No, I do not mean those classes you take in school. I mean, of course, classes in MMO’s. Again, I did a bit of research into games with classes (your typical paladin, wizard, etc.) and those that did not. Few MMO’s do away with classes and those that do often replace classes with something that is REALLY a class but has a different name.
Why are classes popular? First of all, they make character creation easier. You choose the class and then you choose from within that class various options. It is fast, quick and you know if you choose a wizard you will get a character high on wisdom, and able to throw fireballs at the enemy. Easy…which is really the goal of many modern games these days.
The other reason is balance. If one has 8 classes in their game, they can balance the damage and defense for each class, making them almost equal, much easier for design. That way, you don’t have a game full of just Paladins. Of course, if you dig deep into most games, you realize the balance really is an illusion. There will always be the most powerful class for fighting and most people will play that class who want to fight. Yes, the wizard might stand a chance, but the bard and the rogue need to use other means to compete.
Balance is good, right? But is it good? Having played many DnD games and similar pen and paper games, I rather wonder what balance takes away from the game. In a DnD game, balance is based on party more than on individuals. If you enter a dungeon with a bunch of Paladins, you may find yourself stuck when confronted with a locked door. You need that rogue. Of course, in DnD, as the campaign goes on, the party members can learn skills in lockpicking that have nothing to do with being a Paladin. But..in most MMO’s you can only choose the skills/abilities that are within your class. The Paladin cannot learn lockpicking most likely. So a party full of Paladins in an MMO dungeon would simply be out of luck unless they can find a rogue, but of course since rogues are boring and can’t fight as well, they are rare and unusual creatures…maybe.
Now, I have some odd ideas of how games should be. I like the idea that balance comes from outside the set of rules that define a game. In the real world, everything balances out naturally. If there are too many bakers in town, some of the bakers will move to another town or they will switch professions, maybe specialize in wedding cakes. During major changes, such as wartime, the demand may switch to recruiting soldiers or people to work in factories that produce products demanded during wartime. During the holiday season shops hire extra people to handle the demand.
The point is that outside influences create the balance in the real world. It is not about having a factory worker balanced with the waitress, but about the demand for factory workers vs. demand for waitresses.
So..what if this were extended to a game? Give players the ability to create their own “classes” and choose their own abilities/skills for those classes. Give them the ability to change their mind if outside influences suggest that they would be better off if they did. Bob the Baker might decide to join the military if a war is threatening his village. In doing so, he may have to put aside some of his baking abilities in order to learn more fighting skills. But Bob is still Bob, with the same friends and maybe able to bake some great bread for his buddies in his platoon.
One thing I have discovered when sharing ideas with others is that gamers are pretty rigid in how they see games. I get the…”this will never work” from those who see games as working this way or that, the typical MMO, this is the way it has always been done. I see very little flux in the way people/gamers/developers think about games. Unfortunately, this is why we see only minor evolution in the way games are made and how the player fits into the entire structure of a game. Games market their great event systems which really are just a short burst that involves a handful of players and then everything goes back to the same old stuff. Players really only have the illusion of impacting the world because they are stuck in the same roles. How many games actually allow you to have a class called baker? You must mold your character to the game rather than allow you, based on how you play, who you play, and what you do actually create change in the world.
If Bob the baker comes back from the war and reopens his bakery, he will be a very different Bob from the one who left. He will have war stories and buddies from the war. He might be more compassionate after seeing the horrors of war. Or maybe he will be angry and bitter due to his experiences. The player gets to decide. For role players, this would be an ideal situation and a real way to drive stories. For those casual gamers who are not interested in role playing or anything deeper than XP, this might be a chance to surround yourselves with a living world full of dynamic evolving characters, even if you just want to drop by to kill a few rats. The joy of players creating the stories is that they are totally unpredictable compared to a bunch of NPCs repeating the same dialogue and repetitive quests.
I am most certainly talking to a blank wall here, but regardless, I think I will continue to muse about how to engage players in a different sort of game. Please feel free to comment and share your ideas or your concerns with me.