Thought of the Day: Leadership, boredom and MMOs

The mark of an effective leader in a MMO is how well they can achieve goals which require players to repeat boring tasks such as:

  • raiding farm content
  • sitting on the reserve bench
  • guarding a warp gate for 4 hours

You have to persuade people that the boring task is meaningful and important. You also have a limited toolbox available from which to reward or punish players.

Sandbox Games don’t have grind, they just have boredom

I was musing the role of a good MMO leader when reading over Tobold’s posts about his time in EVE Online.

EVE is described as a sandbox game, which means that players get thrown into the virtual world and mostly left to their own devices. A lot of content is provided by other people by some form of PvP or competition. Players in a sandbox game are encouraged to stake a claim to various parts of the game world and defend it from others. My first MMO (DaoC) had sandbox elements. Before that, our MUSHes had strong sandbox elements too – they didn’t involve PvP exactly but people definitely did compete over resources.

It is absolutely a feature of these games that you will spend a lot of time sitting around and doing nothing (or doing something very dull) while waiting for something to happen.

So in Tobold’s example, he warps into a 0.0 system and gets blown out of the skies. But what about those poor bastards whose ‘job’ in game is to sit around in the middle of their boring sector, waiting for someone to zone in? And they have to try to keep a 24 hour watch rota if they are properly hardcore because people play in all sorts of timezones.

I have been that person on the Albion Milegate. We used to spend hours sitting around and chatting. Maybe a few people would occasionally go on a wide patrol because they were bored. In a good evening we’d get maybe one or two groups trying to come through who we’d beat down with superior numbers. That would be it, for the entire evening.

But if you are an MMO leader who wants to hold some territory, you need to convince people that they should be sitting around for hours waiting for something to happen. If you don’t, then someone could sneak through. It’s the problem of the absentee landlord. The only way you can prove that you hold domain is to be there to fight off any intruders. And since players complain like crazy if intrusions are only permitted at pre-arranged times (they tried this with bases in CoH) then the defender needs to keep a 24 hour guard. Depending on how hardcore they are.

Now sandbox games can be extremely lively and exciting too. The thrill of having a guild that holds its own keep or territory is huge. It’s just that the exciting parts are unpredictable (or in fact sod’s law says that they always happen just after you went to bed, or in someone else’s timezone.)

So sandbox games require people to be bored because they can’t offer scheduled entertainment. You have to be around, “just in case.”

Progression raiding needs people to sit out and do nothing

By comparison, let’s look at PvE. In hardcore progression raiding, a raid group will make a schedule. And then they will recruit a few more people than they need to make sure that there are substitutes in case anyone has to miss a session.

That means some people will be signing up every week to not raid. We’ve been discussing on our raid forums this week how best to reward people for being substitutes. And unfortunately there’s no real reward that can possibly make it up to anyone for missing a first kill, or missing a load of badges/ experience in the raid when a new raid has just opened. The satisfaction of knowing that by doing nothing, you helped your raid, is not really very comforting when you’re fretting over being left behind.

And duly, raid guilds often have trouble with substitutes leaving for greener pastures if they don’t feel that the raiding rotation is fair.

PUGs never have this problem because they don’t run scheduled raids. They just grab whoever is online, wants to go, has the right gear/spec, and has enough time. So PUGs guarantee raid fun (to some extent) and no one ever has to sit out.

So PvE/raid games require people to be bored because they must offer scheduled entertainment but need a fixed number of raiders of fixed roles. You have to be around, “just in case someone else has to drop.”

Either way, being a hardcore leader in both types of MMO requires that you persuade people that it is worth them logging in for hours of boredom in order to help the group. Is it surprising that many designers are pondering whether PUGs, open groups, or dynamic events are the way forwards?

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4 thoughts on “Thought of the Day: Leadership, boredom and MMOs

    • Sounds fun :) I could imagine it’s much easier to find a fight when you roam to wherever the action is and don’t have to stay around to defend any home turf (or do you have territory as well?)

      I remember in WAR, the bigger, more organised PvP guilds always ‘volunteered’ for the scouting runs, leaving everyone else to guard the forts.

  1. My guild is struggling with the bench too.

    We are in dire need of a bench healer or two. On the other hand, we have WAY too many DPS on our bench. And we are struggling with the exact issue that you mentioned here – how do we reward people for being on the bench?

  2. You already mentioned open grouping and dynamic events, GW2′s take and advancement of WAR’s public quests. SWTOR’s lead designer wrote a nice article about the advantages and disadvantages of sandbox games and theme parks.

    He said a mix of both is good. Basically, he claimed they will offer the best of both worlds and offer STORY as another pillar of game design on top of that.

    The idea is sound, the theory is nice – but will it work? Mixing a STORY and a SANDBOX is not easy. Some might even claim it does not work at all.

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