68: World, Interrupted

"In the past few years, PC game journalism has been dominated by one thing: the sheer amount of time it takes to play massively multiplayer online games. Of course, you can go off and hide in a corner, pretend to be an expert in one of the many other genres that make up the great messy corpus of PC gaming, but you'd be kidding yourself that it was going to work out for you in the long term. Editors, sub-editors, writers, readers: They all want to know what is going on with MMOGs. Hell, they may not even care to play them, but they want reviews, anecdotes and flavors to be delivered by someone. They want to see inside and get reports from those virtual places. These internet explorations make interesting times for games, and even if you're not there to see it all, you certainly expect someone else to be. That someone has, for the last three years, been me."

Jim Rossignol goes on-location to the burgeoning, third-world melting pot of the game industry, the MMO.

World, Interrupted

Having spent many hours in WOW, some in Eve and City of Heros, and many in Guildwars, I have to agree with you about the limitations of the games. The one redeeming element of WOW is the social interaction that you can get with developing friends and partners in the game. Guildwars can also have this element, with guilds and such.

As for the future I can see several things that can happen:

WOW: let us really make our own things. Weapons could have certain abilities, a variety of hilts, blades and handles. Armor could be different colors (Guildwars allows you do dye your armor) and decorations. Think of the potential of tailoring and leatherworking. Permanent "henchmen" are now part of Guildwars. Having more NPC's play along with you in WOW would be another option. Why not hire a full time rogue to work with your hunter? Long-run quests, where you must do certain things over a longer period, with several skills involved, like a mage quest where you have to find people in each city and collect a set of items to make another item to accomplish a task... but freeform in its order and style.

Just ideas... there is so much that could be done.

I'm curious why A Tale in the Desert was left out of this article, as it addresses (not entirely successfully) some of the points made. (In the third and most-recent run, it also backslides into levels in an attempt to give players obvious goals toward which to work, but that's a debate for the atitd.net forums.)

It includes player-created content-- sculptures, player-made puzzles and other artworks, and the legal system itself. It is heavily centered on PLAYER skill rather than CHARACTER skill, and even a new player who can master, for example, blacksmithing or glasswork will have something important and valuable to trade with more established players. (Some established players are unable to successfully perform in-game tasks as simple as making charcoal, which is used in dozens of other processes.)

Again, it's far from perfect, but it does take many of your disappointments and turn them around.

I really agree to this article. Just wish the writer inserted some info about the pioneer ultima online, wich had (in it's golden days) much of what he wants. With ultima online the developers tried to build more of a massive multiplayer world than just a game.I could spend hours talking about the ingenious ideas from players, I saw back then , in a really "second life"-like manner.Most of them just making use of the ability to stack one object on top of the other on the isometric view of the game. I think most of the lack we see in mmog's these day's is that no one is trying to build a full , complex and breathing world anymore, just plain games.

I can't agree more that none of the MMOs really seem to deliver on their promise. How to improve on MMOs has been an issue to which I've devoted quite a bit of thought lately. I can identify a few issues.

First, the dangling carrot/endless staircase. Players are motivated to get their avatars powerful, so that they can participate in higher-level challenges where the prizes are better. That is not, itself, a problem. The level grind can be the best part if it's done right. Eventually, though, they're going to get to the point where they wonder what they're doing it for. The only way to prevent it is to guarantee that the process of getting there is always interesting. This means either they have to keep getting higher without seeing pattern emerge - a difficult situation because it means you have to have the full variety of content at every tier, and it segregates players based on character levels - or you have to ensure that there's a lot of ways to climb the stairs, so that every alt is something new - which means you have to do something to abandon the high-level characters they've already invested so much in. You don't have to keep them interested forever, just for long enough for the social elements to get their hooks deep in.

Second, content shortfalls. Your audience always wants more. There are a lot of ways to solve this: you could just make more, you could design it so that it all lasts longer, you could give the players some (limited or unlimited) ability to make and share their own content, you could let the content be generated procedurally or at random. I'd like to see more of the last two.

Another problem is that more than a few MMOs seem to be unwilling to abandon the fantasy-adventure archetype. The fantasy isn't the problem (aside from arguably being overused). Rather, the adventure aspect is the problem. The games that acknowledge any pretense toward convincing the character that they're anything but a small cog in a big machine - these games tend to have much better atmospheres (ignoring such piddling concerns as quality of graphics and how good the guilds are). This is just because the whole thing makes more sense that way.

Some conclusions I've drawn from this are: maybe permadeath should be an option. Give the player several characters, and after the first month, they can only die ten times before they're gone. Or provide some other mechanism for the player to lose the characters permanently. Maybe you should invent a world from the ground up to feel like an MMO, or use existing IP that could be adapted easily.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Pokemon could potentially be adapted into the greatest MMO ever made.

I liked how D&D was mentioned, and how it's legacy has affected the MMORPG genre so much, even though D&D itself was extremely different from what MMORPGs offer.

In D&D, you have character levels, but they were never intended for a game in which players would be separated from the core party. In D&D, you have a party of four people, and they're almost always within a level or two of each other, because they always play together at pre-scheduled times. In WOW, you have several million players, all of different levels, playing at different times. So if you and your friend play WOW for 10 hours together, but then your friend goes on a one month vacation.. you'll probably never play with that friend again. Your character will be powerful, his will be weak, and you won't want to sink to his level because it will not benefit you.

City of Heroes dealt with this issue with the sidekick system, and I hope more MMOs follow COH's example.

D&D was all about roleplaying and being in a dynamic environment that your roleplaying decisions shifted. Meanwhile, most popular MMORPGs have very static environments that barely acknowledge your existence.

Something I have been considering, is how an MMO based on Paranoia would shape out. Immediately, several core MMO values would be tossed out of the window.

a) You will die. A lot. And when you die, you practically restart from point 0.(There is of cause score keeping, but your items and personal character progress is reset)
b) Based on the above fact, it is for all practical purposes, impossible to implement grinding.
c) PvP is enabled, BUT you aren't encouraged to do it outright. (sneaky PvP?)
d) A Paranoia MMO would be very mission-based; practically everything you do is under a mission.

Of cause, the core advantage of having a human GM is removed, but you instead get the benifit of having many teams at once, interacting with each other. There would also be some sense of progress based on the "secret society" progress, but naturally the computer GM will attempt to counteract such progress by assigning more missions against it.

thats probably one of the most interesting MMO ideas ive heard in a long while.

Overall I though the article was quite good and it touched on some interesting points. However i fail to see the need to put random words or phrases in bold.


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