Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dynamic Group Interaction

Understanding the concept of dynamic group interaction and its proper implementation is one of the core concepts of any good MMORPG. It provides a solid foundation of game design and shapes the development of classes or archetypes available to players. Unlike stand-alone games, massive multiplayer games thrive on a diverse environment and play styles. Most importantly, players in these games frequently form cooperative units for mutually beneficial goals. The interaction of players within these groups is a driving force of any popular MMO.

Dynamic group interaction is the concept of how and why each of the different professions, a common element to role-playing games, interacts within one of these groups. When players form a group, each player must enter knowing not only what their role will be, but with certain pre-conceived expectations of the other members as well.

At a fundamental level, there must be somebody to:
Suck up the damage (tanker type).
Mitigate or heal damage (healer type).
Dish out the damage (dps, or damage per second type).
Control the number of opponents to prevent or limit damage (crowd control).

Each profession, regardless of the genre of a MMO must fill one of these roles to achieve not only game balance, but, more importantly, provide the other members of the group a clear understanding the role each person will play within the group dynamics.

For game balance purposes, when a profession exhibits a strength in more than one of these roles, each are less than a dedicated person, a.k.a. the hybrid.

These core roles must exist in some capacity, even if they are ignored. Such as when a group is comprised of all DPS classes. Here the output of damage is greater than the input so the need for the other roles is diminished. However, the DPS classes still know their role, and know what the other group members will be doing.

A fine example of the importance of dynamic group interaction is the MMO, Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). On its initial release, SWG failed to understand the concept of dynamic group interaction. Player professions/classes were not created with a specific role in mind, but instead the idea of “wouldn’t it be kewl if players could . . .” Each player could fill any role at any given moment depending on skill and/or equipment selection. Players entered into groups with no preconceived expectations of group dynamics - of who would do what and when.

While this creates an unprecedented level of diversity for players, the lack of dynamic group interaction created a certain level of chaos and fostered player frustration with the uncertainty of what professions are designed to perform what task.

In COH, Everquest, Everquest II, World of Warcraft, and a host of others, each player joins a group instantly knowing not only what his/her role is, but from the professions of his/her teammates, what roles they will be fulfilling.
Why is dynamic group interaction important? Because it allows players to instantly know what their role in a group is, and what they expect other players to do. This is a core requirement in the design of any good MMORPG. It also allows for an ebb and flow of combat – another stable in RPG games. The CC person limits the number of combatants, the tanker absorbs damage, while the DPS classes return damage, and when required, the healer type repairs the incoming damage. It is an equation of group dynamics that most players know, if only at a superficial level.

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