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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