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The General Store

A collection of articles created by me regarding anything that has some faint relation to an MMO(s).

Author: Nalestom

The MMO Cycle- Can We Break It?

Posted by Nalestom Thursday January 15 2009 at 1:30PM
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MMO clones are everywhere. In reality, most MMO's use some variation of the old Dungeons & Dragons system, using virtual dice rolls and true character customization. However, who is at fault for these clones? Who is at fault for the same, repetitive combat system, the same repetitive quest system, the same repetitive tradeskilling system? Is it the producer and developer, or the consumer that has caused this mass production of MMO's?


Game Developers & Producers

Game developers are very scared. I don't blame them. They're tasked to make an excellent game with an assigned release date, and this game must be centered around a certain concept. How they make the game is up to them, and at that point (especially if it's part of a well-known series) all they really do is create a new storyline and fix the issues that buyers pointed out. There is no real creativity behind the scenes. While the finished product may have excelllent graphics and have every single non-porous surface all shiny, there is no real creativity as far as gameplay goes. It's the same old system that had been used for a decade or so.

So, why not create a game that uses a completely new system and different gameplay than what gamers are used to?

Well, as I said before, the game developers are scared. They've seen the games that work and the game that don't work, and they think that by "recreating" the system that works, they might please the fans of the series, or anybody whomight be passing by the game in EB Games.

However, could it also be the buyer's fault too?

Game Buyers

The gamers that buy these MMO's are afraid, but for a completely different reason. They don't want to waste their money on a bad game, and will only buy the games that have been advertised and have been approved by multiple sources (probably including as well). Also, they do not like venturing outside of a series very often, as they think that they might waste their money on these games as well.


So, is it the game developers fault for producing games with a traditional World-of-Warcraft-type system, or the consumer for not taking risks and buying games that may be just as good (or even better) than the traditional games?

I would put the blame on both parties, as both are very afraid of the possible downfalls of creating a game that might be rejected. The way I see it, if people want a game that will bring abut the destruction of World of Warcraft, they can't look for a game that looks just like it. They must broaden their horizons and demand a game that is different.

Because do you really want to see people raving over World of Warcraft for another decade?


Quizzical writes:

All MMOs are clones?  You mean to tell me that A Tale in the Desert and Puzzle Pirates use the same old Dungeons and Dragons system?

That you haven't played a diverse variety of MMOs doesn't mean that they don't exist.

Thu Jan 15 2009 2:25PM Report
brenth writes:

well there has allways been a third option that developers effectivly never use.

In a sucessfull game that is allready a solid proformer  create a research lab zone or a beta existance specificly designed for  trying out new concepts with very heavy player/dev interaction.

start with a "standard reloadable default world and allow some of the devs to experiment with new concepts or approaches with real and diverse players.

ive been very fustrated with current games that are too "arcade" Im looking for a game that is much more raw and realistic like with a food and drink based economy and weather and climate, I allways thought how pointless a desert is in an MMO when you dont require water.  (im talking about idealized reality not raw reality)  developers dont realize how much  immersion and chalange and story content there can be in the natural world.

if you have diverse localized resources it promotes trade and economy especially if you throw in shortages  a group might goto war just to capture a copper area.

Thu Jan 15 2009 2:46PM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

I guess I would ask:  like what?  If you don't want to do quests, what do you want to do?  If you don't want the same type of combat system as another game, what do you want?  If you don't want traditional tradeskilling, what do you want?

I have read several people here decrying the lack of originality in MMO's, but so far not one have I read offering anything different.  What do YOU want to play that is different than what is out there?

I am playing Atlantica, and I have to say it feels incredibly different than all of the small handful of MMO's I have played (EQ, Eve, SWG Pre-NGE, and WAR).  It still has combat, quests and other MMO trappings, but it is definitely original as far as I am concerned.

Would I try something completely different?  Absolutely.  However, even if something offered an original idea, it would still need to be well made to keep people playing.

In order to not be a hypocrite:  How about a game where combat is resolved a la Archon (early 80's, !), an arcade-style minigame where each player brings into battle one of a number of creatures, each with a different style of attack.  Some creatures were melee only and you had to chase the other player all over the screen, usually dodging whatever he was shooting at you.  Another was a wraith creature that was invisible (yes, even to the controlling player;) who when he attacked would become visible and drain energy from the other monster and give it to himself.

Just a thought.;)


Thu Jan 15 2009 2:54PM Report
brenth writes:

as for a tale in the desert  it was definatly different but  all it was was a dev only  concept  and had  many  inbeded flaws that any veteran gamer could spot in seconds.

one of them was  no major conflict/combat  they also have  no  major goal aspirations   and this is among  many other  flaws another was  insanly long run times (as in hours) with not a good pourpose or objective   I dont mind a game land that takes a long time to cross as long as the trip is interesting.

players can be a great help to developers, if all they had was a blank world  and gave players certain tools to populate the world  I think they could make it interesting (baring the occasional rogue)

Thu Jan 15 2009 2:56PM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

Brenth, I've recently gotten into post-apocalyptic fiction and light (not wacky) survivalism, and that sounds like a very cool idea.  I've thought the same thing about snow environments that would freeze scantily clad elfgirls to the bone.

How about an 'environmental meter', which in a cold environment represents heat (or frostbite), in a desert environment represents water, in a high-altitude environment represents air?  Even the original Everquest had an 'air meter' when underwater.  A trek across a desert would require adjusting your inventory to carry more water, or one during a blizzard would require cold-weather gear.

Scarcity of resources would be also be a great backdrop for a game.  I'd love to play a post-apocalyptic game where my cool hockey stick broke (permanently) during a hand-to-hand battle and I had to pull out my crappy baseball bat.  Crafting would take on an even more important role in that type of game, because you were either making your own weapons and armor from spare parts, or you were fighting bare-handed dressed in a loincloth.

Thu Jan 15 2009 3:05PM Report
Quizzical writes:

Brenth, while there are some major flaws with A Tale in the Desert, it sounds like you're not sufficiently familiar with the game to have picked up on them.

The run times are a nuisance for most purposes, but necessary to balance some body tests.  Depending on what you do, you can mostly avoid long distance running if so inclined.  I'll concede the point that the game overdoes the running bit, though.

As for no combat, that's what the game is designed around.  Are all sports games irredemibly flawed because you don't get to kill anything?

As for no conflict, that's laughably absurd to veterans of the game.  That game generates unlike anything else I've ever seen.  Most of the major game mechanics were put there to give players things to quarrel over.

As for no major goal aspirations, there are far too many goals you can set for yourself to achieve anything more than a tiny fraction of them.  They mostly aren't spoon-fed to you (apart from the tests), but if you don't like sandbox games, that doesn't mean they're bad.

If it's different combat that you're looking for, then Puzzle Pirates as mentioned above fits that bill.  So does Atlantica, which tbiaslorin mentioned.  I'd add Pirates of the Burning Sea and Wizard101 as having combat very different from the usual, too.  And, of course, if you leave MMORPGs entirely, you can get radically different combat in a hurry.

Thu Jan 15 2009 3:41PM Report
mrprogguy writes:

I keep saying this, and apparently no one pays any attention.  I'll try again.

These things cost money to develop.  Most of the time the seed money comes from venture capitalists of some sort or another, and in general, VCs are risk-averse.   They'll invest in an MMO title based on Eragon (which was pretty much a middle-of-the-road populist pastiche of about 5 books and movies)  before they'll invest in an MMO title based on Blade Runner, even though Blade Runner would probably make a better game.  There are two reasons for this.

1 - Eragon has dragons and swords.  VCs understand dragons and swords, even if they aren't fans.  Eragon will remind them of EverQuest and World of Warcraft, which are successful.

2 - VCs will correctly identify Blade Runner as science fiction, and science fiction isn't all that popular these days.  Blade Runner will remind them of Star Wars Galaxies, but not EVE, because VCs haven't heard of EVE, or think it's some other sort of game, possibly involving apples and snakes.

They'll go with Eragon 9 times out of 10--which will give you another swords-n-sorcery slasher to go with all the other sword-n-sorcery slashers bloating the market.

You won't really see a big change in play dynamics among the mainstream MMOs until the gaming population tires of shooting things.  I don't see that happening anytime soon.  We're about 70 years past the time when Dashiell Hammett wrote that the best way to move the story along is to have two guys come through the door with guns--but it's pretty much what works best, even in the 21st century.

And, of course, we're going to need new peripheral devices.  There's only so much you can accomplish with a keyboard and mouse, and after a decade of MMOs, I think we've found all those options.

Thu Jan 15 2009 4:22PM Report
Quizzical writes:

People who are all that risk-averse are idiots if they're investing in MMORPGs.  If you really hit with something big, you can make hundreds of millions of dollars, but many (most?) don't even break even.

Thu Jan 15 2009 4:42PM Report
brenth writes:

""I guess I would ask: like what? If you don't want to do quests, what do you want to do? If you don't want the same type of combat system as another game, what do you want? If you don't want traditional tradeskilling, what do you want?""

first off most quests dont have to be built like vending machines. here is an example  your charactor is part of a village and he gets benefits from the villagers wellbeing and prosprity so  it greatly benefits him to care and support these villagers especially if he has his home here  I like to call these imbeded quests,, of course there should be "odd job quests but they should be exactly that odd jobs either for a boss or  a master  like gathering firewood for a smith or froglegs for your mage teacher.  a good rule of thumb  is the content organic.?

for me I would tend to have venders only carry minimal stock  and allow the players to expand it,, I prefer not having a national market or global resources.  the only way id like to see fish sold in a remote desert is if charactors caravaned there from the ocean and even then id hope the fish is preserved by drying or salting.

id also have the skills players use to be sandboxed combinations that they research  like  want a short fire ball with lots of damage?  or a long range one thats rather small,,  green? or red?

as far as spawns theres alot they can do besides generic spawn generators,  like  hot plates  or scenario spawns  or colony spawns or even siege spawns or raiding spawns.. mobs should also have more to them than the basic  percieve advance kill  mentality, like spiders droping from the celing or  squid pulling you under water

as for dungeons  SUPRISE and suspence would be top of my book.. your walking into a tomb with statues lining either side,, as you advance you see the statues shift or move,, what are they gonna do?  most MMO dungeons put me to sleep because they are just mob grinds.

so how this for a few sugestions?


Thu Jan 15 2009 5:59PM Report
brenth writes:

ya ive sugested a game where your primary world is dieing and you are  ported to a distant world with a small limited pack of equipment  and all you know about the world is that where you land is relativly safe and there is an outpost near by.  this could be fantacy or modern   but the thing is you start out knowing nothing about the world  or whats usefull or even if there are other moons or planets, whether there are other colonies or even aliens  friend or for?  you have to go about learning all this  and you only start with a small limited pack of gear you select just before you leave  did you bring a shovel or an ax or a knife?  or some other tool?  you have to group together with other players to eek out a new existance here. in this otherworld

Thu Jan 15 2009 6:12PM Report
Egamst3k writes:

While initially I'd say "both", I'd put more blame on the developers.

If a game comes along that is elegant, well thought out, and provides a superior experience, then people will buy it. The problem, to me, is that most games aren't doing that. Oh, some developers change things here and there, but they're putting a cog in a gear that wasn't designed for it.

Voice Overs are that type of cog. FPS elements can be that type of cog. They just don't fit with the rest of the cloned elements the developers took from WoW.

Developers need to start coming out with a cohesive experience where each particular part is made to flow with its counterparts in an intuitive fashion.

AoC is a prime example of borrowing the general concepts and adding misplaced components. The combat is fairly fresh until you realize that combos are time-sinks that take 3x as long as a regular button push. The UI map exists for some inexplicable reason and shows you precisely where to go (in a nitty-gritty setting without a lot of magic or technology), meaning quests are about as difficult as finding the milk in your fridge. That's not a game - that's a set of instructions. The voice overs practically quit after Tortage ('cause who wants a 500GB game?), and so does the in-depth interaction with characters.

It's an OK MMO. FunCom just borrowed the map/UI, the class tactics, and the quest-types from other MMO's while trying to fit them into a combat system not built for the tactics, a world not made for their quests, and an audience that's smarter than a 14yr-old (maybe).

Basically, whenever I see a new MMO I go "What is their gimmick, and has the rest of the game-elements been modified to make use of that gimmick?" What good is a lot of quest text and immersion if there's an X on the minimap showing you exactly where the enemy is? What good is the directional combat system and dynamic shields if the ranged characters still kite the melee characters?

Personally, I make my choice for MMO's based on three things: In-game footage showing the UI (so I can pick out any misplaced "gimmicks"), how much actual information the developers are letting loose (and if it shows up in the footage), and the beta testers' reviews.

If the game has an integrated system that is fluid, different, and entertaining, it's a good step. If the developers, especially close to release, are candid about the game and have released plenty of information, it's another good step. If the Beta Testers see the polish in the game, it's practically the final nail. I also try to Beta Test when I can to get a feel for the system, delineate its strengths and weaknesses, and see how quickly the Dev Team repairs bugs.

A little long-winded, so I apologize for the ADD crowd, but it is what it is. :)


Thu Jan 15 2009 6:12PM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

Brenth, I like all of that.=)  It sounds like you and I are on the same wish for MMO's, though I'm not sure the technology exists (well it exists, but exists in a format that can be built into an MMO with limited bandwidth), is a game that reacts.  To me, to the world. 

A game where NPC's take cover when it rains, or one where you might see a cutscene of a faction you have angered sending an assassin after you...who then attacks you when you go to rest, or when it gets dark. (I remember the first time in Morrowind when that happened, scared the beJesus out of me!)  Also in Morrowind were NPC's that had jobs during the day and homes at night.  That, large scale, is what I would like to find in a world.  One good step, that I really haven't seen another game imitate (though I am really an MMO initiate, so I could have just missed it) is Tabula Rasa's spawn system, where bad guys flew down in troop transports instead of just popping up from nowhere...that I thought!

However, even though I believe most of that is technologically feasible, I could be wrong; or maybe it is feasible, but impractical because the game would be 100 gigs, who knows.  I remember the original hype about Black and White, where you would be able to raise any animal in the game to a huge titan protector.  By the time the game was published, you got a choice of 3, and if I remember, you didn't even have to find it in the wilderness.  I believe the developer's initial intention was good, but that the technological challenges were too signifcant for the budget.

Egamst3k, I agree with most of your assessment.  However, at least a few of the things you mention, basically quest location graphics and the like, although not great at keeping suspension of disbelief, are in games now to address frustrations by large masses of gamers.  I've complimented Morrowind in this post, but a quest location system would have made that game so much better (for me).  Half the time I couldn't figure out where I needed to go to get things done; not because I didn't try, but because of the massive amount of names and places in the game.  It is one of the reason's I never finished Morrowind, because even with the book of knowledge or whatever it was, I couldn't figure out where I was in the main questline because I had acquired (I think) I had done one of the quest locations out of order.

One thing we might need to remember is that in the end, a game needs to be fun.  Although slogging through the wilderness trying to find a quest location might be fun for many of us, I'd have to say for most target customers it is not, in fact, fun.  I have a feeling one of the reasons for WoW's success is Blizzard's concerted attempt to simplify enough things to keep the game moving, and fun.  I've never played it so I can't say that for certain, but it is the impression I get from friends of mine who play.

And long-winded is fine, I can't seem to post any other way!=)

Thu Jan 15 2009 8:14PM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

Thinking on it just a second longer...a good game should have a good UI, where purists could just turn off things like exclamation points over NPC's heads or questlogs/maps.  Do any of the games out have that?

Thu Jan 15 2009 8:34PM Report
Kenorv writes:

I'd say that it's mostly the consumers that are responsible for the types of MMO's being made. A lot of developers look at WoW and see their incredible player base and they want to make a game that will generate the same type of player base. Obviously no one has even come close to duplicating what Blizzard has done but that isn't going to stop them from trying. The problem there is that a lot of devs just use the same WoW/Everquest model. Why take a chance trying to make a new type of MMO when the WoW/Everquest model has already proven to be successful.

A lot of these developers can't afford to think out of the box and make a game that may be risky because it may be a complete bomb. They have to make sure that their game is going to make money. That's why they go with the proven model.

The reason I say that the consumers are most responsible is because there just isn't enough of a demand for a fresh, new, innovative MMO. The majority of MMO players are casual players and thus prefer the WoW model, which caters to casual players more so than any other model that I've seen any ways. I think a lot of players are afraid that a different type of model would be too hardcore for their liking and thus they are content with the WoW model. I don't have any facts to support that, it's just my opinion.

I think it would help if players would express more often what they want to see in an MMO. Whatever it is, just let the devs know what you want to see, even if you don't think it can be done yet. The devs need to know that we don't want to see the WoW model used forever. It was great when WoW first came out. But technology advances every single day and with that advancement comes the ability to make a better model than the WoW model. Players need to be aware of that so they aren't content with the WoW model. As long as players are content with that model and their perception is that that model is the best that devs can come up with then we'll continue to see devs use that model instead of create their own model. We won't see change with MMO's unless we the players demand change. That's why I put the majority of the responsibilty on the players.

Thu Jan 15 2009 9:49PM Report
Wolfenbane writes:

The only way to break the mold is head down (or back down) the sandbox route, this was the way of the old and also the way of the future.

The question is - can todays players handle a sandbox game?

WOW and others "handhold" people round, lvl 1 to 10 in wow is that zone, lvl 20 is in that one, lvl30 that one....dont go to lvl30 place until your the right lvl.

Its a staggered effect and very very linear. They mearly create the illusion of open world but really its not, the question to prove this is to ask "where can go as lvl5?" err you go here....anywhere else?? err no.  Then its not open world.

SWG had the right skill system and classes - ie many and the choice to change as you wished. You got bored of one, easy change it and start over. Imagine that in WOW or WAR - youd have to pay for that, or start a new character altogether. It had an indepth crafting system with an economy to carry it along.

Forget the star wars theme but you could apply that easily to other type of game. But everyone seems to ignore this and head down the 5 classes - 10 profs, all lookign the same doign the same.

Armour sets are another bad idea, the idea is make it as varied as possible not bottleneck everyone down the same route.

Darkfall - well im sorry the expectations of todays gamers are high, I really dont think it will fit that void, after all its yet another swords and fantasy game and yet another bunch of races that are pretty much the same as every other mmo atm.

Until people start embracing sandbox games and stop crying out in them, "whats the best x?", "what should i do for X?" its sandbox - you do what you want there is no best or ideal - use your imagination.

Fri Jan 16 2009 9:44AM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

I remember playing the original SWG and I have to agree that the first system was infinitely better than the leveled system they came up with.  My contention was always, who cares if one class is slightly better than another?  (because it is my impression that the whiners about this or that being overpowered are why it changed) I thought we were all having fun, no matter what we specialized in.  And if we weren't, we could just switch and do something else.

I'd love to have more games that are skill based and not level-based.  The problem (and I don't see it more as a problem than as a challenge) is that it is probably harder to design a world around skills than it is around level advancement.

Fri Jan 16 2009 4:50PM Report writes:
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