Yesterday I responded to a quote from DDO’s dev team in which they admitted to the future possibility of player-created dungeons, and followed that up by examining a quick list of pros and cons of enabling players to do such a thing, most recently demonstrated by City of Heroes’ Mission Architect program.
Today I wanted to share with you my own ideas on how MMOs — whether they be DDO or WoW or what have you — might refine and develop this feature for their games.
An End Game Alternative
The first thing I’d do is to offer dungeon creating (we’re going to abbreviate this as “DC” to save me a few keystrokes in this article) as an end game activity that only opens up once you’ve hit the level cap (or a certain high level cap). Why? Because players really do need something new and awesome for the end game that isn’t just a mere continuation of raids and PvP, and I think that, done right, DC would help players to enjoy the game in a whole new light.
Once they hit the cap, players would either do a quest or receive the ability to create a small dungeon for others to run. This dungeon will be accessible from a common hub that will offer players a chance to go through any of the player-made dungeons, such as a town or whatnot.
Instead of just opening up the store and letting players run wild with the full range of DC tools, I would have them earn the “pieces” of the dungeons as loot. How come? Think of it like Legos — you start off with a small kit, but then start to accrue more and more pieces to be able to make grander and grander structures.
In this case, the Legos are parts of the dungeon itself — rooms, hallways, traps, mobs, decorations, and so on. These bits of DC tools would be spread out through the whole MMO game, encouraging players to re-run older content for fun and to snag a piece or two for their dungeon. If they like the look of a particular dungeon in game, perhaps they can run that dungeon repeatedly and receive loot with elements from that dungeon to use in their own. These dungeon pieces could be traded over the auction house, with players gathering up the parts they want. This appeals to the collector mentality, and also has players “earning” the dungeon they’re creating, instead of being handed it on a platter for no effort whatsoever.
For example, we all know dear Mr. Smite from WoW’s Deadmines. What if you wanted to use that particular mob in your own dungeon? You could run and re-run Deadmines to fight him, aiming for a 25% chance that he’d drop a dungeon token to use his likeness.
Construction Junction, What’s Your Function?
Putting together dungeons in this example would be a lot like snapping together parts of a puzzle. Small dungeons would have a “point” value attached to them, with each piece of the dungeon worth certain points, as to give you a natural limit you can’t shoot past. Perhaps a small dungeon would equal five rooms and 200 points of customization, while a large dungeon would have up to 20 rooms and 1000 points of customization.
DC would have to be designed in a way so that players could not — at least, very easily — create a lopsided dungeon that is either too easy, too difficult or too far out of whack. I’d suggest a “radius” feature on elements that would prevent you from putting another one of that kind within a certain distance of another. For example, you couldn’t put 10 traps next to each other, or 50 mobs in one room.
End Bosses and Loot
Doing all this, we need to keep in mind that players will be avidly looking for ways to exploit the system to gain XP and loot, and in this the DC needs to be proactive in countering this. Dungeons would be constructed for a certain level range, with the game automatically scaling the mobs, traps and loot to match. Each dungeon would require at least one end boss or end confrontation, after which an automatic loot table would distribute the goods.
Here’s a sticky point in doing DC — if you don’t give players the ability to create and tell a unique story for that dungeon, then after a while there’s going to be very little to differentiate their creation from all the hundreds and thousands of others. But if you give too MUCH freedom, some players will take advantage of that to be offensive and crude. Filters are an obvious tool that should be in place, but also using the players themselves as watchdogs, as there is no way for any dev team to personally approve of that much content.
Ratings and Reviews
Once the dungeon is created, there needs to be a robust system in place for players to rate and review dungeons they run. If the dungeon is clearly exploitive or has highly offensive elements in its story, there should be a way for players to flag the instance, much like they would in forums.
The more a dungeon is run and rated, hopefully the cream will rise to the top and gain more success. However, newer dungeons need a higher profile just to gain a fair chance, so there should be a “random dungeon” option that rotates through all of the dungeons with an emphasis on the newer ones. The game community and the dev team could certainly highlight some of the better creations publically, as well.
This is a very simplistic outline of what I’ve been contemplating, but it is problematic at each step. One of the reasons that I think about this often is that it presents a number of issues that I can’t quite work around. Exploits and an overwhelming majority of crappy-to-mediocre dungeons are the two biggest problems, and ones that are difficult to bypass with an elegant solution. As City of Heroes has shown us, no matter how much the dev team thinks they’ve thought out everything, player ingenuitity and sheer stubborness will soon prove them wrong, and major flaws will surface.
It’s an issue of control vs. permission between the devs and the players, which is why I’m not surprised that a lot of games strive to keep as much control in the hands of the dev team while only giving the illusion of creativity and freedom to the players. Something like DC is scary to contemplate, because it really does represent sandbox mechanics that need to be reigned in by structure or else it will spin out of control. And I don’t quite have the answers to it all.