The Question: "Clank? Did you say 'Clank?''
A number of the blog posts here have discussed the question of to what extent will the game automate player beliefs, information, and reactions thereto. A number have speculated on how the Masquerade would exist and be enforced. Hfx's posts have been about other Traditions and how they'll come into play. My last post about social prestige and The Cafe play component went into this a lot, positing a system in which other players' opinions about you built up as a game stat. Today, let's talk about the balance CCP needs to strike between relying too much on players' policing one another, and relying to heavily on game mechanics to provide a political landscape.
On the Minimalist End...
This one seems easy enough to imagine: No social mechanics. No Prestige ratings. No flashing icons in Elysium. Just players talking with one another developing a purely word-of-mouth reputation. You might have a friends list. Maybe even an enemies list. Possibly something like a Guild, but that's it. If you break deals, ninja loot, or otherwise make an ass of yourself, the only consequence will be a ripple of rumor, and once it's forgotten, you're in the clear. Think, here, about World of Warcraft at least the half of the game where you're interacting with other players. You can get a reputation for being a good team player or a bad one, but the only real measure of your reputation among other players is what they're saying about you at this very moment in the chat window.
On the up-side, it allows for remarkably flexible player interactions. There's literally nothing telling you how you should play your character in reference to another character, which many find freeing. Unfortunately, there are also a number of down-sides. First and foremost, given the difficulty players would have connecting with playing in different timezones from you. Say you play pretty much every night from six to eight, your time zone. You're only interacting with other players who play when you do, so things happening other times don't matter to you at all. That, in itself isn't so bad, unless you need something from someone else who only player when you're asleep, at work, or the like. If there was no mail system, you'd need to ask a friend to convey a message, who might have to pass it along, and so forth. (Yes, this is kind of how the Kindred gossip networkworks in-game, but I kind of doubt it'd be that much fun to actually play). This gets nastier when you don't know who can give you what you need. Say you need the kind of handgun you can't buy in an NPC-run store. No one who plays when you do has the NPC-based connections needed to get you that gun, so you start asking people who seem to play earlier or later than you do to ask people who play outside your time window to ask their contacts. Turns out they draw a blank here as well, so you'll have to convince them (through your people) to try again, pushing out the game of telephone. Alternately, you could just commit to playing more hours of the game, but we all know that's a very dangerous spiral for all parties involved, including CCP. Good players burn out, quit, or become bad players. Bad players live at their keyboards, trolling and just making things feel icky.
Does this all sound convoluted? That none of these people are going to have the Allies Criminal ties you need? Here's the thing: The one and only concrete goal they've told us about is becoming the Prince. Claiming Praxis requires tremendous social support, and carries significant benefits. Thing is, without any kind of hard-coded mechanic to represent your social standing, to become Prince, you'd literally have to spend your gaming time shaking hands and kissing Fledgelings, constantly getting people to approve of you, staying in their memory, campaigning directly the whole time. All that work can also be over-turned by a player who's just willing to devote more time to playing than you do, so two players competing for the Throne would quickly play a game of chicken, daring the other to sacrifice more real-life time for the Shiny Red "Call a Blood Hunt" button. By the way, yes you do want your City's Prince to be active and engaged in the game. However, when you think about it, would you rather she be a mature, functional adult, or Clara from The Guild?
WoW doesn't have this problem. The most important thing you do with other players is joining PvP and Raiding parties. The Auction House lets you bargain with them on an economic level, but that kind of mechanic would feel rather forced in a game set in the World of Darkness. Given the international market for World of Darkness. and the one-server world, there're going to be players you never meet, and if they have no impact on your game experience at all, that's a very bad thing.
...and on the Crunchy End.
Now let's go with the other direction. As I'll get into more here, I really don't think they'd get anywhere close to this extreme, but let's talk about how close they could get without breaking their "minimal developer-written content."
First, the Masquerade. How does this work? Just like in V:tM Bloodlines. When you use certain powers within a certain perceptual range of mortal characters (PC's or NPC's), you get a mechanical slap on the wrist. NPC hunters start spawning near you, and if you keep mucking up, The Prince gets a message-window pop up when she's on next saying "CheesyBiscuitLover435 has reached his limit of Masquerade Violations. Click "Okay" to trigger Bloodhunt." Or maybe you just get a cut-scene of the current Prince presiding over your execution and your character deleted. But you get the idea.
The Other Traditions: Conditions hard-coded into the game as well. To sire another PC, you might complete some pre-coded tasks in the game environment that trigger the Prince to get another message saying something like "CheesyBiscuitLover435 has requested permission to SpunkMAstrrrZer0 the gift of eternal night. Click "Okay" to allow." Cut-scene with your two avatars going through a generic Embrace vignette and Spunkie is your newest Progeny. You now get your own button that says "Click here to Release your Progeny," though you might also have to meet certain mechanical requirements to un-ghost the button. For Diablerie, you just get Blood Hunted if another player uses Aura-sight near you. Sixth Tradition. Check. You get the idea.
And how about earning Status and Prestige? Well, I hope you like grinding. (Remember, this is an extreme). Nosferatu build Prestige Points by lurking about in the sewer, collecting literal Secrets to be traded to other players (think Mining in WoW). Malkavians get and lose points through a complex and baffling series of related equations only dedicated Malk players really understand, let alone optimize (think Anything That Involves Numbers in EVE). Ventrue get a trickle of points every hour from every block of Domain they hold. Toreador get points for every hundred or so keystrokes typed in chat windows in Elysium, Brujah for smashing other people's things, and the Tremere, for trolling, Dominating people for no cause and setting things on fire with their minds." Gangrel get points for spending time in the zones designated as "Wooded," with bonus points the further they are, at that moment, from other players (mortal or Kindred). They actually lose points for entering Elysium, not that they care about Prestige, anyway, right?
Sound completely ridiculous? Think Faction points in World of Warcraft (the other half of the game's social component). It doesn't matter what other players think about you, even players with tons more Faction than you do. The only social mechanic focuses around how many quests you've completed or how much grinding you've done to get in good with the NPC's. It works for WoW, but wouldn't work at all for this game. I completely admit the above scenario is a caricature at best, but then, so was the other. We're talking about the extremes here. Moving on.
This week's Wild Speculation
Based on what they've told us, and what we've seen in EVE, I think they're more likely to a bit toward the crunchy side of things of the dead middle, but if they did go to one extreme or the other, I imagine it's be the minimalist end. EVE has a steep learning curve, as we all know, so we know they're not afraid of putting some crunch in front of us and letting us make sense of it. They know what happens when players sit in front of their monitor for longer than is sustainable and would rather give players some time away from the game to better appreciate it. Further, given the international market for which they're striving, they need a mechanic that holds players accountable for their actions regardless of the time zone in which they're playing. (No using Cauldron of Blood on a whole cafe of mortal NPC's just because you're on when everyone else is asleep/at work/living RL)
On the other hand, we know that they want to give us something in which our decisions matter, especially our opinions of other players' behavior, so the player input component will be vital. They even told us they didn't want to change the appearance of structures in the game because they didn't want the game to lie to us. (Small note during one of the GM panels). That's not to invalidate the previous paragraph, but rather to say the range of
possibilities probably runs somewhere from close to the minimalist end of things to somewhere halfway between the middle and extreme-crunch end. As stated in last week's blog, I'm pretty sure they're include a fair bit of crunch, hidden as best they can behind a "poetic interface." If nothing else, we know for sure that the Prince will have at least some mechanical benefits (ie, triggering a perma-death flag for a character), though just how the mechanics to get from the Embrace to the Praxis remain a mystery.
What the designers are likely looking at right now is figuring out how to calibrate that balance to get the kind of behavior they're looking for, and for all the speculation we do on this blogs, the only real way to figure that out is to test it. Put it in real-time, first in a beta, then live, and watch what players do. Ask whether you're delivering the kind of experience you want, change things as needed, until the answer is a resounding "yes." That's when you know the WoD fan base will let you go back to working on the next EVE product.
352 days ago
...should care about is one which creates incentive to congregate. After that, make every other mechanic affecting social dynamic a simple perk, the value of which can be determined by those who are infinitely more fastidious than myself and by those who are paid to give a shit. This a game after all. There is nothing dark in a World of Darkness which seeks to overtly mollify itself.
352 days ago
The vampire himself is predisposed to a life of relative solitude, or if not, through much tribulation must learn to be so if he values his survival. The lore supports this, as it is believed the ratio of Kindred to Kine in a city is anywhere from 1:10,000 to 1:100,000. It is known that mortal faith can prevail against the vampire, so imagine then 100,000 souls suddenly impelled by God to pray against one vampire who vaunts himself too readily in the interest of prestige. One and the very least of all the angels in Heaven would then be allowed to destroy this vampire or Caine himself with even less breath than is required to snuff a single candle flame. While the Kine with their living bodies have Jesus as their word and insurmountable notion, all the Beast has given us is Precarious. The only mechanic affecting Social Dynamic any vampire
359 days ago
If and when the game achieves integration with larger social media like FaceBook or phone apps, how do you think these extremes will adapt to that?
358 days ago
Hey, Rick! Good question. I really don't expect them to use anything as extreme as these models, but here're some equally-hyperbolic guesses to continue the exercise: Extreme Minimlaiism: An in-game sign here or there that says "Go post your scores on Facebook! That makes the game more fun!" Hmmm... Actually, though, since the minimalist model here doesn't have a metric or score, perhaps it might just say something like "Follow your friends on Facebook!" Extreme Crunch: "By clicking "I accept," below, you give World of Darkness the right to post on your Facebook wall automatically. It will only do so when you gain or lose Prestige, telling other people in your friends network when you're playing, instead of doing productive things like school work or volunteering your time. Existing players who click on your posts will get Prestige Points, themselves, so invite your friends to click on your link! Non-players (or "potential players," as we like to call them here at the office) who click on the link will be automatically routed to the character generation page to join the fun! Tell your friends about us! Please!" Ahem. With those in mind, what I think will be more likely is something like what Kongregate.com does, where they'll post to your Facebook now and then when you do something extra-awesome like earn a new achievement or the like. How about you, Rick? In what ways do you expect they'll leverage social media platforms?
358 days ago
As far as FaceBook goes, I think playes are going to be using that service and others like it to maintain a more "secretive" kind of contact - that is to say, contact that doesn't occur in-game and thusly can't be "traced" (by an in-game wire tap or sneaky Nosferatu eavesdropping). I doubt we'll be seeing any kind of "get points for clicking on a friend's/sponsor's link". If CCP wanted to do that, they'd have already done it with EVE Online. White Wolf has always been about the direct and personal kind of interaction, so FaceBook doesn't seem quite their style, either. ---- I've heard more mutterings about giving us access to the games via a phone app or email account - perhaps linking your in-game mail account with a real-life mail account, so all in-game messages can be forwarded to that account. This allows you to communicate even if you're not playing the actual game - and it could help with the problem of meeting people outside your scheduled play-time. If they do go with a Prestige-Point-like system, then I would expect a phone app to carry that - being able to communicate with people and give them points. I also heard a muttering of a playful sort of app, where you get to "claim domain" in your local area by using image-recognition software to take photos of local landmarks. ---- All in all, though, I'd prefer the developers to focus on the real WODMMO first and get it done and polished and shiny before they go tacking on things like FaceBook or phone apps.