselves otherwise the user generated content would not work. EVE is mainly successful because of what the players can do with the game world. It may not be the traditional storyline, but EVE's story is about what happens in the universe as well as the foundation story that CCP came up with. EVE does have in the form of the Epic Arc and Agent missions, which I do find repetitive and prefer to avoid, so I go out and make a name for myself in other ways than grinding those missions. That might include pirating (which I don't believe in), vigilante, merc'ing, taking part in one of the major alliances outside of empire space, or even taking part in a industrial alliance in empire space.


I believe many dismiss EVE as hard to get into because they just want to progress and get to level 60. My problem with this is you then pay another 30 bucks to get to level 70 in 30 hours, then another 30 for level 80 and so on. Not to say that certain game doesn't have appeal, but I'd rather play a game that I payed for that has tons of play value without having to pay premiums on top of the subscription fee, this is why I believe USG is so important in the MMO world. It allows the developer to focus its money on new content for the sake of expanding a great game instead of new stories and more skill levels and new places to go so people don't get bored.
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Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:41PM Apakal said

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When I get a fantasy MMO that actually has a fresh take on fantasy, I'll care about story.

That's actually the reason the story of TSW has me a little bit interested. Its not your typical castle and dragons fantasy story.

And I will gladly give all my earthly possessions to the development studio that makes S.M. Stirling's novels of the change into an MMO. That's the kind of fantasy story this genre needs.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:43PM Apakal said

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@Apakal

The Change* (capitalization fail)
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Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:45PM Dumac said

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Another great article, i agree almost completely, although, it paints a pretty grim picture about MMOs, and it almost sounds like it should be something to keep away from and dislike, but if we (who agree) said we still like MMOs, that would be saying that none of this is important. Hmm.

Anyway, to anyone who is going to read that cracked.com article, prepare some sort of sedation for when the horror induced shivering comes.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:47PM Syesta said

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I won't be so jaded and say it can't be done, however I agree that it seems too many devs make the assumption that we don't care about story and half-ass it.

Playing through FFXI's Chains of Promathia convinced me that truly great MMO stories are out there, regardless of if the gameplay is dynamically involved or not. Sure it's a bonus, but I'm not deterred as long as its compelling.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:49PM Anatidae said

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The early MUDs were places to talk/bullshit around or become an admin and create content. Role-play was everywhere, but that was the fun bull everyone would partake in.

UO was the next big MMO (there were other smaller ones as well), but they took an sandbox approach. Of course, players couldn't invade a NPC town and take it over, but they could control an area of wilderness. There are very few games since UO that players got together and created their own towns and communities the way they did back then. Players actually ran taverns and food and drink was completely unimportant. Yet, the player taverns often had patrons - something you'll not see in a modern MMO.

Then EQ came and got a lot more players. It wasn't a sandbox at all, but closer to the rail-quest-level game we all know today. Everyone had to beat EQ (including Blizzard) and just like people copy WoW today, they copied what worked in EQ.


Alas, for the most part, the early idea of virtual worlds was left behind.


Now, there are new sandbox MMOs out there with EvE being the most "civilized" of the high-profile ones. Most sandbox developers confuse "sandbox" with "pvp" and fail to grow on the mistakes of UO and implement player tools to emulate real-life moral choices and provide law-enforcement abilities.

And not to say that there isn't a place for "might makes right" muti-player games. I pride myself on being incredibly crafty and destructive to my opponents in Black Ops these days. And even the ever-unbalanced class-based MMO PvP battles can be fun in larger teams for me.


In the end, I think there is a HUGE hole for a well developed virtual world that not only allows for the sandbox freedom we first experienced in UO all those years ago, but improves on it allowing groups of players to lay claim to lands, set laws, and enforce them in ways that emulate the real world. And there should be game mechanics that allow players to make moral choices with consequences - more than just a "killer flag".

That is a game I'd like to play. I'd say EVE is the closest, but I would like something more like UO in that you play a small individual that can create great things with time and skill.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:51PM Gryphmon said

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I suppose I'm in the minority here in that I actually like storytelling in MMO's. But I'm an "explorer" kind of player, I like to see and experience the worlds that have been created. I don't like PvP, and don't really even raid or group up if I can avoid it. I experience the world in a single-player way. And there are quite a lot of us that prefer this out there. The vast overwhelming majority of quests in an MMO are completed singly, without groups.

In that kind of setting, story becomes a guidepost to the world you are visiting, and helps you explore and immerse yourself in it. This is something, not coincidentally, that WOW seems to accomplish really well. They have adapted storytelling to fit the medium, and not the other way around. Those MMO"s that do this keep a sizable portion of their player base happy.

I do think that player generated content should be included as a matter of course. It becomes yet another way to immerse yourself into the world. However the biggest problem I have found is that its nigh impossible to separate the chaff from the good stories. Simply leaving it up to voting by the players doesn't work, because everybody votes for their own stuff or their friends and at any rate never reaches the critical point to become truly popular. I think for player content to really work, you do need a dedicated person working for the game that reviews the stories and grades and classifies them. And I can't imagine an MMO company ever being willing to pay for someone to do that.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 4:16PM Irem said

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@Gryphmon
He's not really talking (I think) about making player-created stories part of the game canon. He's talking about giving players the tools to come up with their own stuff and run with it. Roleplayers do this already, but as Jef points out, we're usually doing it against a strong wind. Compared to how much work it takes to create an entire raid, it takes almost no effort at all to turn out things like candles that can be placed on objects or on the ground, or books that can be written in and traded, and the roleplayers will get years of use out of those simple things. But it's just considered normal that raid content will keep coming on a regular basis and roleplayers will have to beg and plead for any sort of simple tool (and usually not get it).
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Posted: Apr 12th 2011 3:53PM Gildas said

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"[Game design] is about building potentials for players to turn into actualities, and it's about saying something you can't say any other way.
I could have written a story instead of drawing a map. I wrote stories all the time, it wouldn't have been out of character. However, I drew a map. I drew a map, because what I wanted to say — "there are so many wonderful things that can happen" — I couldn't say any other way. I could build the world and write a story set in it, or I could build it and play it."

-Bartle

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