MMORPG Sports (Part II)

I originally planned on one big article on the convergence of MMORPGs (or MMOGs in general) and sports games. After I finished the first part of the article I realized there is a lot of ground to cover. So this is the second part of my article on MMOSG. This is also submitted to the September edition of the Blogs of the Roundtable (specifically, Topic Choice 1E(xploratory): Pick a genre of games and discuss how it would benefit from adopting some of the game mechanics of another genre. If the merging of the genres would create a new genre, discuss the core gameplay and boundaries of the new genre..)

There are more similarities between sports games and other genres than would be immediately evident. While golf and baseball games have “down time”, games like football (and soccer), hockey and basketball are pretty fast paced with a lot of action. These games have elements of both action games and platformers (try playing defensive back in a football game. A well placed jump is the difference between an interception or giving up a touchdown). There’s more than that. As psu wrote over at Tea Leaves, football is also a tactical RPG (a Roundtable submission). Another Roundtable submission, Only a Game looks at Sports and RPGs (great minds think alike, right?). So they are more genres than meet the eye in your average sports game.

Further proof? Look at the gameplay of any “career mode” in a sports game. Tiger Woods, in particular, is nothing more than and RPG in a polo and knickers. In your classic RPG you control the main character as you fight the bad guys, do good things for your village, gain levels and experience points and buy bigger swords with all the gold you earn. As you progress, you face increasingly difficult obstacles and adversaries. That’s a simplistic description, but you get the idea. Change a few things and you have the character progression in Tiger Woods. You make good shots, you earn money (XP) with which you upgrade your skills and buy better golf clubs. You start off playing low ranked pros and imaginary golfers (rats and giant spiders). Eventually you move up the ranks and play the likes of Phil Mickelson and Tiger himself (dragons and giants). It’s all there. And it’s not just in Tiger Woods. It’s in most sports games now. There’s the Heisman mode in the new NCAA Football game (Dynasty mode is more of a Manager Simulator. Genres galore!). ESPN’s 2K games also contain similar elements (“The Crib” in ESPN NFL 2k5 and “24/7” in ESPN NBA 2k5) . The goal? Be strong, powerful and acquire phat lewt.

Wait, did I just describe a sports game or World of Warcraft?

That’s where I see the genres could meld and where online gaming could go – the convergence of MMORPGs and sports games. The more I thought about this, I saw not only the mixing of RPG elements and sports elements, but other genres – specifically, simulation games and “tycoon” type games.

I mentioned Shot-Online as the most promising game on the market right now. It’s an enjoyable on-line golf game in its own right. But there is so much more that could be done to make it a great MMO golf game. What if, instead of using the money you earn to buy upgraded skills you could “invest” in real estate. (a-la Second Life) After buying enough real estate, you could use the in-game course designer to design your own golf course. You could entice other gamers to golf your course by making it fun but difficult to play on, you could hold tournaments with in-game and real life rewards. Then the “tycoon” part kicks in. You could sell your own club merchandise, sell in-game housing for other golfers to live on your course, have players become your course pro to attract even more golfers. The possibilities are limitless.

One problem certain sports games have that golf doesn’t is being able to make it fun for everyone to play all the time. Football especially. Five guys on offense and at least four guys on defense play in the trenches. Not a lot going there, video game wise, but that’s where games are won and lost. I equate linemen to healers. No one likes to play the healer in a MMORPG but they are absolutely essential to the sucess of a party. The same with linemen in football. The trick is to make it fun to be a linemen. Let’s thrown in another genre – mini games! Some sort of mini-game could built in to determine if he is able to hold his block (of course the defender would be participate in a similar game). Something football-oriented. The mini-game would have to be more than just a button mashing contest (not that button mashing is bad!). If you can make it fun, not everyone would have to be the quarterback or free safety, getting all the glory. If you are a good linemen character, people will want you to play on there team! That will be the real trick for making the game successful. I’ve heard of stories where the outfielders in the MMO Baseball Game chatting while the inning progresses. Not exactly fun, if you ask me.

Racing games, and NASCAR in general, seem to be another possibility to include other genres. Not only would their be drivers but you could involve pit crews (mini games, again. Think Puzzle Pirates) and mechanics (think trade skills). A racer could have a garage full of cars that need maintenance and upkeep. There could be track designers here, as well. There’d also be room for artists to trick out your car. A racing sim has MMOG written all over it. And it’s not just the racing aspect of the game that would be the draw. There’d be enough genres to go around!

Another issue that isn’t genre related is equally important in solving – how do you organize enough people to hold a game and then keep them interested? Most games will last a half an hour or more. MMOGs have great communities (witness the PvP and PA WoW guilds) but there are also a disproportionate number of players that are just flat-out jerks. Dealing with them is an issue. Keeping people from dropping just before they lose will be a pain. But there are also great communities built around sports teams. I’m sure the community would take over and root out the bad seeds.

There’s a lot more than what I’ve listed here. I could go on but I’ll spare you. It’s obvious that genre blending is fun! Funny thing is, there really isn’t any genre blending going on. Any good game already has elements of numerous genres without even knowing it. There are just some genres that need to be formally introduced to each other!

Comments

  1. Tom Bloodgood says:

    “Keeping people from dropping just before they lose will be a pain.”

    That would actually be pretty easy to handle. If the player of the character loses connection, for any reason, the computer AI would take over. Use the AI from a game like Madden and you have no problems with competency.

    This would actually be a pretty fun idea as far as an MMO version of football. Each player would control 1 person on offense and 1 on defense for the same team. (Maybe even the same character). Say a minimum of 10 players is required to run the game (5 per team). The “leader” of the “party” would call the plays and the screen would show each person a representation of the play (x’s and o’s) then zoom down to their individual player and show him what he is supposed to do. (Ya know, block left, run the fly, blitz on the left side, whatever)

    The player himself would gain XP and could use it to improve stats like strength (better blocking), hands (better catching), agility (better spin moves and cutbacks), stamina (doesn’t tire and slow as much as rookies).

    Have the backstory explain that football has changed in the 25th century to an all free agent system where players play for whatever team pays them in the next game. The pay they receive would be used to buy cool name brand jerseys and gear and such and tie in endorsements from all the major gear manufacturers (shoe companies and such). Then allow players to create “guilds” (custom teams and names) that will usually play together as a team and you have the beginnings of a really great game, I would think.

  2. Hey, I’m on a PSP, so I’ll be short. I dislike the idea of powering-up like in mmorpgs. To keep players interested I’d like to see a new system for leveling. One that better balances new players and old. One that lets all players compete in skill without taking in time-played. Something like a mix of Halo’s and an open system allowing all comers.

  3. Tom Bloodgood says:

    My idea for the stats wasn’t based so much around a levelling scheme like MMO’s where the higher the level, the less likely you could compete with them, but around the idea that as a rookie your character will not be nearly as good as a veteran, but will still be competitive.

    “One that lets all players compete in skill without taking in time-played”

    I am amused that you think player skill should be the end-all for a sports game when almost every major sports game has players in it of dubious quality and players that are superstars. My idea is to let player skill determine a big part of the play, but also let the xp process develop some things in a player that makes him a little better. By making a player focus on both offense and defense, they have to figure out how good they want to be on both sides of the ball.

    In my vision of it, you could have a guy that was the best quarterback ever, but he would be only average or below average as a cornerback on defense. You could have the best safety ever seen, but he would be a terrible halfback. Since players would be playing both sides of the ball, it would be incumbent on them to balance their characters for it.

  4. Freeman Levine says:

    I have been thinking about this subject for a while, but in a different light. Yah, the idea that everyone controls a single player on the field works, but can sometimes be cumbersome. I know that when playing madden with only 2 players is tough to play, let alone everyone! Maybe the game could be structured like Maddens franchise mode, but still be multiplayer. (I’m just using Madden as an example by the way.) It wouldn’t have to be limited to just one sport either. You could buy expansion packs that would allow to use the money your franchise gained in one sport to buy into another sport, like buying a racecar or something.

  5. Freeman – that would be a way I’d love to see football games. I’d go with the NCAA franchise mode instead of Madden, but that’s my personal choice. If they could make it where 20-30 guys get together to form a MMO-Franchise, with everyone playing each other, working on recruiting, things like that. I would love something like that.

  6. Bhrey!!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] The September Round Table had several new entries yesterday. Unfettered blather, Buton Mashing, Mile Zero, and Design Synthesis all took their places at the table with more interesting perspectives on genre melding. Be sure to check them out, they range from the prognostic to the damned amusing. […]

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