I am currently working on a post that talks about ways to create risk in MMOs and how designers might make that risk palatable to an otherwise risk-averse themepark gaming population. In the meantime, Callan S. made a comment I felt was interesting enough to discuss. In response to the idea that Eve Online is a game that incorporates risk correctly, he says:
As far as I’m aware, in terms of risk Eve suffers or fails in that in more dangerous space you have no idea of the risk (you have some idea in poker, for example) since people who will kill you aren’t regulated in any way. Is it thrilling when there was a zero change of being ganked, cause all the local gankers were on bio break?
I think there are a couple of points in this small quote. First, I think core to the idea of risk is that of uncertainty, the idea that you are not sure of what is going to happen beforehand. If you are certain that you will easily defeat any enemies you might meet, or that you will reach your destination without meeting any enemies, then there is no risk. Likewise, if you know you are going to die when you leave your base, there is no risk. The concept of risk implies that you are betting on an unsure outcome.
On the other hand, if you take your character on a spin through your favorite MMO world and are suddenly struck down and then told your character has been perma-killed, that isn’t risk either because it is arbitrary. For our purposes, risk also implies that you know you are betting and you know what you are betting.
Given that explanation, I think Eve works because as you move from highsec space to lowsec space, you know there is an increasing chance that someone will ambush you. When I take my ship out in Eve and make a trade run through lowsec space, I am betting my ship, cargo, implants and skill gain that I can make it through without incident. It does not matter if, on a particular run, “all the local gankers were on bio break” because the point of risk is NOT to ensure that I face challenge, but to present the possibility of danger and then force me to bet accordingly.
Well I guess that raises the question that if you don’t know you couldn’t die, but you felt as if you could and that was exciting, whether it the truth of the situation or the feeling of the situation that matters. Personally I’d go with the truth.
If there is a chance I could be presented with failure and lose something, regardless of whether that situation occurs or not, I would say yes, that is the essence of risk in an MMO. Say you are playing poker and your opponent makes a $1000 bet. You have a good hand, but not an unbeatable one, and this is a sudden, large bet. Is it a risk to call? Sure it is. Once you call and find out that your opponent was bluffing, was it less of a risk? No, because when you made the bet, the outcome of the hand was uncertain.
I think what Callan is talking about here goes back to the difference between risk and challenge. I am deliberately separating the two because I think there is value in doing so. When Callan says, “Personally, I’d go with the truth” he is saying that he wants there to be a real chance of death or failure and that is how we defined challenge. Risk on the other hand, is what you lose because of that failure — your bet. My trip through lowsec space wasn’t challenging at all, but it was still risky…
Alright, enough of this; I didn’t mean to beat the dead horse further into the ground, but that comment made me think and I figured it was worth discussing. Next post, let’s talk about systems that will put some of the risk back into the themepark.