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Community Forum Spotlight: Something for Everyone?

Community Manager Laura Genender looks at the idea of trying to please everyone in MMO design as she examines a forum thread on the subject.

MMORPGs are unique from other videogames; not only can you interact with thousands of other concurrent users, but the MMO is a persistent world that keeps going even when you’re gone. There’s no pause button, no save or load, and when you take a week off everything might have changed without you knowing it.

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With so many players and persistent environments, you’d think MMORPGs would be the perfect immersive virtual words – yet user Ramzeppelin accuses the modern MMO of being quite the opposite. “The key is immersion,” he claims, and he wonders why there isn’t more of it in worlds with so much potential. “MMOs used to be about living inside another world, now they are huge battlegrounds. They bore us because we are taking months and months of repetition to simply fight.”

As a solution, Ramzeppelin talks about the possibility of adding more professions to games. “Where is farming? Crops growing and bug killing? Seasons etc?” He asks. “There should be nearly endless non-essential jobs to make the world we live in feel real. Instead we have endless battlegrounds that take way too long to get across because there is so little to do but fight. By giving players the power to effect the world with a ton of jobs players interact more, and working hard in your field brings money in.”

In a way, some games are doing this. EVE Online, for example, is a co-dependency between combatants and commercial pilots. None of the combat specialists would have a ship if there wasn’t someone there to mine the ore, refine it, and craft it into a ship. Vanguard has stand-alone diplomacy, crafting, or harvesting professions. Many other games have similarly important non-combat systems – but there’s no denying the MMO focus.

Zindaihas, a reply poster, agrees with Ramzeppelin that immersion has taken a backseat in development. “I'll never forget the very first time I played my very first MMO which was Everquest. One of my first thoughts was, ‘I'm in a fantasy world.’ That's what it's all about. If you're a Dev and you're making an MMORPG, if you're not thinking that when you are testing it, you might as well shelve it or start over from scratch.” Zindaihas does add a caveat, though. “Don't make it overly realistic so as to be tedious. The great director, Alfred Hitchcock, said drama is life with the boring parts taken out. Make an MMO as immersive as possible but try to remove as much of the boring stuff as possible.”

I agree with Zindaihas, and that is part of my worry with the idea of adding more job-focus in an MMO. As big as the Sims craze is, I don’t play games to do chores. I don’t want to sit around tending crops – I want to go make a difference in the world, and that usually means lopping off some heads. Myself, I’d like to see a different brand of immersion: emotional attachment. When I’m playing an MMO, I have no attachment to the world around me. I want a developer to make me care about some NPCs and places, and hate others. This is not an impossible task – remember one named monster that killed you over and over when you were a newbie? I bet you hate him. What if we could achieve that kind of caring about everything in our MMO worlds?

User Kyleran has another take on the situation. “You fail to realize,” he addresses Ramzeppelin, “people like you and the other posters in this thread are in the minority. Most of us don't want what you do…and game developers are coding to what the masses want, not for the avant-garde. My complaint today is too many games stray from their core design elements, that of combat and exploration and divert valuable resources to useless areas like housing, player outfits, and crafting. Since it’s impossible to be everything to everyone...the games up providing mediocre experiences for all players.” I can see where Kyleran is coming from, but I don’t know if this is, necessarily, the solution. Many gamers enjoy progressing in multiple fields at once. When I played Vanguard I worked on adventuring, harvesting, crafting, diplomacy, and I played Martha Stewart in my house. When I started playing EverQuest, I was a tailor as well as a cleric. Yes, developers are appealing to all angles, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing!

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