For a few weeks now, I’ve been writing about things that could be changed. Things that would make MMOs better, more fun and varied. But for all the changes developers could make and players demand, the biggest hurdle for players and developers alike is a mental one. Uniquely among games, the “journey” in an MMO is a hurdle to clear, rather than the reason people play.
Part of the problem is the very nature of an MMO. Whether they’re supported by microtransactions or subscriptions, all MMOs rely on players staying involved for a long time to make money. Thus, it’s tempting for designers to leave the good stuff until the end.
Almost all MMOs revolve around maximizing experience and loot en route to some mythical endgame. How people do it really doesn’t matter. Players, even when given the choice, gravitate to efficiency over fun.
Sanya Weathers mentioned this last week in her article on low level quest design. Many of the industry professionals she spoke to talked about how they tried to make more involved quests, but players reacted negatively, as these tended to slow down the XP gain rate.
Early on, developers definitely put a shiny bauble on a hill to keep people interested, making games where the end-game was all that mattered. Dark Age of Camelot is the ultimate example. I loved the game back then, but the truth is that almost everyone just ground their way to 50 so they could go do Realm vs. Realm.
Yet, look at Mythic’s follow-up effort. Clearly, they had a meeting at some point where they wondered what would happen if they let people have that RvR experience all the way from 1 to 50. Thus, we have Warhammer Online. The game has its well documented flaws, but the idea was spot on: Give people what they want all the way through.
Unfortunately, in this case, it didn’t work out. The RvR battlefields are completely devoid of life. People prefer scenarios to maximize their Renown Points (essentially PvP experience). The open-world RvR that worked so well in DAoC is now limited to both sides taking turns killing the other side’s NPC defenders.
Part of this is no doubt Mythic’s fault. They are doing their best to tweak the system to get people into the open-world RvR, but I do not put the entire problem squarely at their feet.
Fact is, the players are as broken as the games they yell about.
A fundamental assumption of Warhammer Online had to have been that players would fight each other for their realm, their guild, their honor and… wait for it… FUN!
Players have been so conditioned to maximize experience and run for the endgame that no one gives a crap about fun anymore, and for those of us who are not mindless automatons, it’s becoming a serious problem.
If players would actually fight each other in these zones, they wouldn’t be empty. If they were not empty, more people would fight in them, and so on. It’s a paradox for Mythic. The only practical solution is to remove a feature people are using (scenarios) to force people to use one they’re not. And, let’s just say, that probably wouldn’t go over so well.
Thus, despite the fact they set out to make a game where the “fun” part was available on day one, everyone still grinds it out to the top tier, and the biggest, most epic content.
Tell me, is there another genre of game that would allow the “fun” to start only after weeks, if not months, of gameplay?
At their core, MMORPGs are just like any other genre of game. In a console FPS, players are given missions, sent forward, and kill things. The very basic mechanic of “talk, kill, move along” is the same. Yet, in an FPS, the reason people play is to kill things.
In MMORPGs, the mechanics have superseded the gameplay. The reason people fight is not because combat is fun, but to harvest the loot and experience.
FPS games even hold the biggest, coolest content to the end. Yet, for some reason, no one complains that they have to grind to unlock the rocket launcher. No, they’re just playing the game.