Last week, I laid out several historical settings for potential MMOs. The forum debate that followed zigged and zagged, but one point slowly snapped into focus. In general, people seemed to be really jazzed about the idea of a Wild West MMO. Today, I ask why not a Wild West MMO, and lay out how I’d like to see that game tackled.
The heart of the Wild West was reputation. It was a fresh start for those who went, a new beginning and an opportunity to reinvent yourself. All the good stories seem to revolve around some unlikely or unwilling hero who steps up at the right moment and becomes an immortal anecdote in history.
Thus, any MMO should revolve around these same ideals. I’d like to see a Wild West MMO where the main currency is not experience, but reputation and, of course, money.
Typical MMOs use experience to limit where people can go, what they can kill and what kind of gear they can have. That just doesn’t work in this context, nor, it has been proven, do online RPG mechanics work so well once you get beyond swords and sorcery.
As such, my ideal Wild West MMO would use basic FPS mechanics. Point and shoot. Nothing fancy.
Gear would be based entirely on what your avatar could afford. They’d collect rewards and money through their quests and travels and use that to buy bigger and better weapons that allow them to pull new tricks in combat. But still, how fast someone draws, is based on their reflexes, not some statistical modifier and die roll.
Reputation, though, would be the ultimate backbone of the game. Players would harvest reputation through deeds in the world. Each time they hunted down someone more famous or pulled off some heist, they’d rise up the ranks and get closer to the most famous guy in the Wild West.
As players earned more reputation, this would do more than just give them bragging rights. Different schemes within the world would require a group leader of a certain reputation to attempt. The more insane the scheme, the more famous a leader does a band out outlaws require. So, while players could stick up wanderers at an early level, a train heist requires someone with much more fame under their belt to even undertake.
No one will accuse the Wild West of being a safe place, which is why to work, this game would have to be PvP driven. Instead of typical faction based warfare, this is a world that is far more inclined toward a free for all. It’s not a true caper unless there is the fear that there may be a Robert Ford among you.
Players would need to find people they trust and work well with to achieve success in the game, while lone travelers would be the prey to lots of upstart criminals.
The upside of this system is that while gold and reputation determine your gear and the capers you can attempt, even the newest player can get off a lucky shot. There would be no way for the obscenely high level to just lord over people, unless they got there purely through their own superior skill.
And that’s why after a certain level of infamy or fame, reputation should be able to be taken away in as close to a form of permadeath as anyone is ever likely to see in a mainstream game. After a player reaches a certain level of reputation, they begin to get a reputation. Bad guys will want to take out that famous law enforcer, while good guys will hunt down and capture the most hardened criminals.
At that high level, once killed, they’d be able to lose reputation to their killer in a ladder system. The victim would still retain all of their gold and weapons, they’d just drop down the rungs of infamy and need to regain the trust of those around them in order to attempt some of the most ridiculous heists the game has to offer.
The ladder-type reputation system would only take affect for the top rung of players. It would be maddening if players were constantly reset as they learned the game, but the danger of becoming the most famous gunslinger in the Wild West was always that some young buck would want to prove he’s faster than you in every town you wandered through. This system simulates that.
Obviously, the big thing I’ve glossed over so far is how the Native Americans would play into this entire thing. There are a few ways to approach it.
The first is to just ignore it and save yourself some potential real-world headaches. Look at the famed HBO series Deadwood. Rarely did the Natives even come into play. The show was mostly about the struggle between law and order, which is primarily where I see this potential game as well.
Obviously, the Wild West has all sorts of other MMOish aspects to exploit. This was an era where when you wanted a house, you built it. It was an era of industry and profits, and it was an era of the gold rush. Crafting, property, harvesting and commerce would all also become major parts of the game. The richest men in this MMO would need to hire the best and most trustworthy gunslingers to make sure their goods reached their destination.
Last week’s comment thread mentioned a host of table top games and other ideas for a Wild West MMO. And heck, other people have tried. What I've outlined is just one possible approach. The only thing I can say is that it is a title I’d play.