We have heard time and time again that MMORPGs need some new and fresh in order to become the next big hit. Rarely though, do the people who preach this ever offer a solution. If they do, they end up actually being bad ideas when seriously put to thought. I myself have also spent some time thinking about what could be done; what could be great restart button to the MMORPG.
I have played many, many...many games in my lifetime (90% RPGs of some type) so try and take what I enjoyed about a variety of them and mesh them together to make something different. Ultimately though, this will fail because the process itself contradicts itself, and I feel that is what many companys are doing. The reason is because I, and others, are trying to use the old to make the new. Yes, its possible to make something new by adding a fresh coat or putting a spin on something done in the past, but in the end you cannot truely call it original.
Now, I also realized this, so began to try and decide the base concepts of an MMORPG. If a base concept could be changed, then even if you used old concepts as well, the experience would be so different, it could be considered new. The first thing I thought of was Experience Points, the age old EXP.
Experience Points are in every RPG whether its tabletop, console, MMO or anything in between. Even if a game does not have "levels" there are skill experience points or stat experience points or something of the like. Why is this? Because we needed a way to take the intangible idea of effort and solidify it so that it could be measured, compared, and displayed. What better way than with a number? Player A has 500 EXP, Player B has 875. Player B has to have played longer, worked harder, or done something so that he is represented as putting more effort into the game. Now, obviously this had to be done. If Player A who played for 1 hour, and Player B who played for 100 had the same abilities and access to the same features, what's the point in playing for 100 hours? Thus, we come to point two: being better than someone else.
This isn't really a point for RPGs in general, but all games, especially online ones. Someone has to be "good" at the game and someone has to be "bad". A "bad" player should not be able to "beat" the "good" player. Whether this means the "good" player has a fast time on a track, can end a level with more HP, has better gear, or can kill someone expoentially more times than they die, they are the better one. Again, obviously this has to be done. It kind of goes back to effort. More effort means you should have something to show for it and "being good" is what you have to show. Now, unlike with EXP, this one doesn't always end up being fair, because part of it involves skill. Someone with faster reflexes is going to be better at an FPS, someone who understands how the skills really work will kill bosses faster in action games, and someone who knows how to break and turn at exactly the right time is going to win the racing games. These are all "learnable" though, it's just some people pick it up faster.
For the MMORPG, this usually involves items. The good players have better items which ultimately also involves higher level and more effort. In this respect, MMORPGs are more "fair" because skill is less involved, its mostly pure effort. Better items will usually allow you to kill faster and take down harder enemies, whether they are AI mobs or other players. And thus is the end goal, to be able to defeat everything, therefore being better than those people who cannot (which is most). MMOs with PvP are special in that "everything" includes "everyone" and this opens up a neverending quest, and of course, neverending quest means neverending supply of money for the companies.
Ok, so so far we have a measurable quantity for effort and constant strive to be better as base requirements for an MMORPG. The latter though, depends on the former, since becoming better has to come from expending more effort. And there you have it, the single way to make an entirely original and brand new MMORPG: abolish the Experience Point.
But what else is there? The only other option is to make a completely skill-based game, which is pretty much an FPS, but even then you have a kill count that uses numbers to show your better. You can combine the two and make an FPS with a leveing or stat or item system, and believe me I personally love that, but we all know thats not the change we're talking about. Numbers are the sole way in which a person can be visually displayed as better than someone else. I have thought about this, and even discussed it with a few gamer friends, and it is the true MMORPG Dilemma.
So think about it, how can effort be represented differently? Or is there another way that players can feel superior to others without a sheet that says their numbers are higher?
The solution could be a brand new future of gaming.