MMOs on the Brain

I’m following a lot of MMOs right now. Elder Scrolls Online had a great update with The Imperial City, The Old Republic I’ve been talking about, Wildstar’s F2P conversion went live, Destiny’s Taken King expansion has been very well received, Final Fantasy 14 has a major update coming, but not until November… there’s a lot going on in the existing space.

MMOs on the Brain

These established MMOs have some room to experiment, and in a lot of cases build further towards the vision they were going for, or refine a vision that didn’t quite work out. In a lot of cases, it’s highly successful, and for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that goes on around the internet about “failed” MMOs, there are very few that actually shut down. Even SWTOR, after suffering from brutal layoffs and being left with a skeleton crew for a while, has managed to come back and launch some honestly excellent content, as well as make a bunch of needed changes to the game itself.

I keep coming back to this, but the trend I see is that these games push more and more towards the singleplayer aspects, making it easier or more convenient to play alone rather than with the rest of the server. I can’t help but wonder if some of these games would have benefitted from a different model– rather than the server-full-of-people model, having characters saved on a server (see: Borderlands) and have drop-in small group multiplayer. It’s what Destiny did, and with its latest update that brought story more forward than it’d previously been, there’s a lot of love for the new stuff.

Much as I wish there were a more “world”-like MMO to play, I’m also just a fan of good games where all the design pieces come together elegantly. Several of the games I’ve mentioned would, I think, have worked better as smaller, more intimate affairs with more leeway for high fidelity content (because making content that works when 30 people are all doing it at once is tricky at best).

MMOs on the Brain

It’s honestly something I expect to see. Destiny carved the path, but I’ve noticed that after being quiet for a while, The Division has been distancing itself from the “MMO” side of things and focused more on the small group play; I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s made a similar shift. There are very, very few MMOs on the horizon that fit the bill of the “classic” style– I’ve talked about Pokemon Go here as the future of the genre, but otherwise you’re looking at a pretty short list of mostly Kickstarter or other small projects and larger projects that are distancing themselves from “MMO”.

I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing from a “fun games to play” perspective. That being said, I keep looking for an MMO that scratches that “world to hang out in” itch. A lot of people will hand-wave that by saying that what I’m looking for is a sandbox MMO, but that’s not actually true (at least, not with the current offerings). The concepts of “sandbox” and “pvp playground” get conflated a lot, and it’s somewhat striking to me that there hasn’t been a large-scale sandbox PvE game. If there were, I’d be very interested.

Consider: a game where the world, not other players, is the most dangerous thing out there. You can build and fortify cities and structures, but the world will try to reclaim them, actively in some cases. Cities would be well-defended, and ultimately able to handle their own upkeeps with enough players moving through them. You could pretty reasonably create a game economy that’s relatively stable, without the spiralling inflation of most MMO game worlds. As an adventurer, you’d have plenty of stuff to do keeping cities and villages safe or going treasure hunting out in the wilderness– it’s the same kind of gameplay that some people thrive on in Minecraft, and seeding the world with treasure and resources would make things very interesting. You could play as a guard captain or a city coordinator, keeping things going at a macro level. You could be a crafter or merchant, with people constantly needing your goods and services to make things or repair things. There’d be space for socialites, bringing players to cities for everyone’s benefit. You could make it your goal to go out into the world and bring back new skills and knowledge, or find new resources, or what-have-you.

MMOs on the Brain

Found on google image search, couldn’t find original artist to credit :

It all hinges on the world being genuinely dangerous and scary. I’m not saying Dark Souls level of dangerous (though, maybe if you get far away from civilization), but scary enough that you’re happy to see another person out fighting enemies, rather than worrying if they’re going to “steal your kill”. I imagine seeing a campfire in the distance and being happy to find other players there, who are taking some time to rest while out in the field. There would need to be a lot of different forms of progression, so there’s something valuable you can do while sitting around a campfire and not-fighting. Crafting comes to mind, learning/practicing new skills, repairing/upgrading gear, as long as these things are interesting gameplay, you could create these kinds of situations.

Really, what it comes down to is having more interesting verbs. We currently have “fight” as our sole interesting verb in most MMOs, with the occasional “craft” in certain games. “Move” isn’t generally all that interesting, and we could do a lot of things to make that more fun, and pretty much everything else is just a click on a UI pane or in the world– these could be much more interesting.

The difficulty is that it’d take a serious commitment to make something VERY different from what we’ve seen. Exploring the world to find hidden libraries, ruined cities, caches of treasure, all relatively unknown and often in very scary places would be fascinating, and having teams of elite players coordinating to raid a ruined city and take it as a new hub for players would be exciting, possibly a lot more exciting than simply beating a raid boss. Being the first player to discover a new skill, or the first one to open a school to teach rare skills would be compelling, I think, and there are enough systems that have already been experimented with that allowing NPCs to do a lot of automated work while you go off and do other things would be entirely possible.

Napkin-designing a bit here, but it’s been on my mind for a while.

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