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Enhancing player experience in MMORPGs with mobile features

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In this paper, we explore how current MMORPGs (Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games) can use mobile phones in order to enhance player experience. We identify five different categories of how this can be done, and review our findings with MMORPG developers. This is continuing research, and we are working in IPERG [1] (Integrated Project of Pervasive Games) project with our partners on creating prototypes that will demonstrate some of these issues. There are several signs that in the near future the virtual worlds of MMORPGs can be accessed in ways other than with a PC or console platform. Currently, some MMORPGs have been ported to mobile phones, but mobile players and PC players have not yet shared a common game world and there has been no possible interaction between players who are playing on different platforms. Some MMORPGs have enabled accessing in-game chat with a mobile or separate web browser client and even enabled alerts for certain game events. Gordon Walton of Sony Online Entertainment argued in his speech in Game Developers Conference 2004 that one of the requirements for the future MMORPGs is that they need to support mobility [2]. When mobile phones are used for enhancing MMORPGs that are normally played on a PC, we need to consider what makes the mobile phone a good device for doing this: First of all, the mobile phone is a device that people use for communicating and socializing with each other; Secondly, the mobile phone is always with the player and it is always connected to the wireless network so it can be used for increasing pervasiveness of a game; And lastly, the real-life context, for instance location, of a mobile player can be used for creating interesting gameplay. There are also several challenges [3], of which latency and problems with inputting and outputting text or graphical information are the most important ones when considering game design. Our categorization is based on how the player can interact with or influence the virtual game world, and other players, by using his mobile phone. The categories we have identified are: Communication, Management and setting-up, Synchronous player-to-player interaction in MMORPG world, Server push, and Passive participation. These categories are explained in the following text. Enabling communication in the same game world is rather easy to implement since it does not necessarily require any changes to game mechanics or story. Players of Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot can access in-game chat when not logged into the game with the PC game client. Communication does not need to be limited to chat only: things like enabling players to view game forums or getting news or community messages from the game to their mobile phones would allow the players to participate in community even when they cannot access their PC. It can be argued though if this is necessarily a good thing for a player, and players definitely need to have tools for controlling when they can be contacted. In some cases, using voice rather than text on mobile platform makes sense since mobile phone is not ideal for typing or reading text. Also, if the player is on move and needs his eyes for viewing his real-life environment, using voice instead of text can be a better option. Enabling management and set-up tasks on the mobile phone allows players to access their MMORPG game world in a way that does not require real-time communication with the game server. However, these tasks need to be implemented in a way that the client application is never trusted [4] in order to prevent exploiting the game. These tasks can range from setting up one’s equipment to adding new items for sale in one’s in-game shop. Synchronous player-to-player interaction in MMORPG world is the most difficult one of these categories to implement since it often requires changing the game mechanics or story. Players who use different platforms for playing the same game need also to be equal, and this means that the gameplay cannot be the same on a mobile platform and a typical PC MMORPG that requires real-time actions. Latency in the mobile networks is simply too high and irregular and it continues to be so in third generation mobile networks [5]. However, we show in our paper that there are several ways of enabling interaction between mobile players and PC players. For instance, mobile players can control autonomous intelligent agents with indirect control, play the game with their persistent game character in a different kind of game mode, player’s location can be used for creating events or objects in the game world. By Server push we mean that player can be contacted by the game anywhere and anytime. For instance, the game can send an alert to the player if there is a certain kind of change in the game state or NPCs (Non-Player Characters) can contact the player when he is not playing the game. To some players, this can feel too intrusive, and players need to be able to control their availability. However, MMORPGs are to many players more like a life style than just a game – average players are reported to play these games 10-40 hours in week [6] – and for these kinds of players increased pervasiveness can be beneficial. If it really is, is an important topic for further research. Our last category is Passive participation. By this we mean that the player can observe the game world or influence the game by voting or rating with his mobile phone. Allowing observation can be also used for promoting the game if people who are not yet players of that game are allowed to observe. The identified strengths of the mobile phone are used in all of these categories. Communication and socialization features are used mostly in our Communication category. The pervasiveness of the mobile phone is used in especially in Server Push category but also in all of the other categories. Context sensitivity of the mobile phone is utilized in Synchronous player-to-player interaction in MMORPG world category. Footnotes: [1] [2] [3] e.g. [4] Jessica Mulligan and Bridgette Patrovsky: Developing Online Games. New Riders 2003. [5] e.g. [6]
Contact: Elina M.I. Koivisto, Nokia Research Center,
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