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Mini-games and Why They Matter

This weeks Muscommunication covers a topic that I think is quite near and dear to many of us, mini-games. All genres of games have them but in many ways they are even more important in an MMO, I think you will find that BioWare agrees with this sentiment as well. More after the break.


First a little bit about the importance of mini-games in MMO’s and then we can tie this into Star Wars: The Old Republic. Playing an MMO is all about one thing, repetition. Truthfully, it is overlapping repetition, or designing elements, like story, to hide that repetition, but it is still the defining feature of an MMO. Whether you are killing bears or dragons you are pressing the same buttons over and over. Whether you are farming for ore or flowers, it is all the same. Raiding at level 10 or raiding at level 50, the encounters might be a little more complex and you might have more skills but it is all fairly similar.

This is where mini-games shine in this genre because they allow a developer to present a game, within the game, that is completely different from everything else. I think mini-games more than any other feature of an MMO will help in preventing burnout, which means players play longer, and the developer makes more money. I think BioWare intimately understands this idea and I even have proof, space is confirmed…

There are a few specifics that I think really need to be met in order to make a mini-game successful and the more items they hit on this list the better. Again, my whole argument is that the point of a mini-game is to give you something to do other than the daily repetition of the MMO itself. Here is my list:

  • Mini-game specific progression. Ex: Gaining new levels, skills or equipment usable exclusively within that mini-game.
  • Make it relevant to the actual game, such as mini-game quests that offer experience or items for your character.
  • Keep the game simple, but allow for it to be expanded on in future patches if it becomes popular.
  • Make sure it is quick. Some players will use a mini-game to waste 5-10 minutes waiting for their raid to start, and need to be able to pick up and put down the game quickly.
  • Competition – Leaderboards, ladders, player versus player interaction. All of these will inspire a player to play for status and pride.
  • Most importantly, make it fun. A mini-game is there for only that reason and so a developer needs to be sure to not take their mini-game too serious, concentrate on fun factor.

Compare space combat in SWTOR against that list and I think you will find that BioWare has done well. I think the people who are disappointed in space are that way because they were hoping for BattleFront 3 and they only got a mini-game. It is my firm belief that all of us, even those who hate it, will waste hours of time playing around in space. With what we know of SWTOR’s only mini-game they are well on their way to having a great assortment of “time wasters” outside of the primary game.

So, what else can BioWare bring into the game to expand on this same premise? I think BioWare has a unique opportunity in that there are so many options that can be very successful. The Star Wars world has plenty of very well known games that can, if done correctly, hit every item on my list. Here are some options they have:

Star Wars

  • Pazaak/Sabacc – Anyone who has played KOTOR will already know the amazing potential here. Collectible cards, deck building, gambling/a way to make money and the potential for competitive play make either of these games a perfect storm.
  • Podracing – Although I think it is unlikely we will see this along with space at launch, you will be hard pressed to find a player who would not want podracing. This is another game that can easily hit every item on my checklist. Imagine with me for a moment how much time you could waste racing against your friends, burning your hard earned credits to power-up your podracer for credits and glory.
  • Swoop Racing – I think this is much more likely to be in the game due to one, its time period in the EU and two, it is much more simplistic than Podracing. Swoop Racing, as seen in KOTOR is just a straight track with obstacles. It is even possible they could use their “tunnel” engine from space to implement this.
  • Dejarik – The Star Wars version of chess easily fits all of the criteria I previously outlined. Chess, checkers and other similar board games already have worldwide appeal from both a competitive and casual standpoint, and Dejarik in SWTOR would be no different.

The list I have just presented is what BioWare could do to present mini-games to help take you away from the primary game, but, what about all of the potential for mini-games that actually enhance the gameplay experience itself. Some people may not even realize when playing an MMO that they have encountered numerous mini-games scattered throughout their gameplay. Here are some examples of how BioWare could hide mini-games right under your nose!

  • Crafting – We are all waiting with bated breath for BioWare to tell us anything about their crafting system other than that it is “heroic”, but they are afforded a great opportunity to take their crafting above and beyond the norm. In order for me to give you a proper example I want to draw your attention to one of the best crafting systems I have ever played in an MMO, Everquest 2’s crafting system . The game pulls you into an entirely separate interface which uses a new set of skills to manipulate your item throughout the crafting process. It not only adds a new level of intrigue and fun but also adds a skill element to crafting. Now, it is worth pointing out that not everyone would like a more complicated system, some people just want to hit the craft button and wait 10 seconds. However, this is a great place for BioWare to go against the grain and it could pay off.
  • Class Specific Mini-games – I know as soon as Kimi presented this idea to me, one thing immediately came to my mind, slicing/hacking. With each of the 8 classes being so distinctly different (or similar in some cases) I think there is a lot of potential. The Smuggler could have hacking missions, the Imperial Agent could have FPS style sniper missions, the Knight and Warrior could have a rock/paper/scissors style dueling arena, let your mind wander.
  • Mini-games in Questing – This is probably the most veiled of the mini-games, anyone who has played an MMO for any span of time has likely played a mini-game without even realizing it. Grabbing a hose and putting out fires, driving a vehicle, solving a puzzle, shooting from a turret. Many of these quests have been designed around a completely different gameplay style than the actual game and they do a lot in enhancing the fun factor of the leveling experience.
  • Housing – Some of you might be looking at your monitor sideways right now, but, that is right, I consider player housing a mini-game. Think about it, in most games that have housing you enter your housing interface to place and rotate furniture all over your house. How many hours have we all spent just rearranging our rooms, playing “interior decorator”. This is the ultimate of mini-games since it breeds progression (need more furniture!), social interaction (come look at my house!), and most importantly wasted time (house…must…look…pretty…).

As you can see BioWare has a lot of options for mini-game implementation in SWTOR and if space is any indication, it is something they are taking very seriously. Let’s hope they continue down this road and we might see some really fun alternative gameplay to help us pass the time and enjoy SWTOR.

Comments? Concerns? You can comment below or head to the discussion thread.
Additionally, if you wish to comment on this article or have anything you would like to see in a future Muscommunication, email me! musco@torocast.com

-eric

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