Offline Play

Some days I wish I could remember to write stuff down. I had alot I wanted to say concerning this post over on Tattered Page, but I could only remember one part, so I’ll just go with that.

As much as I ultimately end up hating EVE Online every time I go back to it, I keep going back to it because ti does have a few really cool ideas. The biggest of these is the introductions of true Offline Play.

Many games before and after have had some type of reward for people who are offline. In World of Warcraft, being offline in an inn or city would result in an experience bonus when you returned. The longer you were gone, the longer the bonus would last. It had a cap, of course, but it was a nice way for casual players to feel like they had a chance in hell of keeping up in level with the people racing to the top. But in EVE, skill training happens whether you are logged in or not. So, if you set a skill that’s going to take fourteen days to train, you can log out and come back in two weeks to find it complete.

So… where am I going with this?

What if, you had a game that was designed around player created and/or controlled towns, and when a citizen of that town logged out in town he was given a menu of a list of work tasks that the town needs performed that he can set himself to do while he’s logged out? Things like, collect garbage, defend walls, work the mine, tan leather. And all of these things would amount to resources that the town leaders could manage and pay wages for.

The mayor says he’s going to pay 2 gold per pound of trash/weeds cleaned up from the street. Now, a player could, if he chose to, while playing, run around picking up junk and pulling weeds, turning them in for pay. But how many people would really do that? Instead, based on the town size, the mayor lists he needs three garbage men, and a player who logs out can pick that, his character will be seen (as an NPC) walking the streets and collecting garbage during daylight hours that he isn’t logged in. When he does log back in, he finds that over the last week working as a garbage collector he earned twenty two gold.

But who wants to be a garbage man? Why not join the town militia? The militia pays ten gold a day, and while you are logged out, your character will be used as an NPC to patrol the city walls and to fight off attackers. Now, you won’t die while you are offline and lose your character or gear, but the point is that non-player-based-NPC guards are always of level or strength equal to the average citizen minus two, or something like that. So getting players to be guards is likely better than leaving it up to the NPC guards, unless you are new to the world and fall below the NPC level. (Of course, in my overall design, the game is PvP and players playing will be given the option to actively defend assaults before NPC-players or NPCs are populated.)
And working in the mine? the fields? fishing? You help increase the resources of the town. Players as NPCs would always be slower/worse than players playing to give incentive to play, but would allow players to still feel like they are contributing and not falling so far behind even when they can’t play.

I’m sure there are many complications that I haven’t thought through, but its an idea I’d love to see a game take a whack at.


  1. Not bad.

    I recall that one version of Steve Jackson’s GURPS had a form in the back that players could fill out, listing their “non-game” labor (studying, working, jobs, etc) to “earn” a trickle of experience toward a skill (or money, IIRC).

    That could serve as a “building off” point to explore the idea… and possibly explore why I don’t think it was included in later editions. What worked? What didn’t?

    One issue that’d have to be examined thoroughly: alt-bots. It may or may not be bad if a player creates a dozen alts to “support” one main player (all doing chores in the city, but channeling funds to the adventurer, but you also may find city managers will EXPECT such from their residents and penalize those that don’t.

    I’d thought a bit about offline “availability” of characters myself, but always left it “on the shelf” until I felt confident I could address the potential to grief. Offline PCs have much of the potential for abuse as NPCs combined with the benefits of harming a real human psyche through publicity. To tackle this, I’d have to delve deeper into the depravity of the griefer psyche more than a mere criminology degree.

  2. This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to and plan on implementing in my participatory storytelling engine. I’ve even accounted for some of the potential narrative gaps within the framework of the world itself.

    Players will have an options they can set which will help determine whether their character stays safe, or improves their skills. There will be scalar options. ranging from “stay in your room/tent” to “stay in the safe zones and work a schedule” to “roam freely and accept jobs within your skills set”. Some of it will be dependent upon where they are when the log off and some will be determined by menu options.

    In essence: an offline player will become an NPC.

  3. Having just read Chas’s comment:

    I have plans for the griefer population as well. Plans that don’t involve restricting their griefer tendencies, but removing them from the “care bear” population. I have written extensively in the past about allowing your players to revel in their play styles. Perhaps it’s time for me to revisit those thoughts…

  4. Of course, the easiest way to stop alot of this is… one character per account (per server if your game has to have multiple servers). That way, if someone wants to set up alot of NPC accounts, at least he’s also paying you for them.

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