Jonathan Steinhauer's MMO Column
Clausewitz "On Gaming" - Effects of Victory, Part 3

Jonathan Steinhauer | 11 Aug 2008 14:34
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Clausewitz "On Gaming"
Effects of Victory, pt 3

We are now in our third installment on the discussion of the effects of victory in gaming. In the first article, we investigated how player victories yield tangible results for the gamer, but have negligible impact on the organization that actually gave the task in the first place. Last time, we reviewed player defeat, the gradually diminishing impact of character death, and how player failure has no impact on the factions they represent. This week it's time to turn the tables and look at victory and defeat from the PvE opponent's perspective.

Like players, monsters have levels, skills, and often classes. Unlike players, they tend to be sedentary. If they move, it tends to be very local and random, or along a predesignated route. They are blissfully ignorant when players are beyond a specific aggro range, often completely unaware of their compatriots being slaughtered one by one a short distance away. Without an incredible leapt forward in AI, we cannot expect their behavior to markedly improve. If it did improve, monster density, respawn rates, and a host of other issues would have to be revisited as well.

Because the nature of current MMOs is very little removed from single-player games, i.e. a gamer goes to a particular area for an assigned quest (or quests), slaughters the appropriate monsters, recovers the needed items, and leaves (often never to return), the ability of games to impart lasting effects for monsters in their triumph or defeat is difficult. In essence, there is a stream of characters performing the same quests in similar sequence, occasionally being defeated, but generally trouncing the poor abused monsters over and over again, sometimes individually and sometimes in groups. The environment gives some perception of worldliness given its size and population, but it is a stagnant world. Because this is the standard template, any long term effect would destabilize the whole system. If, by the Clausewitzian model, monsters who are repeatedly defeated become gradually less and less combat effective, then later players would have no challenge in completing the same quest. On the other hand, difficult quests where the monsters were victorious over and over would render the creatures so powerful that quest completion would require skills far beyond the character level expected to perform the quest.

So balancing realism and practicality, the question is if any effect can be given to monsters at all? Concerning victory, AC is the only game where I've ever seen any attempt made. That is, a victorious monster occasionally gains levels. I recall witnessing some players passing idle hours leveling up rabbits. But on a more serious note, the concept is sound: if players level through killing monsters, shouldn't monsters level through killing players? In the long run, the effect proves fleeting. A leveled monster that is killed respawns at its original level. Similarly, a leveled monster in a region without players eventually reinitializes back to normal. The ultimate effect borders on irrelevant in a game sense, but at least it imparts the concept that monsters are more than just xp fodder.

At this individual level, this is about as much as can be expected from monster victory. Any effect would need to be local and temporary in the current mildly dynamic MMO worlds for the reasons listed above. Leveling players don't stick around in low level areas to see the fruits of their victory or defeat anyway. But what about factions? There are factions for players, including supposedly competing groups between PvP elements (such as the Alliance and Horde in WoW), yet there are no "pure" monster factions. Not that we'd expect a monster to kill a player and then go see another monster to turn in a quest, of course. But if factions truly represent the power struggles of higher level entities for which all of us players are little pieces of the bigger picture, then shouldn't there be monster factions? If that was the case, then a faction might actually mean something beyond vendor rebates. Quest success and failure, player death and monster death could have an effect on the ebbs and growth of factional power.

Monster defeat is ruled by much the same premises as victory. They die, are looted, and respawn for some other player (or the same camping player) to kill and loot again. Like monster victory, there isn't much that can be done to give monster defeat any lasting impact.

I have seen a few specific instances that push beyond the norm, however. One example is a WoW quest that occurs in the Darkshore region. Various denizens of evil have been corrupting the local furbolgs and a quest is issued to cure the critters. When the cure is poured into their drinking water, all the formerly menacing furbolgs in the area become non-combatant NPCs for a time. The mastermind behind the plot appears and is handily slaughtered by the player. In other words, player victory (and monster defeat) has a real and tangible effect on the monster faction. Of course the situation is like that of the Zenn example from Article 1. The cured furbolgs soon thereafter revert to their corrupted state like nothing ever happened.

Obviously, systems on this model can't be too widespread. Otherwise the game would become so bloated by monster-turned-friendly situations that gamers would have to wait in line to do any quests at all. Yet this example does show that real effects are possible. Another simpler, though more transitory, method of instituting monster defeat would be the stronger use of morale rules. I won't go into this in detail as I've already discussed it quite heavily in previous articles (see May 26, 2008 "On Gaming: Morale"). To put it simply, a monster who sees a compatriot defeated nearby would reasonably suffer from temporarily diminished morale.

Because of the staged progression of MMOs where players complete quests in a certain region and move on, there is minimal need to render any long term local effects on defeated or victorious monsters. Yet there is room for temporary changes, either through morale or through a shift like in the furbolg example above. The facet where monster impact has the greatest potential growth is in the implementation of more widespread faction rules. When gamers play an MMO, it should quickly be clear that they can't be the "one hero" who saves the world like in a single-player game. Instead, they join a society of gamers whose total contribution can affect the MMO world. But when their most hunted targets, the PvE monsters, don't have any factional representation there are few ways to gage such player impact.

Citation for all quotes: Clausewitz, Carl. On War. London: Penguin Group, 1968.

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