Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pacing in MMOs

Pacing is vital in any game, including MMOs.

For one thing, an adequate pace keeps the player focused on gameplay and disallows them the leisure to pick apart every flaw of your game. You're unlikely to notice that clipping plane being slightly off while your attention is on the madman running at you with a bloody axe.

Of course, an unbalanced pace can be bad too. All but the most obsessive action-gamers need some small breather between battles. Slow points also can allow players to absorb their experiences, qualify them and encode them into memory.

Pacing plays any number of roles... but to what degree can pacing be controlled in a non-linear game, like an MMO? It seems to me that there are methods of soft control, like player-travel control through enemy placement and environment design. But are there any hard/certain measures of pacing control in games like these? What could be done to improve control?

I'm asking this with the belief that gamers frequently spoil their own fun, unknowingly most of the time, and that poor pacing is a key way in which that can happen. We shouldn't just leave it up to the players entirely.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm... pacing controls in MMO's have been under alot of change over the last few years... but I'm beginning to believe that the more complex the game model, the difficult pacing can really be.


    When I started SWG, we had the 15-minute starport waits. Many complained. Many called them a "time sink"

    But, back then, the starport waits served as a tool to spark social interaction. Waiting players struck up conversation and entertained each other.

    The travel times also let a strategist really play the meta-PvP. You could engage a foe with a predictable response time for reinforcements. You could keep spies in bottlenecks and create a meaningful communication network.

    The starport lag messed up that pace.



    Leveling has its own pace. You start off leveling quickly as you're learning the game and gaining proficiency in the skills.

    After that, you enter a "building phase" where you still advance quickly enough that "playing the build" is still very much a primary objective.

    Then, things slow down. The final dozen levels in a 50-60 level game slow to a crawl.

    I'll call this the "mature character" phase. This is the time when a player should be transitioning from the "play to build" to "play to experience" (If not sooner). Most major build decisions should have already been made, and the level advancement is primarily to continue player rewards before the inevitable cap.

    HOWEVER, many developers put in MAJOR build-metagame elements smack dab in the middle of these levels. The build-focused start to see the slow pace to this objective as "the grind" and fail to prepare themselves for the "endgame" as a result.

    I won't say much right now, but story pacing often bucks up against XP pacing- players in groups rarely have the time to read story text or journal results between missions. "Interlude scenes" again conflict with a PUG's XP/sec gain.

    Balancing one against the other is a monumental chore. Players loved the cutscenes in CoV until you encounter your third one in a single powerleveling PUG.


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