Monday, October 20, 2008

Warhammer Tome of Knowledge: Transparency, Commemoration, and Incentives

The Tome of Knowledge is apparently a popular topic with Warhammer hitting the one month mark. Syp has a one-month review of the Tome, while Rohan compares it to WoW's achievements. Both have mentioned an interesting design decision that I've been meaning to write about for a bit. Mythic has chosen not to reveal the possible unlocks until players actually discover them. This isn't some strange oversight on their part, but rather an interesting design decision.

Accomplishments as incentive
If you look at existing accomplishment systems in MMORPG's, they tend to focus on incentives. The content in question is out there anyway, but players may or may not be using it. The hope is that the addition of incentives will convince players to use the content. Some examples:
- Guild Wars offers a small number of hard to accomplish cosmetic titles.
- WoW offers a variety of easy to get achievements that award points. Other players can check out your point totals and see which achievements you have completed. There are also some more involved achievements that offer other cosmetic rewards (tabards, titles, mounts).
- LOTRO has a deed system that I've complained about before. On the surface it looks like Warhammer's Tome unlocks - the deeds award titles, exp, and even stat upgrades you can't get elsewhere. Like Warhammer, the deeds aren't visible until you've started. However, dig below the surface and you find largely the same incentive system. Players may get started on their deeds in the course of normal questing, but the deeds are designed to take longer than players will spend killing mob X or exploring zone Y. The design goal is ultimately the same: convince players to do content they might otherwise have left behind.

Accomplishments as commemoration
Here's where the Warhammer system diverges. Sure, Warhammer's Tome offers exp, titles, etc, in exchange for some very lengthy goals (e.g. literally thousands of kills). The difference? These are things you'd be doing anyway. The unlock for killing goblins doesn't care whether you're offing level 1 goblins, level 20 goblins, mobs, or goblin player characters. No matter how you are choosing to spend your time, you're moving towards a goal.

So why the secrecy?
The thing that makes the tome unique is that it is designed to commemorate things the player has done, rather than convince them to try things they aren't doing. (The game has other approaches to that incentive question.) Now the catch to having rewards, any rewards, is that some players will go out of their way to look for them. This is why it was important to Mythic that the tome rewards NOT be revealed in the default game UI - put them there and they encourage players to go cherry picking them (and, in the process, get ticked off if the unlock they want requires way too much work, because it's designed to be completed over time, not as the first thing a player does when they start a new character).

But this is the age of the Internet, you may say. Won't people just fire up the databases and look the unlocks up? Yes. And Mythic made the decision to stick to their guns and go with it anyway. For a hint as to why, see Jobildo's write-up of an interview with Mark Jacobs. Jacobs says:

"Players are always going to look for the quickest way to level. That’s true for any MMO. Any developer that doesn’t see that hasn’t been paying enough attention."

They're not going to redo the system that they wanted to create because of cherry pickers. The only thing they do to keep this in check is limit the rewards to exp (which is available other places), cosmetic stuff, and PVE only Tome Tactics (arguably optional in a game that aims for RVR at endgame).

Like it or hate it, Mythic is actually trying something that's different here - a narrative system that records your deeds rather than dictates them. Will it work? Beats me. But it's definitely a clever idea.

1 comment:

  1. Well why not make more information optional?

    If a player is going to cherry pick for a certain unlock reward all the ToK currently does is force the player to look for other online sources.

    You also discount what the unlocks require by calling them things that a player normally does. For example some of the unlocks will require you to kill a champion level mob. As a player out their soloing many classes will simply leave the champion mob alone rather than find another player or two to take him on.

    Rewarding players for exploring or something like that is certainly fine and dandy. But why tie rewards into unintuitive unlocks?

    The other problem is that not all champion mobs or caves with no quest tie ins reward tome unlocks. I know that I found myself exploring a lot initially but quickly lost interest when I didn't find anything.


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