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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Games That MMOs Should Learn From, Part 1 of y

Posted by UnSub Wednesday January 2 2008 at 9:10AM
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3D MMOs have become a genre unto themselves (or so says I - you can argue about what a genre is in the comments section) since arguably coming into a recognisable existence with Meridian 59. They've certainly been around long enough that we can see duplicate systems of duplicate systems popping up all over the place, with features pioneered in one MMO being taken and implemented into another one, possibly with some minor changes. However, if MMOs are going to avoid the fate of entering an Ouroboros of self-referential obscurity where only the hardest-of-hardcore fans dwell, fans of the MMO genre really have to hope that MMO devs are looking outside of their favourite MMOs and at other games in completely different genres for examples of thing to bring in and evolve their MMO with.

I'm not going to pretend that the list below is going to include every single game that MMO devs could learn from, or that I'm going to write them all down in one go (I'll add in further games to this blog at later dates), but there are some games out there that have features that really should make their way into the MMO genre.

Here goes:

Ultima Online (PC): Yeah, I know - I just said MMO devs should look outside the genre and here I am, putting UO first on the list. But there's a good reason for this - UO encountered pretty much every problem that occurred in MMOs likely before your favourite MMO was a twinkle in its devs' eyes. PvP? Ganking? RMT? In-game prostitution? Player-run areas? All seen within UO and dealt with, along with a whole lot more. It frustrates me no end to see new MMOs released with no apparent idea that all the problems they currently face existed and were dealt with in the late 90s (and hello to Fury here). Sure, maybe UO's solution is not the solution for your MMO-of-choice, but even discounting an option provides you with a path to potentially take.

Seriously - go play UO, or learn about it, about why the Trammel patch was important and why its like will never be seen again.

Blade Runner (PC): "There was a Blade Runner game?" I hear you cry. Yep, and it was awesome. Ignoring the cult sci-fi IP, it had one extremely neat feature that every MMO should pick up - it randomised the narrative.

It wasn't full randomisation - the story still had a beginning, middle and an end - but it randomised a lot of what happened between those the start and the end to make each play through fresh. Evidence at a crime scene that was visible in one play through couldn't be found in the next play through. Characters may or may not be at certain locations depending on the time you arrived and between different play throughs. MMOs want players to hang around as long as possible, yet continually offer the same starting experience over and over. Why not take a leaf from Blader Runner's book and develop content that won't be available to all players from the get go? Start a player off with a random letter or book to deliver, which will lead to other quests that their next character will not be able to experience. Make it so that a quest-giving contact available on one play through isn't automatically available on the next. The aim should be that no two characters' (from the same player) PvE experience should be the same - something new pops up or a quest that they hadn't seen before draws them in to play another month or two.

Of course, the semi-random content has to be more involved than "Kill X" or "Deliver Y". It's also got to lead somewhere that's involving. But it's a heck of a lot more meaningful to developing an immersive in-game experience than having the same quest givers stand in the same place to give the same quests.

Street Fighter II (Arcade): A classic, certainly, but one that MMO developers can certainly learn from. SFII did a number of PvP things very right:

  1. Easy to learn, hard to master.
  2. Fun from the very start.
  3. PvP sees characters behave very differently but still be balanced.
  4. Minimal individual loss from any defeat, minimal individual gain from any victory.

Sure, a one-on-one 2D arcade fighter is arguably simpler than a 3D MMO, but the principles that make SFII great should be taken on board as the basics for any MMO looking to make PvP something that the majority of players actually want to get involved in.

Summer Games: Or Skate or Die. Or California Games. Or any other mini-game collection that allowed players to play short, sharp, fun mini-games based around a theme. Mini-games that have a point and, more importantly, are fun can contribute hugely to a MMO and serve as nice diversion to the main deal, but often mini-games in MMOs seem designed to be an absolute chore and make grinding throw 300 orclings a barrel of laughs by comparison.

There are a whole host of mini-game types out there that could be added into modern MMOs and tweaked to fit the theme that would also add a lot to the MMO experience. The thing about MMO players is that you can never be quite sure what they are going to love or hate, so it's better to give them lots of options that they can choose fun from rather than trying to force them to see fun according to a single focused dev Vision.

Medal of Honour: Frontline: MOH:F did something that pretty much no MMO does - start the game off with a bang. Yes, they ripped off homaged "Saving Private Ryan" in doing so, but it doesn't matter - MOH:F started the game with the player in no doubt about the seriousness of what they were doing or the danger they faced. And that was just the tutorial mission.

MMOs tend to start off much more sedately - "Hello kind sir / madam, here is how you move, now please, go and kill five ants to show me you know how to fight". After you've done this kind of thing twice, you're asleep at the wheel through the tutorial. MMOs really need to build the atmosphere and tone of the game from the very start, so if the lore is all about how your character is going to save the world, starting them off by killing ants is a very poor way of making the player feel like they are actually going to reach that destiny. Another great example of this kind of start is BioShock - it has an incredibly impressive introduction that sucks you into the game world right from the start.

There are just a few games I think MMOs could learn from if they wanted to improve. I'm sure that some have some of the above features, but overall, I haven't really seen them implemented (so if they exist, please let me know below!). There are other games that are important too - I'll add to this list in future blog entries.

BadSpock writes:

Not a bad list.

I agree for the most part.

MMOs need more mini-games and fun little gimicky stuff. LOTRO is the only "modern" MMO I know of that has them, like the chicken play sessions. WoW did start them with the Daily bombing run quests, but I'd like to see a LOT more mini-game type activities in MMOs.

I disagree about the "random" story element. I'd rather have 2-3 good storylines and the player has the abilitiy to chose which to follow via an alignment system like KOTOR or Mass Effect.

Starting off with a bang - couldn't agree more. No more of these crappy boring tutorials and early 20+ levels that drag on and on and on... don't save all the "fun" for the end-game. Make the beginning and middle awesome/fun and really grab you by the neck and throw you right in. There's always time to worry about end-game.

Wed Jan 02 2008 9:41AM Report
todeswulf writes:

Wow.......this is perhaps the best article I have read in a very long time. I agree with your observations especially as far as UO and Blade Runner are concerned. I spent New Years eve with a developer friend and his wife...he was telling me what was going into his game that is just starting beta and he looks me square in the face and says. "It's going to bomb" We will be lucky to get  5k subscribers. Why I ask? "Because" he said "it is every other boring ass kill X and fetch Y game out there." Here is a game that is well funded by a huge publisher and one of the lead developers knows it's going to bomb...that is the malaise that is gripping the industry. 
It is an exciting time as well because never has the market been so primed to be turned on it's ear.

Wed Jan 02 2008 9:43AM Report
BadSpock writes:

btw I just read that link you provided.

it's what i've been saying all along too!

Trammel was the best thing to happen to UO. The target class got to move on and actually enjoy the game, and the griefer class was forced to fight fairly and risk death, so they left. It was the best move UO ever made. (That, and keeping one server full FFA as a refuge for the old school)

Wed Jan 02 2008 9:49AM Report
El_Gostro writes:

Damn,after so many years I have finally found someone else who has played the BladeRunner Pc game!!!
Couldnt agree more with ya Mister Master Unsub!
Funnily enough I remember around that time buying my first gaming ganked PC and I had a dangerous thirst for what would now be nominated as "plot driven" adventure games,an age I remember as revolutionary,developers kept pushing the boundaries of what could be done or not back in the day...


(Okey now I know I m getting old)

Wed Jan 02 2008 9:59AM Report
Vevi writes:

I was thinking of Marvel Universe Online and the DC MMO. I do hope these two titles come up with fresh ideas.  I am a DC fan. I hope to hell I don't get Batman as a NPC contact. I want to fight next to Batman and the other heroes I love.   Of course, the games have to be made first.

Wed Jan 02 2008 11:47AM Report
Death1942 writes:

LOTRO has the best tutorial of any MMO by far.  straight into the action and story and i was hooked the whole time.

Wed Jan 02 2008 2:05PM Report
chaintm writes:

The  concept of random scripting is great, but the issue here is content vs production. Stories, scripts etc take allot of development time , usually the most as far as giving content to play. Most MMO's today have issue of not enough content, IE LOTRO and more fans keep asking for an MMO with yup, more content. To throw a random element into stories might be a great idea, many will never see some of it making it a waste of developer time. Sadly this is what it is, till some company understands that might need to hire 10 quest writers and pay those initial big bucks as long as the rest of the game is viable.

If a company did this, they would for sure have a WoW killer on their hands.

Wed Jan 02 2008 11:50PM Report
Kedrick7 writes:

Great points, I especially agree with the points about UO and minigames.  UO was My MMO birthplace, and even through the ganking and continuous PvGank pucker factor, the fact that I could Own a House, and live in a community built by other players, always made the game fun for me. 

On Minigames, one of the best attempted implementations of a minigame that I ever experienced was in Neocron, a cyber-punk style PvP/E MMO (with some minimalist ownership).  Neocron offered a minigame related to lock cracking/hacking, which took the player into a mini-duel with an electronic AI in an attempt to bypass a security lock.    What made this, for me, fun was the fact that *I* was still a target in the world, even though I was "jacked in" to the hack sequence.   Neocron failed to fully explore the "jacked in" environment, but this style of minigame is a (IMO) superb example of what could really add to a game. 

Mon Jan 14 2008 4:22PM Report writes:
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