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One problem I've never seen fixed in any persistent online game is how to handle player logon and logoff without the characters just popping in and out of the world. My first thought is to simply make a player's offline state as their character being asleep, but that doesn't make sense in the event of a disconnect and not an intentional logoff.

How would you fix this, if you would even bother fixing it at all?

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What is there to fix? Personally, the last thing I'm worried about when playing video games is the realism of how the players come in and out of the world. –  Justin Skiles Oct 8 '12 at 2:37
    
In WoW you got a XP boost if logging out in a house (right? or was it the city?) that might be something to work on for 'ordinary' logouts (or have the player walk away by itself if the client is disconnected). –  Valmond Oct 8 '12 at 9:14
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I like the idea of all those characters sleeping all over the place. Just walk softly so you don't wake them. –  Paul Oct 8 '12 at 12:33
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6 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

You wouldn't bother.

Immersion (wiki) :

The state of consciousness where an immersant's awareness of physical self is diminished or lost by being surrounded in an engrossing total environment.

This term is often used in the wrong way ; people think that good graphics makes a game more immersive, or that a real physics simulation will do the same.

This is wrong, the biggest immersion breaker is incoherences in the world in which the player is. Like the physics engine messing up and sending random things flying, or a stupidly low res NPC. Something that is really immersion breaking (at least for me) is game rules being broken or frustration.

Once the player has made a conscious descision to join/leave the world they accept that they are entering/leaving the game world. Not breaking immersion would be solving any disconnection problems and, failing that, make it less frustrating for the player so they can pop straight back into the action. You could also consider that those who are playing with a player that gets d/c'd have their immersion broken because the guy just dissapears.

Of course the immersion of those staying in the game is momentarily 'fissured' because someone just dissapears. But even if you found some fancy animation, people would still know that the player was logging out. Some people may even get a chat message to say their friend has left the game - logging out is just an accepted part of the game.

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I'm more concerned with how it will look to other players. I don't care about the player logging on or off - he is making a conscious decision to start playing or quit. –  Boreal Oct 8 '12 at 2:32
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Well if you consider 'going to sleep' then it would concern the player logging in or out because it would break immersion for everyone if he just slept in the middle of a field of high level mobs. If you can find a small effect that you can explain away in your game then, by all means, use it. But I don't think it's worth the time or effort. –  Jonathan Connell Oct 8 '12 at 2:35
    
You're right. There's no way to do this without it looking even more ridiculous to other players that may be around. –  Boreal Oct 8 '12 at 2:37
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Right. This is one of these things that's just going to happen because of the medium. Players know this and (generally) accept it with good grace as an Acceptable Break From Reality‌​. In a game that doesn't take itself too seriously you can get away with some lampshade hanging, but... –  Shadur Oct 8 '12 at 7:17
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I think this answer doesn't really address the issue being presented here. It has nothing to do with players who are deciding to exit or enter a world, but those who see them. If you add that bit to the answer, I'll give it a +1. –  akled Oct 9 '12 at 20:01
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The way one would deal with this would depend on the game and what would make sense for that world. For example a sci-fi game, they could "beam up" to some space storage facility for cryo-sleep. A fantasy game could have them cast a spell on them self to fade away. Or they could be sucked into a portal. Make them turn really small and a bird or robot comes and picks them up to take them away.

Essentially, you just need to do something other than just making them disappear/appear. Have some animation associated with it, and perhaps some vague explanation of where they came from/went to in local chat.

For accidental disconnections you can have a malfunctioning version of the log off. Like the player character sneezes and says oops before they fall into a portal. Where the log will explain they accidentally cast such and such spell on themselves or accidentally hit their cryo-sleep button.

If you were thinking "why bother, people will know that other people are logging out anyway", I say apply that logic to any other part of the game experience. Why make that tree look more like a tree instead of a trunk with billboard leaves? People already know it's a tree right? Because it completes the experience. We can't fool people into thinking they're not playing a game (yet). People will know that the other player logged out. The reason to do it is to improve and complete the experience. Especially in this scenario where the effort is truly minimal. Adding an animation and/or in-game explanation for where the character went is fairly easy.

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Those are interesting ideas, but they seem a bit ridiculous. I'd like to keep a fairly serious atmosphere in the game, and having a player get sucked into a random portal every time they disconnect is a bit weird. –  Boreal Oct 8 '12 at 2:31
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@Boreal As I said, it depends on the game. I'm not trying to give you ideas for your game, because I have no idea what your game is. Clearly you would tailor the events to the tone of your game. The main point being the second paragraph. –  Byte56 Oct 8 '12 at 2:51
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Additionally, I had in mind the other players watching that character go in and out of the world. So you don't break their immersion. –  Byte56 Oct 8 '12 at 2:58
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+1. One could have the player's robot walk into the nearest shop/tavern/house/cellar/cave/outhouse and thus dissappear. They could similarly appear from the same. (Outhouses were used to spawn the main character in DeathSpank. Don't know if they fit your game though-..) –  Macke Oct 8 '12 at 6:44
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I can't remember what game it was, but when a player logged off, other players saw their toon run off in a random direction until the character wasn't in sight of another player. That's when the 'vanishing act' occurred. –  Cypher Oct 11 '12 at 16:51
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The coolest solution for this that I have heard about is how Neal Stephenson envisages how it could work in his book Reamde.

Every character has a fairly intelligent auto-pilot. If your character is a fighter and you log off/loose connection, your character will spend its time training martial skills, eating, sleeping and so on. If your character is a miner, it will spend its time mining for minerals and so on.

The auto-pilot will not be as efficient as if you were logged in yourself, so there is always a reward for logging in and actually controlling your character (especially since they will also not defend themselves as efficiently when you are not logged in).

Neat idea but will probably require quite a bit of work on the character AI in order to get it working as intended.

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That is what I first thought about. Turning the player into a npc or a 'bot' for hire like the ones in DiabloII and Skyrim. –  Arthur Wulf White Oct 8 '12 at 8:58
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Isn't this likely to be abused? I can create as many spare characters as I'm allowed, set them all to mining/gathering/whatevering, then log in once a week to send all that stuff to my main character. And if everyone does that your population just exploded with no real benefit –  Alex Oct 8 '12 at 10:19
    
@Alex: You should read the book, its well worth a read. Like you said, there is nothing to stop you from creating as many characters as you are allowed/pay for and setting them to auto-pilot and logging in once a week. But like I said, they will not be working as efficiently as if you logged in and controlled them yourself. Think of the characters on auto-pilot as NPCs and it makes more sense. (In the book, the company actually encourages people to do this since they have integrated farming into the game concept, a bit like mining in EVE.) –  Leo Oct 8 '12 at 10:33
    
@Leo Sure it won't be as efficient, but if it requires no input from players then why wouldn't they abuse it? Just saying that in a real situation it would most likely result in extra server load with no real benefit to anyone but gold farmers. Might be fun to see your other characters running around the world I guess, but that's about it. I do love me some Stephenson but have not got to Reamde yet! :) –  Alex Oct 8 '12 at 10:52
    
@Alex: I don't really know how to explain it tersely enough, but Stephenson makes it seem like a quite plausible way of doing it. In short, playing costs money, especially if you want a character that is fun to play (fighter as opposed to miner/farmer). You can solve this by either paying or also having a few mining/farming characters who will earn money for you. Having uncontrolled miners around gives the fighters someone to raid, and server load is justified by the earnings the company gets from the cash flow generated by the farmers (the game currency being exchangeable for real money). –  Leo Oct 8 '12 at 11:00
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You could use any existing in-game mechanic that allows for fast travel to avoid breaking immersion. What exactly this would be depends of course heavily on the specific game and genre.

As an example, in EVE Online if you disconnect while in space, your ship automatically warps to a random spot in the solar system and dissappears after a while. Warping is the usual way of traveling inside a solar system, and the emergency warp you enter when disconnecting is subject to exactly the same restrictions as a player-initiated warp (e.g. you can be prevented from warping by certain disruption mechanics).

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Some of the old DIKU muds had a system called 'rent'. Your character only saved if you went to an Inn to log out, and payed enough rent to cover the cost of keeping your gear. It might seem a bit punitive to modern players but it had the effect of making characters appear to go to inns and sleep when they were out of the game, which keeps with the fiction.

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I like this idea, but it seems a bit cumbersome if you ask me. It also doesn't solve the problem of random disconnects. –  Boreal Oct 8 '12 at 16:09
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When all your equipment was at risk, people went to great lengths to avoid random disconnects. ;) –  Kylotan Oct 8 '12 at 16:27
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I think any of the answers that suggest some kind of animation that indicates that someone is logging out are, essentially, not very good ideas to implement. If you assign specific animations to these two actions (logging in/logging out), players would quickly pick it up, and it would only distract them from the game and make them aware they are just playing in a virtual world from which it is possible to disconnect. This is the very definition of immersion-breaking.

The correct way of doing this, in my opinion, would be the most subtle one. Blizzard solved this magnificently: players simply fade away. It is uninteresting, not distracting, and barely noticeable.

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Thanks for the tip about fading. –  Boreal Oct 10 '12 at 1:40
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