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Community Spotlight: Is MMO Immersion Still Possible?

Posted by MikeB Thursday April 14 2011 at 4:17PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread "Is it possible to be immersed in an mmo nowadays?" by otter3370. Otter3370 wonders if it is still possible to be immersed in the game world of an MMO these days with the amount of players who break down the game into all the nitty gritty technical details:

I've read a lot of threads discussing upcoming and current mmos. Many times they delve into everything from what type of graphics engine the game uses to what kind of dance animations the avatars can do. Gamers know so much about an mmo, right down to its game mecahnics, is it possible to even get immersed in the character or story of an mmo anymore. Does knowing too much about the game before hand ruin in any way its immersive potential for you?

I've been in games where gamers were discussing how they need one piece of equipment because it will will boost another ones str by .3% or something like that. When you start discussing percentages and ratios, crunching numbers, when you basically have playing an mmo down to a science, are you really immersed in the mmo or is this just another type of game play style?

These types of gamers are the ones that usually find the exploits, bugs, etc., that plague some games and can be a positive force in stabilizing them.  But I can't help but wander if it hurts their enjoyment of an mmo in the long run. 

Can knowing too much about the technical side of an mmo remove the simple wonder of being in a new world?

JB47394 shares his thoughts on the topic:

I found EverQuest pretty immersive for the year or so I played.

World of Warcraft (WoW) was very nicely immersive for about half an hour.  WoW destroyed my sense of immersion because of all the gubbage on the screen.  Numbers floating out of characters during combat, punctuation floating over NPC, quest boxes, spell icons, item icons and so on.  When I finally got around to raiding, it only got worse, with all the raid UI stuff to allow support characters to track the status of everyone in the raid.  It got to be more like air traffic control at O'Hare than playing at being a Tauran Druid.

EverQuest stayed immersive because the game interface was so crude.  All the information was jammed into a lttle box in the corner of my screen.  That meant that I spent the majority of my time looking at the uncluttered game world.  If the game had been usable without the floating name tags, I'd have enjoyed myself that much more.

Until MMOs can go back to a streamlined interface while keeping the game playable, I'm fairly certain I won't be able to get immersed.  Making advancement less frenetic would help quite a bit as well.  With so much change in the character, it's hard for me to think of my character as much more than a place to hang gear.  A slower pace of advancement would also give players an opportunity to learn the game world instead of racing through quests and zones using all sorts of builtin aids to guide them.

Loke666 feels that he can still get immersed into an MMO, it just takes a certain type of game world for him to do so:

If you can get immersed in a P&P RPG without more than some paper and possibly a few dices you can of course get immersed in a MMO still.

But I can admit that the last game that did it for me was GW from 2005 and even that didn't have the feeling I had in some of the old games.

AoC actually got me into it for a few days but it kinda lost me after a little while. The world was actually pretty well made but it was too small, buggy and I just lost the feeling for the world after a while.

I think a game needs a certain size for it to work for me, and it also needs small details that isn't really for anything but to add to the feeling that the game is alive. Like a small part of an old fence in the middle of nowhere, a few stones that might once been part of an house, a tree with some pretty birds in or other small stuff like that.

Not too many but a few so the world actually look alive. Also the world need some planning I havn't seen in MMOs lately, you don't just place mobs and animals with certain distance from eachother for the players to kill. It is actually nice with a small part of the wood with almost nothing, maybe besides a squirrel and a few birds. 

But I do have the hope things will be better soon.

I am of course certain other people still are immersed in their games, but I feel that this is a point that can be bettered a lot.

LydarSynn feels it's certainly still possible, but it requires a believable world:

I think the biggest thing that breaks immersion is that there is no sense of reality at all in any of these games. When MMOs were new and the game mechanics were not completely understood (i.e there was little concept of end game), it was easier to become immersed. Once you have played a half dozen of these games, you know what the game is all about. Sure, there are different graphics and mechanics but in the end, your character is simply an immortal fighter, mage, crafter or whatever. While most of these games are built on fantastic premises, there is no consistent reality other than one- you cannot die or even lose anything except some time that you played. The world is static and the player cannot affect it at all. The econmies of most games are also completely unrealistic.

IMO immersion can only really come from playing in a world that is somewhat believeable. Believalbe means that there is some risk to the player of loss and not just from death. Also, the players have to be able to affect the world and change it for better or worse. That also means putting limitations on what one player or a small group can do.

However as another poster put it, your mileage may vary as far as immersion and some may be able to forget all that I just mentioned and be really immersed in the current crop of MMOs.

I'm not often as immersed in MMOs as I was in the past due to the fact that I'm older and understand them on a much deeper level given the nature of my job, but even if I were younger and not working on this side of the fence I can see how contemporary MMOs are a good deal less immersive. It really does have a lot to do with a lack of mystery in newer games, at least for me.

There is a lot of handholding and leading around that makes for a much more linear progression in most new games and so it feels like I'm playing them with the same attitude as a single-player game, and by that I mean I'm trying to "beat" the game. A lot of the older games had a bit more mystique to them and didn't really focus on pushing players from quest chain to quest chain.

Can you still be immersed in an MMO? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

TheCrow2k writes:

I gor quite immersed into Age of Conan particularly in the early levels through tortage and during destiny quests. I felt a real sence of urgency chasing Sadur through the jungle towards tortage knowing I needed to stop him from revealing that I was a slave and the same urgency at other times such as fleeing down the side of the Volcano as it erupted.

Problem was once you played the Tortage story once it had very little variation for alts and once you hit level 23-24 you were let out into the wider hyborian world where the game was less polished and became a lot less immersive.

Thu Apr 14 2011 6:24PM Report
NomadMorlock writes:

I think back to my days in UO prior to Everyquest launch and I have to say it was more inmursive than some current games that are much more beautiful and realistic.  I think for me it was the use of voice chat programs like ventrilo and teamspeak that has dulled that sense of adventure a bit.

Thu Apr 14 2011 6:25PM Report
Vyeth writes:

The last truly immersive mmo I had played would be Anarchy online.. The day/night cycles, the weather effects, the ambience, all when switched and running around in first person view was truly something epic.. Games like Ryzom and Mortal Online have the feel for immersion, however they just didn't execute the way Anarchy Online did for me.. I remember just wandering around in AO one night and coming across a hidden castle like area. It was dark however there were these little flowers emitting light which allowed me to see..

Thu Apr 14 2011 7:28PM Report
Vercin writes:

I remember running through Buthcer Block mountains in Everquest one at night time. I actually felt something running through there in the dark, wondering if we would get attacked, wondering if this ranger knew where he was taking us.

Never since then have I had the same feeling in an mmo. I'm not sure you can anymore.

Thu Apr 14 2011 8:19PM Report
k11keeper writes:

Honestly there has only been a few times where I truly felt immersed in games. For me the most immersive times were when I was leveling my bst in ffxi (for years that was the only efficiently soloable class). Wandering off into the middle of nowhere with mobs that could easily kill you on all sides so you can get to that perfect spot always got my blood pumping. Alas for me games have always been games though and immersion has never been possible with outside influences like tv, music, phones, food, girlfriends, and back in the day parents. (they used to love interrupting my gaming)

Thu Apr 14 2011 9:16PM Report
Evasia writes:

For long time i felt immersive in Darkfall where you dont have names above heads no npcs with ! above head and a giant world with no loadscreens no instance to explore. The exploiting cheating and real life crap players talked about in chat ruined it alot for me.

Thu Apr 14 2011 10:11PM Report
nate1980 writes:

I'd either need a compelling story, which SWTOR sounds like it'll have or I need to not know what in the hell is going on, like in earlier MMO's, where you weren't lead by the hand from one quest hub to another. The Secret World sounds like it'll be immersive as well.

Thu Apr 14 2011 11:15PM Report
trancejeremy writes:

I think the problem is always going to be other people. The first MMORPG I ever played, Shadow of Yserbius, I remember the first people I met all had names like Satan666 and EvilDude69 and stuff like that.

Fast forward 20 years to me trying out Forsaken World (since it was advertised in this side).  Same stuff, people with silly names. One character named MileyCyrus offering people nude pics. Others make canine flatulence jokes.

I logged off in 30 seconds.

Thu Apr 14 2011 11:29PM Report
montin writes:

Immersion is based on imagination. The greater amount of imagination the player employs then the more they will feel immersed. Hence more advanced graphics, greater knowledge of game mechanics and even things like growing older (in real life) will all reduce the amount of imagination that a player uses. Which will have a direct correlation to the amount of immersion the player feels. Less imagination needed = less immersion felt.

For those old enough to remember Scott Adams adventure games and the wonderful Zork adventure, then if you can remember back that far you will realise that immersion in the game was considerable. Basically, we are doomed at present to find games that are immersive unless the player is young and new to the gaming world. For the rest of us we will simply need to wait until some game developer decides to do something original and stop following in the tired old foorsteps of other games. When that happens we will be able to briefly reclaim that fleeting feeling of immersion.

Montin - 30+ years a gamer and post grad psychologist.

Fri Apr 15 2011 1:56AM Report
different writes:

I think Montin is spot on. I remember being more immersed in text RPG´s on a ZX Sprectrum than anything released in recent years. UO, WWIIOL (especially) and SWG (maybe) were immersive. The more you know about the game and the it´s mechanics, the more stats and D&D-like calculations the less immersive a game.

Xyson can be immersive and I'm hoping TSW can be too, though I expect power games to have everything figured in a week and up on the web which is what usually happens

Fri Apr 15 2011 3:18AM Report
ConjureOne writes:

MMOs can never bring the level of immersion of a single player RPG game, NEVER, because there will always be one "special" person spamming chat with "LOLZ HAHA I OWNT U HOHO" and other stuff...

Fri Apr 15 2011 4:31AM Report
Digna writes:

Games can (at the present) can look cool, sound great, play well etc. There can be levels of interest and enjoyment but not 'true' immersion (for the the bulk of folks..there are always a few with fertile imaginations, like the hardcore RP crowd).

The next level of true immersion with be when we create a full 3D virtual reality game.

Fri Apr 15 2011 5:50AM Report
Senadina writes:

This question reminds me of the feeling I had in high school drama. When you see the man behind the curtain, the magic is gone.  Knowing too much does take away the awe of any experience. Of course, the answer to this is to not spoil yourself with too much inside information. It depends on of it is worth it to you to remain willfully ignorant, cause we all know what ignorance equals.

Fri Apr 15 2011 9:31AM Report
Dusntmatter writes:

I think familiarity is one cause. It seems that for most people, they consider their first MMO the most immersive.

I'd bet the first time you went to Disneyland was much more immersive than the 15th time.

Fri Apr 15 2011 9:49AM Report
daltanious writes:

Do not understand what the hell have UI to do with immerion?? What then about "world" around monitor then? How such player eliminates this "problem"? Besides nearly all games have option to turn off UI. BTW ... FF14 Online had such "spartan" ui and we all know how ended.

What I find immersive is (besides graphics and I'm not referring necesarely to realistic) if quests are well done. But if player do no read at all what quest says ... well .. is player fault not game. When I have to kill 10 rabid bears i want to know WHY, if I have to put down some evil leader also want to know WHY .... which bad things he did. And sure ... there must be story quests. Without this can not be immersion. Good sound sure is also necesary. Also physics of avatars. If it moves like it had wooden stick for breakfast ... welll that eliminates immersion.

I have found very immersive Aoc, Wow, also War to some degree, for sure Rift, .... All beautiful worlds and good storyline.

Fri Apr 15 2011 11:30AM Report
Amorphism writes:

montin articulated it beautifully. The more we know things as facts (as oppose to opinions) the less we feel "real", and thus being less immersed in the game world.

Viewing that from a reverse perspective - In real life, we know only very few things to be an absolute truth, and even that is argued by some philosophers. We are dwarfed by the enormity of the universe and our little knowledge within it, and I think that makes life much more real for us. We are forever in awe and wonder.

One of the things I do in games like MMOs to strengthen the immersion is to be less hardcore. I avoid sites that analyze the best template for a character or those who give you every recipe in existence and where you can get every ingredient. Maybe it forces me to be more of a casual player but I prefer it that way.

Fri Apr 15 2011 12:28PM Report
Kothoses writes:

That is the intrinsic beauty of MMOs they can and do cater to a lot of different play styles.  I have heard it said that a thing is only "Fun" untill you start looking into the why rather than the what of it.  If you drive a fast car thats fun if you start to look more at why its fast then it is not.  But then again there are large and long term communities whose sole purpose is to discover these tiny marginal differences and push their characters performance to the limit.  Such communities and groups very often come across as the pond scum of online gaming, when in truth they are anything but, they just exist on their plateu and wish to game their way the same as people who dont want to go that far into it exist on their own level.


No one play style is right or wrong, ultimately its the people not the playstyle that are both the saving grace and the biggest problem in mmos.

Sat Apr 16 2011 10:17PM Report
narfi writes:

I have only ever played 1 mmo, but have been fully immersed in it for over 3 years now several hours a day.

A few of the points in the article were.

1. A need for a sence of risk vs reward. (not loosing anything in death was the example)

2. Unrealistic economies.

3. Excessive icons and too much information.

4. 'end game' being to easily acheivable.


Entropia Universe has not offered any of those issues for me and is likely why I am still so immersed in it.


1. With their game money directly exchangable for US dollars, the cost of activities is a very realistic risk, and loosing items in pvp means loosing real money. On the other hand there is also the chance to 'hit it big' and get that nice loot which could also be cashed out for USD.


2. Because the ingame money is based on the USD, the economy is very self regulating and I beleive as realistic and organic as an economy can be while still being in a virtual world.

3. It is fairly easy to play with few to no icons on the screen and any regular battle messages can be turned off itf you dont like them.

4. I have been playing 3+ years and am almost into the range of lower mid level. This is a game where progress is slow but steady. Accomplishments actually give you a sence of pride.

5. No monthly fees combined with the ability to invest as heavily as you want make this a game for people of all playing styles and ambitions. I know that if i decide I need to take a few months off, I wont be paying any monthly fees. I also know that if I want to invest in an ingame buisness, then I also have the ability to put in as much money as I want.

The introduction to the Planet Partner 'franchise' consept has made this game even more immersive for me.  With new planets being produced by independant development studios the ideas and themes will be never ending in a Universe where my avatar can travel where he wants bringing his skills and gear with him. (I do frequently travel between planets)

Rocktropia (one of the new planets) is releasing 2.0 tonight(was supposed to be last night but got delayed) and it would be a good time for anyone curious about this very immersive game to give it a try.

I know I sound like a salesman, but this game has progressed so much in the last couple years that anyone who played it 3+ years ago wouldnt even recognize it.

good luck and have fun finding the game that is truely "immersive" for you :)



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