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Reader Comments (84)

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 7:05PM MaddZ said

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Well said. My only beef with EVE is that while I love the damned game, its a touch too brutal at times. I don't have the time to grind up the massive losses that can be incurred from a moment of bad connection or inattention.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 7:22PM Graill440 said

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People making games that have been nowhere in their lives except the corner starbucks or the next state over is part of the problem, another part is money, still a third part is arrogance in thinking "they" can do it all.

You do not need education to tell great stories, history has proven this, you need age, wisdom, and experience. There isnt a developer today that can claim all three in storytelling. The money thing?, the quip "what the market will bear" is a funny thing and shows the idiocy of modern society. Games are expensive because people charge so much for their services. A tiny non consequential example is of a company making a 15 second animation for a major network, the price tag?, 1.2 mill for 15 seconds of animation, asked why it cost so much and the reply was, "Oh it didnt, the animation staff whipped it up in 5 hours, we just knew they could pay". This is what developers feed on, greed. And no developer will tell their boss they are doing the wrong thing.

Next is arrogance in thinking they can do it all. To often we see a dev spew drivel about they they can do this or that and how they know what "We" want, they know whats better as "we" do not make the games, they do. This is in print in any number of places, there are even dev posts about how stupid consumers are as they do not understand one technology from the next and yet "we" still complain (a GDC joke).

The technology to make a game for "everyone" is out there, the only thing that needs to be addressed is the arrogance of devs, the "what the market will bear" attitude (how did that work out for the housing industry by the way?) and developers finally hiring out experts to tell them while they work they are screwing up in real time, and listening to that advice. Its already been proven there are far more talented folks out there that current devs today. Sadly these folks are hired up and thrown into dungeons (the machine or as the damned call it...entry level, because you are not replacing a good ol boy) or they are given hush money and sign rights away to whatever they were making.

Lots of problems to address and few folks to push this in the faces of those that need to see it.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 7:25PM (Unverified) said

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The problem with player driven content is that it isn't guaranteed content and is hit or miss, not to mention that is so often missed by the majority and only experienced by a minority. At least with a good story based game, like TOR is trying to do, all players can enjoy the experience, not just a few people, and the rest get to read about it.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 7:30PM Magnux said

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Most of the time you get very little choice in any of these games, if I see a mugging (well my character in the game) and I do nothing, what does it matter? NPC's don't normally die in a game, I can come back in 10 days and that guy that was getting mugged will still be there getting mugged. And if I feel bad for his sorry ass and lets say I kill the muggers, what then? I can come back later and there he is getting mugged again, I will put it to you in the epic words of Mr. Incredible "It's like I'm the maid. I clean up the mess, but when I come back its dirty again." or something to that affect. For there to be a personal story I need to be able to do anything I want, lets go back to the mugged guy as an example, what if I want to be a bad guy? What if I walk up to the muggers and ask, can I kick him some? What if I want to be a total dick and side with the bad guys? I can't do that, because I am suppose to be the hero, the good guy, what if I don't want that? Maybe I want to become a villain and be the scourge of the server, I might want every NPC and PC to know me and hate me. But alas none of that will ever be possible because I have only a few choices. Even in WoW while there is rivalry between Horde and Alliance, that's as far as it goes, I can go kill the king in IF and he will be back later cause he was just K.O. for a while. For there to be more to the game and your personal story all your choices should have repercussions. Lets go back to the Mugged guy, if I did not save him, or helped, or hindered just like in real life there should be repercussions but there is none what so ever.

I personally like story in games, that is why I play them, if the story sucks I wont play it for long. Same deal with a book or a movie if it does not catch my interest well I will not read it or see it. Some don't give a crap about story and that's ok, its not your cup of tea, what ever floats your boat I say. But for those of us who like story well they should make an attempt at giving us something decent, I would like something great but if they cant deliver that well I will just take decent material. Dev's have to tailor to all audiences those that like the story and those that don't or they wont make money, or as much money if they had both things. Same with PVP and PVE for the most part, while I do not PVP some is always welcome, but dont go overboard, if the game is meant to be PVE well don't spend your time on doing nothing but PVP because then you will lose those that want PVE over PVP.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 7:38PM Magnux said

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As far as customer generated events well I say give them/us something to work with. Yes some of it will suck, and its up to the player that experience it to say something about it. But don't be a total dick about it, saying you suck, accomplishes nothing. Saying Epic Fail means nothing it is your opinion and someone else might say Epic Win, but you need to provide substance tell the author of said material why it was good or why it was bad. Most people critique things but say very little about why they think it was bad. It can be as simple as well such and such acting sucked if you are talking about a movie, or the writing was not all that great and it seemed to not flow well. You know express yourself beyond a 2 word sentence.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 8:09PM alzeer said

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speaking of myself ,having decent story is 1 of the reasons i stick to mmo
that why ffxi if my all time favorite mmo.
and the argument "developers will not be able to satisfy a player's appetite for story" is kinda weak, player will always finish content faster than the developers can make , that dosnt mean they should stop trying

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 8:37PM Tizmah said

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I understand where this author is coming from, but it's a little off base. MMOs aren't much about living in a world anymore. I enjoyed my own story in Ultima Online because their were so many variables that most games don't even offer anymore.

Most MMOs are going a themepark route, where you read a bunch of text and maybe the rare cutscene or in-game scene that shows something happening. This in fact is POOR story telling in a videogame, because they are never crafted as well as they should be. They always look like half hearted attempts.

Now if we get an MMO that actually does story justice, you may change your mind. Theres no reason both can exist because they both have their benefits.

But I really don't think the author wants to knock story. I think he's offering an alternative to the situation because story isn't done well in MMOs. Lore is done well, but story has never been high quality. Like I've said before, we should be able to tell whats going on in the story of a game without reading or hearing. Try that in an MMO right now. It doesn't work because it's done so poorly and like an afterthought.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 8:46PM Yukon Sam said

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Current player-generated content tends to lack context -- the adventures you create are available on a seperate tab with all the other player-generated content, and there's no way to integrate it more closely into the game world. That's something I'd like to see tackled in an innovative way, with highly-rated adventures being as accessible as prescripted content.

You can deride the "hero's journey" all you want, but there's a reason that it is the premier archetype for human storytelling. All it needs is to be personalized for each character and group, to the extent that no two groups have the same experience. There's no reason that you couldn't build a storytelling engine that can craft a compelling plotline that shifts according to player choices but preserves enough of the Aristotlean unities to hang together as a well-crafted tale. Now, for extra credit, weave the individual storylines together so they intersect and entwine in various emergent ways, and you've got a living, breathing world.

Free-form sandboxing ala EVE is fine for people who enjoy that sort of thing, but it's a much more specialized niche.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 11:04PM BoundingDeer said

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My DnD players makes far more engaging stories than any MMO dev. My campaign basically gives them some interesting characters and a world, then they follow follow a loose path I create. That path could easily be created all by themselves if I didn't have to play the world. This can easily be done in an MMO. It's just the basis of where the action takes place, Let the players create the action.

When I used to RP in WoW it just didn't matter what the story of the world was, or the current 'big world shattering event'. We made our own with what we had. I honestly wish they gave us more to work with.

We created our own 'World Bosses', we carried out our own personal quests and missions. My greatest memories is any MMO I've played (besides good old dungeon running moments) are the ones created by me and my friends.

Posted: Apr 12th 2011 11:21PM (Unverified) said

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For the most part I agree with what your saying, but I don't think story telling is a lost cause in MMO's, just the type of epic story telling they try to get away with.

The story's MMO's portray best, I think, are small episodic ones. Whether it's ridding a dungeon of some baddie or doing a series of linked quests, casting the player as the smaller hero usually works out pretty well.

The point your post misses though is what story telling in MMO's are designed for. I don't think anyone believes it to be the medium for deep story telling but it is instead there to lessen the effects of the grind and provide some backstory for the people who do care.

This is why smaller stories work better in an MMO, it is easy to forget the details of a long epic quest stretching over several zones, but a well designed series of quests with a defined beginning middle and end which leaves some kind of impact (comedic, serious, sad, etc) can be easily remembered.

I think blizzard's approach to this in Cata was pretty good (too bad the rest of the game- well lets not go there). Each zone had its own unique story line with a vague overarching one as well. Using lots of memes and RL references added a fair bit of comedic value as well.

Almost everyone in my guild talked about the indiana jones quests, and I think that's a good sign. Another example in a different game (this time Rift) is the Agent of the Unseen quests which follow two NPC's relationship over the course of each zone. More than a few people have spoken about it in chat and in guild who were curious about it.

Honestly I don't see what's wrong with static story telling in MMO's except maybe the fact that there is a lot of squandered potential for dynamic story telling. Sure books are deeper, and movies flashier, but the interactive element that games, even MMO's, add is also worth considering.

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 12:14AM Transientmind said

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1) Level-generating tools for many single-player games has proven that player-generated content can provide some of the best, most shining examples of story out there.

2) The other side to 1) is that you will undoubtedly have to wade through at a ratio of 1000:1 piles of shit to those shining gems. It almost always falls on reviewers (not all without bias) to filter out the truly uninspired, repetitive, boring and often just plain crap player-generated content.

3) EVE has no player-generated stories. Maybe to the people who were involved in them, but not in any way I care about. Yay, a bunch of psychopath pirates killed each other. Who won? Who gives a duck. What are their names now? Which alliance is which? Does it actually matter? Is there a central, recognizable and consistent character to any of them, like you might find written by devs? Which EVE player will you put on the promo art and have him be recognized?

4) Further to above: If someone as a player DOES make a splash, it's not going to be me, with my 'logs in once every couple days'. I'm not going to be the hero in that story. But if a dev writes a story, I just might get to feel like a badass. Guess which I'm going for!

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 7:56AM Rodj Blake said

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In a world where everyone is the hero, nobody is a hero.


Posted: Apr 13th 2011 1:17AM Jeromai said

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The more I crave story and hang around checking out the niche games experimenting with different ways to tell stories, the more I'm convinced that developer-authored content vs player/user-generated content is a false dichotomy.

And it's not only that you can have both in the same game to provide more options either. There are other in-betweens.

I think more useful preference spectrums to compare story and narrative on is that of a length (short one-offs or long continuing campaigns) and linearity (straightforward beginning, middle and end, or broadly branched) and for lack of a better word, 'drama' scales (epic, cinematic, affecting many vs personally meaningful, affecting few or one.)

Typically when we say developer authored content, we are thinking of maps and maps of the short bite-sized linear quests that end up with minimal impact (Help! I'm being plagued by vermin of some kind. Kill 10 of them for me!) unless you're really lucky and the quest writer/author is feeling really inspired that day and comes up with a memorable story arc that becomes a classic of that game.

Some developers break the mold slightly and do epic quests, or chapter by chapter linear stories, putting your characters as heroes (or sidekicks) in the events as they unfold. Some players like it for the cinematic "tell me a story" aspect, judging it good if it's got special effects or slightly different quest mechanics that fit the storyline. Others hate it because the devs are putting words in their characters' mouths.

In the case of CoH's Mission Architect where players create their own story arcs, we run into the same problems of dev-created linear story content. Different stories appeal to different people. What one player thinks is great, is utter bollocks to another. The only difference is the quantity produced. What MA really lacks is an effective filtering/search tool for matchmaking content to what a particular player might like.

Besides 'tell me a story' narrative though, is the 'let me tell my story' style of player-generated narrative. Mission Architect allows story arc writers to do that (but runs headlong into the sad fact that story arc players are really harsh critics.)

This is something that I see developers beginning to experiment with, that their role is to scaffold and design structures that allow players to tell their own personal stories. Through emergent narratives. Most may not be meaningful on a larger scale ("I closed a Rift differently today." "I went mining for some minerals and earned a lot of moolah.")

But they do allow for the possibility that a bunch of things could go right or wrong, and if conflict and consequences find their way in, it starts to appeal to a wider audience ("I went mining for some minerals and narrowly escaped some pirates by outsmarting them.")

Humans are by nature story-telling animals. We fill in the gaps very naturally and try to find links. Even something as simple as a litany of character achievements can be put together into your own personal newsletter.

Echo Bazaar uses self-contained storylets in vaguely random order and stat-based formats in order for players to create their own narrative. Branching and consequences, not so experimented with in too many games so far, thanks to the nature of the beast - the story writing task becomes exponential with too many branches, but it could be played with further. GW2 may do some of this with their chained events, time will tell.

And because we're greedy pigs, who's to say we shouldn't have all the above possible kinds of story content in our future MMOs?

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 2:43AM Haldurson said

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With so many better ways to tell a story than an MMO, I doubt that many people play MMOs for the story. Before I get flamed, let me just say that, yes, I'm sure some people do.

To be honest, I feel that games in general, are not great ways of presenting stories. I think you can present a world, deal with moral decisions, and so on, but telling a story? Novels, short stories, plays, movies, even 5 minute Youtube videos are better than games when it comes to story telling. Don't get me wrong -- you CAN tell stories within the framework of a game, but in that case, the story is USUALLY filler or part of the backdrop, and at worst, can be simply a distraction from the game (or vice versa -- the game can be a distraction from the story).

If I want a good story, I know where to go. When I find a video game that tells a better story than, say, "Mother Night" or "Catch 22" or "Huckleberry Finn", in a way that it cannot be told as well other than through a video game format, then I may change my opinion. But I have yet to find anything that comes close. Most games have nothing profound to say about anything. Mostly you get the equivalent of rehashes of cheap fantasy or shallow action movies. I can count the exceptions to this on one hand. And none of them are MMOs.

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 2:53AM Royalkin said

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Oh I couldn't agree with this assessment anymore. I can stand dialogue trees even in SPRPGs, and a good example of this is Dragon Age, which I uninstalled after five minutes because of it.

Traditional MMORPGs made heavy use of player generated content, and I am hopeful that developers will come around and realize this is the better option. If people what heroic linear stories they should stick to movies, novels, and SPRPGs, let's stop trying to pigeon hole those elements into MMORPGs, where they neither work nor belong.

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 7:31AM (Unverified) said

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As usual, the staunch supporters of "player generated content" fail to actually bring a concrete and workable example to the table. It's nice and all to keep repeating how MMO's should allow you to make your own storyline and allow total freedom for the player, but what does that actually mean in game terms?

The answers are usually (and again in this article): "Something like EVE!" or "Building houses and stuff!". Let's go over that.

1) "Something like EVE!", al right, you want an economic simulation experience then. But if you're talking about EVE, please don't fail to mention that the players who do make a difference can be counted on one hand and are carried by a great many others, you know, just like in real life, which is why it's a simulation.

Heck, you say WoW players don't have the same opportunity. But I'm sure any random MMO'r could give you as many, or more, names of known WoW players who made a name for themselves through their ingame actions.
And with far less time spend on grinding I might add.

2) "Building stuff!" Dandy, but MMO's aren't all gonna be Farmville you know. Farmville can be cool, but you're not going to find yourself engaged in a compelling epic through it.

Also, never mind the long periods of boredom that you consistently have to go through to get the crafting together in order to place your "player generated" content in the world.

I hope you find killing womprats very exciting and epic (I'm looking at you SWG). You're gonna be doing a lot of it.

Look, let me use some big words here: "player generated content" doesn't work in MMO's. Why not? Because you can't have ten thousand devs running around on one persistent server period.

Just like you can't play a serious tabletop DDO game with a group of twenty random nobodies who never heard of it before and who all want to be the game master.
Study some communication management or psychology: there are clear and researched reasons why interpersonal communication can't ever get very deep in such large groups.

Try to imagine a Minecraft server with 10000 people on it, yeah, not working.

So what do devs who hang on to this idea do? They are either forced to implement hurdles to make sure only a small number of the total amount of players can be the "devs" or game masters.
Which is bad design in the eyes of any serious professional developer firm.

Or they start making something like second life, which doesn't count as much of a game in the first place.

And guess what: neither are going to get you a very interesting story driven experience.

For all the authors dreaming and ranting, he doesn't every present a decent example of player driven content working for all players.

At least BioWare and Tornquist are clear in saying that they just want to make the current quests more engaging, complex and personal.

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 7:52AM Rodj Blake said

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The stories that come out of Eve are far, far superior to those in any other game.

In part this is due to their uniqueness.

I mean look at Age Of Conan. Every single adventurer in AoC is someone who has survived a shipwreck and gone on to cause (the same) volcano to erupt and defeat (the same) pirate king.

Seriously guys, how is that good for immersion?

Now look at my own history in Eve.

I've fought against pirates in Sarum Prime.

I've was in the honour guard that handed an Imperial Issue Apocalypse back to the Empire.

I was involved in the transfer of the Cathedral of Tal-Romon. I helped escort the Tetrimon scriptures.

I was there when Providence was pacified.

I helped Brother Joshua when he investigated Aritcio Kor-Azor.

When Lord Ardishapur needed help, the corporation of which I was the CEO had the honour of aiding him, and we were rewarded for it.

These are all unique events which will never be repeated. And they're just a few of the highlights!

There is not a single person in Eve with the same story as Rodj Blake, and although some of the above were CCP-sponsored in-game events, it's my fellow players that made them memorable.

And look at what other people have done! Ragnar's Magic Hat, The GHSC AM heist, The rise and fall of BoB - the list goes on and on, and all of them are unique stories and they're all so much better than anything that happens in theme-park MMOs

Players of Eve - I salute you.

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 8:42AM Tom in VA said

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Interesting article, Jef. I both agree and disagree with you. :)

You state:

"Knowing, then, that story is about conflict, and knowing that devs have limited resources as well as an economically driven aversion to meaningful in-game conflict, we can only find it obvious that relying on an MMO dev team to tell a compelling story is an exercise in futility."


MMO developers CAN tell a compelling story; up till lately, however, few have bothered to do it. I think the overarching stories in the various Guild Wars campaigns were actually pretty good. I'm really expecting Bioware and ArenaNet (and maybe even FunCom in TSW) to prove you wrong on this point. :)

You go on to say:

"So why do developers (and some players) continue to ignore player-driven content, which is the only MMO storytelling tool that offers infinite creativity, infinite re-playability, cost-effective content creation, and the potential for meaningful conflict on an individual scale?"

I AGREE wholeheartedly.

Some years ago, I played a simplistic SPRPG called Dungeon Siege. It was a fun and diverting game, but the player-generated campaigns associated made for Dungeon Siege far outshone the original game. Player-generated content can be complete junk, of course, but it also can be epically creative and good. I applaud your bringing this up.

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 10:43AM SnarlingWolf said

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The reason most developers don't do the player generated content is the fact that 99.99% of what gets created is crap. The resources that go into sorting/sifting/finding purposeful exploits hidden in the content etc ends up being more then if they just made the content themselves.

Also the reason why the newest MMOs all get completed is a month is the fact they are all copying the WoW model of a rush to end game and then a never ending grind of repeating the same few instances over and over. Why are they doing this? Because apparently 12+ million people love that shallow uninteresting form of gameplay so everyone else has to suffer with it.

Posted: Apr 13th 2011 12:01PM Arctic Frog said

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Awesome read. Have to say i largly agree with you on this one. This fourth pillar is really limiting a games potential.
I'm a huge fan of Star Wars and looking forward to TOR, but I have to say that I was kinda dissapointed in terms of it looking more like KotOR3 (with co-op) than a MMO. Especially when I was hoping for a sanbox-apporach ala good ol' Galaxies. As you say, the standard theme-park-MMOs are too restrictive when it comes to "What else is there to do? Quest some more?".

Hopefully devs will soon realise that they need to make games more sandboxy and give us the tools to make our own stories and adventures.

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