3D MMOs have become a genre unto themselves (or so says I - you can argue about what a genre is in the comments section) since arguably coming into a recognisable existence with Meridian 59. They've certainly been around long enough that we can see duplicate systems of duplicate systems popping up all over the place, with features pioneered in one MMO being taken and implemented into another one, possibly with some minor changes. However, if MMOs are going to avoid the fate of entering an Ouroboros of self-referential obscurity where only the hardest-of-hardcore fans dwell, fans of the MMO genre really have to hope that MMO devs are looking outside of their favourite MMOs and at other games in completely different genres for examples of thing to bring in and evolve their MMO with.
I'm not going to pretend that the list below is going to include every single game that MMO devs could learn from, or that I'm going to write them all down in one go (I'll add in further games to this blog at later dates), but there are some games out there that have features that really should make their way into the MMO genre.
Ultima Online (PC): Yeah, I know - I just said MMO devs should look outside the genre and here I am, putting UO first on the list. But there's a good reason for this - UO encountered pretty much every problem that occurred in MMOs likely before your favourite MMO was a twinkle in its devs' eyes. PvP? Ganking? RMT? In-game prostitution? Player-run areas? All seen within UO and dealt with, along with a whole lot more. It frustrates me no end to see new MMOs released with no apparent idea that all the problems they currently face existed and were dealt with in the late 90s (and hello to Fury here). Sure, maybe UO's solution is not the solution for your MMO-of-choice, but even discounting an option provides you with a path to potentially take.
Seriously - go play UO, or learn about it, about why the Trammel patch was important and why its like will never be seen again.
Blade Runner (PC): "There was a Blade Runner game?" I hear you cry. Yep, and it was awesome. Ignoring the cult sci-fi IP, it had one extremely neat feature that every MMO should pick up - it randomised the narrative.
It wasn't full randomisation - the story still had a beginning, middle and an end - but it randomised a lot of what happened between those the start and the end to make each play through fresh. Evidence at a crime scene that was visible in one play through couldn't be found in the next play through. Characters may or may not be at certain locations depending on the time you arrived and between different play throughs. MMOs want players to hang around as long as possible, yet continually offer the same starting experience over and over. Why not take a leaf from Blader Runner's book and develop content that won't be available to all players from the get go? Start a player off with a random letter or book to deliver, which will lead to other quests that their next character will not be able to experience. Make it so that a quest-giving contact available on one play through isn't automatically available on the next. The aim should be that no two characters' (from the same player) PvE experience should be the same - something new pops up or a quest that they hadn't seen before draws them in to play another month or two.
Of course, the semi-random content has to be more involved than "Kill X" or "Deliver Y". It's also got to lead somewhere that's involving. But it's a heck of a lot more meaningful to developing an immersive in-game experience than having the same quest givers stand in the same place to give the same quests.
Street Fighter II (Arcade): A classic, certainly, but one that MMO developers can certainly learn from. SFII did a number of PvP things very right:
- Easy to learn, hard to master.
- Fun from the very start.
- PvP sees characters behave very differently but still be balanced.
- Minimal individual loss from any defeat, minimal individual gain from any victory.
Sure, a one-on-one 2D arcade fighter is arguably simpler than a 3D MMO, but the principles that make SFII great should be taken on board as the basics for any MMO looking to make PvP something that the majority of players actually want to get involved in.
Summer Games: Or Skate or Die. Or California Games. Or any other mini-game collection that allowed players to play short, sharp, fun mini-games based around a theme. Mini-games that have a point and, more importantly, are fun can contribute hugely to a MMO and serve as nice diversion to the main deal, but often mini-games in MMOs seem designed to be an absolute chore and make grinding throw 300 orclings a barrel of laughs by comparison.
There are a whole host of mini-game types out there that could be added into modern MMOs and tweaked to fit the theme that would also add a lot to the MMO experience. The thing about MMO players is that you can never be quite sure what they are going to love or hate, so it's better to give them lots of options that they can choose fun from rather than trying to force them to see fun according to a single focused dev Vision.
Medal of Honour: Frontline: MOH:F did something that pretty much no MMO does - start the game off with a bang. Yes, they
ripped off homaged "Saving Private Ryan" in doing so, but it doesn't matter - MOH:F started the game with the player in no doubt about the seriousness of what they were doing or the danger they faced. And that was just the tutorial mission.
MMOs tend to start off much more sedately - "Hello kind sir / madam, here is how you move, now please, go and kill five ants to show me you know how to fight". After you've done this kind of thing twice, you're asleep at the wheel through the tutorial. MMOs really need to build the atmosphere and tone of the game from the very start, so if the lore is all about how your character is going to save the world, starting them off by killing ants is a very poor way of making the player feel like they are actually going to reach that destiny. Another great example of this kind of start is BioShock - it has an incredibly impressive introduction that sucks you into the game world right from the start.
There are just a few games I think MMOs could learn from if they wanted to improve. I'm sure that some have some of the above features, but overall, I haven't really seen them implemented (so if they exist, please let me know below!). There are other games that are important too - I'll add to this list in future blog entries.