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Michael Bitton: Borderlands the MMO?

Column By Michael Bitton on September 26, 2012

I’ve had an (un)healthy obsession with Borderlands going back to the original release of the game in 2009. In general, I’m a fan of Gearbox Software’s work, especially with the Brothers in Arms series, but the studio really outdid itself with the original Borderlands and now Borderlands 2. With both games already aping many MMO tropes and with such a clear focus on a multiplayer experience, it really begs the question: should there be a Borderlands MMO?

In my opinion? Hell yes!

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Luckily for us, we also have a recent comment from none other than Gearbox Software’s Randy Pitchford to give us a peek into what the studio is thinking on this very subject. Mr. Pitchford fielded just this sort of question during a live community interview over at Kotaku, and responded with the following:

“Money is cool because money lets you create action towards things the currency holder cares about. But for that to happen, we need more than just a desire to make money. We need a belief that the best and correct kind of experience we want to entertain people with is what is best delivered through an MMO like experience. I'm not sure we're there. We'll see, though.”

It’s not the, “Yes! We’re working on a Borderlands MMO right now!” answer some of us may have hoped for, but at least Randy didn’t take the idea off the table.

It’s pretty easy to make the logical leaps necessary to understand how a Borderlands MMO would work. Gearbox could easily tap into the basic architecture of the various classes we’ve seen between both games and allow players to create their own characters based on these classes or they could choose to have specific (but customizable) characters as we now see in Borderlands 2. Pandora is a vast planet with tons of area to explore that when properly expanded for an MMO format could easily support hundreds, if not thousands, of players.

The only real issues I can currently see lie with the game’s approach to content and its loot system. The free-for-all looting has always been an issue for Borderlands players that play in public games and can even create loot drama amongst friends, but extrapolate that out to a general MMO environment and the need for shared loot should be readily apparent.

As for content, well, Borderlands does use a themepark MMO questing system, so it should be a natural fit, right? Sort of. It’s become clear over the past couple of years that creating static content at a high enough quality and quick enough cadence to satisfy the voracious appetites of MMO players is really a fool’s errand. This is why we’re seeing a trend towards dynamic content of the sort you’ll find in RIFT or Guild Wars 2. This makes me wonder if a Borderlands MMO released a couple of years down the line would even fit in a future MMO landscape. I don’t think it would be impossible to create a more dynamic version of Borderlands to fit the ‘new’ MMO format, but it would be important to maintain a certain balance as most of the game’s charm comes from its colorful cast of characters and set pieces.

Of course, Gearbox could simply narrow down the scope of the game to be a MMO-lite version of Borderlands, think the CORPG style of the original Guild Wars, and support it in a similar fashion. This would mean you’d get a game along the lines of Borderlands 1 and 2 (with probably considerably more content out of the box) and then rely on future paid campaign-style DLC along the lines of The Secret Armory of General Knoxx or whatever Gearbox has planned for Borderlands 2’s four main DLC offerings. Support this with microtransactions for cosmetic customizations (heads, skins, vehicle skins, etc.) and consumable convenience items such as XP or Magic Find boosters and you have a pretty solid foundation for a smaller scale MMO.

Ultimately, even considering the various pros and cons that jump out to me at the moment, I do feel a Borderlands MMO would do exceptionally well and would serve as a natural crossover for existing fans of the series. Just about everything I already do in Borderlands 2 feels like it could scale with many more players. The game’s content is already designed to scale for up to four players, which is pretty close to the ideal MMO party size to begin with (yes, yes, this is subjective). Heck, both games even featured an open world raid boss of sorts. Really the only thing missing right now is other players running around doing the same stuff. 

So, what do you think? Would you like to see a Borderlands MMO? Do you think it would be a natural fit? Let us know why or why not in the comments below!

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