Creating Rewarding Gameplay
One thing that plays an important role in keeping me interested in a MMORPG is rewarding gameplay. I don't mean loot rewards. I mean a game that is rewarding to play, that gives you a sense of accomplishment, that lets you learn and apply what you've learned. For me, learning how to play is one of the most enjoyable things I can take from a MMORPG.
I think that's why I change MMORPGs so much. New games are uncharted gamer territory. They are full of new systems to learn and new skill to gain as a player. Sadly, most MMORPGs are too similar to one another to provide ample learning opportunities, so I end up unsubscribing once I realize how limited they are. Maybe that's why my list of "Played MMORPGs" is a mile long.
Games are unrewarding when they are limited. Limitations make the game repetitive because you end up doing the same thing over and over again, and after a while, there is nothing left to learn. No new skill to gain as a player. No sense of accomplishment to get by tackling a new challenge with your game-knowledge. To use a metaphor, its like being asked to cross a river and the only tool you're given is a raft; once you've crossed the river, what else is left?
In MMOG terms, we are asked to kill a monster and we are given a handful of skills/spells/weapons. That works for a little while, until the monsters, skills, and weapons begin repeating theirselves. As a player, on perhaps a deeper level than some folks pay attention to, you are stagnant. You gain NOTHING as a PLAYER. You've reached the top of your personal skill ladder. You've (far too quickly) exhausted the game's learning opportunites. You get bored. You unsubscribe.
How do you fix this? How do you continually provide players with ample learning opportunities that will keep them engaged and enjoying the game, all while keeping the limited resources of developers in mind? I've written far too many (ignored) posts on far too many beta test forums to want to write them here, but the short answer is: Variety.
Do you expect players to be engaged in a game where all you need to do is press a couple buttons to be effective (Warcraft)? Do you expect players to enjoy bowling through clumps of lifeless NPCs in yet another repetitive mission environment (City of Heroes)? Why do you think players will be happy with a game that has huge gaps in the acquisition of new skills and abilities (Tabula Rasa)? How is fighting the same recycled bad guys, but with more hitpoints and damage output, an engaging, rewarding experience (Final Fantasy XI)?
But I must be crazy, right? Those games I mentioned have a lot of subscribers, so what gives? Well, I'd argue that no game has really gotten it right, in my opinion. And if somehow one did get it right, it'd be a smash hit. I'd also argue that WoW has gotten it more "right" than the others, but that's another blog post.
Variety is king. Variety provides learning opportunities. Variety keeps players (well, me) interested and engaged because you are more often gaining skill as a player and experiencing different situations in the game.