The future of Kemoverse

I’d like to summarize a lot of thoughts I’ve had about the game lately, and well, for the past few years. Mostly for my own brain but maybe it’s interesting to you, too.

Some background

Ever since this project started from the simple Unity experiments that I began with back in 2017, I have always tried to figure out why I'm making the game, or rather, what the point of playing the game is. Mostly to see some sort of goal in the end and motivate myself to keep working on it. Seems to be working too; it’s the project I’ve consistently worked on throughout the years despite many hiatuses and pauses. To summarize, I basically started it as a furry game taking place at school, having evolved from a similar idea that I had but implemented in a 2d visual novel many years back.

But what fun is a game that is just a tech demo with no purpose or no point to it? What does it mean taking place at a school, what do you do? I thought about it a lot. I made some concept art back in the day to try and specify the core gameplay ideas, which ended up describing the game as 1) an online socializing environment, 2) a story-focused optional side quest, and 3) an unlockable customization system.

You can right click > show image to see full resolution.

An unpublished brochure I did that would summarize the game status so far.

Nowadays, I've had to specify these parts even more as I've been adding actual tasks to the game (such as collecting bugs, farming plants, etc) and really think of the fundamental reason why anyone would play the game. Also because, well, it's kind of a big undertaking for one person to include all of these things. So I wanted to make it simpler and clearer.

So, what is Kemoverse Online about, really?

I think it certainly is focused on socializing. I added many story-related things over the time, but I always feel like it's more relevant and rewarding to create social functions, lead events, and in general create some sort of community. It's why it's called Kemoverse Online, to emphasize the fact that you're playing together with others. So how should it be different from any other social/online game on the market? What will make it a game with purpose rather than just a "meetup" hub that happens occasionally from external factors? How is a community created?

The way that I see it, socializing in online games mostly works naturally when there is a task or purpose requested from you by the game itself. It gives a context to the world that asks you to participate, and socializing becomes a side effect. Think back on your time at school. You go to school because you have to, and you make friends from the shared experience. To compare it to existing games, a game like FF14 wants you to fulfill a whole lot of quests in order to get access to areas and items, which people are fine standing around and fulfilling them. In VRChat, there are worlds that offers sign language training or that plays movies/music for a crowd. 

I want Kemoverse Online to focus on social gameplay (let’s call it “social playground”) and to create a similar type of social community. I think the main difference between it and other popular games (such as FF14) is that KO will make it optional to fulfill your obligations, while the popular games very often require you to complete "game-ified" objectives - numbers game with stat checks, experience points, leveling up. There's always a sense of calculation of completion that needs to be the primary point of the game while socializing is the side effect. For Kemoverse Online, I'd like to make the opposite of this, making it socializing first and mechanical gameplay second.

But what about games that are made to only be social, such as Second Life or VRChat? They don't have objectives or numbers to worry about. True, it is freeing to not have to think about fulfilling game duties, but I think they also become very fragmented when there’s no unified theme or world to follow. Even if players are able to create their own worlds, cliques and themed worlds still happen to make players gather up and find their kind. Which is fine, but there is no underlying world or demand that helps people find a common ground for that initial contact. I think it's important to have it to always encourage new contacts, but also keep the conversation alive as the world around players change and evolve.

Another thing that popular games love to encourage is competitiveness and simple win/lose conditions that makes it so easy for players to become addicted and frustrated at themselves/teammates/opponents. Nothing wrong with wanting to compete. But I believe these game designs encourage enemies rather than friendships. It encourages climbing the ladder yourself rather than helping or being helped.

So basically, I think Kemoverse Online is a social-first game, where all the mechanics are made in order to strengthen the primary social gameplay, such as creating a common and evocative world and worldbuilding, to not steer the player’s attention on numbers game, and to have a lightweight and undemanding gameplay that encourages collaboration over competition.

So what does this look like in practice?

If we walk through the scale of casualness of a player, it might look something like this:

1) Very casual: A curious player who wants to just check out the game. They're able to start the game without much fuzz, they can make a simple character, walk around, and talk with people. There are no obligations or duties in order to socialize, but if they want to expand their character and ability to express, they would be invited to participate in various game mechanics. Otherwise, they look very standard and maybe wears some ragged clothes/school uniform.

2) Semi-casual/Regular: A player that enjoys the game and likes looking at/playing as their character. They have a character they feel attached to, and like to unlock clothes, patterns, and colors for it. They also would maybe like to contribute to the common food goal that would both reward them with personal rewards but also rewards that makes group socializing easier and more fun. For example, maybe there would be a treshold for contributing for the foodraise, so that every week, everyone is dressed in uniform/gathering clothes, and through some light harvesting work they unlock the ability to dress however they want for the rest of the week.

3) Hardcore/Completionist: A player that really likes the game and takes on many responsibilities. This player probably likes pouring many hours in to farming/collecting/etc, and in return, they'd be granted more special social features. For example, they'd have access to their own private room for as long as they continue their contribution. It would be possible that this type of player is also a "specialist" kind, so for example, they could make use of the foodraise harvests and cook their own meals, or even give them out so everyone benefits.

So as you can see, the socializing part is the basis for all of these task ideas. Most of the rewards are directly personal, but I think the design of the rewards would encourage more social interaction between players in the end - not only because players compare themselves to others and think "wow, I can do that in exchange for that kind of work", but also just figuring out what their interest and passion lies in - maybe it actually is cooking food for others, helping out new players, organizing events, or maybe just unlocking things for yourself? So the game doesn't force you to do all of these things, but it can dangle various carrots by showing other players instead of an annoying and intrusive UI. It's more natural.

I think in any case, if I design Kemoverse Online to not be competitive, I'm sure players will take advantage of the world that's set up for them and a community will grow.  At least, that's my vision - that the game keeps living aside from my weekly organized meetups; with player led events and goals that go beyond what I can contribute with the game's story. The first step of the way is well underway: the lush environment and comfortable worldbuilding, the seasonal weathers and the well designed player models and items that will help set the mood and feeling. I just need to add more! More stuff, real tasks, and nice rewards so the school will start living.

When will it get there? I'm not sure. I'll have to add a ton of functionality - rooms, outfits, unlockables, social features, and the whole ecosystem with the foodraise. Not to mention testing it out in real life and see if it actually works. So for now, I think I'm not going to add story content until the more basic gameplay loop is added and realized, and I guess, that the game has a constant playerbase. 

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