Sunday, May 13, 2012

What if Risk was a MMO?

What if ... is an article series in which I attempt to use my preferences in games and my experiences in the MMO genre to outline how certain intellectual properties might work as MMOs.

Risk is one of those games that I still absolutely love.  Sure, my friends have all grown up and scattered to the winds, but the memories of global domination still provide awesome "war" stories to remind one another of.  As a big Risk fan, I own many versions and copies.  I own the wonderful variants of Risk Godstorm and Risk 2210, both of which add cards and special units to make the game far more interesting.  I also own the more recent release of Risk with its new Mission-based design (which I think is an incredible improvement to the classic game).

My favorite Risk story belongs to a category of stories about the game that every serious Risk fan has gone through.  My friend Luke and I were playing in a Risk tournament for a class in highschool (don't ask, I went to a strange school).  We made it to the final round, and as we were pretty close, we decided to team up to rid ourselves of the competition.  We kept the alliance subtle and under the table as best we could, so as to not alert the suspicions of the other players.  As the game wore on, I had a decidedly strong card turn in coming up and I had amassed some strength in Europe in Africa.  Luke had held North America most of the game, but he was notoriously unlucky with his dice rolls, so he hadn't spread out much further.  Although we still had an opponent with some decent strength left and another still hanging on by a thread, I saw my opportunity to strike.  I turned in my cards, gathered all my armies, and instead of helping Luke in Asia, I dropped every single unit in Iceland.  Ten minutes later and I had rolled over North America with minimal losses.  An hour later I won.

Luke has never forgiven me for that betrayal, and I have never apologized.  He let me be the best man at his wedding a few years later, so the game did not drive a permanent wedge between us.  However, it did create a unique experience, a unique moment, a unique memory in much the way that sandbox MMOs do with their players.  Sure, everyone has their epic story of how they had to pay a guy to drag their corpse out from the depths of an Everquest dungeon, but those stories still feel uniquely our own because they have such a specific context and created powerful memories.

I think it would be possible to build a Risk MMO around this principle.  Forget the horrible Xbox Live Arcade version with cats and zombies or the Facebook port.  Instead, let's update the size and scope of the game tenfold.

While the original has 42 territories to fight for, how about a game with 4,200 territories per server. In keeping with the turn based nature of the game, a server could have a start time where 4,200 individuals sign up, receive their territory, and name their empire.

As a departure from the board game, everyone would move at the same time. Each server would have a specific time limit to manage your resources and input your moves.  As an example, let's say 12 hours.  That should also give enough time for players to meet, greet, and plot, in server locked chatrooms and forums.

The premise is still the same as the very original Risk.  However, instead of several territories, you begin the game with just one.  Sure, the early rounds would see huge swathes of territories demolished, but as the pool narrows and alliances form, the game comes into its true form.

Instead of cards, we add basic resources and some special units.  Specific territories could contain special resources, but instead of continent bonuses, the world will be randomly divided up among special resource hotzones.  For example, imagine if controlling all of Africa gave you a huge bonus in diamond production, which let to more money to buy additional troops, technologies, or resource boosting buildings.

Resources add a dynamic new element to the Risk formula: trade.  In a game this large, just duking it out for supremacy might quickly become stale as giant alliance blocks tenderly exchange weak blows without any forward movement.  For these moments, trade would give players an alternative path of conquest.

As you conquer more territories, the game's complexity and the strategy organically grow.  In a way, this will mimic a typical MMORPG leveling curve, but without forcing you to grind out experience points.  As your resources grow, your armies increase in power and number.  And when the world condenses to a few super powers, every move becomes potentially riskier and riskier.

Finally, every videogame has to make money, and even our made-up dream games are no exception.  I have two models in mind for a game like this:

First, I think this game could work as a free to play title with a store for cosmetic items, but I don't think that alone is enough.  In addition, I think it would be fair to allow players to only play on one server at a time (with each server taking several weeks to several months to finish) unless they pay a small fee to join additional servers.  In a sense, it is following the Facebook model of social gaming but to a somewhat more natural and common sense point.  As every move would take a long time to play out, this style MMO would function more akin to a social game where you play it on the side, daily, but not for very long.

Second, a microsubscription approach.  While I don't think this idea is as viable, I like the idea of charging everyone a relatively small amount of money per month to play the game.  Unlike large AAA titles, a Risk MMO would not require the massive servers, customer service, or new content.  As most of the game would be fairly limited visually, all you really need is a maintenance team to keep it all running.  As such, I believe $2.50 to $5.00 dollars a month would be fair.

All in all, I think a pseudo-social gaming, F2P version of Risk could function very well as a MMO.  It definitely would have a massive amount of players, the game leads to a natural progression path to reflect RPG elements, and the game would be open enough for those classic sandbox moments.

How would you do it?


  1. I think instead of one individual per zone, I'd use a somewhat different approach, where the the number of zones would be about 5 times as much as the number of players. That would provide us with an expansion period with incentives to form alliances, and then the second period would be the actual war.
    But I like the idea. Turn based wargames are great :D

  2. Thanks for the comment! Yeah, that makes a little more sense, and could definitely help flesh it out a little better as far as early game expansion. It also reflects Risk itself since players typically focus on specific regions to build their base and often don't bother reinforcing the other territories they made have drawn at random.

    I am glad you like it. If I had a billion dollars, it would definitely be something I would fund. Call it Wars with Friends and make all the money back banking on phone apps, Facebook, and probably a Steam version. All cross-connected, of course.