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  Mechanic #109 - MMO Session Rewards
Posted: 02/17/10

Earn points to buy buffs during your gaming session that disappear when you log off.

This is a conceptual MMO design idea, so sorry for the lack of pretty pixel art.
The icon's image is a screenshot taken from Champions Online's website.

  First, A Little History

I used to play lpMUDs back in the day. Like way back when there were only six or seven of them. Back then, they didn't save your equipment when you logged off. When you quit, anything you were still holding fell to the ground for someone else to find. Instead, it was better to sell off all your equipment before logging off.

This lead to an interesting gameplay aspect. You would log in naked. And in order to equip yourself, you needed to find, buy, or earn equipment from scratch. Most people would buy themselves a cheap sword and armor and then fight enemies to earn better equipment. For instance, you knew that the veteran in the pub would always drop chainmail armor. You couldn't beat him bare handed, but you could beat the beggar in the alley bare handed to earn a knife first.

This caused each session of the game to involve an initial bit of setup and a bit extra closure needed at the end. You couldn't just log in and play for a few minutes without losing money. However, there was a bit of skill in how quickly and how cheaply you could restock yourself each session. Finding the best path to good equipment required absolute mastery of the small game worlds, often involving nooks and crannies that only the more ardent explorers found.


This is an idea that is meant to bring back that little bit of mastery and setup, but without gimping the players who didn't do it. My solution is a more general purpose reward system which is based around rewarding particular play styles.

The basic premise is that each time you login to the MMO world, you'd begin earning session points. These points are accumulated and used to purchase temporary buffs. Both the buffs and the session points are lost when the player logs out.

  Session Points

Session points are not a single denomination. Instead, you earn different points for different things, focused primarily on different play styles. For example, killing solo enemies by yourself will earn you solo session points, while doing it with a partner will net duo session points. Points for grouping, dungeon crawling, grinding, socializing, crafting, and shopping are all earned by doing those things.

These different types of points can be converted at a loss. For example, you can buy grouping points with crafting points, at a cost of two crafting points per one grouping point. Each denomination has a maximum value, after which session points are no longer earned in that particular group.

You don't completely lose all the session points when you log off. Instead, there is a group of bankable points that you can convert to that are saved. You can then convert them back to usable points the next time you log in, though you will lose a lot in the conversion costs. Session point banks also have a maximum limit - enough to store three or four sessions worth of points. It is ideally for the occasional quick session where you don't have time to build up the points at first.

Care must be taken to make session points a natural aspect of playing, rather than something that must be grinded. For instance, if you award social session points for sending tells, expect players to spam each other constantly to earn the points quickly. However, if they earn the points over time simply by virtue of being in a social space (like a club, cantina, or town), it might actually promote socialization instead of grinding.

Finally, there are session coins. These are awarded for doing a particular deed, like killing a particular named mob or seeing a particular sight in a dungeon. These are primarily intended for the combat aspects of session points. The intent is to create a system of premeditated, repeatable goals that players can min-max to a faster conclusion. You can only have three coins at a time, no matter how many deeds you have accomplished since login.

  Session Rewards

Now that you have all these points, you can use them to earn rewards. At the most basic level, they are used to buy temporary buffs that work along a particular play style. Crafting points may allow you to buy a buff which increases rare successes or reduces required components by one. Solo points can be used to buy a buff which increases healing speed so long as you are not grouped, while duo buffs only work while in a group of two. Social buffs may give you are particularly flamboyant aura or unique dance move.

More generic buffs can be bought with a combination of points. For instance, a simple exp +5% could be bought with 5 points from solo, duo, or grouping. A better exp buff could be bought with 10 points from any of the three, or 2 points from each of the three.

You can only have one buff at a time and the buffs go away after you log out. Even before that, they'll only last an hour or two before going away. The intent is to provide a particular upgrade for a single session. You can still earn points while buffed, so if you outlast a particular buff, or decide you want a different one for a while, you can continue to buy them. I picture hardcore players finding a buff path, starting with cheaper buffs while they save up for more expensive ones, then more expensive ones still, getting increasingly more powerful as their session goes on (to a limit, of course).

Oh, I should point out that PvP does have buffs. It would pretty much destroy any sort of arena/battleground environment to have players who've been in the game for an extra hour have a significant advantage. The PvP point grind as seen in pretty much every MMO already is essentially the same thing over multiple sessions.

In addition to buffs, you can use the session points to buy vanity pets, equipment, outfits, bodyguards, furniture, or whatever extra stuff the MMO has to offer. If you don't want to give out a new item every time a player logs in for more than an hour, a layaway system can be implemented to allow players to put down points over multiple sessions to save up for an item.


Even with purchasable items, the point of session rewards is to give players something to work towards within the time frame of a single gameplay session (I'm assuming 1-3 hours. There should be diminishing returns for people who are always logged in). Not only that, but there should be a way in which the players can map their own path to the particular success that they are looking for. Players who want money should be able to figure out a quick path to money buffs within the first half hour of the game. Solo players should be able to take on elite mobs. Duos should have rewards which increase the reliance on each other. And full groups should reward working together with more power and competence.

But care must be taken to make sure that these buffs don't completely unbalance the game. That's why I've focused on play style upgrades. A solo player being able to work up to elite content every couple days shouldn't affect a group player being able to play it with a group from the second they log in. A social player saving up to buy an in-game tuxedo should really unbalance the game that greatly. You reward the players for doing the things they would do naturally by filling their wishes for content that play style wouldn't normally get to see.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.