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The moss-covered genre

Posted by joeballs Thursday May 27 2010 at 6:32PM
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I don't agree with people who say that MMO boredom is based on “genre burnout”. The real problem is that the genre has been stagnant for a very long time.

Here it is, 2010. Technology has advanced quite a bit since the first "3D" game in the genre came out. What was it, Meridian 59? I think that I personally attribute the first big 3D MMO to EverQuest considering that it was the very first MMO I have ever played, and I played it quite a long time ago. Anyhow, the point I'm trying to make is that not much has changed since then, and computer and game technology has advanced quite a bit! When an MMO fan subscribes to a new game, they’re expecting surprises and a general “wow factor” (pardon the pun) to keep them interested in the game. The only way to accomplish this is to give them something new. And I don’t mean simply adding features that other games do not have, I’m talking about a complete paradigm shift.


The problem, at this point, lies with the designers. The designers (with some good financial backing and executives that trust them) are the only people who can revive the genre; to give it new light. Creativity and thinking outside of the box while utilizing current technology is the only way to go. Simply copying and pasting other designers’ ideas can wear thin over time, and that's exactly what is happening. I have no problem with borrowing a great idea, but when everyone borrows the same idea, over time, it will eventually become a “given” and lose everything that was special about it. A composer is the perfect example. A young composer gets inspired by another composer. When you listen to the young composer’s song, you hear his/her personality mixed with the other composer’s influence. This is very common, and this is how music evolves. Now can you imagine what would happen if every composer had the same influence?


We need a paradigm shift.


There are so many reasons why this genre has been so successful. But there are just as many reasons why it’s losing its appeal. When you have that kind of balance, something needs to drastically change. When you're dealing with change, you have risks. What are some of the risks? Well, there are a lot of personalities out there who have difficulty accepting change. That’s a risk. Also, change brings a lot of unknowns. You can also try to change something, fail, and then the blame is on the change (which reflects the ol' saying "If it ain't broken, don't fix it."). There are so many risks involved when changing direction, but the way I see it, change is needed or the genre will simply die (take a look at how well the Adventure genre is doing).


I as well as many of you have become bored with the genre. What can we do? Well, for one thing, we could play other types of games. I personally love video games so I do play lots of other genres. We could also quit playing games, but then we’d be experiencing our dull and boring lives (i.e. still bored). I think the reality of it all is that MMO players don’t want to stop playing MMOs “AND” they don’t want to be bored. Now that’s one helluva conundrum! What an MMO player wants is change regardless of how they respond to it.


So I got to thinking about “change” and what it might mean to the genre, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to come up with some of the basic features that need to be altered or even better, removed to make room for something new.  It was quite obvious to me:

  • The general delivery quest.
    • Nothing turns me off more than when I finish creating my first character and drop into the world, and the very first thing I'm required to do is talk to an NPC that starts a string of requests or deliveries that have me running around reading story elements that are not very interesting. That should NOT be the first thing that happens in these games. It makes me want to quit as soon as it happens. Why does it leave such a bad taste? It's because it makes me feel like I've already done it 100 times before. It's like working at McDonald's flipping burgers, and then getting a new job at Burger King doing the same thing. The only difference is one place has golden arches and the other has a golden bun.
  • The prosaic critter killing quests.
    • I could never understand this. You create your great warrior or powerful magician, only to be asked to go kill some helpless critters for the first 5 hours of gameplay; over and over and over. Are you kidding me? I just made a character that looks like a musclebound killing machine, and I'm struggling with teeny tiny critters?
  • Filling up my bag with crap that I do not need.
    • Do these game companies really pay people to figure out what all these items should be named, who and when to drop them, and give them some sort of value? Because it seems like a big waste of time considering that they're TOTALLY USELESS TO ME! Even worse, I feel like I'm spending most of the time picking this crap up! What am I, a warrior or a trash collector?
  • NPCs that stand in the same place forever.
    • Don't these people ever have anything better to do other than handing out some silly quests that mean nothing to the world? Go to a bar and have a drink on me! Just get out of my sight! Part of the appeal of an MMO is being dropped in a living, breathing world. NPCs need to be walking around, living their lives. The technology is there. Use it!
  • Character levels.
    • Seriously, how in hell can I play with my friends if they're more experienced than me? That practically nullifies the reason to play the game! All it takes is for my friend to login and play 1 day a week more than me and *BOOM* I'm instantly not qualified to play in his group. I just don't understand the game mechanics. Developing a player character should be skill based. You'll be a better asset to any group if you're a skillful player. And If you're higher level, you're nullifying the other players abilities! DOH! I'm a musician, and I know plenty of people younger, and less experienced than me that can play much better because they've developed a better skill set. That's the way it should be. Can I still play with them and make good music? Hell yeah! In fact, the skillful player makes *ME* sound better.
  • Running long distances with nothing to do.
    • Everyone likes to explore. I mean, that's part of the fun with these games. Exploration should be the main focus, in my opinion. But after playing several of these games for years, I've concluded that it's not implemented very well. Exploration should be mysterious and surprising. You're walking into the unknown where anything can happen. The designers really need to enhance this experience much more than what it is. From what I've seen in the games I've played, is that you're asked to go to certain locations to talk to someone and/or deliver or kill something (i.e. delivery quest or mob killing). What needs to happen is that you have a real goal that you're striving for, and along the way, you have random encounters that are unexpected. And I'm not talking about walking within a mob's sight; I'm talking more about the element of surprise. The player should be walking into "situations" and not being asked to start a situation. And for an mmo, lots of situations can be created with other player characters. I mean, you've got thousands of players on a server. Use them!
  • Players need to be united.
    • I'm not talking about "LFG!" and pugs, I'm talking about something that brings players together. There are so many players on a server, yet more than half of them have no desire to team up with anyone else. In my opinion, that's not the player's problem... it's the game design. Why would I want to team up with some stranger if I can get the job done on my own? In fact, even if I can't get the job done, I may choose not to do that particular job so that I don't have to look for someone else. I'm not going to look for someone and no one is going to look for me. What needs to change is that certain "situations" introduce you to new players. The game design needs to change in such that you're welcoming a player into your circle, or an unwelcome guest is causing problems that you may have to deal with. Emotional situations between players have to be instantiated by the game, not so much between players.
  • PVP
    • This has to be one of the most boring features of an MMO. Sure, everyone likes a battle, but not everyone likes to kill or be killed for no reason. I'd say that gankers are in the minority and that most of them are just delivering payback due to the horrible implementation. Think about a real world scenario (not in current day, in general). We all know that there are people in history that have gotten away with a lot of bad things (i.e. senseless murders), but in general, no one person will get away with something like that for long. The do-gooders will prevail. The problem with most MMOs, is that you're either matched with players that have similar skills, or you're so unbalanced that it encourages senseless killing. The matched fights are kind of fun, but again, you don't really know why you're even fighting (unless you follow some boring backstory), so to me, it's like playing team deathmatch. I find that that style of gaming is out of place in an MMO. This is supposed to be a living, breathing world... not an arcade game. As far as the unbalanced situation, well you've all been there unless you've been labeled a "Carebear". What needs to change is a reason to resist fighting because of the longer term consequences, or a very good reason to fight due to some other serious "situation" that may have a long term affect. In the real world, you have to make a serious choice before taking such an extreme measure. This is how it needs to be implemented. In fact, the term PVP should be taken out of the MMO vocabulary all together. There's no need for it if the choice of killing takes some serious thought.

This is just some of my thoughts about the MMO genre. No one has to agree with it. It's one man's opinion. I once loved the genre and was very passionate, but over the past 6 years or so, my interest has been declining steadily and it's not because of genre burnout. It's because nothing has really changed. I've worked for McDonald's, I've worked for Burger King, I think it's about time I moved on to culinary school.

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