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Virtual Depth And Casual MMOs

March 30th, 2009, By Duncan Gough


Late last year I presented to the Guardian newspaper on the subject of Casual Games and Passive Gaming. Casual Games are addictive and surface based – easy to learn, hard to master or indeed not worth mastering.

Passive games can be used to add depth to casual game mechanics. Indeed, that was when I realised:

passive + casual = massive

Social networks have provided depth. Web 2.0 is about generating content through relationships, rather than community (for the sake of community).

Social networking in games and websites provides a hook for users to come back to the site again, it creates sticky content. Games alone are good sticky content but they don’t get users interacting outside of the game itself, the website is ignored, pretty much. Social networking in a game or network can encourage users out into the rest of the site, to find friends and groups in corners otherwise left unexplored.

Casual MMOs are on the rise now but they’ll need more than just networking to provide depth. Casual MMO’s need networking and gameplay to provide the depth, and that’s going to be a difficult trick to pull off. Adding depth to a game is where the real game design happens, the most successful Casual MMO is going to be the one with the most depth, hidden and obvious, and it’s only going to be the most talented game designers who can achieve that kind of feat.

It’s hard enough in hardcore gaming, where content soon become repetive or level based (think end of level monsters or blue keys for blue doors, etc). Those are shortcuts. MMO need to start growing beyond using social networking to provide depth and start looking back at good old game design if they’re going to be truly successful. There need sto be discoverability, and obvious challenges, hidden depths and active tasks. This is a big problem for Casual Games, and moving to MMOs hasn’t solved it. Casual Games are renowed for copying and in their move to the MMO world is, in a way, another example of this.. Casual MMOs may prove to be the most successful by their self-evident casuality, but they will need to grow beyond their roots if they’re to show people how MMO’s can have mainstream appeal. That means no cloning, no copying, no grinding and no virtual or multiplayer faking.

This is the effectively the next level of online Casual Game design. The first step was to prove the business model, the second was to co-opt MMOs and the third is to introduce story-telling to create simple and compelling games with enough depth to reward long lasting play. Kongregate’s card-game style challenges and Xbox Live’s brute force achievements are the first such steps along this path. Kongregate rewards skills and patience whilst xbox rewards persistance, mainly, but both approaches promote a real reward for repetitive play.

Now it’s time to make that more than just a virtual badge, it’s to open up a story and directly involve the player. I can’t wait :D

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