Monday, November 03, 2008


Why don't we see them in MMOs?

There are two primary aspects to an arena: competition and spectators. MMOs fail to design for spectators. These games are full of battles and competitions -- PvE, PvP, RvR -- but audiences who can watch these battles while remaining outside the conflict are purely incidental when they do exist.

Predictably, my closest experience to playing spectator in an MMO was in early Star Wars: Galaxies. While sitting in a cantina so that an entertainer could heal my fatigue, a gunfight suddenly sprang up between a Rebel and an Imperial soldier. It was exactly like the cantina scene in the first Star Wars film: for the duration of the fight, the music and dancing stopped and all eyes were upon the warriors. When the battle was over, the music and dancing resumed; the audience returned to their socializing.

Here's where I answer my own question. Arenas have obvious potential for fun: imagine players rooting for and betting on their favorite fighters and favorite teams, or players capturing mobs to sell to the arena, etc. But we don't see arenas in MMOs because dynamics and skill are downplayed in the standard MMO combat template.

I'm fine with games being designed for gamers who are not like me. I have plenty of friends and family who can only enjoy a game if the control complexity and dependence on skill are less than I generally prefer. MMOs reach many people like this, among others. But it's sad that such avoidance of depth and dynamics in MMO combat so completely dominates the genre that features such as arenas are impossible.

But maybe I'm wrong. Do you think arenas are possible with current MMO standards?


  1. A different take on things, but Guild Wars allows you to watch a PvP match, but only after the fact. I think to prevent any means of communication from the spectator to the participants such as giving info to enemy locations, strategies, and in GW's case, which skills they have equipped.

    Within the game, the developers could disable chat between spectators to combatants, but there's always third-party solutions such as IM or Ventrilo/TeamSpeak.

  2. I think in order to re-create an old time arena feel you NEED to have communication from the spectators yelling and screaming at the tops of their lungs. All real sports have this at times, hopefully more frequently if the crowd is excited. However, it is not private communication, it is public. Therein lies the hitch really. You cannot prevent private communication via third parties. So should you give up on the concept altogether? No I think it should still be done. They are never gonna improve 1.0 to 2.0 if 1.0 never gets made.

  3. Crowd feedback is essential to arena activities. I wouldn't block combatants from hearing/reading the crowd's aid and taunts. Sports like football, basketball, and soccer allow fans to yell tips.

    Which is why I say the current combat models are the problem. If combat was deep, dynamic, and more dependent on skill, then whatever help that spectators could offer would be limited. If one side has an advantage, that's not necessarily a problem. In sports, home teams clearly have the advantage, but no team can play only at home.

  4. Meridian 59 had a pretty major PvP arena in the game with contestant seating. To start a combat, you had to be in the seating area and say certain commands. After the battle, you were dropped back in the seating area.

    The big problem is trying to prevent interference from outsiders (assuming you want that, I guess). It took a lot of special code to make sure that the spectators couldn't do things like cast AoE buffs. It also took some work to make sure that the spectators couldn't be killed "accidentally" by the combatants.

    The big benefit of the arenas were that you couldn't run from the battle and the deaths weren't real. So, it was a nice way to do a friendly duel with someone, or to test out your prowess.

    There was even a magical enchantment, "ceremonial weapons", that would make weapons more effective in the arena. We also gave out special "gold swords" that had penalties when used outside the arenas. Since they were so rare, people usually kept them as trophies instead of using them.

    As you point out, however, M59 has a lot of depth, so the arena is more interesting than two people going in and just trying to pummel each other. It does take a bit deeper game to pull off an arena.

    My thoughts.


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