Although the reason for writing this was inspired by the changes in module 16, I feel it is important to preface this post by stating that not all of it is directly aimed towards Neverwinter and more towards the state of gaming in general. Whilst I do not like the reasoning of the developers, I can understand their reasons for the changes they have made.
The fact of the matter is, they are a skeleton crew of two systems developers. A small team trying to balance a system that was designed to be maintained by eight or more people. I think if they could continue with the old system, or a more complex one, they would. But for a team of their size, that option was not on the table. For the sake of this post, I will use examples from Neverwinter in module 16. Feel free to apply it to whatever example you prefer from any of the many games that are going this route though.
Also, as a note, this is an opinion post. I do not have any numbers to support it. Feel free to take it with the biggest pinch of salt you like. Now, onto the meat and bones of this post.
On Complexity in General
More and more frequently, games are taking a reductionist approach to game design. They are simplifying their systems to appeal to a wider audience. This is under the assumption that if a system is complicated, it scares off everyone who doesn’t understand it, or it leads them to quit if they make a mistake because it makes them feel bad. I argue the opposite, that by reducing your system, you are not making it appeal to a wider audience.
The only audience you are making it appeal to instead is the people who couldn’t understand it if it were complicated. This is because people who are drawn to and enjoy complexity, lose interest when presented with simplistic systems. A great deal of what interests them is breaking down a complicated system and figuring out what makes for an optimal character. By removing complexity from the game, you are removing their incentive to play.
Why Complexity Appeals to a Wider Audience
“But Sharp, surely this is only a small part of the community and by sacrificing them you can appeal to a much wider audience,” you might argue. Here is where I will argue the opposite. See, the difference between a simplistic system and a complex system, is with the latter, the game’s community can break down the system to make it accessible to people who don’t understand the complex system. Neverwinter is not a very complicated game in module 15, but a good example of this already exists. If you take a look at Janne’s Website, for example, it shows how individual members of the community can work to make the system more accessible to the wider audience.
In a simple system, you can’t do this. Everyone in the community understands the simple system. The problem is, nobody in the community can make it more complex to appeal to people who like more complex games. By making the system more simple, you are setting a ceiling on the types of players who find it interesting.
Why Complexity Is Good for Creating Communities
One of the core premises of MMORPGs is they are online, community games. The idea behind them is you have players jump in and then keep them playing for a long time. So you would think when designing them, one of the questions developers would ask is, “what drives people to form communities?” In order to have players create in-game communities, they need a reason to do so. Well, one of the reasons is not being able to do everything alone.
In a game where you don’t need help from others, you have less reason to team up. In a more complex system, not everyone will be able to understand it. This means that the people who don’t understand it will need help from those who do. As a result, communication begins to occur and communities will start to form. I am not saying this is the only reason for societies to form, but it is one of them.
These communities are one of the huge reasons for players remaining in online games. If you ask almost any long term player, they will probably say this. The game might have drawn them in, but it was the people they met that kept them here. As a result of this, encouraging communities to form, in almost any way you can is a good thing. By having people need to rely on each other, they are more likely to ask others for help. This means they are more likely to join a community.
Why Complexity Is Good for Player Retention
Players in communities are then less likely to quit playing. Once they have made bonds with other players in the game, they will keep playing simply to keep in contact with others. Even if the game itself no longer holds their interest, the people in it do. Intricate systems which are too complex for some players, won’t be too hard for someone else. That someone else is who they will reach out to and will become a foundation of an in-game community.
Although there won’t be many of these “pillars” within the game, they are essential for keeping people playing. People don’t keep playing the game long term because of the game itself. We play because of who we talk to. There are only so many times you can slay the dragon before the act of slaying the dragon becomes a repetitive chore. These “pillars” I refer to are people who are capable of solving issues that other players are confronted with. This type of problem solver is attracted to complex problems which need solving in the first place.
By creating detailed schemes, it provides content aimed towards these theorycrafters. Theorycrafters are more likely to stick around if there is content that interests them and by sharing what they do, it starts to create the foundations of some of these long term communities. This creates more opportunities for societies within the game to form. Once these societies have formed, the players are less likely to quit.
This is the first part of Sharpedge’s “A Case for Complexity”. Tomorrow he’ll detail how Neverwinter deals with complexity in module 16.
What’s your take on this topic? Do you agree that complexity is good for communites and player retention? Share your thoughts and experience on our social channels, in the comments below, or visit our message board!
Neverwinter UN:Blogged is always looking for writers to contribute to the blog. If you are an active player and search for a way to spread your opinions, analysis, diaries or reviews to more than 75,000 regular visitors, then don’t hesitate and get in touch with us on our contact page or message board! We are currently especially looking for console and PVP content, but that’s not exclusive. There is no frequency requirement, you post how often you want.