5 Dec 2011

My MMO Manifesto

About a week ago Brian Green asked a problem over on Google+. After seeing that various bloggers were complaining about the stagnant situation of current MMOs, he asked what it is we truly want to see from the genre. I can understand why – it becomes frustrating when you’re trying to improve the games we play, yet the players don’t seem to be asking for it.

With that challenge in mind, I sat down and wrote a wishlist. Then I edited it. Then I threw it away and started again. Then I started grouping and merging concepts together to come up with a list of ten points.

Have a read through and see what you think. These aren’t in any order of significance, although you may feel that some are more important than others.

  • Keep It Multiplayer – if it can be done in game then there must be a way of involving other players in it. This applies across the board, from the core experience to minigames and other diversions. This is not a single player game with a chatbox.
  • Help Make Friends – I might bring my own friends to an MMO but I’m reliant on the game to help me find new ones. Treat me as more than just a random player – learn my preferences and help to introduce me to players you think I’ll get on with.
  • Show Me The World – I want to be able to wander a seamless expanse, not be faced with cordoned off areas and instanced zones. Don’t trick me with a world made from shoe boxes slotted together, or by funnelling me through canyons. Don’t break the flow with loading screens.
  • Make It Real – give me a place with a day and night cycle, where the suns rise and the stars march across the sky. Provide weather, cloud cover and vary lighting and shadows. Include seasons – show me that the world changes every hour, day, week and month.
  • People Are Complex – I want earning a faction’s trust to be more than just filling a progress bar and more rewarding than gaining access to their most precious items. Treat NPCs as individuals as well – If I help the baker then make sure his friends recognise the fact. If I choose to mock the idiot king then allow me to express it and experience the ramifications of it.
  • Weave the Stories – Show me hints of the overarching story. Give me a far-off goal to aim for, a hope or a dream. But also include a micro-story – the journey that my character is heading on. Link the various threads together so that I can join the dots between what I’m doing and what the Bigger Picture is.
  • Shatter the Illusions of Choice – don’t invest time in complex game systems when it’s possible to calculate the single best solution. If it’s possible to come up with a Right and Wrong way of selecting something, make it simple and just implement the Right options for me and remove the fallacy of making a choice.
  • Stop the Stats – Ask yourself if every stat is actually meaningful to both the player and the game systems, and if there’s not an existing stat that can serve that purpose. Make sure that your itemisation doesn’t become unwieldy and overly complex due to the sheer number of stats in play. If it takes a player longer than ten seconds to calculate mentally if an item is an upgrade then something is wrong with your approach. Illusions through bafflement are still illusions.
  • Give Me Control – let me shape how the game world is presented to me and allow me to customise it at the level I’m comfortable with. Expose APIs and support scripting so that I can expand upon what you’ve built.
  • Allow Interaction Anywhere – if there are parts of the game that could be accessible outside of the game then make it possible. Support being able to interact with game systems from mobile devices and other external online tools. Allow me to talk with my in-game friends wherever and whatever I’m doing. Make the social network I’m building in your game portable.

Once I finalised the list I realised something – I subconsciously judge each new MMO against this list. Some games do well in some areas but are poor in others, making the discussion difficult about which one is “better”.

I also realised that MMOs are universally poor in some aspects, providing real opportunities for developing and progressing the genre. I think that this is what Brian was alluding to when he set the challenge.

I’m now going to turn this list over to you. What would you add? What do you think is surplus to requirements? How would you change things around? Do you agree or disagree? What do you want from the MMOs we play?

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9 Responses to My MMO Manifesto

  1. Stubborn says:

    Excellent list. Here’s a few of my own.

    Support multiple styles of play – not everyone wants to raid or Pvp, so make sure that all activities can be as engaging and rewarding (though the rewards may be different).

    Support a friendly play environment and surrounding community – nothing turns people off a game like running into jerks everywhere.

    Be aware that your gamers are getting older – know the repercussions thereof on time, speed, and holisitic awareness (which increases with age while speed decreases)

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’m not against people making niche MMOs, such as a PVP or raid focused one. In fact I’d argue that Team Fortress 2 can be seen as an MMO under certain conditions.

      In terms of supporting a friendly play environment, I was kinda alluding to it in point 2. The key difference though that instead of just providing grouping and community tools (with all the moderation and support it entails), I’m asking for them to go further. Take a leaf out of firms like Netflix and actively match me with people I’m likely to get on with. It’s this kind of improvement I’d like to see – proactive rather than reactive.

  2. Razerbug says:

    Exactly!
    and:

    If you make a new world, don’t constrain it with this worlds geography. If I can enthuse about your game with people from Australia and Canada, let me have the option to game with them.
    Razerbug recently posted..A Dwarf, a Night Elf and a Human walk into a bar…My Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      Agreed! One of the reasons I love Rift and SWTOR – no strange regional restrictions.

      • KiwiRed says:

        I’d agree with Rift, but SWTOR is a game I’m looking forward to *despite* its strange regional restrictions (residing in a “Red Zone” country where it’s only available as a box copy ordered from Amazon with the accompanying delay, unless you get an acquaintance living in the US to order a copy on Origin for you as I have done).
        KiwiRed recently posted..DCUO – A Brief DistractionMy Profile

  3. Ben Sandesr says:

    Nice list.
    One of my requirements is:
    Interesting economy – I want to be able to make meaningful economic contribuitions, have a functional and scaleable buying/selling system that lets me interact with lots of other players, have a meaningful crafting system that makes things that players want.

  4. A bit late, but I’ve been busy and dealing jet lag. This is an interesting list. Two thoughts:

    1. That’s a lot. For example, Storybricks is mostly focusing on your fifth point. Given reality of limited funds and time, we’re excluding a lot of other elements (including things on your list). It’ll take time to see real movement on all these elements.

    2. Make sure you go out of your way to support games that do any of these things. Otherwise you run the risk of being like the hardcore PvP audience, who continuously demands a new PvP game but doesn’t really support new games that come out for whatever reason.

    Interesting point of discussion, though. Thanks for writing something down. :)
    Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green recently posted..Weekend Design Challenge: More tweaksMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      You asked for a list, I gave you one :)

      Seriously though, I’ll agree that most MMOs tend to focus one just one or two of these.

      You bet I’ll be there to cheerlead for any MMOs that make attempts to innovate in these directions.

  5. Your knowledge about the MMO world sure is expanding. Really hitting out the important points :)

    Also, if you haven’t seen already, I mentioned you in my Anniversary post – http://shatteredbeginnings.blogspot.com/2011/12/one-year-has-passed.html

    - Jamin
    Jamin (@JaminToTheTop) recently posted..One year has passed…My Profile