I hate to be the person who goes, “I told you so,” in arguments, but I believe that I need to do it in this situation.
I motherf$&%ing told you so a month ago. But all y’all thought I was a giant jerk who couldn’t see the light of Darkfall‘s sandbox. People were so busy bashing me for being a “Darkfall hater” that they were too blind to see that I really did play the game, enjoyed parts of it, but critiqued portions of the fundamental game that didn’t hold up to the main objective.
What was that line that I printed when Darkfall was launched? Where was it? Oh, was it this one?
While combat is pretty nifty and lag free, the monster AI is pretty awesome, and the exploration factor is phenominal, this game has huge incentive problems.
Once again, I don’t want to be the jerk of the blog, but I’m just kinda pissed that I got trounced on for saying the same thing Keen did just because I said it a month earlier, and because I represent the “big, bad, corporate MMO site.” Keen has now said, and I quote:
For a game that is built around being a faster pace action oriented game, everything leads players to play at a slower pace. I can travel from one side of the map to the other, but why would I? There is no destination, purpose, or incentive.
Sound familiar? (Btw, before you comment, please get Keen’s entire perspective by reading his post. I think I got a good cut here, but I don’t want to take his thoughts out of context.) Ok, on a less acidic note, I’m agreeing with Keen’s perspective on the game. I don’t hate Darkfall and I’ve always said it has potential, but Aventurine needs to step it up. Sadly, their track record doesn’t provide much indication that they will.
On the other side of the Internetz, Syncaine, the author of Hardcore Casual, freaked out a bit more than I thought he would on the subject. Usually I find myself loving Syncaine’s posts, but I finally found one that I didn’t really agree with.
In short, he blames Keen’s problems on the fact that he’s in a giant alliance. He thinks Keen should take the bull by the horns and go out and do things, rather than “relying on the game’s rules.” It’s a heated post, in my opinion, and I don’t think Syncaine wished for it to come out like that, but who am I to say what Syncaine’s real opinion is.
When push comes to shove, however, I think Keen and Syncaine are both right in their own ways. The difference is that I think Keen is getting to the heart of the matter while Syn is beating around the bush. Players need reasons to beat the hell out of one another.
Syn brings up ad-hoc skirmishes — one of my favorite things about the sandbox design. If you do it right, you actually lure players into exhibiting types of behavior. They don’t realize it, but the best sandboxes are those structured to provide “toys” to attract people. Dungeons, declared territory, points of interest — these are the things that should lure players there and then spark conflict. How that conflict ends and proceeds is up to the player, hence the concept of sandbox. The developer provides the tools, however subtle, and the player finishes the story.
The sandbox is not “make up shit so you have fun.” Players should not actively have to consider “what can I do that’s fun?” They should be able to see their own goals and forge on ahead. For example, “There’s a mine with rare loot in it over the next hill. I should get some of that.” There’s the goal. The developer never wrote the goal down for the player, or told the player that that is the goal. The player found a point of interest (the mine) and has chosen to get a reward from it (the rare ore.) How the player conducts themselves is now in the player’s hands. Other people may interfere or may cooperate or may simply not engage, and that’s the nature of the sandbox.
Keen has gotten to the heart of that by saying, “there should be incentive, like rare ore in a neutral town.” Because Darkfall provides everything everywhere, there’s no drive to go out and put your stuff at risk. No rare items to fight over, unlike Darkfall’s sister game, EVE Online. EVE provides areas with really awesome resources. What happens in those areas? Everybody wants them. Conflict sparks, the sandbox is filled, and players have a good time without having to go out and actively seek “a good time.” Players who don’t have the resources want it so they can use it, and players with the resource fortify their resource with weapons made from other resources. It’s a giant wonderful circle of spending.
Syncaine wants people to go out and be more active. That’s what Keen and I want; we want people to get out and be active. Activity sparks opportunity. But if you already have everything, as Keen’s alliance may have, then what do you need to be active for? You have it all. You have your resources, your building your weapons, your defending what you have because you don’t want to lose it. Too many people are in that state in Darkfall, which now leads to sit, stare, and bitch.
If you have a city, have people mining, foresting, and herbing, have a crafter and have guards… what more do you need? You have the ability to make what you need with all of that. EVE made sure that wasn’t possible. Whoops, Aventurine.
So, lastly, I’ll leave you with my idea. One that would most likely spark some conflict, because Keen brought this up on Syncaine’s post. Keen said that he has 12+ people in his clan on all the time, and it’s no fun going out and having 12 vs. 1 battles. I agree. The situation is not fun and the rewards are probably not worth it. You go out, kill the guy, and you probably have better stuff than he does. You take it, it goes into your bank, it does nothing.
But what if you could de-craft an item. Disassemble it into component parts. Now, that chainmail that no one’s going to use could be disassembled into a few things of metal. Metal that you could put towards your bigger objectives, like a siege engine. What would a little change like that cause?
My bet would be that there would be a rise in conflict. I, basically, just turned all players into mobile crafting nodes. Groups would go out looking for blood because they could add to their war coffer in a productive way. This means larger groups would clash in ad-hoc combat. I would go so far to bet that even commerce would go up, as a crafter could sell his items to a guild and the guild could disassemble them for their own needs. Crafter gets his rank ups, guild gets some resources.
Would you get 5 metal from a piece of armor that used 5 metal to make? Of course not, you need dimishing returns, but you all get my drift on this. It’s not rocket science to provide incentive.