"MMORPGs Dead; WoW Questioned," Part One

"The whole damn [MMO] genre has run off the rails and become a parody of itself. Click the button and a gamer-treat rolls occasionally down the little pipe activating neurotransmitters in the brain that beg endlessly for more tiny little gamer-treats." -- Sean "Elysium" Sands

All good things must come to an end.

What sickly-sweet, TV series-ending crap.

The persistent-world online role-playing genre is never going to disappear. It cuts too close to what we humans want from our online existence. Today's 3D graphical MMORPG, though, has reached a point of stagnation. It hasn't met the promise of its potential, and never will. It's time to recognize that and start planning for the rebirth of large-scale online roleplaying games.

How did this happen? What's gone wrong, and what can be done differently in future? I'm descended from a hyper-intelligent subspecies of Yorkshireman, but I wouldn't presume to preach from the mountaintop on this matter. The Goodjer Collective has some big, juicy brains in it that like to ponder MMOs. GWJ articles often become starting points of a conversation; I'm just stating my intent to start such a discussion from the beginning.

EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies developer Raph Koster has said, "once [game genres] get past a growth phase and become mature, they tend to calcify." Have you noticed MMORPG tutorials have become more like briefings? If it's not your first MMO, you want to know what's particular about that particular MMO's interface and control scheme. The rest of the dance is pretty much the same. This hit home for me after I coached another player through one game's tutorial, emphasizing the rich world and its roleplaying possibilities. He asked where the beginning monster area was. I offered to take him to a ruined castle nearby. He marched straight toward the rat-infested dungeon after taking a couple of experimental swipes with his beginning weapon. "All right," he said, "let's go get paid."

It's easy to get this blasé. The first couple of games, you were immersed in this strange and wonderful new world and needed to learn how to interact with it. After a while MMORPGs began working much the same, and tutorials became more of a technical exercise. The growing MMORPG playerbase and the game publishers were in a feedback loop: the consumers' past experiences created expectations for future games, and the businesses providing those games wanted to emulate the success of earlier ones. Such a loop gets smaller and smaller: just look at the fairly rigidly-codified "standard" for the interface and control scheme of first-person shooters. Deviation from the design status quo becomes highly risky. Bolt a new multiplayer widget onto an FPS and you're praised for your bold vision. Shift movement from WASD and you're branded a heretic. The loop becomes a noose, and innovation is left twisting in the wind.

Content in MMORPGs went the same way as the user interface. Quests, check; monsters to kill, check; player guilds, check. In this way, things weren't much different from the first text MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle created in 1978. More and more "stuff" got thrown into the pot over time: instanced dungeons, auction systems, and fast transportation, for example. Other changes were meta-content that affected the shape of the genre, driven by a vocal minority of players. These changed the very language of MMOs. I go berserk when people speak of the "end game" in an MMO context. End game raiding, end game balancing. Level caps and time to reach the end game. End game equipment. Back in the good old days, there was no "end game." You set yourself other goals if you reached the end of your class or skill progression. We accepted that like other roleplaying games, MMORPGs had no "ending," and we liked it. Hey you kids, get out of my Jell-O tree!

Player vs. Player (PvP) combat is another example of how the lexicon changed to fit the changing MMORPG standards: no one spoke of "PvE" initially. There was PvP for a few enthusiasts, and then there was everything else. Devising a term to describe Player vs. Environment play brought the "normal" dynamic of gameplay down to the same level of importance as this minority interest. As with the end game, the tail wagged the dog.

The final blow to innovation in MMORPGs was the success of one particular game -- you may have heard of it -- World of Warcraft. WoW's success has given it a gravity that no in-development MMO can afford to ignore. To stray too far from their formula is seen as certain death.

Even before WoW, game companies all wanted to stake a claim in this new gaming frontier and brought the risk-averse, "me too" approach to game design mandated by their sycophancy to shareholders. Gamers grew in number, clamoured for design decisions that dispossessed one or another type of player, and demanded that each new MMORPG be different -- but not too different. Each existing MMORPG just wanted to feed the maw of its existing playerbase in order to keep themselves alive with a revenue stream. Meaningful development got pushed aside in favor of content, content, content.

The core of that meaningful development? Systems and structures to create living, breathing persistent worlds. It seems an almost laughable fantasy to say it, but the dream has long been alive. The true dynamic world, one in which players can tangibly and permanently affect its environment and history, has been lost to the exigencies of the business of catering to a playerbase whose horizons have narrowed and whose expectations have stagnated.

So: all that needs to be done now is to leave behind the husk of the MMORPG genre as it is now, create new and different games, re-train a huge number of players, and totally revamp the online gaming business model. Who's with me?

The MMORPG is dead! Long live the MMORPG!*

(*don't get me wrong; I am totally playing Conan when it comes out.)

Comments

TheGameguru wrote:
Not sure why you think its odd.. what would have been odd is if Quaid and co. had actually released a complete playable game that didnt run like ass.

I mean.. you did play EQ on launch?

I think another 3-4 months delaying the launch would have done a great deal for VG.. would have at least allowed them to clean up some bugs..and avoid the release window of TBC.

Actually I didn't play EQ until a couple of months after launch once one of my friends talked me into playing a game that you *gasp* had to pay for. But really EQ was at the forefront of the 3D mmo game so some of their mistakes are a bit forgivable. I was more referring to the fact that they changed directions so suddenly than the incomplete launch. Really 90% of the MMOs out launched incomplete so VG doing so isn't much of a surprise. I guess you would just think they would have known better by now haha.

TheGameguru wrote:
This is sorta why it surprised me so much when VG ended up the way it did. While it certainly would not have been a revolutionary game, had they made it more hardcore it would have at least been a different approach to the same old tired crap. After investing as much money as they did in the game, changing directions before release, and then releasing an incomplete game right in the footsteps of the Burning Crusade's release... Just seems a bit odd to me.

Not sure why you think its odd.. what would have been odd is if Quaid and co. had actually released a complete playable game that didnt run like ass.

I mean.. you did play EQ on launch?

I think another 3-4 months delaying the launch would have done a great deal for VG.. would have at least allowed them to clean up some bugs..and avoid the release window of TBC.

It would of allowed them to do a great deal for VG but I think SOE dropped the hammer and said this thing isn't worth a dime more to dev. Even with a smoother launch and tweaking the engine so its not as demanding the game would still be the "hardcore" eq vision that dosent encourage the larger more casual player base.

As mentioned in "Lessons In Success" smooth launch, easy to run and appeal to a wider consumer base will hopefully be the new standard devs take from WoW. Those 3 things alone would bring the standard high enough that people would buy MMO's more casually and give them atleast the 1 month test run. The size of the consumer base that sits back after a MMO release and absorbs all the reviews and hearsay is taken for granted. Personally I followed games like AO, SWG and Shadowbane with great anticipation and never bought any of them because I stayed on the fence and waited for the first non hardcore fan reviews to come out. Those initial impressions are so crucial, sure some games rebound after disaster starts but for allot of gamers once that bad news hits its as good as dead to them and its on to the next wave of releases.

I think Blacksheep's post mostly nailed how I feel about the issue at hand. I think that the next step in MMORPG's has to come with two major leaps.

First, we gotta move toward player created content. It is unrealistic to expect your dev team to create every bit of content in the game world. Players want to leave a mark on the world and what better way to do that than by letting them help build the world themselves. Poweful tools need to be developed so that players can create highly customized content to keep the game world lively. Also, I think that implementing bonuses for creating content that is similar to what your neighbors are creating or that correlate to local geography (like using locally harvested raw goods) will help develop region specific culture without the need for developers to do it themselves. Having these cultures sprouting up all over the place will keep up that drive to explore different parts of the world to see what has changed or developed.

Secondly, the current leveling system has got to go. It just breaks immersion and makes us obsessed with getting that dial to click over to the next number. Being aware of all the numbers that make up your character was a necessary part of pen and paper RPGs because we needed them to calculate our effectiveness. However, the computer can do all that work for us and show us graphically and audibly how our character responds to the environment. Let's get rid of the numbers! I don't care if my warrior has 58 strength. Are his muscles bigger? Can I carry more in my backpack or wear heavier armor? Can I kill a rat in two hits or three? I shouldn't have to look under the hood to know powerful I am in a game. I don't need to know what kind of engine a car has to know what it can do. I just push that pedal down and the car tells me herself all that I need to know.

jowner wrote:
It would of allowed them to do a great deal for VG but I think SOE dropped the hammer and said this thing isn't worth a dime more to dev. Even with a smoother launch and tweaking the engine so its not as demanding the game would still be the "hardcore" eq vision that dosent encourage the larger more casual player base.

Vanguard isn't really hardcore these days. It takes a little bit longer to level than it does in WoW. Not by a lot. I would estimate 1-50 in VG might be 30% longer than 1-60 in WoW? It isn't ridiculous by any means. The death penalty is a bit more harsh but honestly if you just bind all of your equipment it's about the same. I am not really sure how the high level game will be as I haven't played it. But the low end game has pretty much been turned into a clunkier version of WoW. Also appealing to more people doesn't necessarily make it a "better" game. There are advantages to having a larger subscriber base for sure as it makes it more likely that the parent company will invest in your expansions and updates... Regardless VG could have been much more than it is but they screwed up by releasing it early, and trying to change the game too much at the last minute. So it will probably drag along for the next few years until something better comes out being yet another game with wasted potential.

Duttybrew wrote:
First, we gotta move toward player created content. It is unrealistic to expect your dev team to create every bit of content in the game world.

As long as the game has enough built in content to foster the creation of player inspired content. It also needs to have enough content included so that players are not forced to spend all of their time "making their own fun" as they progress through the game. Maybe throw in something like a moving timeline for the game world. Where there is an existing backdrop at release and the players actions throughout the world help mold the direction the world develops. If done right they could even include player deeds and such into the developing lore. It would be a bit more work but I don't think it would be anything too crazy or unreasonable to design.

BadMojo wrote:
I think I have mentioned this in other threads, but the MMORPG with a dynamic world can never happen. It's the "Neo" syndrome that all humans have. Everyone wants to be the hero, but when you aren't the hero, the hero is a jerk who is ruining the game. People will line up to see V for Vendetta and The Matrix, but when someone actually leaves their house, goes out into the world and tries to change it (for better or worse), they will be shouted down and arrested as a troublemaker who is rocking the boat. Thus is the way of MMORPGs. People got used to that town being there. They made a lot of money there. The enemy faction finally got sick of it and wiped it off the face of the earth. Why build another one? They'll just do it again.

In a way, the static nature of the MMORPG is a perfect simulation of the ideal world for most people. Hell, even when the game developers change your class, everyone is upset. Everyone just wants everything to stay the same.

Now I'm going to go shoot myself. That's amazingly depressing.

Sorry, but I have to disagree.

First, one of the problems you are mentioning here is an issue with character-centric IP, like The Matrix, Star Wars, etc....everyone wants to be Neo or a Jedi, which is fine in a single player game, but in an MMORPG it causes lots and lots of problems. This is different from everyone wanting to be a hero (opposed to being THE hero). Truly dynamic environments in an MMORPG are possible, and I would argue should be the standard. Every MMORPG that claims to be dynamic is just lying...they are really static. True dynamicsm combined with the ability to truly change or affect the world (even in a small sense) is simply a game environment that is persistent and allows change. When you drop an item in World of Warcraft, it doesn't stay there. Not persistent. When you kill a quest NPC, he respawns ten minutes later. Also not persistent.

Part of the attraction of building something, is being able to say "I made that!", but of course, in a real dynamic environment, it must also be destructable. That must be a possibility for mundane things like cleaning, organizing, rebuilding, managing growth, etc. but it is also a critical component for facilitating conflict. No conflict = no game.

Why rebuild? There are a lot of reasons, depending on the world, the story, the culture, and the content. Maybe you want something better, maybe building something is an indication of control or ownership, or maybe just revenge. Remember, conflict. Or maybe, just for the sake of art.

Of course, there are problems with user created content...look at the pile of junk that Second Life is. There must be controls, restrictions, and moderation (of some type) or you end up with a terrible unorganized mess that hurts the game instead of enhancing it. Not everyone out there is creative, an artist, or a good modeler. Looking at gameplay though, there has to be a balance between creation and destruction. If you let player A destroy player B's object, player B needs to be able to rebuild it, destroy something of player A's, or maybe have some other mechanic in there...bounty hunting, insurance, legal courts (haha, sue to make player A pay for damages), etc.

Also, it should be easier to build than destroy. The longer it takes to build something and the more difficult it is, it should be equally difficult to destroy.

This is all quite different from developers changing or nerfing a character class too. That is just wrong and usually a sign that they didn't bother to test and balance their stuff ahead of time, or even worse, changes to an "expansion" where new stuff is introduced was never planned to start with, so they have to rejigger everything else to make it all fit. Bad bad bad.

People do not want things to stay the same, but they also don't like uncomfortable change.

Just my two cents.

Robert Rice / Nicodemus

Nicodemus wrote:

People do not want things to stay the same, but they also don't like uncomfortable change.

I honestly couldn't tell if you were agreeing with me or not. You state some clear examples where there is nothing dynamic about WoW and how random crap generation in Second Life is out of control. Neither of these are really dynamic worlds in my mind.

For example, if someone wrote an MMORPG where people could kick the enemy out of a town and the quest would no longer exist, but instead just "moved" to the other side to kick the new occupying force out, that would seem more dynamic. But, in all honesty, it would just be two states flipping back and forth with no real net change. After the quests were flipped back and forth two times, the people who live there should move out and the area become vacant. But that's incredibly hard to code into a game. But, let's say it's doable and done. Awesome. People won't like not knowing where they town is, or whether their side occupies it right now because they need to buy supplies and if they can't, they'll be frustrated. Too dynamic and people feel like nothing is stable. Keeping things predictable lets people know where they stand.

I know that when AC2 was preparing to be released, there was some developer talk (as I recall) about how towns would be dynamically built or "destroyed". Each week or night, population maps would build a map of where people spent most of their time and over time a city would begin to pop up there. If the town was less and less occupied, it would deteriorate. Sounds really cool. I liked that idea a lot. But, then, with the rest of the game it would have meant that new players would never have any towns as they migrated up the level chain. Only when they got "caught up" with the rest of the players would there be something of a town for them to visit. So, permanent towns were what AC2 had.

It's hard to imagine any company actually committing to some of those forms of flexible worlds when so much money is riding on their games, also. You have to make sure the game sells and that it won't have anything in it that will drive players away. And right now, I think that static worlds where the character is the only dynamic thing in them is what people are comfortable with (both players and publishing companies).

WoW is the Wal-Mart of MMOs, in the sense that its an economic gorilla other would-be MMOs can't ignore. However, as stated above, that doesn't mean quality niche games can't exist, they simply have to differentiate themselves, or do it so much better that they overcome player inertia, in the form of not wanting to abandon existing characters and friends.

BadMojo wrote:
know that when AC2 was preparing to be released, there was some developer talk (as I recall) about how towns would be dynamically built or "destroyed". Each week or night, population maps would build a map of where people spent most of their time and over time a city would begin to pop up there. If the town was less and less occupied, it would deteriorate. Sounds really cool. I liked that idea a lot. But, then, with the rest of the game it would have meant that new players would never have any towns as they migrated up the level chain. Only when they got "caught up" with the rest of the players would there be something of a town for them to visit. So, permanent towns were what AC2 had.

See this is a perfect example of how you could add something dynamic to an online world. The problem of new players is easily solved by simply creating a capital type of city that is simply too powerful for players to overthrow (though certainly give them the chance). Just put in layers of uberpowerful guards that eventually become too much for players to handle. Thus new people always have a "newbie" area to hang out in and the rest of the world can still be completely dynamic. On the flip side bored players can still lay siege to the capital... *shrug*

DevilStick wrote:
WoW is the Wal-Mart of MMOs, in the sense that its an economic gorilla other would-be MMOs can't ignore. However, as stated above, that doesn't mean quality niche games can't exist, they simply have to differentiate themselves, or do it so much better that they overcome player inertia, in the form of not wanting to abandon existing characters and friends.

Yeah I think the problem is that the giant gorilla of WoW has made it so that larger companies are more interested in trying to accomplish the same themselves rather than looking at the fact that they could still make SOME money in a niche market. I still think a decent niche game is possible but I think it will have to come from a small no name company and as such will probably fail to deliver as complete an experience as a game like WoW. Obviously most small name devs aren't going to be able to secure 30+ million over a few years to develop a game on a grand scale for a niche market even though I think if done right even a game as costly as WoW could still turn a profit. Some niche markets could probably support 500k+ subs but the game would have to be wholly for that market and not simply the same old sh*t with a slight twist.

DevilStick wrote:
WoW is the Wal-Mart of MMOs, in the sense that its an economic gorilla other would-be MMOs can't ignore. However, as stated above, that doesn't mean quality niche games can't exist, they simply have to differentiate themselves, or do it so much better that they overcome player inertia, in the form of not wanting to abandon existing characters and friends.

Are you implying that WoW lacks quality?

Eve Online, Eq, EQ2, UO still maintain very healthy communities. Lineage is still a pretty large community as well. The problem is that publishers, like with every ether damn game, see one that is successful, have a board-room meeting, release their clone in assumption that their game is the same, and the same people will play it. It happened with Doom, Unreal, Quake 3, Diablo, etc. WoW clones and imitators, and half assed illigitimate children are killing MMOs. And as each piece of crap comes and goes, good and innovative ideas get tossed aside-Auto Assault anyone?

BadMojo wrote:
Are you implying that WoW lacks quality?

Walmart doesn't really lack quality. Most of what they sell is the same thing you can buy anywhere else. They just don't offer anything high quality or "special" either.

Oops fixed quoting!

mven wrote:

Walmart doesn't really lack quality. Most of what they sell is the same thing you can buy anywhere else. They just don't offer anything high quality or "special" either.

Walmart totally lacks quality.
http://fastcompany.com/magazine/102/...

Haha amusing article but seriously most of what they sell isn't sh*t. It's just average. They offer nothing special or unique. What they offer is a little of everything at a good price. You don't have to deal with the hassle of a specialty store. Kinda like WoW. There is nothing insanely innovative about any of the systems in WoW, however you can get a good bit of the MMO experience at a pretty low cost (less time investment/hassle). You don't have to deal with the hassle of a specialty shop (i.e. no having to overlook the lame systems you deal with in niche low budget mmos).

The innovation of both WalMart and WoW is in appealing to the masses. The snapper product in your article is like a system or challenge you would find in a niche game. For example the crafting system in Vanguard. Whereas the cheap mower you would find at WalMart is more like the crafting system in WoW. Both serve the same basic function however the one in Vanguard is better designed and will last a lot longer (provide you with more gameplay). But to have access to the snapper mower (Vanguard's crafting) you have to deal with the hassle of going to a specialty shop (put up with Vanguard's many problems). Whereas with WalMart (WoW) you know it's a one stop shop so you can snag a cheap mower while still finding everything else you need.

How's that for bad analogies?!?!

WoW has taken everything that is cheap about MMORPGS through the years, packaged it in a simple engine that allows anyone to play it without making it look too cheap, and brought the genre to the masses. If WoW were a rock group, it would be a smarmy-pop 'boy band.' No ounce of originality or real musical -- songs consist of a spouting of poorly constructed cliche hooks built on a backdrop of weak-techno-ish beats and everyone is more impressed with their dancing than their singing. WoW fits that perfectly. Content? Nah, not there. Amusing to watch, sure. Easy to admire -- crap, I'll never make that much money being that vapid.

All aside, I don't believe that everyone wants to be THE hero, most people simply want a world in which heroes (both PCs and NPCs) do exist and that they can rub elbows with them. The problem with EQ, EQII, AC, ACII and all of the other games without a pre-existing mythos attached to them was that no one really cared if you met Queen blah-blah, or Chieftan whoo-whoo. UO had that mythos, though they never really leaned heavily on it. Reading the LOTR post, many people are excited about seeing Frodo or Aragorn. Unfortunately, making these characters signposts for quests ultimately ruin the experience for any player. As for NPCs, I've remembered many times seeing someone who had made themselves famous, or infamous, go jaunting across my screen and, sadly enough, I experience a bit of excitement at just seeing/getting killed/grouping with them. These are the moments you'll have to bottle up to be at least initially successful. If you want to make your own mythos, fine, but you've really got a large obstacle to overcome with having real, meaningful interplay between players and your world. Having some of that already built in usually costs a bit of money for the licensing rights, which brings me to the question as to why no one yet has ever really leaned heavily on that which is free -- history or mythology. I know of a few games coming out that works on this, but who here doesn't like that? DAoC leaned lightly on history/mythos, though there never was a Lancelot or a Arthur, Tristran or Rolf the Walker running amok in our virtual worlds. Mostly, it was used to sell the game and to provide some starting point for people to understand what roles they might play in the world, though MMORPG standards of the time really water down your influence.

Blah. I know a few that are coming out, a Rome one and a Pirate one, but this is totally unmined territory?

Who wouldn't like to play in a world of the 100 Years War era, the Fall of the Roman Empire, or even older, using the ancient Mediterranian or Near East world? Awesome, awesome, and awesome.

BlackSheep wrote:
If you want to make your own mythos, fine, but you've really got a large obstacle to overcome with having real, meaningful interplay between players and your world.

I think the problem here is one of people blowing through content too fast. If you want to have a player experience a bit more "awe" when they finally meet an important NPC then you need a bit of time to build their "legend" for folks.

For example: If any player can run up to the king/queen at level 5 and start a conversation as part of a quest then meeting them isn't going to be very awe inspiring. If however the King/Queen regularly delivers speeches/decrees to the town while surrounded by armored guards that don't let anyone anywhere near them, or travels through town in a guarded closed up carriage or something surrounded by guards that don't let the masses come close, etc... then when you finally are granted an audience it might mean a bit more. If the entire time you are playing the game you can interract with NPCs who pass along stories of heroes and frequently remind you of their deeds then perhaps when you encounter one it will mean a bit more.

I guess the underlying problem is that most of these games seem to focus too heavily on being "max level". With any kind of linear level based system people who can't play as much will get upset that they can't be "max level" too if you slow down progression enough to force people to actually experience content rather than just run through it. I dunno. I'm sure there'd be some way to make a legend out of NPCs who didn't exist prior to that game. *shrug*

mven wrote:

I think the problem here is one of people blowing through content too fast. If you want to have a player experience a bit more "awe" when they finally meet an important NPC then you need a bit of time to build their "legend" for folks.

For example: If any player can run up to the king/queen at level 5 and start a conversation as part of a quest then meeting them isn't going to be very awe inspiring. If however the King/Queen regularly delivers speeches/decrees to the town while surrounded by armored guards that don't let anyone anywhere near them, or travels through town in a guarded closed up carriage or something surrounded by guards that don't let the masses come close, etc... then when you finally are granted an audience it might mean a bit more. If the entire time you are playing the game you can interract with NPCs who pass along stories of heroes and frequently remind you of their deeds then perhaps when you encounter one it will mean a bit more.

I guess the underlying problem is that most of these games seem to focus too heavily on being "max level". With any kind of linear level based system people who can't play as much will get upset that they can't be "max level" too if you slow down progression enough to force people to actually experience content rather than just run through it. I dunno. I'm sure there'd be some way to make a legend out of NPCs who didn't exist prior to that game. *shrug*

I think we should be careful about how we define 'content,' and we should really focus on relevant content. Meaningful content is something that your audience can, in some fashion, connect with and immerse themselves in. If I use a book analogy (which seems rather appropriate because MMORPGS ultimately should tell stories that we're involved in) the current genre is stuck at the "Choose your own adventure" stage. Most of you remember those, right? You flip pages and you basically have a different book every time, if done correctly. However, it also goes without saying that you could simply look for the ending and work your way back if you chose in the same way that someone can just grind to max level, if they so chose. The current market tends to cater to this type of player, worrying not so much about inserting truly relevant content and focusing instead on the mechanics.

A true case of the tail wagging the dog, I suppose. No recent MMORPG is truly concerned about the immersive content in-between. They claim to be, but all I see are thinly disguised treadmills with only the promises of something greater just beyond. Except there is no 'beyond;' on the treadmill, you can only get of by going backward. I don't think the answer to the 'content' question, which is what is really at stake, is a simple matter of 'making people slow down' -- might have worked for EQ, but I think most of us are beyond that sort of torture now. It ends up being more about creating something that people actually care about and want to be concerned with, in the same manner that books can immerse its reader in the content it provides.

Man,
I think I just rambled and vomited some response up. Hope that sort of made sense...

BlackSheep wrote:
A true case of the tail wagging the dog, I suppose. No recent MMORPG is truly concerned about the immersive content in-between. They claim to be, but all I see are thinly disguised treadmills with only the promises of something greater just beyond. Except there is no 'beyond;' on the treadmill, you can only get of by going backward. I don't think the answer to the 'content' question, which is what is really at stake, is a simple matter of 'making people slow down' -- might have worked for EQ, but I think most of us are beyond that sort of torture now. It ends up being more about creating something that people actually care about and want to be concerned with, in the same manner that books can immerse its reader in the content it provides.

Right right, my point was not really to make people "slow down" to actually experience the content by simply increasing the duration of the "grind". It's more that the grind needs to be eliminated to the point where players are forced to involve themselves in the content. Even in EQ the focus was still on levelling rather than "experiencing". As long as you have a game that involves levelling as a means of advancement folks are going to do everything they can to find the path of least resistance to get there as quickly as possible... In EQ this was grind grind grind on mobs... In WoW it's grind grind grind on quests... Either way people are ignoring content in favor of advancement so unless they already know part of the story having them feel anything for any of the NPCs in the game is unlikely.

How to fix this I dunno. If you remove levelling or change its influence on the game you have to provide some other goal for players to keep them playing. Simply advancing the plotline of the story won't be enough for a lot of people. Things like more involved quests and scripted events would help to a degree. I think they are doing some of this with LOTRO. I just don't know if you could include enough of it in a game to keep a constant state of immersion without killing your servers not to mention working out the insane amount of bugs that occur in scripted events. *shrug*

mven wrote:

How to fix this I dunno. If you remove levelling or change its influence on the game you have to provide some other goal for players to keep them playing. Simply advancing the plotline of the story won't be enough for a lot of people. Things like more involved quests and scripted events would help to a degree. I think they are doing some of this with LOTRO. I just don't know if you could include enough of it in a game to keep a constant state of immersion without killing your servers not to mention working out the insane amount of bugs that occur in scripted events. *shrug*

Scripted events are not the answer though. The magic bullet might be making events that are random appear scripted and, most importantly, malleable to the players, but having programmers running scripted events hasn't worked and won't work because of the time and implementation of such things is awful. The original EQ, taking unknowing advantage of the state of games at the time, took advantage of this. Yes, levelling was slow, but in-game content was derived mostly by players while they waited for mobs to pop or to mez, or for a myriad of other reasons. Did this make it a bit of a chatroom? Sure, but content, no matter how off-topic was provided and the impetus to play wasn't just character-centered advancement.

Would that work now? Hell and no. Trying to reach back to the halycon days of this genre, if there ever really was a defining one is certainly tough. Obviously there's enough here to work with, but I think that the game designers are struggling because they've been using anothers' structure and gameplay for so long that they cannot find their way out. Mimicry didn't always have such negative connotations associated with it as a learning style. I think though that our esteemed developers will need to find another bait. Currently, that bait is using well-known mythologies to sell their Everquest games to us, and that will work for awhile, but then? What's the next frontier? MMORPGs are not a flash in the pan; they're here for good, and I think WoW put the exclamation point on that with their insane sales. The question remains, which is really posited by Lovesauce: What's next?

This seems the right time at which to introduce "The Answer!!111!!" I'm working on the second part of the article, which will take into account some of the really high-calibre ideas in this thread's discussion.

I'm convinced that the first "true" MMORPG will need to be more than a dynamic world; it'll need to be a rehabilitation center for players who are going to cramp up once they're off the level treadmill.

Treadmills... WoW surely includes the mechanic of levelling, like many games it feeds you a sense of advancement, but I dont think that it is ABOUT levelling. In fact, they probably nailed the levelling system pretty well, it keeps people rewarded and gives a sense of steady advancement for the early game. I enjoy it most when I'm adventuring with a group of friends, completing quests together, battling it through instances etc. I guess that is what the game is about for me, but am I really that unique? Sure there are times when levelling becomes the objective, but isnt that because folks want a new ability/spell or access to content (instance, questline etc) I mean honestly, whats the alternative to some form of levelling system.. everyone just logs in with full access to skills and equipment? Even Guild Wars which compressed that aspect, still included an advancement system.

Unsure how someone can say WoW doesnt have content like a few posts up. Feature-wise, its got soloing, grouping, pvp zones, battlegrounds, raiding. And its got quest after quest after quest after quest.

WoW lacked innovation? Every genre builds on previous examples. I think WoW took a lot of innovative chances in their design from the death system, to the resting bonus, to the seamless world zones, to the heavy questing system that got people away from random grinding, to implementing capture the flag and quest driven battleground instances and more. I think there are quite a few examples of where it innovates or joins elements only found previously in disparate genres. Maybe the sense of Blizzard's innovation disappears as other devs were quick to bolt on some of what they learned from WoW to their own products.

Equating WoW to Walmart or pop idol band 98 degress, implying its cheap yadda yadda. It's all anti-WoW elite-ism, most likely grown out of the unfulfilled promises of some WoW killer that fell flat on its face. The Blizzard designers took a chance, developing the game with a lot of flexibility to play on various hardware configurations.. immediately accessible to a larger market. I think history is showing how wise a choice that was.

WoW's systems function well and are accessible, doesnt make them cheap or low quality at all. Min/maxers can enjoy taking it to another level. Comparing the tradeskill system in Vanguard with WoW, and saying V tradeskill system will have more 'longevity', well, the proof is in the pudding.. lets see how Vanguard does over time. For now, most of the folks I know enjoy building their professions in WoW as its another area to make a bit of coin and advance a character's specialty.

BadMojo wrote:
DevilStick wrote:
WoW is the Wal-Mart of MMOs, in the sense that its an economic gorilla other would-be MMOs can't ignore. However, as stated above, that doesn't mean quality niche games can't exist, they simply have to differentiate themselves, or do it so much better that they overcome player inertia, in the form of not wanting to abandon existing characters and friends.

Are you implying that WoW lacks quality?

The point I was making in that comparison is in bold.

I was referring more the the Walmart cheap mower analogy, but I wasnt clear enough.

So, Lovesauce, do we get our Answer!!11!!! when we level to 50? Is this all about the end-game of the forum?

I feel so cheated. Turn your phrases and spin your words. I'm waiting as patiently as the French dood that leveled his character to max after the newest WoW expansion hit the shelves.

Irongut wrote:
Treadmills... WoW surely includes the mechanic of levelling, like many games it feeds you a sense of advancement, but I dont think that it is ABOUT levelling. In fact, they probably nailed the levelling system pretty well, it keeps people rewarded and gives a sense of steady advancement for the early game.

The game is designed this way because it is about levelling or more precisely about advancement. WoW provides a streamlined treadmill with a small learning curve and then surrounds it with shiny things to distract people from the fact that they are grinding (i.e. quests). Once you have hit the cap on levels it provides a whole new treadmill in the form of gear/raiding. Pretty much the standard fare for any fantasy MMO EQ included. WoW just disguises it better. Unfortunately as soloing is so much easier in WoW most people in my experience tend to pretty much disregard everything outside of advancement to get through it as quickly as possible. In EQ etc people had to work together to a degree and thus the community seemed to form at a bit earlier level. As community formed advancement became less important yadda yadda yadda...

Maybe it was just me. I don't know. I have played a good number of MMOs and never have I felt the whole "Must get to max level where the fun is" so much as I did in WoW. *shrug*

Irongut wrote:
WoW lacked innovation? Every genre builds on previous examples. I think WoW took a lot of innovative chances in their design from the death system, to the resting bonus, to the seamless world zones, to the heavy questing system that got people away from random grinding, to implementing capture the flag and quest driven battleground instances and more.

I think Blizzard's strongest point has always been taking existing ideas, giving them a sexified spit shine and then delivering them to the masses. WoW is no exception and their numbers certainly seem to imply that they hit their mark pretty damned well.

Irongut wrote:
Equating WoW to Walmart or pop idol band 98 degress, implying its cheap yadda yadda

My implication was not that WoW was cheap in the sense that it was poorly crafted and/or designed... It was more that like Walmart w/ the inexpensive mowers it made the product more accessible to the masses. Your Average Joe who needs to cut his lawn isn't going to find a specialty lawnmower shop on the interwebs to buy a snapper. He's going to hit up a store like Walmart or Sears and pick up something that does the job without all of the bells and whistles. Just like your Average Joe gamer isn't going to want to deal with the hassle poorly designed systems just to get to try out the amazing XYZ system in another MMO. He's going to play WoW where everything is accessible, functional, and stable.

Irongut wrote:
For now, most of the folks I know enjoy building their professions in WoW as its another area to make a bit of coin and advance a character's specialty.

The difference is in a crafting system like Vanguard's you can use that as your only means of advancement. It is designed so that crafting takes about the same amount of time as actually levelling up your characters. WoW's tradeskills are more like a brief way to waste a little time or make a little extra cash. VG's tradeskills offer pretty much a completely different way to play your characters and are simply much more complex. VGs system obviously has more longevity as an alternate means of play... Whether or not VG outlasts WoW over the years has very little to do with which game has the "better" crafting system. *shrug*