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Feature: 'MMO Class Design - An Economic Argument'

Designing fulfilling classes in MMOs is difficult -- creating compelling hybrid classes, particularly so. In this Gamasutra feature, Microsoft Game Studios' John Hopson proposes <a href="http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3627/mmo_class_design_up_with_

Eric Caoili, Blogger

April 18, 2008

3 Min Read

Designing fulfilling classes in MMOs is difficult -- creating compelling hybrid classes, particularly so. Here, Microsoft Game Studios' John Hopson proposes a new way of looking at character design: an economic model. Character classes which can serve multiple roles are often a failing point in MMO design, resulting in hybrid characters that are either much stronger or much weaker than the single-role, specialized classes their based on: "At the heart of the hybrid problem is the fact that if a hybrid can perform a given role as well as a specialist while also having other abilities the specialist can never have, playing a specialist becomes pointless... If a paladin can tank as well as a knight but can also heal, then there is never a reason to play a knight instead of a paladin. If the hybrid has all of the advantages of its parents plus extras, then the parent class is doomed to extinction. Conversely, if a hybrid is always inferior to a specialist in any given role, then it's always better to have a specialist fill that role. As game designers, we want to create a vibrant ecology of classes, where players have a wide variety of classes and playstyles available to them." Design pressures to adapt classes for both solo and group experiences, especially in MMOs, has only further exacerbated the hybrid issue: "The hybrid issue is exacerbated by the fact that MMOs are both solo and group games. If people only played MMOs in groups, a character able to soak a lot of damage but deal no damage would be viable because the other people in the group could deal damage for them. The individual character could be one dimensional (a pure tank) because the other group members fill out the other two parts of the trinity (DPS and healing). However, studies have shown that even in group-focused games, players spend a lot of their playing time doing things on their own. Even if a character is the best healer in the world, if they can't take or dish out at least some damage they won't be able to operate outside of a group. Soloing requires that the character be able to deal damage, plus the ability to absorb, avoid, or heal the damage taken. Therefore, once the design decision has been made that every character should be able to solo -- a decision that has been made practically mandatory by the successful example of World of Warcraft -- it automatically follows that every character must be a hybrid and therefore subject to the paradoxes of hybrid design. This is a universal problem, not just one that affects certain classes within a game." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, which features Hopson's analysis of the assumptions that lead to inadequately designed hybrid classes and possible solutions for making hybrid classes more desirable without invalidating specialist classes (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

About the Author(s)

Eric Caoili


Eric Caoili currently serves as a news editor for Gamasutra, and has helmed numerous other UBM Techweb Game Network sites all now long-dead, including GameSetWatch. He is also co-editor for beloved handheld gaming blog Tiny Cartridge, and has contributed to Joystiq, Winamp, GamePro, and 4 Color Rebellion.

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