Planting a Seed

By: Amber "Aurael" Weldon

It seems that so many new games today are canceled before they really get off the ground.  The latest in this exit stream is a game called Seed, a sci-fi non-combative, roleplay-centric MMORPG. 

The goal in this game was the building of a society by means of socialization.  Resources were extremely limited, so it was up to the players to decide how things should be allocated and built.  The players had control of how far the society, and thus the game, went. 

Today’s market for MMORPGs hosts few blockbuster titles.  Those that stand head and shoulders above the rest seem to be the ones that contain something for everyone.  They contain combat, crafting, roleplaying, a player-driven economy—every playing style has their portion of the game that they can enjoy. 

There are purely social games out there, There and the Sims, among others.  They have no combat, they focus on the socialization and roleplaying of the players.  What do they have that games, like Seed, do not?  What could be done differently to encourage people away from the leveling grind of games like World of Warcraft?  These are tough questions because they lead to an even tougher one.  What makes a good game? 

I’ve offered three key elements that I feel are essential to any “good” game.  By no means, are these anything that developers have not heard before.  But they are elements that are worth looking into before developing a game which could cause a company to go into bankruptcy sometime in the future.

1. Once Upon a Time…

The term MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game.  For a game to truly cause someone to step into an alternate role there must be an intriguing storyline that will draw players in and make them stay.  It’s not enough to have an intriguing back-story; the player needs to feel as if they are moving forward and adding their own chapter to the history of the world.  Much like reading a good book, the players are going to want to feel as if they are a part of the story itself.  Also, added content and extending storylines (usually in the form of expansions or patches) helps a game to draw back players who may have gotten bored with the way the story was headed. 

Seed did contain an excellent storyline and goals which enabled the player to change the environment of the game.  However, after the society was built, I think the player would have been asking “Now what?  Are we going to stay in this tower forever?  We need to get out and finish terraforming this world!”  The story seems to end once the society has been built.  This doesn’t give much hope for the future of the game. 

2. Hey!  That’s Mine!!

Conflict is the key to a good story and continuing conflict will keep a reader turning page after page to see what happens.  In a game, the player is central to the plot; conflict is either resolved or ignited by their actions.  This keeps the player sitting at his or her desk, continuing to finish that quest or vanquish that enemy. 

Conflict does not necessarily have to be in the form of combat (though that is the norm among most MMOs).  Seed’s conflicts were solved by way of a judicial system, in which jurors were randomly selected to decide whether or not to accuse someone of a crime.  The only result of the crime was to fix the damage the crime caused.  This doesn’t really offer an escape from real life.  Everyday people are racked with problems they must handle without resorting to violence.  Games often offer an escape from reality that people crave.  If an enemy steals the node of ore I was going to mine, that’s fine.  I’ll kill him so that he can’t get the next one.  Conflict solved.  While games do not need to resort to violence in order to resolve conflict, some manner of revenge is necessary in order to make a crime feel as if it has been justly dealt with.

3. Show me the money!

The reward of a job well done may have been well and good in past days, but our society wants to see tangible compensation for any effort put forth.  It seems that the reward for building the community in Seed was that things could be done easier, and the tower could be more comfortable.  Once again, this could work in real life.  I put forth the effort of cleaning my house so that I’m more comfortable.  But I do not get monetary compensation for it.  Cleaning gets done because it has to be done. If I am looking to escape reality, then I want to see a reward for my efforts.  I want to see my gold go up or my character in better armor at the end of the day.  It may be greedy, but it sure feels nice and I think that often this is the difference that can make or break a game.

Games that want to get away from the leveling grind of the big-title MMOs still need to include these three elements into their games.  A non-combative, roleplay-centric game could work, but it still needs to have some element of reward, conflict and story involved in it.  You can’t base a game off of one storyline.  It needs to be able to change through conflict and the players need to have some type of reward that will keep them coming back for more.  Lars Kroll Kristensen, CEO of Runestone Game Development (makers of Seed), said it best:

“I am still fully convinced that a role play-centric game is not only a good idea: It’s a great idea. It just needs to be better executed.”

I, for one, love the idea of a roleplay-centric game.  Bring it on.  But please, make it interesting for the long run.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016