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Current generation MMOs are pretty static in that choices don't really affect the world for more than the scope of one or two quests -- but that doesn't give you a good sense of immersion, simply a temporary task.

I've had this idea of an MMO where whenever you make major decisions (such as burning down or sparing a village), you get teleported into an instanced version of the world with your changes (the village is burnt, the peasants are killed, etc) along with other players that have made the same choices.

The problem is that this requires a very large amount of instances, and players will be extremely fragmented and sparse throughout the world -- except in those areas that cannot be changed (for example, a central trading post.)

How do you solve this fragmentation problem, allowing more social interaction among players? It's hard to have an MMO with millions of players, each making different decisions.

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You give the players immersion only if what they do actually have an effect on the real world, i.e. the world everyone can see. Instanced stuff is as pointless as the current "can't affect" worlds. –  Lohoris Mar 4 '12 at 16:52
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doing instances that don't break immersion is a major feature, thus requires a well designed game, your idea of "maybe a player could burn down a village" isn't a designed game, it's you seeing a WoW clone in your head with this one specific feature you thought of on a whim, i'm affraid game design doesn't work like that, beside this, you want a MMO world where player actions matter, but only to the one player, that's poor design –  dreta Mar 4 '12 at 19:40
    
I'm almost positive Firefall (a new MMO currently in its Beta) is trying to take this kind of approach where it's going to be player driven. I haven't actually taken a closer look out of it but I hear d of something similar about it. –  skyjlv Mar 4 '12 at 21:54
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5 Answers 5

What you could do is have certain quests that involve many people or require a certain number of people to complete it in order for something to happen. You could also have a counter-quest/decision that prevents it from happening (or causes something different).

Then, once the requirement has been met, you can change the world based on that for everyone. Then, you can just keep going with that storyline and add new quests based on it and make it part of the history of your world.

I know that some games do things like this but have "ages" or "epochs" whereby after say, one year, they reset the server and everything goes back to level one and the "world decisions" that were made are undone. Thus allowing people to make new decisions and see how they affect the world.

You could even make the trigger for the reset a huge end-game quest that involves all the players on the server. So that, unlike many MMOs, you can actually beat the game!

Edit

To address Lohoris's concerns (see comments), you could set up a system where the story for one "age" ends but a new story begins based on the world at that point. So if a city has been burned down because of a collection of player decisions, that city stays burned down, but maybe some pirates and bandits have moved into the ruins. Perhaps two ages later the players have the chance to rebuild the city. There's a lot you can do here.

Doing it this way, you give players the ability to control how the world and the game itself evolves. Which would increase the immersion factor immensely in my opinion.

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This periodic "reset" thing is horribly lame, stripping away any immersion and love for the world you created. –  Lohoris Mar 4 '12 at 16:50
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A battle between the "good and evil" teams would be pretty awesome, actually! Instead of a reset, how about, say, the evil team trying to steal an artifact from the heart of the world, thus returning it to darkness, until the good team gets it back? –  mpnk121 Mar 4 '12 at 16:57
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@Lohoris This actually could be wrong if the players knew nature of the game. Imagine it as not ruining your immersion of the game, but rather giving you yet another chance to shape the world in different way. That way, said MMO will become much more game of exploration than game of building. Sure it will have different underlying concept, but if developers say that upright then I don't see a problem. –  BlueWolf Mar 4 '12 at 20:05
    
@Lohoris - I disagree. Naturally, it depends on how it's implemented but if done right, I think this could be a great feature for a game. Also, you wouldn't have to reset everything, but if player's have already done the quests, they can't choose a different path. But they may be able to keep certain things. You could even show how many "ages" a player has been through as a level of prestige. As BlueWolf said, you wouldn't make it a surprise to the players. You just need to make it clear that that's how it's going to work and I think players would embrace it. –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Mar 4 '12 at 21:20
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Something on top of a Dwarf Fortress style game-world would be good. Make the world persistent, if someone kills a shop-keep, no one can shop there until someone takes their place. Don't split the player-base at all. Make all choices effect everyone, the balance would be hard to get right, and you'd need to have measures to prevent griefing. –  salmonmoose Mar 4 '12 at 23:58
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I bet you want to have a look at A tale in the desert, and see what they did there.

Another idea could be thinking about it as something like Minecraft.

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That would be a pretty peculiar world — one in which you are affected by your own decisions, but not (presumably with the exception of direct player–player interaction) by the decisions of anyone else.

Also, as you note, the world would get fragmented pretty quickly. Even with just a couple of dozen possible yes/no decisions, there would enough total combinations that pretty much each of your players would quickly end up in their own world shared by nobody else.

Some of the ways in which this might perhaps be made to work include:

  • Severely limit the number of choices that trigger fragmentation, maybe only to one or two really big issues (like "start global nuclear war" vs. "don't start global nuclear war").

  • Keep the fragmentation localized. So players who burned down the village and players who didn't would stay in the same world except when they enter the village. This might feel pretty weird — if you walk into the village with another player who didn't share your version of it, would they just disappear? — but then again, the whole concept is pretty weird to begin with.

  • Allow player interaction between the instances, either on a meta-game level (e.g. through in-game chat channels) and/or directly in the game (e.g. by showing players in alternate instances as "ghosts" that can interact to a limited extent). The latter might work reasonably well with the "local realities" idea above.

All in all, this seems like a rather strange way to design a game, at least if taken at face value, and I suspect that "allowing more social interaction among players" is far from the only problem you'd face in trying to implement something like it. That said, I'd certainly like to see someone try this, if only for the weirdness factor.

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This doesn't really answer the question. –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Mar 4 '12 at 21:25
    
@Richard: Fair enough. I fleshed out my answer a bit, and tried to provide more of an answer to the actual question asked by the OP. However, I can't quite shake the feeling that their specific question is a just bit like asking "If I gave wings to pigs, how would I teach them to land safely?" –  Ilmari Karonen Mar 4 '12 at 22:38
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It doesn't need to require too many instances. If you fragment the world into specific areas where choices are made (like that village being one fragment with a destroy/save choice) then you only have to make separate instances for that particular area. So you have a world fragmented into maybe 100 or so cells, where there are anywhere from 1 to 8 different instances for each are (0 choices to 3 choices). Plus if you get clever about the choices (such as not destroying the village out of mercy, and forcing the villagers to pay you to save the village) you could actually have more choices than instances. The biggest problem with this mode is that each area would have to load independently from one another; it would be kind of difficult to do a free-roaming MMO this way.

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Consider two friends who are playing together but made separate choices. One of them walks near the town and his friend disappears into a separate instance. I don't think the instancing thing is a good way to handle this. For storytelling, yes, instances are good but not (in my opinion) for changing how the world is viewed. (p.s. That's not my -1) –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Mar 6 '12 at 13:51
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Recently, I've been thinking of way how to implement persistent world into MMO game. World where many players together would choose how to influence world and how to shape it. Of course that lesser changes would require less players with less power (influence). But to implement something like this in truly persistent world it would take immense amount of time and coders.

One way to bypass this problem is to make world reset after certain amount of time. This however is not taken enthusiastically by typical MMO players. They like to build their character. They want to build their power, to amass it. Server reset would upset pretty much all of them.

There is however one way how to let keep at least some if not all of their power regarding influencing world. My solution is to let them, right at the start, to create their own clan or lineage. Their character is then champion from their lineage and is representing it. Anything they do will either benefit or hinder their lineage. Well mostly benefit as we're talking about sort of building experience. And when server reset come and when there will be new age, players will simply choose new champion (create new character) from their lineage. They'll keep all their amassed influence and possibly more benefits (epic items, buildings generating money, rights...)

And that's basically it. I think this way will be both builders and explorers more or less satisfied. Of course we can't tell unless we try it, but it's sound good as concept to me.

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The thing about resets is that they'd have to be very far apart -- see Realm Of The Mad God, its world is randomly generated and its cycle begins anew every time the god is destroyed. It's a fun short-term game, but it leaves nothing there of value, such as history. A lineage system could be nice, but it would have to be well-balanced, otherwise you risk giving the most powerful one an unfair advantage right from the start. –  mpnk121 Mar 5 '12 at 16:37
    
Well I'm assuming that if they have advantage from the start they'll more quickly move through part of game where they was already and will leave space and less important decisions to new players. Otherwise (if you didn't give them edge) they could quickly become bored after reset, as they have to do same stuff over again. –  BlueWolf Mar 5 '12 at 16:40
    
+1 I like this lineage idea. I don't think resets are bad if you a) tell players that's how it works before it happens and b) give players from the previous age some kind of benefit or boost so, as BlueWolf said, they don't get bored. –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Mar 6 '12 at 14:05
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