Time for MMOs to reinvent themselves

MMOs are the abusive gaming genre that I just can’t get away from.  MMOs are Ike Turner and I’m Tina Turner.  They’re Bobby Brown and I’m Whitne…vermind.  Since I played my first MMO in 1999, I’ve loved the genre.  Leveling up, sense of community, sticking with one character and making them more powerful.  It’s all good and fun.  But with the success of World of Warcraft, most MMOs that come out fit into the same mold.

I’m searching for an MMO that takes the best aspects of the MMOs I’ve played but presents those aspects in a much different way.  Let me drive this home with five specific things that my next MMO needs to have.

 

1. Character individuality

How it is now:

In games like World of Warcraft, Rift, Lord of the Rings: Online, Age of Conan, and Star Wars: The Old Republic you have a set number of classes and you have to choose which class you want.  Once you’ve selected that class, you choose from a few different talent trees to specialize in.  What you end up with is thousands of clones running around with exactly the same abilities and nothing that makes them different from anyone else.  Everyone that is your class will get all of the same abilities at the same level as you.  It sucks knowing that even when I reach the maximum level in the game and get to train my last abilities, thousands before me have already trained those abilities.  I’m not unique, I’m not special.  I’ve just joined the ranks.

How it should be:

Give players the ability to make a fully unique player.  City of Heroes is probably the best example of this.  From the get go, you can select from TONS of different powers to make your character unique. However, I’d like to go back in time even further.  My first MMO was Asheron’s Call.  When you create a character in Asheron’s Call you are given a set number of skill points to train whatever skill you would like.

There were dozens of different skills to train.  Axe, Restoration Magic, War Magic, Locksmith, Healing, Sword, Running, Jumping, etc.  Some cost more than others.  There were no restrictions.  If I wanted to be a war magic user that also swung a powerful axe, I could do it.  And after you made your character, you earned skill points as you leveled up.  If you wanted to save up for a powerful but expensive skill, you could.  In my character’s case, I had a huge powerful axe.  My character was good but what I really wanted was to train restoration magic, so I could hit hard with my axe AND heal.

It took me about a year of playing to get enough skill points to train that skill, and when I did, it was like playing a whole new character.  MUCH more powerful and versatile.  On my server there was one other notable axe user with restoration magic and that was it.  When I met new people on the server, they always said, “Hey!! You’re that guy with Axe and Restoration aren’t you!?”  Awesome.

 

2. Unique gear and loot

How it is now:

In most dungeon style MMOs of today, any item that you loot off of a creature is NOT unique.  Go to the auction house and you’ll see that pretty much every (sellable) item that you have acquired is available in abundance on the auction house.  Much like the issue of unique character skills mentioned above, this makes for more clones wearing the same gear running around.  No matter what item you end up acquiring, hundreds if not thousands of other players already have the same item.

 

The way it should be:

I’m taking another page out of the Asheron’s Call book on this one.  In Asheron’s Call, when you looted something, the stats on that item would be completely randomized.  For example, I may have looted a sword that does 150-200 damage per swing, with a modifier of 15% additional acid damage, and also gives you an armor boost of 10% and 5% running speed increase.  The stats that were attached to the item were completely unique.  No two weapons were exactly alike.

There were endless possibilities in the combination of stat boosts that a piece of loot could have. Sometimes you would lug an axe around only because it had a 20% to jumping ability boost and you needed that in a specific situation.  Good loot was just as rare as it is in today’s MMOs, but sometimes you would get something that had all the right boosts and suddenly you would be RICH, because NO ONE else had that weapon.

 

3. Meaningful personal/guild real estate

How it is now:

Most MMOs these days only have a guild bank that members can put stuff in and take stuff out.  While this is preferable to what SW:TOR has (no guild bank whatsoever so far…though it is in the works), it doesn’t give the guild any incentives for helping each other out or for working together.  On the personal real estate side, most MMOs have what essentially amount to a personal storage chest.  Nothing flashy, just a space to put your extra stuff.

How it should be:

Guilds should have some real estate that they can develop.  Age of Conan has the right idea (though I’m not sure how it’s changed since I quit the game a few years ago).  In Conan, you build essentially a guild fortress.  Guild members gather materials and donate money to help build the walls, the citadel, even different merchants normally found in fortress.  THIS is what a guild space needs to be.  Make the guild members work together to build the guild fortress.  That makes it WORTH something to everyone.  And make the real estate more than a hang out.  Exclusive quests only available inside your guild fortress.  Vendors that don’t exist anywhere else.  Give the guild members a reason to keep coming back.  This will put the guild members in the same area as one another and strengthen the relationship of the guild.

 

4. Deeper crafting system

How it is now:

Gather materials, do crafting quests, make sub-par gear.  Without fail, almost every item that can be crafted in WoW and SW:TOR is easily outdone by questing and/or raiding rewards. Why spend time and virtual money on leveling up crafting when you can’t use the items or even sell them consistently for a profit?

How it should be:

Incorporating crafting that you have to fight for, that yields a relevant product, and doesn’t dominate your game time would be ideal.  To be honest, I’ve never seen this type of crafting in an MMO.  However, Pirates of the Burning Sea came closest.  In Pirates, different ports around the map had different resources.  If you wanted to produce iron ore, you had to build a mine in one of a few specific ports.

To craft an item that could be sold at a high profit, you had to build crafting “stations” in four or more ports.  The catch?  Each port could be taken over by an opposing faction.  This made for an exciting dynamic.  You CARED what parts of the map were attacked by the opposing faction because it directly affected your crafting and profits.  The only downside of this style of crafting was that the entire game ended up revolving around crafting and auctioning.  While this is likely realistic to the games historical setting, it became burdensome.

 

5.  Don’t be Warcraft

How it is now:

Left click on enemy, click spell bar, wait for cooldown, click spell bar, wait for cooldown, right click corpse for loot.  Let’s examine how many MMOs that I’ve played since I quit WoW that follow that basic formula. Aion, City of Heroes, Age of Conan, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Lord of the Rings: Online.  I’ve come to the realization that if that is how the combat is going to work, I won’t last long in the game.  The skill training is largely the same in those games as well (with the possible exception being City of Heroes).

The Warcraft formula is over a decade old (older than Warcraft itself) and you just can’t go that long without a major restructuring.  I would venture to say that MMOs have evolved the least in the past 10 years than any other gaming genre… and I’m including sports games!

How it should be:

Do something different.  Doing things “better” just isn’t going to cut it anymore.  Rift tried to give you more options in class type, SW:TOR gave you a game with a great story but it wasn’t different enough.  While Eve Online isn’t the game for me, at least it’s different.  And it has a loyal following because nothing else out there is like it.

What I’m trying to say is this… SOMEONE FIND ME AN MMO THAT FITS THIS MOLD! I’m crazy about MMOs but I’m done playing the same game with a different skin.

Think you have an MMO that I would enjoy?  Comment below and tell me how it fits the five points above!

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Comments

  1. Huh. Interesting perspective on the genre. I’d be interested to get your ideas on how the in-game experience can be broadened in terms of your skills/powers.

    That said, I totally agree with character individuality. It’s a bit disheartening to get my characters created and the only things that truly differ between them is superficial or cosmetic. I miss CoH.

    • With skills and powers, there needs to be options. I like (part of) what skyrim does. I like a skill being increased as you use it. Give every player access to the same bank of skills and let their use of those skills determine what kind of player they become. I also like the ability to dump XP that you earn into a skill area. As skill level increases, you gain access to more abilities in that skill area. None of this talent tree crap.

      In Asheron’s Call, you had scrolls that would randomly drop and that is how you would learn new abilities. You had to be at a certain level in that given skill in order to use the scroll and learn the abilities. Much like crafting schematics work these days. No trainers at all.

      I would even be up for quests that reward skills. Warcraft had a little bit of this but not too much. But what if you reached the high level abilities in a skill and you had to go through a quest line to go higher. Could be fun

  2. Monkeyspunk

    Character individuality and Combat are the two biggest things that bring my MMO play to a griding halt. Every MMO I have played in the last few years basically turns into, “Ahhh, wonderful new game world to explore and tons of exci-oh….hello clone of me! Off to explore? excellent, I will ju-DAMN! There’s another one, i’m like a freaking plague.”

    Combat just get’s too old to fast, figure our your skill order, rinse repeat rinse repeat. There’s no real sense of accomplishment or skill involved. And yet i still play.

  3. Ploogle

    6. No Subscription Fee

    That’s the biggest turn-off for me, anyways. I want to see more people take a page from Guild Wars and offer the game for a flat rate.

     

    7. Do Away with Grind

    The second reason I don’t appreciate MMOs: gameplay just isn’t unique enough compared to almost every other genre, like you said. But it’s more than that, it’s the fact that you’re required to repeat the same exact actions over and over again that really irks me. I don’t want to kill 200 were-moose to satisfy Ulga the Great’s quest. I don’t want to retrieve 85 Heart of Vicious Pig to craft the potion that Vzzrag the Quest-Giver needs in order to reward me with a +1 Greatsword of Bane of Wrath of Wolf.

     

    Even if they just changed up the genre a bit, that would be exciting. The third-person clickclickclick semi-Action gameplay is tiring. Even a dorky little game like Maplestory offers refreshing gameplay, in that it’s a platformer with a semi-unique art style. Give me an MMORTS, or a game like Skyrim with MMO mechanics.

  4. Subscription fee is a hurdle for a lot of people. That’s understandable. I don’t really have an issue with that.

    The grind IS, however a big problem. There needs to be effort put into your character, as that helps you feel like you’ve accomplished something. What you’re saying is that the quest structure of MMO’s needs to change. AMEN, HALLELUJAH! I’m with you 100%. Do away with quests all together! Some quests are there to tell a story, but the only MMO with a decent story line is The Old Republic, and while I enjoy the story in TOR, it isn’t enough to keep me in the game.

    Ploogle, an MMORTS might be just what I’m looking for. Age of Empires 3 added some leveling structures that took a step in that direction, but some high budget MMORTS needs to happen. Company of Heroes, Age of Empires, even Civilization would be phenomenal if done properly

  5. Point 1 that you make is the only reason why I would want a Fallout/Elder Scrolls MMO.

    I don’t particularly enjoy a lot of the rest of Bethesda’s gameplay, but that particular RPG element area would be well defined I hope.

    Alternatively, someone just needs to go about making an MMO the same way you went about making an CRPG way back when: look to base your game engine stats on a pen+paper system (the SPECIAL started as a direct clone of GURPS, and GURPS would give exactly the kind of customisation we all dream of.)

  6. Mat

    Domestic violence is absolutely hilarious.

  7. Unfortunately as long as MMOs that fit “the mold” stay profitable, I wouldn’t expect anyone to break it anytime soon. What I find interesting is that the company that may be the one to do it is the WoW creator themselves, Blizzard. I’m interested to see what Titan has, and the fact that the company runs a successful traditional MMO may give them the latitude to try something completely different with TItan.

  8. Asherons Call shout out – fucking loved that game. Typhoid-X — Leafcull 4 eva: Ghede was the best Monarch & Exit wound is probably still a tosser :D. What server did you play Dogs Die?

    So many unique experiences no other game/mmo has come close too.

    Nothing has left me feeling like I’m out in the boonies, oh shit what the hell is that blip on the radar I am about to run into; hope it doesn’t kill me cos getting back here’ll be a bitch (closest probably has been felt when playing Dark Souls, loaded with Humanity).

    At the bottom of the BSD (pre-nerf) or Olthoi nest, surrounded (and i mean fucking surrounded by 20+mobs) with buffs wearing off. NP I’ll be badass and rebuff whilst fighting still 😀

    Trading for my proper white Matty robe (not the subesquent nock off that was introduced later).

    Going Red & porting into the subway (I hindsight would have loved to have had a serious go at Darktide, where guild and faction meant something & you fought for control of the lucrative zones on a daily/hourly basis)

    Snagging a Villa almost by accident.

    My first solo attempt at Aerlinthe @ 110 just after I got melee defence on my mage (goddamn wisp room).

    Hitting the undead village and watching the Wi flag in action; ALL the village, 20-30 mobs ignored us and make a beeline for our mate Xepha.

    In fact, had sooo much fun running Aerlinthe or Olthoi queen over & over again (far more fun than running weekly instances over and over again).

    Typing abusive shit about choads we’re adventuring with in the wrong channels – oops my bad 😀

    AC also had a great back story, Chris L’Etoile (stormwaltz) wrote most of it I believe: Where did he end up after turbine? Writing for Bioware, I recall a tingle when i saw his name in the ME credits.

    Have tried to pop back now and again to see if nostalgia is clouding my vision, but alas my login & email have long since been lost to time, even though i still have the original disks and activation codes nothing can apparently be done to recover Typhoid-X. *sniff*

    • Good to see a fellow AC player! I was on harvestgain as part of clan elminster. Man all that stuff you mentioned threw me back!

      I had access to a level 85 on dark tide (on my brothers account) and that was a blast! Loo.

      I friggin miss that game! I go over to acvault forums and read up once a year to see what’s up on HG. sigh

  9. If I didn’t have to pay a monthly fee then I’d play em’. End of story.

  10. Tehcrzyazn

    With almost every point you described Star Wars Galaxies.

    • I’m sorry, let me specify. The first year or so of Star Wars Galaxies, before they mangled it and shat on its userbase.

  11. someone free

    funny enough you did mention eve online…. since it does do al that maybe cept number 2

  12. I think the heart of the problem isn’t the MMO genre per se, but the limited implementation of the RPG mechanics. It appears that you mixed the two together. A lot of your complaints have counterparts in single-player RPG games. Many fans of Kingdoms of Amalur are hot for the combat, but the lackluster story/loot/leveling almost cripples the game after a couple dozen hours. Skyrim has a massive open-world experience, but the stagnate story, poorly connected “guilds”, grinding and absence of direction creates gameplay trap that essentially burns you out.

    I don’t understand why modding communities can instantly improve graphics, armor and weaponry, but developers/publishers have yet to come up with a sustainable model for providing relevant items and content. Almost every genre that has DLC or season passes is providing forgettable content or superficial eye-candy equipment. I’d gladly play $10-$20 on top of the initial $60 to have access to custom loot that can be leveled as well as improved visually.

    Part of what I liked about vanilla RPG’s like Fable was the near instantaneous visual upgrades that had noticeable changes in combat animations and combat mechanics.

    Give me an MMO with the combat of Reckoning/Fable, the customization of weapons as seen in Blacklight: Retribution and the world building of Minecraft.

  13. Roburt

    There’s a more fundamental way to change the way MMOs work.

    Currently, designers make MMOs as time sink experiences, meaning that they’re mostly focused on filling the environment with stuff to do to keep the players coming back. The biggest worry right now is “what happens when the player finished everything?”

     

    imo, that’s a pretty pessimistic approach to MMO design. I’d propose designing MMOs as a game itself. Only when the game can merit itself as a game first can you start to design with massively multiplayer in mind. If the game can’t even stand on its own as a game, then there’s no point, your game is not a game, it’s just a big addictive waste of time.

     

    After the MMO has been designed as a game first, then apply the concept of massively multiplayer. If the design breaks given a massively multiplayer component, then you know that the game you want to make is not an MMO, so you shouldn’t force it to be one. 

     

    Ultimately, I’m suggesting that MMO designers needs to stop being scared of players finishing the game. The end game is a good thing. If the players finish the game, then they finish the game, good for them. Stop thinking in terms of money, and actually design the game that you wanted to make.

    It may not make the most money (since there would most likely be a specific end game), but it would be well designed and not just an empty world with things in it.

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