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Future of MMOs

Basically outlining things I see as needed in next gen mmos.

Author: axlezero

MMO Lore is Becoming Afterthought

Posted by axlezero Saturday January 17 2009 at 2:42AM
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Lore in my opinion was always the driving factor of any RPG game.  It pulls you in, makes you love the characters and follow the plight of the world around you.  It is the cornerstone that all RPG whether mmo or platform should be building their games on, but to me it seems this is becoming less relevant then putting out the next big hype.

I will mention games I have played, starting with EQ.  Gods were a large part of the story, and the races and who hated who.  The game actually seemed to be built around the story, not the story built around the game.  As a Dark Elf you were hated by many races including humans, and couldn't enter their cities without being killed, but as far as RPG goes, that is exactly how it should be.  You want to enter that Freeport (human city)?  You make ammends with them.  Dark Elves killed a lot of orcs and brought orc belts to the captain of the guard in Freeport to gain that faction so they could walk freely in the city.  However you didn't have full run of the city, you still had to watch out for certain factions within the city.  Freeport merchants, Freeport Guards, Freeport Wizards (Can't remember the wizard faction).  You had to build your trust up, and for good reason, the Dark Elves were an evil race that did bad things and going into the story you knew that.  Your lore started almost from day 1.

EQ2 built upon eq1 obviously, but even then it seemed to diverge and make the story more generic in some aspects.  Unifying the races, picking an evil side or good side rather then a god to worship and your faction based on race.

WoW had its lore that it built on, even if the game ruined the mmo community (not saying the game itself was bad, but the community is horrid).  It was rich in history and the places you go have a story, and to be honest I think that can be attributed to its success more then anything else.  You may fight the urge to resist it, but its there.

I also think IP's (Conan, SWG, etc) are bad for lore as well.  It seems to me, it would be very limiting in what you can do and say.  IMO these games are targeting a fan base and are good for those who make them for a quick buck.  The lore is mostly known, and breaking away from it will piss the people off that follow those stories closely and sticking with the story will push away people that want some new kind of spin.  Not to mention it's not very creative, if you have the know how to develop a game, why not come up with something new.  Or at the very least put your game a thousand years in the future after the story lines, and build the world based on what changed and give people that new twist, and some crazy lore about how Luke Skywalker went to the darkside in his later years, and in the conflicts that followed was directly responsible for his sister dying.  He lived on for a thousand years and is now part cyborg, and practically a god. 

It seems now though that games are moving away from designing lore first, sure they give a story, and some background.  However its not in your face from the very beginning, and you can tell that large parts of the game are unfinished because of it.  Towns, npcs, quests, and items aside, if it has no background to me its a two dimensional place with no purpose.

I still play Vanguard, and I love the game, despite its problems.  It is a beautiful game, with so much to work with, but its lore was broken from the beginning.  Its got all these races and factions and stuff seems incoherent, and out of place, and to me more then anything else, is the most disappointing thing about VG.

A great game will stand out because the lore will pull you in.  You step into the game for the first time, and bam its in your face.  A dark elf defending his city from a race of high elves that think they are an abomination, and want to wipe them off the planet.  Your god imbues you with strength to withstand the the incoming army.  Or (VG reference)  A dwarf getting his first mission to patrol the paths at night, with hordes of skeletons roaming the night, invading your homelands.  Your people making their final stand in their greatest fortress, but even their numbers can't hold out for ever against an army of undead.  You get jumped by 10 skeletons and up rides a Dwarf Paladin on (his warthog, stupid f'n racial mounts) and hacks them down saving your soul from damnation, his armor emanating with the protection of his god.

I just think its time that games start actually building their games by designing lore, and adding what makes sense and cutting the rest.  Building on those stories and stop throwing crap in willy nilly, which helps nothing.  Concentrate less on massive amounts of crappy content, and sticking with a story line full of rich, complete, and fulfilling content.  At the end of a lore driven quest line, giving a great item that you can show off and people will be like he worked hard to get that and learned alot about his people along the way, (or another race if he was helping them out).  Stick to your guns when it comes to faction, if two races hate each, make damn sure they can't go into each other's city without working hard to do so.

I think subconsciously people follow good story lines and want to see the end of the quest lines, and when they have these quests with, kill me 100 worms, they start to become withdrawn from the game rather then be immersed.  I honestly believe this can be a suboncscious push to quit the game, instead of being invested in your character and advancement within the game.


Just some thoughts on an issue thats been bothering me lately.  Also, I am not an RP'r, I just like a good story, and background to what I am doing in game and why I am doing it.

Death1942 writes:

dude...lore died out just after WoW hit the market.  i'd say the last game to have decent lore  was Lotro.  Every game since has been very light on lore.

I dont think this situation will improve for at least a few years before Devs start turning to other features to draw in crowds.


Sat Jan 17 2009 6:56AM Report
Stormreaver writes:

Axlezero, I understand what you're saying, but I disagree in two respects. First of all, I would argue that lore is actually becoming more prevalent in today's MMOs. The vast majority of AAA titles are being based off of worlds with unique, interesting history and lore (WoW, WAR, Conan, LotRO, Star Wars, etc.). Whether or not the developers utilize the lore correctly or fail to successfully transmit it into the game, the lore is there and available for anybody who needs it. I will agree, though, that these games are changing lore. Not killing it, but changing it.

Secondly, I would be very hesitant to base an entire MMO off of a game world as opposed to basing it off of gameplay mechanics. Oddly enough, almost all the games that have been based in popular settings have failed in the sense that their interesting game worlds are not enough to make up for their poor gameplay. I read an interview with some dev (I honestly forget who and where) where he stated that if somebody came to him with a game idea, he would automatically tune them out if they started explaining the game by talking about the setting/lore.

Basically, I think recent MMO releases have prooved that interesting lore does not make an interesting game. I love lore just as much as any RPer (I'm a Warcraft loremonger), but basing a game off of an interesting gameworld doesn't necessarily guarantee that it will be good. Of course, using pre-existing settings presents a different problem altogether, but I still believe that gameplay mechanics should be the first thing devs think about when they start the design process.

That being said, this was an interesting read, and I hope you continue to write some similar stuff.

Sat Jan 17 2009 7:31AM Report
ghstwolf writes:

I like the idea of having lore, but in the static worlds that most MMOs seem to need it just doesn't seem to work out.  Defeating those great dangers to the world is meaningless because they change nothing.

If you could build a dynamic world (heavy RvR with the ability to switch sides) that shifts by the players actions to maintain near equilibrium, great lore is possible.  I don't think there is anything quite like that on the market.  A game that both rewards the victorious side and yet makes the losing side a rewarding choice too (not just for the challenge of playing the weaker side).  Really I see this as a solution to the problem of feeling like I'm reading a book that is already written, and "end games" full of re-reading a single chapter just to stay busy.

Sat Jan 17 2009 9:01AM Report
axlezero writes:

My argument is more about coherency within the game itself.  You all present valid points, but I my gripe is more about things in the game itself making sense.  So when they add that dungeon, how does it fit in the story?  Is it a random thing, is it within a guideline of things that they have already thought out.

Stormreaver, I agree with you to some extent, for one I do agree that the game mechanics are very important to the games overall success, but a game without a direction or content IMO will also fall flat on its face as well.  You have to have interesting coherent stories for why that big boss is standing there and why you are there to kick its butt.  As I said, most people don't realize how much game lore they are actually picking up, its a subconscious thing that we all like to follow.  When its lacking, the content seems boring and dry.  Great game content IMO, is going to be a combination of game mechanics and lore.  I guess I was trying to say a game shouldn't be built without having some kind of lore pattern thought out, because map layouts will become important to lore.  Meaning that most likely two races that hate each aren't going to live on the other side of the world from each other.  Most hostilities between races are going to be because they are close enough to cause each other strife.

Ghstwolf, lore doesn't have to be directional, but it should have background on your race, class, world etc.  You should know why that other race hates you, or why you are hated by most people in your world.  If there are gods, you should know why your people worship a certain god.  There is a fine line between having lore and forcing lore, but it should be there and prevelant in a race's city, in its actions and attitudes.


Sat Jan 17 2009 10:50AM Report
Quizzical writes:

The reaction of the developer Stormreaver refers to is entirely understandable.  A lot of game ideas that people come up with are nothing more than a vague storyline idea.  There simply isn't enough there to run with.

The right way to design a game is to start by saying, these are the game mechanics we want.  If you don't get the game mechanics right the lore doesn't matter.  This is in the sense that if the game won't run, the lore doesn't matter.

The lore needs to be a pretext for the game mechanics, and not the other way around.  If you start with the lore and try to fit the game mechanics around it, you might end up with a game that fits the lore very well, but isn't fun to play.  You might see that coming and make some changes to make the game mechanics better, but make them no longer fit the lore.  This can be harder to do with existing, well-developed IPs, as those restrict how you can fit the lore around the game mechanics.

I think it's important to distinguish between lore that existed before the game but wasn't really built on in the game, and lore that is part of the game itself.  Someone on this site's forums once commented that WoW had a lot of lore because there were previous games and even books.  To someone who hasn't played the previous games or read the books, however, WoW itself doesn't even have a coherent storyline, let alone a good one.  It has a bunch of bits and fragments here and there, but they rarely add up to anything more coherent than, this boss must die because it drops epics.

There's nothing wrong with having pre-existing lore like that.  If it doesn't show up in the game, however, it's not lore for that game.  It's just some independent IP vaguely related to the game.

Sat Jan 17 2009 11:50AM Report
Ciano writes:

I think that games should begin with a background of lore and incorporate the actions of the players in to new lore. Lore that changes and grows with the game would be the ultimate achievement and I think everyone loves to be in the spotlight.

Sat Jan 17 2009 1:17PM Report
Kordesh writes:

 I agree with this entire post, especially as someone who played some of the earlier heavy lore games such as UO, EQ, and AC. I disagree with WoW though. Initially, when the game first came out, and when I could actually tolerate it, yes, it had nice lore built up from the RTS games. However, they quickly kicked lore right on its ass the second it began gaining popularity outside MMO circles and turned the whole thing into a giant gear/raid grind and replaced lore with over the top goofball shit like motorcycle mounts and abusing main characters to fuel the raid machine. 

Sat Jan 17 2009 2:52PM Report
Frostbite05 writes:

yo kordesh whats funny is the motorcycle mount isnt goofball. WoW has always been fantasy/steampunk. L2genre. Also WoW does have some of the best ingame lore every instance has a story all the raids move along the main stories path. anyone who says otherwise hasn't played endgame or frankly is just ignorant

Sat Jan 17 2009 3:34PM Report
axlezero writes:

Also I should have said in the beginning that I'm saying a great game (Not just a good game) Will have great lore AND great game mechanics. The great game mechanics was sort of implied, as most games utilize most of the same game mechanics I was just assuming this was understood, and it probably wasn't. So I apologize.

Quizzical I think you are saying what I'm saying.  However maybe I'm confusing the point.  I'm not saying that the game should have a full blown story and then build a game on that.  I am saying that lore should be a prethought into game mechanics, and at least a rough outline of what they want to put, where to put it, and why is it there.

Honestly game mechanics and lore almost go hand in hand when you think about it.  Or at least it should.  Unique races and racial skills and how they worship or benefit from their gods, is as much a game mechanic as it is lore.  I just disagree with games that build their world, races, and then add in the lore after the fact.  You can have game mechanics without the lore, but really it should always be tied together in some form.  Such as the abilities a cleric or a warrior has, is tied in with lore of those classes.  A cleric is going to have most heals, because that is what they do, however if a cleric's lore in a game is that they are elemental healers, they could have an elemental pet that helps enhance their abilities.  Hopefully you see where I am going with that, it should be tied together as it develops, allowing for freedom of creation, and use of the imagination.  I heavily disagree with putting limitations on creativity, but I also think everything should have its part and reasons.

Sat Jan 17 2009 4:27PM Report writes:
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