Something came up tangentially in a discussion on the MMORPGMaker.com forums the other day. In the context of trying to make “empty” (i.e. too large for the current playerbase) worlds feel less empty, a poster suggested:
if characters remain in the game after the player logs out, the world won’t feel so empty…sigh. i beat this drum too often.
This is something that I have long considered something that is – if not exactly a holy grail – at the very least potentially very desirable and certainly worth a try. Mike Walters and I refer to this as “mob mode”. Essentially, it means turning control of a PC over to the AI when logging out. There are a number of situations where this can be useful:
Long raids/dungeon crawls/adventure sessions
Everyone has had the situation where the event is not over, but they have to go take care of real life. Normally, this is fudged with a bit of forced roleplay where the PC in question somehow gets split from the group. If a player could assign her PC as a pet to a fellow player, then that PC will still be around and participating; at least in combat if not actively in the RP. The player could review the IC chat logs later.
The flip side of this is that if a player can’t log in before the others in the group already set off, his character could already tag along.
Really grindy tasks
Designers and admins want a mechanism to control how long a character has been around. One mechanism is to force the player to invest a certain number of hours of playing the character before that character can acquire a given amount of avatar capital. You don’t want the character’s character sheet reading “epic” when that character is still a low status nobody. In the case of RP, this takes time. This often suggests either “time deferred” avatar capital (e.g. daily or weekly limits on XP) or steep grinds.
The problem with the first is that it encourages campfire roleplay where the characters mostly just sit around and talk. The problem with the second is that players don’t like to grind. Actually, I’ll take that back. Many achiever types don’t mind grinding or at least tolerate it. However since the immersion motive of players does not appear to correlate with the achievement motive, you can’t say that roleplayers like to grind. Some may. Others won’t.
If characters are always in-world, even when not being actively played, the designer is free to create “grindy” tasks that the characters can be assigned to during downtime. Such things as crafting, learning spells, engineering new starship designs, practicing martial moves, etc. could easily be give onerous real life time requirements. Crafting the sword of uberness could require 100 hours of smithing work, broken up in several steps. The player could fit it in along with other downtime tasks such as training and travelling; leaving the online time to adventuring and roleplaying.
On the surface, this strategy seems to have much to offer. Next time, I’ll examine some of the potential probles and pitfalls of a mob mode paradigm.