December 1, 2009 12:00 PM |
[“Play Evolution” is a column by James Lantz that happens sometimes and discusses the changes that games undergo after their release, from little developer patches to huge gameplay revelations, and everything in between. This week: evolution through goals in Modern Warfare 2.]
FPS games have undergone a weird, subtle, and totally pervasive change in the last few years. Every big budget FPS now cocoons the actual shooting part in an MMO shell. It's hard to tell where this trend started, but it's been increasingly present in FPS games in recent years – most notably in the Battlefield series and the Call of Duty/Modern Warfare games. The now combination MMO-FPS nature of these shooters brings up two major questions: what made this MMO-structure so quickly envelop every major FPS, and what effect does it ultimately have on the games that choose to use it?
The simple answer to the first question is that MMOs are incredibly popular. The carrot-on-a-stick leveling system gives people constant short-term goals and a concrete long-term goal and keeps people playing. It also rewards time as much as it rewards skill, so casual players or less skilled players will never actually go down in rating and get discouraged, as they could in Chess, Go, Starcraft, or other games that use a ELO-style rating system (which adds or subtracts points from your rating depending on your rank relative to your opponent's rank and whether or not you lost the game).
In an MMO, you're always making progress, you always have an easy short-term goal and a distant long-term goal. Many of an MMO-system's advantages over a skill-based system are obvious – for instance, it helps keep casual players playing and it helps players create short-term goals that they can complete in a single sitting.
It also has some less-obvious advantages. For one, I would guess that it also helps keep hardcore interest as well, because it helps players who play the game obsessively to have a more concrete goal in mind than "getting good." For some players, getting good works just fine as a long term goal - but it can often create a sort of trap for players who are hardcore enough to take the game seriously and want to play competitively but aren't quite skilled enough or don't have quite enough time to devote to the game so they just stop playing.
These are all good reasons for FPS to adopt the MMO-style system, but where did it come from in the first place? To answer this question, and to shed some light on the other questions I've asked, let's take it out of the specific case of MMO-style goals for Modern Warfare and Battlefield and into the more general case of how goals affect how we play games and how, therefore, gameplay evolves.
Categories: Column: Play Evolution