late morning sunday design ~ Massively Multiplayer Interaction

Welcome to ‘late morning sunday design’, where I will try to keep up a weekly schedule about design things that interest me. It’s a place for me to pump out ideas that I won’t be able to make (at least not for a long time) if nothing else.


How do people interact on a massive scale? Of all the things MMOs do well, actually using its amazing scale is not among them.

In real life, people tend to avoid interaction with strangers. There’s the occasional smile, thank you, bump, and the highly infrequent random conversation with a stranger moment (hi offal!) but for the most part you just interact with the people you know, or on occasion the people you don’t know but who you need for some reason.

So maybe an MMORPG tends to represent that aspect of life pretty well, and makes things even more ‘friendly’ due to anonymity and people being less scared of each other and strangers. In real life, you never really get a massive view of the world even though there are billions of people living on it.

Since when has an MMORPG been about reflecting the boring parts of reality?

With that out of the way, I’ll focus on what really matters: Interacting Massively.

~ The Single Player MMORPG
Here is the antithesis to my ‘massive interaction’: the single player mmorpg wherein the players are all made special and, to them, every other character is made insignificant. You are the hero, delivering to me a broom from my friend and killing off this small horde of elder dragons to save the entire town. Eventually, as grouping up becomes more necessary, we are the heroes, or maybe you are still the lone hero, just with some friends. It is your group’s story, though, and no one else’s.
More recently, due to (I can only assume) frustrations of other players stealing your kills, your loot, your glory, games like Guild Wars and Dungeons & Dragons Online and whatever else (they probably didn’t do it first) have come down with the holy grail of The Single Player MMORPG: instanced dungeons. This can also be found in other so-called MMORPGs. See, for example the Kingdom of Loathing, a humorous and fun browser game that is still more of a single player game tied only by thin thread to other single player experiences.

~ Attached to Everyone
I don’t mean to say that in an MMORPG you should know everyone, or that upon meeting any person you should decide to be either a best friend or a mortal enemy. Not at all. However, the inherent detachment to (for example) millions of other players can be dispelled. Many games attempt this. Perhaps they feature marketplaces with economies that every player affects. Maybe a game has player-run guilds which actually act as more than a glorified communal friends list. None of them have ever helped to reattach me with these so-called ‘massive’ games. The only thing ‘massive’ about them for me is usually the landscapes, which must be traversed over and over and over again before I’m able to survive in a different, but still massive, landscape.
There is a (again browser-based) game involving survivors and zombies; this game is called Urban Dead and its simple division between two distinct groups is wonderful. It is, of course, still quite simple.

Survivors kill zombies. Dead survivors turn into zombies, meaning survivors would like to protect one another.

Zombies kill survivors. Lots of zombies working together is the only way to break into a barricaded building.
Zombies just love to find hordes of zombies peeling open a hospital or arms store and exposing the survivor-filled interior.

It’s simple, but everything is connected and everything makes sense: and people have a reason to band together. They are also given the means by which to do so.
That brings me to my next point…

~ Meaningful Association
If a player is made part of a group, given a reason to interact with groups (both the one he/she belongs to and other ones), and granted the means to interact with the groups in a desirable way (for the player at least), then the basis for involved association will be in place. One of the most important parts of being a part of a group is making the group more than another entity to be lost in a sea of identical entities. Players are already one in a million; player-made guilds are pointless if they’re just going to be one in ten thousand.

For association with a group to mean something, the groups must in turn have some kind of relationship to other groups or to the world — a unique one is preferable, but that’s delving a bit too much into my tastes (as if I’m not already delving too far anyway).

~ Massive Interaction
At last! We get to massive interaction. One player cannot possibly interact with every one of a million other players, and every group of players cannot realistically interact with each of the ten thousand other such groups.

So what are you talking about, Droqen? Is it still impossible to interact massively?

No! It’s not important to interact with everyone.
I’m not giving up on massive interaction; I’m saying that what it does not mean is knowing everyone. To start out, a player needs to stand out in more ways than through name and conversation. That is, the player (being a person) is easy to discern in most MMORPGs; a character (not as in true role-playing but rather as in via stat/skill builds or other things like that) is often very difficult to tell apart from so many others.

If a player can stand out by reputation, a group can stand out by monopolizing supply, or an entire group (race, for example) can stand out through so many other ways (by being a race that needs to attack other players to restore life, for example?), massive interaction is taking its first baby steps towards actually existing in games.


No more lmsd for today. I thought I’d lost my point, but luckily I think I still have it.

Massive interaction is only possible when you have a reason to think about other players, and when it is necessary to interact with them.

It’s late at night and you spot a couple of players in the distance. You are alone.
No: They can’t hurt you, and you can’t hurt them. You might say hi, but why would you? Barely a passing glance goes their way.
Yes: Perhaps they are thieves — or maybe you are. Extinguish your light and approach them? Take the long way around so that you don’t have to deal with the possibility that they want to kill you, however small the chance? Run for the nearest settlement to hunt them down because you recognize them as being wanted for a crime or being of a race not allowed in these lands for whatever reason? etc etc.

Maybe in the future, my lmsd posts will be more focused.
I hope you enjoyed yourself!


About Droqen

Droqen is a game designer/developer/creator/etc. from Toronto, Ontario. View all posts by Droqen

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