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An Ongoing Tribute to my own lameness.....

General random thoughts about gaming, both within and outside of the MMO genre.

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

Do We Really Want or Need A Persistent World?

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday April 27 2008 at 8:04PM
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So last week I talked about static parties and got a pretty positive response. Those who hadn't done static parties before, and there were certainly a lot of you, wanted to try them. Those that had done static parties advocated for them. That's all cool, but it leads to a really interesting question: Why do we even need the massive part of the MMORPG thing?

I've tread this ground before and keep coming back to it. If the only reason you play is to hang out with friends, PvP, or meet new people, then is the persistent world really necessary? Having played several non-massive online RPGs (Diablo, Phantasy Star Online, Neverwinter Nights, Monster Hunter, etc.), I honestly think that the persistent world is the second biggest reason, next to guilds, that MMORPGs suck.

Yeah, I'm sure there are few of you sharpening the teeth on your chainsaws and cleaning your deer rifles in preparation to hunt me down for muttering that, but put the arsenal aside for a minute and just think about it.  You can meet people in a town hub or lobby. NWN was able to host 90 players on one server and some FPS games are capable of hosting 150 players at once! Portal together a bunch of instanced PvP capture points and you have RvR without the auto-attack snorefest that is current MMORPG combat. Even if an instance can only hold 64 players, what's the largest raid you've ever been in? 25? 40? Hell, you can even have auction houses with fully instanced games. There was really no reason why something like Diablo couldn't have let players sell the items that they acquired to one another through and auction house system. Well... Aside from the fact that the auction house hadn't even been invented at the time that Diablo 2 was released that is.

So we've already established that nothing is really lost in a fully instanced MORPG, but what is actually lost because of a persistent world? Well, mostly you lose individual bandwidth. MMORPG developers try to compensate for this by using expensive server clusters and some truly obtuse netcode. But even with the most cutting edge equipment and programming, you're still stuck with a tic based game. This means that much of the game is on autopilot in order to limit the amount of traffic both to and from the servers. Furthermore, persistent worlds dilute the actual content of the game with unnecessary downtime and travel time. How much time in an MMORPG do you just spend sitting on your ass waiting to heal? How much time do you spend just getting from one place to the next? Again, this is to help limit the amount of traffic to and from the servers. You also lose a considerable amount of what makes an RPG compelling in the first place. Primarily, you lose the story and the logistical planning. Since all you have to do is spam potions, heals, or sit around until your health regenerates, you don't have to plan ahead as to what you take with or how to approach this or that group of mobs. Since the game is just one large series of quest vendors, the only story you'll get is from the flavor text of the quests. That's a poor substitution for the branching story lines and dialogs of Morrowind or KOTOR.

With the heavy weights of the persistent world thrown off, online RPGs have the freedom to engage in storyline and bring back several elements that seem to have been lost from MMORPGs. Cut scenes, branching dialog, puzzles, damage that doesn't go away until you actually heal yourself, requiring character to eat and drink to stay alive, true real-time OR turn based combat, you get the picture.

Anyway, I'm sure that a few of you feel otherwise so please, explain to me exactly what it is that persistent worlds bring to the table. Please tell me the advantages of persistent worlds that make up for all that they remove from the game. In short, tell me why you think I'm wrong. I'm sure that there are many of you that do. Of course, many of you are holding on for that living, breathing, alternate reality to escape into forever. It will never happen.

bpharris9014 writes:

I agree. Very few MMORPGs actually try to tap the creative value of a persistent world, though they all tap the money pretty well.

EVE utilizes the value of a persistent world with conquerable turf. That actually counts for something. It looks like Age of Conan could do something similar.

POTBS: Conquering a port basically just makes you welcome there. You're not really unlocking anything amazing by taking over a port, except creating a slight annoyance for the other faction.

WOW is really thin content-wise. Raiding is pretty fun but, like all raiding in MMORPGs, sitting there for six hours through a bunch of wipes, LD's and disorganized leadership gets real old. The typical 1P game has much richer content than WOW.

I hear L2 has conquerable castles but the grind at level 18 was so bad I quit.

In general, there is no real reason to make MMORPGs other than to charge $15/month in server fees for content that might get updated three times per year.

Sun Apr 27 2008 9:05PM Report
Majinash writes:

I disagree that nothing is lost when you remove the persistent world.  I enjoy PvP, a lot.  I'm not the kind of person who runs around ganking low levels (so i like to think i'm not an asshole) but I like something to happen when i PvP.

In WoW, PvP was interesting at first. my first world PvP was amazing, my first AV was amazing.  but because PvP in WoW really doesn't result in anything (no death penalty either) it gets old pretty fast.  its the same way with instanced games.  In guild wars fights have no context.  its either you against a random team, or you against another guild. and even GvG simply gives you... rank.

Lets look at the other side, completely non-instanced games. EVE and L2.  EVE has amazing PvP BECAUSE it is all one world. if you want to own a space station, your corp has to find some nice realestate and TAKE it. and that takes it away from someone else, who will take it from someone else and so on.  Actions change the world, they change the politics. deep space in EVE belongs to alliances, the players create a new experience (flying into enemy owned space and mining their astroids, or blowing up their stuff).

L2 boasts castles and clan halls.  Massive PvP over castles to get access to some amazing stuff (flying around in L2 is fun).  alliances are created, they become enemies and suddenly the politics of the server effect you.  you can see clans killing each other, you can kill them while they are red to take their gear, which further complicates things because now they don't like you, and you can't hide in an instance.

in GW? there is no such thing as an enemy. maybe a guild you see a lot in the arena, but what are they going to do? the game is played entirely on your terms.  which while it can be enjoyable detracts from some wonderful things.

Not saying which is better.  just saying that a lot of amazing things are lost when you take away the persistent world.

Sun Apr 27 2008 9:34PM Report
JB47394 writes:

You may have lost me.  Are you suggesting a genre that takes the structure of a single-player RPG and applies it to groups?  That is, the entire world is constructed from a series (or tree) of chapters that the group works through?  If so, I can see how your thinking on static grouping would lead to this article.  It would seem to produce an experience rather like pen and paper games.  I think NeverWinter Nights was supposed to be that game.

When I play MMOs, the experience that I'm looking for is one of exploration, of finding the new in the small and the large.  I don't care about killing dragons, building castles and being Big Man On Campus.  That stuff is hard work.  I'd like a game that lets me wander about, seeing what other people are doing, learning a new activity in the game, exploring the wilds, joining in with others on some task for as long as it amuses me, sailing to distant lands, etc.  All I really want is content that I can look at, toy with and experiment with.  Having piles of other people in that world is a great way to have that environment be dynamic and changing.

The hard part is finding enough people who share my vision of what constitutes fun.  So many of the players want to do destructive things to everyone else and the game environment itself.  They remind me of the crew on the Exxon Valdez in "Waterworld".

Current games fall flat on their faces in any attempt at providing the sort of experience I'd like to have.  I have my own laundry list of gripes about MMOs, but to get the entertainment that I'm after, I definitely need a big, persistent world.

I wish you luck in finding the game that you're after.

Sun Apr 27 2008 10:01PM Report
etomai writes:

I never got the appeal of MMOs until one day whan I was trying out WoW and was struck that the area I was seeing in some sense existed independently of me.  I could log off and it was still there, other people could come and stand where I had been.  There's something powerful about that, even if current games are too static to leverage it much.

As the poster above me says, they do leverage it in that having random other people makes it feel more dynamic.  Particularly with a new game in the early levels, there's a lot of unplanned interactions, ad hoc groups, and generally playing with or against a bunch of other people who happen to be there.  Those times were some of the most enjoyable for me.  Once the games matures to the point where you spend most of your time in a city typing "LFG" or meeting up with friends at prearranged times, that is lost.  At that point it devolves into what might as well be a hub-based game.

Honestly, I find it far less interesting at that point.

Sun Apr 27 2008 10:57PM Report
Anofalye writes:

I don't NEED a persistent world, but my gaming experience is better with 1.  However, it doesn't have to be big.  Think in a City of Villains way, about 6 zones + tons of instancing.


Even as a PUG lover, most of my group we build by using the LFG tools, however, the broadcast channel, the OOC channels and the like are definitely a HUGE help into finding a critical key member.  Sometimes you need a precise class, and after you Broadcast your request, someone tell you they can SWITCH character.


This is part of the community thingy.  See, player A proposes to switch character to group YOU.  I don't see what can be done in game which could be nicer than that.  Now maybe that player is just naturally nice, or maybe that player is nice with YOU, but in either is developping the community.


In a non-persistant world, such a player would just be soloing on his solo-toon and never see your request.


Losing such a player from my grouping pool...= BAD.  See, I don't need the persistant world, I need the PLAYERS in it.  City of Villains meets this criteria beyond any expectation I could have.  See, if the group is doing experiencing troubles, the presence of that player would comfort me, I would apologize in tells, we would talk and wonder what we could do to improve the group.  The group isn't even started and there is already a complicity between 2 players.

Sun Apr 27 2008 11:01PM Report
Jimmy_Scythe writes:

I totally agree that Eve Online is probably the only game that actually does a persistent world correctly. The problem with Eve is that it takes almost as much work as real life and is about as compelling as filling out bank loan applications.

As for community... Diablo, Neverwinter Nights and Phantasy Star all had very strong communities. Neverwinter Nights was more like an MMORPG in the sense that people became attached to a specific server while Diablo and Phantasy Star Online achieved their community though simple lobbies.

BTW, RvR is meaningless as long their can't be a winner. Eve online currently has a winner, and now everyone else is left to battle for third or fourth place. The problem with persistent PvP is the fact that winners stay winners which leaves everyone else to fight over the scraps.

Sun Apr 27 2008 11:21PM Report
Nightbringe1 writes:

Umm, the largest Raid I've ever been on was 80 something, just last month when Everquest did Fables Planes of Power. I currently raid with 54 people 5 nights a week (current cap for most raid content in EQ) with people on the wait list some nights because the raid is full.

The large persistant world means I've literally know some of these people since the day the server went online, with at least half my guild being people I came up thought the levels with many years ago.

The persistand world is what brought me to MMO's and it is what keeps me playing them. If the world was not persistant and did not allow me to interact with hundreds, or even thousands of other players, I would just go back to single player games like Oblivion.

If you view MMO's as an auto-attack Snorefest, we will just have to agree to disagree. Even in Everquest I have NO autoattack, NONE. Every spell I cast is a seperate, deliberate action. What I don't have is a twitchy button-mashing fest. What spell I cast and when I cast it is based on a reason, and not simply because my trigger finger is faster than yours.

I personally don't care for FPS type games, they have their place in the gaming comunity, but I, and many others, will not play them. This is as it should be, each to his own. Please don't insult a game style just because it is not the one that suits you, there are just as many people that dislike your gaming style.

Sun Apr 27 2008 11:27PM Report
Seglo writes:

I have played quite a few online games, instanced and persistent. I prefer Instanced.  When I move out into the environment, I like the surprizes that come with the game, but far too often the surprizes that come with other "human" players are less than desirable. As you said, there is always the city, town, station, or such to meet and mingle. I find that cool and have met some great ppl there. I get to keep the option of walking away from the numbskulls that are enevitably present in all MMOs.

It would seem to me that quiet a few of the games are opting for persistent to facilitate PvP. Guild Wars states that it is their goal to "get" more PvE'ers into their PvP environment. Hellgate:London is trying hard to push it's PvP. Eve is about as PvP pure as any game I have seen. Persistent is probably the next logical step for PvP, but for PvE, I think the game companies need to seriously rethink the change. 

According to the poll on the main page, over 58% of gamers (who answered) are against or indifferent towards PvP. That would seem like a huge number to bet "my" living on without some serious thought. Well, we are just the gamers, we buy a game and if it fails for us, we shelf it and wait for the next big thing.  Everyone has their gaming wants/needs. I don't go near Eve, Hellgate was broken in the retail box, and I play GuildWars-PvE, so I doubt that I'll go near GW2.  But HEY, I still have my Diablo!

Sun Apr 27 2008 11:40PM Report
Tatum writes:

The persistant world feature is what makes MMOs unique.  If that was removed, the genre wouldn't really have a selling point, well, not for me at least.  IMO, single player RPGs tell a much better story, many other genres have more engaging game play, FPS and RTS are more challenging...

The idea of a persistant world, populated by actual players is what draws me to the genre, even though most current MMOs do their best to ignore this feature.

Sun Apr 27 2008 11:47PM Report
Gishgeron writes:

Well, I guess the killer for me is that most MMO's aren't actually 'populated' by players.  Its invaded by them, in a way.  They exist, usually, separate from it...only appearing and interacting with it in a viral manner, consuming from it.  They have nothing in the world, they simply interact with it.  Worse, the world does not recognize their interaction...opting instead to simply ignore the actions of the player and move along as though nothing is ever happening.  NPC A will always say "Hello" and NPC B will always ask me to kill some boars. 

  The story is always presented in a past tense manner....where the NPC does not change as a result of the story, and remains as he was.  It is as though you are reading a memoir, and not actually forging history.  You are doing nothing, because its not a persistent world.  Its one really big instance, where everything has been set in stone for you...and your actions bear no consequence.

  So, to address your blog, it is not the persistent world which is is the utter lack of one that is truly the heart of this issue.  We are being billed for worlds, and are getting play by plays in which we can, somewhat, interact with it.  However, regardless of success or failure...the end always remains the same.  NPC always says "hello" and NPC B still wants those boars dead.  The boars are even still there...neglecting the fact that I slaughtered their whole tribe and left them no viable way to reproduce.

  The current "persistent world" ignores me.

Mon Apr 28 2008 12:46AM Report
Beatnik59 writes:

I find it ironic, Jimmy, that while MMOs have never been more popular as they are today, the "massive" part of MMOs gets in the way of what many players say they want.

Because I agree with you that we really don't need massive online when "the only reason" we "play is to hang out with friends, PvP, or meet new people."

We had "hanging out with friends" covered as early as Diablo II or NWN.  And with sports games tapping into online multiplayer, there are more ways online ways to hang out with friends than ever before in a peer to peer fashion.  At a certain point, the massive multiplayer gets in the way of hanging out with friends, because you have to deal with every other jamoke who disrupts the scene.

And as far as PvP is concerned, Quake and Counterstrike can do it so much better and more realistically than MMOs ever could.  Not only that, but you don't have to worry about twinks.

But what about meeting new people online you haven't met before?  Well, now we have Facebook and MySpace, which gives us the real thing as opposed to going through the filter in between person A and B.  At a certain point, the game becomes a barrier to polite discourse (as anyone around here who has been on threads already knows).

The one thing that the "massive" format does better than peer to peer is the one thing nobody seems to want these days: situational improvisational roleplay.  We're not talking pen and paper D&D jams, but more like LARP without the lameness that comes with LARPing in public areas.  It's the MUD and MUSH aspect we used to enjoy when all we had was GOPHER on the school mainframe.  It's co-creating a world and a playspace where everyone works together to make the space believable and intriguing. 

The last vestige of that seemed to have died with SWG's NGE, and buried when Seed was buried.  And it died because nobody--neither the developers nor the new players this genre started attracting--really saw the point of creating a shared fiction.  Rather, games these days are about consuming fiction.

But we don't need the "massive" format to consume contend, twink up, and play geek football.  As your blog rightly claims, peer to peer is just so much more convenient, both from the user aspect, and the production aspect.  instanced peer to peer allows consumers to engage in the type of fun they want without all the hassle.  Instanced peer to peer allows producers to give each player what they want to suit their needs.

Mon Apr 28 2008 12:57AM Report
godpuppet writes:

A lot of this boils down to perspective and opinion. Everyones fun factor is different and I cant by any amount of words, persuade you to enjoy the same things I do. Ive come to the conclusion that you prefer twitch RPG's, lots of action with some story, fortunately for you they will exist for years to come as you share the same demographic as 90% of console gamers.

Focusing on your points, you said MMO's had auto attack, yet all the games you listed you had played had the exact same system. Also when you generalize, you dont take into consideration the steps MMO's have taken in recent years away from auto attack. Most newer MMO's are actually very skill orientated.

Bandwidth? Which persistant MMO's cut down to save bandwidth? I only know of a two persistant MMO's. Vanguard and World of Warcraft, Asherons call 2 was persistant (kinda) but its dead now so. Vanguard was a major laggfest but WoW, the amount of content and polish when compared to prior MMO's was astonishing and I dont think it deserves any critisism for cutback.

I get confused here, you say you like to plan ahead, but you dont like downtime. If you play newer MMO's that concentrate on twitch based combat, you notice people dont slow down or stop. So how you manage to "plan ahead" is beyond me.

Most of what you've said has generalized, if your going to provide an arguement, provide examples.

You will never get the same online storylines as you get in singleplayer RPG's its just the nature of the concept. Fortunately things are improving, with instances you do get a sense of storyline. Unfortunately this is hindered by players who do not wait and by emphasis on 40 man raids.

Eating and drinking in an MMO? now your going into RPing, they ahd this in EQ, but powergaming killed it off. I have to say alot of you've said is very contradictory to your prior points. You hate downtime, but you want to eat? Presumably you'd want the consequences of not eating, which would be downtime. No?

Mon Apr 28 2008 2:10AM Report
Melf_Himself writes:

A lot of people blogging on this site have talked recently about how FFA factional PvP with group-based rewards seem to be a good idea for the future. This consists of things like "faction X" launched an attack on some town of "faction Y", and overtook it.

If everything's instanced, you can't have content like that... countless attacks can be launched, but nothing really changes. Misses out on a gameplay dynamic with pretty massive appeal imo. Guild Wars has instanced factional PvP, but a) you can't invade actual towns, there's just a battle line on the map representing your faction's progress, and b) even once the battle line is far past an enemy town, the enemy can still go there and hang out etc (they miss out on being able to do some exclusive quests, but for the most part not much is altered).

As for the eating thing... has anyone ever played Betrayal at Krondor? This was an old school first person party-based RPG. You had to take rations around with you wherever you went. There were some very awesome moments that I remember having just escaped from a dungeon, being stuck in the wilderness and running around scavenging from bushes and dead animals because my characters were dying from lack of eating.

(food didn't buff you like in WoW, it made your health degenerate when you rest.... which you had to do often, since it was the only way to recover HP other than potions, which were themselves very limited)

The point is, having to eat food can add a really interesting immersion factor (and I am just about the least into RP-ing that you can get), and the food doesn't have to be fancy to give that feeling.

It also makes for cool quests - there was one where you had to obtain membership of a particular temple, and figure out how to seem pious enough for them to accept you... turns out if you ditch all your food, and camp outside their front doors starving for a couple of days, they'll take you in... :)

Mon Apr 28 2008 6:47AM Report
Czech writes:

I have to agree with you on the whole post. Just for the sake of having more players at the same time playing a game, everything good about playing an RPG is cut out. I know this because I have played Neverwinter nights online and the servers were trully unique, you had a story, you had interaction + you didn't have to pay any fee except for the game of course.

Mon Apr 28 2008 7:08AM Report
BlackWatch writes:

Great post.  I like a lot of the ideas that are spinning around now.  It would really be nice to see some dev's respond to some of the things mentioned. 


I've always thought, the more instances = the easier the support model for customer service.  And, aside from the game itself and what goes into it, customer service (as of late) has been the next item on my range of targets.   

Mon Apr 28 2008 8:55AM Report
BadSpock writes:

I've said before, and I'll say again... that I believe the "future" of MMOs is going to rely on private, instanced, single-player-esque content as the primary means of story telling. 

Age of Conan is really the first I know of to really make headway towards this, though LOTRO has similar. 

It's still an online persistent world the rest of the time, will all kinds of side story and content etc. etc. but the main story is told in a single player or small party (static group) setting. 

Imagine Mass Effect, where you have 4-5 planets that are part of the "main story" and dozens and dozens of "side" missions and planets. In the game I see, the main story missions are instanced, either private or for you and your small group, while the rest of the galaxy is open world and persisent like the MMOs we currently see. 

I think Bioware's MMO is really going to be the first to embrace this concept 100%.

Mon Apr 28 2008 10:53AM Report
streea writes:

I think I just like the feeling of a world existing when I'm not there. Meeting random people, grouping up and then just having fun... exploring... while these things can be done in non-persistent worlds, it's all planned. There's no randomness of meeting up with someone at a location, nor does it feel like exploration is worthwhile since and area is just generated for a certain task.

There are perks and negatives for everything. I've seen cutscenes in persistent worlds where your character in the world is just standing still for the scene to end, and stories, and there's nothing keeping game makers from doing more involved stories within an instance while less-involved quests are outside.

I think it really comes down to the fact that I don't want to play a game, I want to play IN a game.

Mon Apr 28 2008 11:53AM Report
JB47394 writes:

streea: "I think I just like the feeling of a world existing when I'm not there."

And wouldn't it be marvelous if something changed while we were away?  :)

Mon Apr 28 2008 1:38PM Report
vajuras writes:

Heerboya- "Imagine Mass Effect, where you have 4-5 planets that are part of the "main story" and dozens and dozens of "side" missions and planets. In the game I see, the main story missions are instanced, either private or for you and your small group, while the rest of the galaxy is open world and persisent like the MMOs we currently see. "

You dont need an MMO for that, Neverwinter nights and other games will accomplish that feat wayyyyy better. Mini-MMO is what you want- like NWN

Jimmy_scythe - "BTW, RvR is meaningless as long their can't be a winner. Eve online currently has a winner, and now everyone else is left to battle for third or fourth place. The problem with persistent PvP is the fact that winners stay winners which leaves everyone else to fight over the scraps."

That's not an accurate assumption. BoB used to be #1 and now they've fallen. Go to CCP's web site and you can view an actual top 10 list that shows Alliances that own the most sovereign space. Maybe you're thinking about some other MMO but its not mathematically accurate for EVE.

On topic:

I of course dont share the author's views. I play EVE Online and prefer fully persistant worlds that I can impact a make a difference in. Instanced games like Guild Wars, LOTRO, and their ilk have their place true- but this blog is more applicable to those pseudo-MMOs. But I am glad the author recognizes EVE represents what a real persistant is. It's not LOTRO, thats an entirely different genre

"I've said before, and I'll say again... that I believe the "future" of MMOs is going to rely on private, instanced, single-player-esque content as the primary means of story telling. 

Age of Conan is really the first I know of to really make headway towards this, though LOTRO has similar. "

Well then you are banking on a losing formula. LOTRO and Tabula Rasa are instanced heavily and their performance in the market is disappointing especially for their huge titan budgets. Age of Conan- we will see what happens they are not here yet....

Guild Wars is the closest thing and best instanced MMO-lite success I know of but it does not follow the traditional subscription based model

Mon Apr 28 2008 1:47PM Report
vajuras writes:

Jimmy wrote-

"Furthermore, persistent worlds dilute the actual content of the game with unnecessary downtime and travel time. How much time in an MMORPG do you just spend sitting on your ass waiting to heal? How much time do you spend just getting from one place to the next? Again, this is to help limit the amount of traffic to and from the servers."

Travel times is an incoveince true- but many veteran players recognize the benefits---

1. Enriched PVP. I will see more players on my way to a destination and enjoy dynamic encounters and situations

2. Opportunites ot make friends. In EQ I was once jumped by some mobs and was so close to death and huge XP penalty. Some nearby strangers jumped in and I was sooo grateful

3. There are MMOs *right now* that have realtime dodging, collision, and AIM. Vendetta online, Jumpgate, starport, AC1, and the list goes on and on. The next gen MMOs will have full blown Havok support server side. Auto-attack is here because it has mass appeal- the tech is here for more full blown active combat surely. But perhaps you are correct? But alas, there are MMOs with more active combat. I'd be willing to concede on that point to you of course

I'd also be willing to concede on the point perhaps reducing all the timesinks and pains has more mass appealk. But it adds more to immersion in which DING, you dont care for according to your article on "Immersion is a LIE"

so if "Immersion is a LIE" for you- then travel times and such is a LIE for *you*. But perhaps those of us rare few that appreciate travel have a much different viewpoint

I do like the article however, the points were well presented.

Mon Apr 28 2008 1:55PM Report
vajuras writes:

one thing I forgot mention- I do share your wish for more engaging combat. I hope Spellborn will have engaging combat and waiting on Jumpgate Evolution.

til then, I will continue to watch my ship do its thing in EVE.....

Mon Apr 28 2008 2:46PM Report
Ricardo58 writes:

Of course MMO's do! Other than meet new people, i play MMO's because of the PVE content, the Story, and the Big World created to explore, and PVP is really what im looking for.

If MMO's didn't have the Persistent World i would simply play an FPS game which would basically be the same, PVP till hell freezes over, new ppl to meet, clans/guilds, etc.

Sun Feb 20 2011 11:26AM Report writes:
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