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BadSpock's Logical Conclusions.

My random thoughts about MMORPGs. A bit of critique, suggestion, debate, and insanity. Enjoy.

Author: BadSpock

Has MMO development gone backwards?

Posted by BadSpock Saturday October 27 2007 at 6:59AM
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It's about 6:30am on a Saturday, and I'm at work. Yeah, it sucks. Just thought I'd throw that out there...

Anywho... I was talking to my brother about Ultima Online yesterday. Our account is still active, not currently subscribed, but all of our characters and their possessions still exist. I think we are up to our "9 year veteran" awards or close to it lol.
So I've been thinking about UO, and have come to a startling realization!
MMO development has been going backwards!!!
What are some of the top features people on ask for in their "perfect" MMORPG?
1. Skill based system - no more classes and levels to grind
2. Sandbox game play - no linear progressions / roller coaster rides
3. Open / FFA PVP
4. Player Housing
5. Less dependency on gear
6. All gear crafted by players / was equal (kind of) to loot
Ultima Online had all of these things and more. I consider the "high" point in the life of UO was when they released Renaissance and introduced Trammel to the world, and not long after that the Factions PVP system.
It was an open skill based system, gear didn't really matter at all, you had full Faction vs. Faction PVP and FFA PVP in Felucca, and a completely griefer/ganker free environment in Trammel. They had really expansive player housing, a massive world with no instancing, hundreds and hundreds if different monsters and NPCs to battle with, countless dungeons.
Pretty much, UO had everything that the "modern" MMORPG player has been asking for.
Where have games gone since those awesome days of UO?
1. Instancing
2. Class / level based systems (I blame EQ for this, d*mn you Everquest!)
3. Gear dependant play (again, I blame EQ for this, d*mn you Everquest!)
4. Much more restrictive PVP
5. Most modern MMOs no longer have player housing.
6. crafting in modern MMOs mostly sucks and is trumped by loot drops from mobs/raids (many games even require you to raid in order to get the materials to make the best crafted gear)
So why have MMOs taken such a major step backwards?
They haven't gone backwards in terms of:
1. Developer content - quests, dungeons, events, raids, missions, etc. etc. etc.
2. Graphics (obviously)
3. Accessibility (MMOs are now a major genre instead of a niche market)
and that's about all I can think of.
So why doesn't a developer just make a game exactly like UO, throw in a bunch of cool quests, dungeons, raids, etc. just for fun, and give it a sweet modern graphics engine?
I know people will say "that's what Darkfall is going to be!"
But for one, many are unsure DF will ever be released and two, the Trammel / Felucca split is what (in my opinion) was UO's greatest strength. DF is FFA everywhere, which will turn off a great many players.
What do you think? Has MMO development gotten so backwards that future games are looking more and more like old UO?
fansede writes:

I will give my humble opinion to respond to your blog. I believe that when UO came out and got the internet buzzing, developers got feedback. I still remember the EQ Lure motto, "You want to make bread? Play UO. You want adventure play with us." That struck me to this day. UO was a detailed sandbox lifestyle. Not everyone like that. I also believe they wanted to make gaming "easier". They heard of players getting sick of being griefed so they decided to end FFA PvP. They heard of the complaints of players simply not knowing how to progress themselves and gave them professions. That class system made things a lot easier to manage.

I will debate that professions do require skill for effective gameplay. I believe your blog is just referring that skill systems allow players to compete in PvP better versus professions/gear.

Unfortunately PvP is only going to grab so many subscriptions. otherwise it would be the main theme in all MMOs. Hopefully an effective, meaningful PvP game like WAR will possess the right ingredients to attract casual gamers and console gamers alike.

Sat Oct 27 2007 9:11AM Report
BadSpock writes:

If anything, class/professions are much, much better for PVP because they can be more easily balanced.

Giving people the freedom to mix and match a set of skills allows for "flavor of the month" builds, which was a HUGE problem in SWG.

As I said, UO only really started 'booming' once they added Trammel and they made the FFA PVP an option, rather then forced it.

But you are right, it's all about the players choice. Some like scripted, guided content, others like to do their own thing.

I'd be happy with a happy medium.

UO's system was fairly ingenius. You could pick up a sword and start killing stuff, and the appropriate skills would go up. You didn't have to "know" that you needed Tactics and Anatomy to go with your Swordsmanship skill, they all raised up naturally as you used the sword.

All I'm trying to say is that the only MMO lessons modern developers are learning are derived from games like WoW, EQ, LOTRO etc.

This is party due to the absolute failure of Vanguard at launch, it was the shining hope for sandbox players, but failed so miserably at launch that I doubt many will try a sandbox approach again.

Sat Oct 27 2007 10:21AM Report
Cathalaode writes:

I was thinking of something new for the skill vs class thing, I think I mentioned it in my blog, but here goes.

I was thinking that you have a set amount of classes, each one would have it's own set of skills. Most of the skills would correspond to the class's role, but some of them would be little offshoots. Like a Warrior would have Swords, Shields, First Aid, Axes, Horseback Riding, etc. Some skills would overlap though, for instance everyone would have Horseback riding, and certain other classes would have first aid. This would make the game easier to balance, because, for one, it would be easier to define where the unbalance is coming from, secondly, not all of the skills would have to be balanced, so long as the classes are balanced, no more need to worry about people grabbing only the slightly overpowered skills, and thirdly, you wouldn't have those "Jack of every-god-damn-trades" running around, no stealthed mages that kick ass with a swords, bow, and can heal their self. Now thats my kind of leveling system.

Sat Oct 27 2007 11:33AM Report
MMOPlaya writes:

I too agree that we are kind of going backwards as far as development goes.   There are some necessary evils however, due to the increasing population of these types of games, such as instancing and smaller class/race choices.  I also see the trend moving away from casual / sandbox (SWG / UO) and more towards hardcore / linear (Fury, AoC / WoW, LOTRO), which is bad news for us Casual/Sandbox players.

While I agree that Vanguard's launch was not successful, I do think that Vanguard will be one of the last of it's type...a combo of both casual and hardcore elements, with everything a sandbox player wants and everything a raider / hardcore MMO player wants.  The game is instance-free (and no, chunks are not instances, just a mechanic that the devs created to glue the large pieces together), and offers a huge world for adventurers to explore by foot, boat or mount (4 legged or flying).  The game offers the player a choice - play it safe and stay in the cities and craft/socialize or go out into the wilderness and be prepared to face the consequences of your actions: make a stupid move and die, or make a smart move and live to tell about it.  In addition to all that, there is housing etc which appeals to the casual gamer as well. 

But I digress /offVanguardsoapbox

However while most development seems to be taking a step backwards, lets look at how some are taking steps forward.  Take how Turbine dealt with housing in the latest was almost pure freakin' genious.  Give the players housing, but not make it an instance like EQ2's individual instanced apartments, but make an entire, large neighborhood instanced!  This way, you still have neighbors (for social activitiy) and a front door to your house - heck even your own mailbox out front! You can even decorate your front yard!  You even have an address!  Each neighborhood contains roughly 20 homes of different variety, sidewalks, lighting, parks for recreation and general stores - this is truely a sandbox/casual gamers dream come true in an MMO.

Sat Oct 27 2007 12:01PM Report
Lumbergh writes:

My friend bought a Wii, and I was playing it last night. What game did I play? Super Mario Brothers.

It reminded me what makes a game fun- and that is that its a game.

Sat Oct 27 2007 12:15PM Report
dj60169 writes:

In my opinion, one of UO's biggest mistakes was making the monsters way too hard to kill for single players.  Once they did that, everyone started leaving, myself included.

Sat Oct 27 2007 2:31PM Report
Divbel writes:

Not alot to say except that I agree with you Heerobya.   I have been so frustrated with the WoW, my current MMO , that I haven't been playing.  Two days ago, for the first time in 2 or 3 yrs, I actually reactivated my UO account.   No, it is not current.  Haven't bought anything since Age of Shadows.    I was so excited to see all my characters..and.. to my absolute amazement.. my HOUSE!  I couldn't believe it.   I know they have messed up the game.. but.. it has been fun to just get in there again and look around remember how to kill stuff.  I will probably take part in the Halloween invasion on Magencia if I am at home.   I have no idea if I will keep it active past  this one month that I renewed for but for now, for old times sake, it's making me smile. 

Sat Oct 27 2007 5:31PM Report
Lizard_SF writes:

Things went 'backwards' because they watched UO leak players like a sieve. For every player who loved the system, there were many others who didn't. Consider the downsides of those features:

Housing -- the entire game became suburban sprawl. There was no wilderness. Then there were the sleazy tactics used to claim prime real estate, not to mention all the bugs which let players break into houses and loot them blind. Logging on to find your house stripped bare was always a ton of fun.

Skill System -- maxing out skills took a few days for power gamers. Constant rebalancing meant characters were all 'flavor of the month', and since there were no absolute choices, there was no consistency to a character. One week, he was a wizard; the next, a rogue; the next, a chef (due to a bug which let you raise your int ridiculously by constantly using the 'taste potion' skill).

Unrestricted PVP:"No one spends 12.00 a month to play meat". After the Trammel/Felucca split, the PVPers who allegedly relished the "challenge" of PVP left in droves, once they were deprived of clueless n00bs to gank and had to face actual, prepared, enemies. Even the current king of ganking, EVE Online, has large protected areas compared to original UO.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I *like* a lot of the features of UO, but they aren't commercially viable. They don't feed the Skinner Box (look it up, children) model of play which is needed to fund a modern MMORPG. The closest game to it was SWG, and look what happened there...(And if anyone thinks DF, *if* it is ever released, will ever be anything but a niche game with a small cult following, I've got some prime Florida real estate for them.)

(My ideal game would follow the model of RoleMaster -- a class based system, but any class can learn any skill -- at a cost. A fighter pays very little to use a sword, a mage a lot, reverse that for spells. I believe games should require a lot of hard choices during character development, not offer everyone everything all the time. I'd also like realistic weight/volume for encumbrance, no more carrying 50 suits of armor in your 'backpack'.)

Sat Oct 27 2007 7:09PM Report
Jamkull writes:

well for the most part i think you are right, except the instancing part.  I really like that about the newer games because you don't have to fight over that special quest mob or drop.  Plus yeah, EQ has been a blight on the whole MMO world to me.

my first mmo was "the realm" back in 95'.  that was a fun game, but then i went with asheron's call when it came out.  and that has been my ultimate mark for mmos to grade on.  Asheron's call has all that you named plus a whole lot more.  the one key thing i loved about asheron's call was the outstanding dungeons with puzzles and trap doors that if you got stuck in, you had 2 choices.  if you had high enough item magic skill you could portal recall or life stone recall.  but if you didn't you had to do a /lifestone command that would make you commit suicide to get out.  but now that function has changed and is now a slower but automatic lifestone recall ability everyone has. 

but it still has items dropped on death and the pvp server is FFA.  and it is one of the few games that actually requires a good bit of player skill to play.  as in you can literally dodge arrows and magic as well as many dungeons require some interesting good ol' eye hand coordination to get through.

and of course its skill based and you can develope your character anyway you want.

unfortunately even turbine themselves went way backwards with AC2 when it came out.  thus it is no longer in service even. 

these companies really lose touch easly with what their player base likes it seems.  its like they should look at tried and true gaming systems such as D&D and the D20 rules.  something that has been around for ages.  because they only make slight changes from time to time.  and ever so often a major change to keep up with the times.  but their systems at truely gamer tested.  but we have really good companies out there that have a clue.  and i'm sure i will be one of the first in line for whatever bioware puts out.  that is one company that really has their poop together.

but nonetheless, i see things starting to come full circle now with most newer games.  because you have guild wars making a more of a sandbox design along with instancing for GW2.  Which to me Guildwars has the best overall PVP experience.  but to each is their own of course.  But Shadowbane has had the best FFA PVP experience to me.  But games have to start working on one or the other and focus more in one direction so the quality would be better. 

and of course Eve online has the best sandbox/pvp gameplay to me, with economy and design to rival that of SWG's original design. 

i'm one of those old school gamers that graphics come in 3rd when it comes to priority of gaming experience.  i want gameplay and content before anything else.  you have the prettiest turd on the planet but in the end its still just a turd.  so graphics only get you so far, and that is about the first 10 minutes, then you better have something worthwhile to actually play.

oh well i'm just rambling on... just my 2c :)

Sat Oct 27 2007 11:55PM Report
Eurhetemec writes:

No, MMORPG design has not gone backwards.

The "dream features" you say people keep repeating are repeated only a by a tiny, noisy minority of players, most of them ex-UO players. I mean, that UO had all your "dream features" is utterly unsurprising, because these whiners simply want UO back but with better graphics and more content.

The trouble is, whenever a game comes along with some of those features, it flops horribly. Why? Because most players DO NOT want them. Most players want the features you cry about, like instancing. The reason Darkfall might never be released is that they can't get financing. Why? Because there's no evidence whatsoever that there's any real market for that kind of game.

EVE is the only game "of that type" that's still successful today, and I suspect it has that market more or less entirely covered.

So anyway, no MMORPG design continues forwards. It's "UO was the perfect game!" idiocy that's stuck in the past.

Sun Oct 28 2007 1:49AM Report
Storymode writes:

Play guildwars, enough said, if thats not your "cup of jo" then....QQ less imo. :D >:O

Sun Oct 28 2007 9:51AM Report
Aren_D writes:

I'm currently keep my eyes on The Chronicles of Spellborn, mostly because of combat, skill system and gear independance. Quest/story leveling.And much more.

Had huge expectations from Fury, but it fail in my eyes =(

Modern MMO got a story to tell, old onec don't, only quests.

Upgrated version of FFA PvP will be released in 5-7 years,imo. Ganking must die in order to have FFA PvP.

Instancing, After playing Crysis demo we might expect less incsanced MMOs, but need a really good PC to run that type og game than =s

So I think that MMO development still going forward ;)

Sun Oct 28 2007 7:14PM Report
BadSpock writes:

good opinions, i like to hear them.

I should restate my personal opinion...

I thought the PVP system in UO after the Factions system was introduced was perfect. Very few full out PKs, but only because of the massive swarms of people that kept it Faction vs. Faction.

I liked that gear meant very little, it was about player skill and group coordination.

I DO like instancing, I do think it is a major leap forward to prevent camping/kill stealing etc.

I DO like player housing, but only if it is controlled to only certain areas to prevent the "urban sprawl" we saw in SWG and UO.

I'm not much of a crafter, so I really could care less.

I do like skil systems better, though I have gotten very used to the class model, it's hard to argue against it due to balancing issues.

Tue Oct 30 2007 9:44AM Report
Xix13 writes:

Thank you thank you.  Finally, somebody who recognizes the Trammel/Felucca split as a GOOD thing.  YOU, sir, must NOT be a griefer but a player who actually enjoys a good PvP fight.  I salute you.

pre-CU SWG comes to mind as taking the UO model and expanding it.  Yes, it had some problems with implementation, but it had an awful lot of UO influence to it.

Alas, the open, non-linear MMO is in a down period.  I guess we can blame WoW for this, but I'd rather put the blame on unimaginative businessmen and venture capitalists who think that they can copy WoW and, poof, they'll make millions.  Think of all the failed RTSs that came along after Warcraft and C&C hit the market, and how terrible most of the copies were.  Nobody made money on that schlock, but it seems that nobody (except we gamers) learned anything either (and we already knew!).

Thu Nov 08 2007 5:34PM Report
BadSpock writes:

Xix13 -

actually, I blame EQ for killing the sandbox, open and non-linear element, as WoW was just an updated version of EQ.

And you are right about my as a PvPer. It's why I dislike class based PvP and dislike level based PvP. It's never 100% equal standing. The only way to get a really "fair" fight is with a skill system, and with one where you have NO idea what your opponent is capable until he/she does it. Your only inclination to their general ability/style is the armor their wear (if any) and weapons they wield (if any)

Fri Nov 09 2007 1:22PM Report writes:
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