Can there be story in MMOs? Come to ION to find out!

You hear it everywhere — you can’t do game story in MMOs.  The player story reigns supreme, so why bother with anything else?  But what if there were a way to combine game story with player story?  What if players could become even more engaged in your MMO?  What if you could attend a panel discussing this very topic?

You’re in luck!  Join us at the ION Game Conference 2008, May 13-15 in Seattle.  We will be wrestling with this topic:

Story vs. Story: Redefining narrative and player engagement in MMOs

Short  Summary:Narrative designers, a systems designer, and a community director debate the importance of player story versus game story in MMOs. This session explores ways to combine these elements in a way that is most compelling to the player and the player community.   
Long Summary:MMOs have earned success due in part to extensive, immersive game content and players’ ability to play their own story, both individually and as a community. As the number of MMOs grows, each will try to gain market share by offering a new and unique experience to the player. Many new MMOs strive to incorporate more narrative elements into the game world, trying to grow the reported 25% of MMO players who actually pay attention to story. Narrative designers, a systems designer and a community director will reveal the challenges, successes and failures of incorporating narrative into current and future MMOs. Issues such as Bartle’s player types, scope, and the role of casual players impact both player story and game narrative. This panel of veteran MMO developers will explore the gameplay elements most important in engaging different player types and developing player story, and brainstorm how these elements can effectively combine with narrative elements. Attendees will leave this panel presentation with a good understanding of current narrative and design issues in MMOs as well as practical solutions to bridging the gap between player story and game narrative.   

We will be joined by:

Katie Postma, Senior Community Manager, Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment
Sam Lewis, Senior Game Designer, Cartoon Network/Turner

Feel free to socially network with us on the ION Network for attendees.  In the meantime, which MMOs do you think have successfully integrated story and how?  Which haven’t?

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5 Comments

Filed under Game Design, Writers Cabal, Writing

5 responses to “Can there be story in MMOs? Come to ION to find out!

  1. William Monroe

    It seems to me that story in MMORPGs doesn’t have anything inheirently preventing it, but most of the examples I’ve seen have been more or less dark tunneled-amusement rides. You move onto the next zone, and it treats the story as if you’ve accomplished all the important quests in the previous zone. (I’m thinking of the Alice in Wonderland rides here, the story seems to flow perfectly, as long as you never ever backtrack, and see everything the first time). I’d love to see something more complicated develop, but I haven’t seen it yet.

  2. Courtney

    I was actually just discussing this last night. I know White Wolf has a WoD MMO in the works and I’m really hoping they will target more of a niche market instead of trying to compete with mainstream. The WoD system is, more than d20 systems, a storytelling game.

    What I would love to see in an MMO is dynamic content and the game being more or less one huge tabletop experience. Players go through part of a campaign set up by the DMs (in this case, the development team) and content updates are made in response to player action. Obviously this would take a lot of resources and honestly I’m not sure it could be done successfully. But I suppose it’s a thought.

    As for which MMOs have done it well… it’s interesting to me that Blizzard was so known for creating great stories and rich lore and their game is not at all structured for roleplayers. Some quests follow a progression but they’re made in such a way that player x is doing the exact same thing as player y – something that, in the real world, can’t be accomplished by two people at once. It really breaks any sense of immersion when you have five people clambering around a quest NPC and he gives them all the same speech.

    For games to truly support the player’s story I think they have to support roleplaying. SWG, while a failure as a game, to me, did this quite well. And I think the skill-based system has a lot to do with the success of that component. Because when people are rushing from level hub to level hub along the standard MMO treadmill, there’s really no time for story.

    When it first started up, Everquest used to have GM events like the Battle of Bloody Kithicor. That zone (Kithicor Forest) was forever changed into a treacherous area in which players had to skirt the zone edges at night-time because of the undead skulking about from the battle fought there, and all because of the outcome of players’ actions. And while this change for the zone was likely planned well in advance, having events like that made the player feel as though they played an important role in the changing of the world, and I think that is going to be the key to presenting story as anything more than sequestered single-player experiences in an MMO.

  3. Sounds good. I don’t know which game it was, but I heard there was a time when a starting zone was attacked, and the players literally stayed up all night trying to defend it. From then on, the starting zone for that race was somewhere else.

    I’ve enjoyed the in-game events for many MMOs, and I agree that they should be more story-oriented. Clearly they have the capability to do events, they’re just choosing not to make them story-driven for some reason.

    -Anne

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