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Community Spotlight: Skill in MMOs

Posted by MikeB Thursday June 24 2010 at 1:18PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Anyone else not going to be satisfied with MMOs until "skill" is added into the gameplay?” by BioNut. In the thread, BioNut laments the lack of “skill” in MMOs:

“I have been playing MMOs for a long time (Aceron's Call was my first) and I have never really been satisfied by the gameplay.  Well, why play them you ask? To be honest, I play them mostly to relax and have have some nice casual multiplayer with friends. I also play them for story and roleplaying purposes. But this said I would really like an MMO to come out that is not for casual gamers but for hardcore gamers.

But wait, wait!!!??!!! WoW has plenty Hardcore gamerzzz doesn't it?

Short answer= No, mmo hardcore people are NOT hardcore gamers. That thought is laughable.

Long answer= Hardcore gamers are people who enjoy games that require skill, not time commitment. (think street fighter, Call of Duty, japanese top down shooters).

This is really the crux of my issue with MMOs. They require absolutely no skill at all. I mean, there isnt a single open world MMO thats PvP or PvE  doesn't boil down to who has better gear, higher levels, better traits, etc.

I want to see a guy tank the biggest boss in the game wearing nothing at all because he is just that FREAKING good. I wanna see an underdog win because he has a flawless fight against a better geared character. I want to get ganked by three other people and end up killing them all because I am just that freaking good. I want skill to matter and gear to be a bonus.

That way players can truely become legendary not for being "first to" but for being epic. For fighting against all odds and winning. Until then MMOs will continue to be casual "side attractions" and stuck in the stone ages they find themselves in now.”

While the OP’s post was a bit abrasive, the resulting discussion on the forums was nothing short of interesting, with many different viewpoints.

Swanea, like many members, define the basic idea of skill in an MMO differently:

“Certain mmos out now do involve skill.  Twitch games may measure reaction times as much as they measure "skill".  Knowing when to use abilities in MMO combined with the ability to change your tactics based on what is going on is very common.

PvPing in some MMOs involve just as much if not more skill then any other type of game.  You would just choose to ignore it since you can't lolheadshot them all the time.

Knowing when to CC, when to stop healing to help dps, when to LoS, when to use your elite skill, when to blow cooldowns.  And again, it's not just "when", it's the ability to adapt when things are not going your way.

Overall, sure, most MMOs might involve less "skill" then a fps.  But if you are looking for fps skill in a normal mmoRPG, you are looking at it from the wrong point of view.”

Mrbloodworth takes the opposite view:

“Huge diffrence between skill, and knowing the mechanics guys. MMORPG are simply about who has the higher number, and who knows the mechanics better, FPS games do all of that, and include skill.”

redOrc asserts that an MMORPG requiring skill already exists, Guild Wars:

“Guild Wars PVP is based on "skill".

You can open max level PVP character on day 1 and play with it. Gear is of almost no importance. Anyways you can "open" all gear options (for PVP) within several days of game play.

Each guild in the game gets "rating", which matchs it's skill to the other guilds. When you enter a Guild-Vs-Guild game, an automated selector will select a guild matching your skill. Winning a match will improve your rating and loosing will decrease it. So very fast you will find yourself playing your rating guilds.

The game is a little low now, since everybody are waitng for GW2. I hope it will be the same in that respect.”

RajCaj invokes the venerable Ultima Online to explain his position on skill:

“I've been waiting since Ultima Online redesigned their itemization in Age of Shadows.

The problem, as many have stated, is that gear progression is a GREAT way for developers to lead players around through the "content" as they see fit.  It's just easier from a development standpoint to be proactive about the content if they know in advance that everyone will be doing "this" to upgrade their gear.

And of course you get all the problems with a gear progression based MMO, like STATS > SKILL, extrinsic reward system gets players doing things they don't neccessarily enjoy doing, etc.

The key to creating a MMO that is primarily skill based is that the item system has to be relatively common or craftable.  There were magic weapons and armor in UO but it typically something used to give you an "edge" and not a rediculous advantage. 

The other key componet is that the combat system has to be relatively simple and/or uniform.  Ultima had only 2 main base classes....Mages & Warriors.  There were slight variations of the two that allowed for some tactical diversity.....but on the whole it was an even playing field with a very unique casting system that made Mage Dueling one of the first E-Sports.

In a day where MMOs are trying to seperate themselves from the rest of the pack by offering MORE stats and MORE classes.....its highly unlikely that any game devloper will be able to fully balance all class types with eachother.  Instead they adopt a Flavor Of The Month system that continueously changes all the classes so that each get their 15 min in the sun of domination over the rest.”

Of course, I have to quote our very own Garrett Fuller here, who asserts (along with several other users) that TERA will indeed require player skill:

“TERA definitely has skill factored into all of its game play.”

There are so many other great responses in the thread (that’s why its in our spotlight, duh!) so be sure to check the full thread out and jump into the discussion.

As for me, as soon as I saw the thread I knew that it would essentially take a detour into a discussion of the definition of “skill”, as its been a long-standing debate for many years with MMO gamers. We are all too hung up on the word. MMORPGs command a different set of skills than an FPS does and there isn’t anything more legitimate about either of them. Skill is skill. I wouldn’t compare a master chess player negatively against an Olympic shooter because the shooter can hit a moving target at a few hundred yards. They both require different sets of skills and they are both valid.

Now if you accept the basic premise that MMORPGs can require skill (not that all do), the larger issue here is that at least for most of us here who have a ton of experience with these games, is that we’ve mostly mastered the RPG format over the years. Things haven’t really changed enough to provide us a challenge. Couple that with the trend for developers to appeal to a broader audience, thus resulting in simpler games, we have a situation where many players are understandably dissatisfied, myself included.

With the exception of casters (who played on a traditional playing field), I felt that Age of Conan offered some pretty decent (though imperfect, to put it lightly) gameplay that rewarded player skill. I’m a huge PvP nut and I won tons of fights (before the gem stacking craze, and before they simplified the game some) by simply being a better player than my opponents in Conan. I’ve won 2-3 on 1 fights numerous times, simply by taking advantage of the fact positioning and timing played an important role in the game. That isn’t to say that traditional skills such as knowing your class and how to play it don’t matter, but in this day and age, and I’m echoing a lot of posters from the originating thread here, simply don’t allow much exploration and variety. If they’ve got a talent tree, the developers have budgeted the tree a certain way so that they can balance it. While builds the developers don’t account for tend to appear and surprise people, they quickly become overused and eventually marginalized in the name of balance. It’s a tricky balance, designing to allow for depth, complexity, and player creativity, and to keep things on a relatively even keel. MMORPGs can reward skill, but not all of them do.

Chris0464 writes:

Must say that one mmo I used to play that required skill was Darkfall. Although like in most mmo's the higher skills give you the greater advantage, even the person with a max level character in everything was useless if he couldnt aim.

With FPS style archery and magic and melee also requiring you to aim (although in third person) and no 'click to lock on' style targeting it has to be one of themost hardcore PvP mmo's out there

Thu Jun 24 2010 2:14PM Report
Nytakito writes:

I still don't understand why just about everybody seems to equate skill with pvp, and worse yet, FPS style pvp.  Especially when you consider the mechanics/controls of those style games haven't changes since the days of Wolfenstein. 

Thu Jun 24 2010 2:23PM Report
Athcear writes:

"Skill" is the whiney buzzword that bad players use to disguise how little ability they really have.  They talk about how "skill" is some magic trait that makes you good at something without trying.  In reality, time investment is where such ability comes from.  It's called practice.  That's where skill comes from.  From practice.  Lots and lots of it.  No one is magically endowed with the ability to win video games.  It takes time and effort, and practice.  "Skill" is just a buzzword that people use to make themselves feel better.  Someone who can't compete claims that other people have no lives and spent tons of time, but he has more skill, and should prevail because of that.  Do the legwork and stop complaining.

Thu Jun 24 2010 2:44PM Report
hogscraper writes:


If you think there is no skill in MMO's you haven't played many MMO's. I absolutely agree that it takes an entirely different set of skills than an FPS, but unless you have completely narrowed down your definition of skill to simply include 'twitch' aiming, and nothing more, you have no idea what you're talking about. DAOC was my first love because I only wore player crafted gear and could still kick ass. Yes, a FG of decked out players with all their abilities up and ready to use would take me out. My sorc, my mins and my heretic all three could deal with multiple opponents through strategy and the skill of positioning. If you are playing an MMO where certain abilities are so overpowered as to make all other abilities of that character pointless then yea, that mmo takes no skill other than targeting and seeing how fast you can mash the 1 key. Most melee classes in dark age had positionals they had to use to get the most out of their melee attacks. Perfecting learning the timing of attacks as well as knowing what those attacks are and how to recognize them, knowing how to reposition yourself to negate that attack, knowing exactly what spells your opponents will use and knowing exactly when to target that caster to interrupt them with an instant cast spell, then moving back to your priority target. That all takes skill in strategy and general battlefield knowledge. You can say there is no skill involved, but when I can use my characters abilities fast enough to kill 3 other players while wearing crafted gear and random drops, I feel justified in calling that skill. 

When people say there is no skill in MMO's, especially a game like AOC, I instantly recognize that person as someone who never bothered to try. That's the guy who still clicks the hotbar to melee and uses his arrows to turn and usually the same guy screaming haxor when someone else completely obliterates them in combat with a flurry of 'skill'. 

Thu Jun 24 2010 3:23PM Report
kellerman24 writes:

Hmmm ... I've been thinking, I've played mmos for so many years, and recently even said there's no real skill in most mmos, but after reading this from Mike

'at least for most of us here who have a ton of experience with these games, is that we’ve mostly mastered the RPG format over the years'

I've realized ...mmo genere became so easy for me, because games are so similiar in their mechanics (few exceptions like AoC at the beginning or mentioned Darkfall).
My conclusion is: even if something is easy for me that doesn't mean it doesn't require skill!  Also even if it's easy for me it may be hard for someone else.
But there are games that don't require skill when it comes to pvp - Warcraft, I've said it, since it's the most popular - I just remeber when I've stopped playing the winning factor was LUCK+right class. That was equal to random dmg numbers that decided the winner.
Enough rambling, I just hope that for us PvP'ers (at heart) this new generation of action mmos will give us a chance to shine (a world where keyboard turners and clickers die like flies ;)
Thu Jun 24 2010 8:17PM Report
Annwyn writes:

One game I still play that isn't 100% skill-based but still requires a lot of skill is Mabinogi. Gear in mabinogi is hardly relevant and is more of a fluff thing than anything else. You must fight your opponents according to their reaction, using the right skill at the right time, predicting your opponent's next move, etc. If you mess up, you will die in 2-3 hits. Most monsters deals VERY high damage and bosses can kill you in 1 hit too.


A new player won't be able to complete mosts dungeons by himself but he can still help to manage aggro in a group, defend archers or act as a healer (should he have the skill), which I think is already a lot more than most MMOs on the market. Sadly there's very little PvP.


But yes, I fully agree with BioNut, MMORPGs definitively lack skills. The incoming crop of MMOs are more skill-based so perhaps there's a future for REAL skill-based MMORPGs. Time will tell.

Thu Jun 24 2010 8:22PM Report
Dwarvish writes:

 I couldn't agree more!!  To often, gear, not skill is what determines the winner in pvp.

I also agree with the statement about Guild Wars: “Guild Wars PVP is based on "skill".  Yup, that it was!

 I've heard some folks who seem to think that the low level cap was 'to easy' .  I doubt any of these players actualy played GW or they would know how important real skill was in PVP. After making max level ( and on the way to it) good playes also spent time collecting Elite skills. These only were available by killing the boss using the skill and capturing it with a signet of capture.

I'm tracking Tera and will definetly be playing GW2.

PS:  Playing Aion now and yes, gear is wayyy to important. A well geared twink can demolish a beter player with lesser armor/weapon/ manastones etc.  Its a game with huge potential that will probably lever be realised. Fun, and yup, I have 3 twinks but seldom attack players but kinda enjoy ripping bigmouths apart...unless they have even better gear

Thu Jun 24 2010 8:52PM Report
Sinkro writes: I think it's important to emphasize MMORPGs and FPS games require different "skill" sets. FPS requires more twitch ability and instant decision making skills, whereas MMORPGs requires a different emphasis on overall knowledge (what skills to use in what situation, etc), strategy, and timing. I'm not saying one genre requires only one skill set, I'm saying they emphasis different skill sets. That's why it's horribly wrong to go into an MMORPG and expect some kind of twitch ability to win all the fights for you, just as it's wrong to go into an FPS and expect some kind of optimal skill build. I agree that MMORPGs nowadays require too much gear and less "skill," even the skill that I think is required by MMOs. It would be nice to have an MMO where getting gear is not about luck and you have the ability to adjust your gear depending on the situation. Having that kind of smarts is what I think part of the MMORPG "skill" that is lacking. Thu Jun 24 2010 9:08PM Report
RedRaptor22 writes:

I have'nt really noticed much skill involved with mmo's since the nge in SWG.

Post CU as a PVPer there were those "epic" characters running around that everyone either feared, respected or hated and it was'nt because they had 4 rows of buffs or uber armor and weapons because at that point everyone could have the best armor and weapons and a full row of buffs was really hard to get so it was pretty much only reflexes, proper use of skills and whole lot of cunning that really set people apart.

Back before the buff-wars there were those certain people who you just did'nt mess with no matter what and when you saw them coming you suddenly the chat box would fill up with "RUN!!!!11!!wasdwwwww132!" "OMG WHO'S BOUNTY DOES HE HAVE?!...Just log out, log out!!!"

It was great back in those days because despite having tons of people playing constantly on our server in pretty much equal gear there was that top 10% that you just did'nt mess with and everyone knew their names instantly...even their alts were well recognized even though they were mostly crafters or ents. 

Thu Jun 24 2010 11:47PM Report
JoeJustJoe writes: I couldn't agree more with the lack of skill in games these days. My old realm on WoW "Gul'Dan" is a very, very small server now. I logged back on before the newest expansion hit and to my surprise saw a huge group of people outside Orgrimmar. I asked what was going on and apparently the "best warrior on the server" was accepting challenges. This warrior was in the best gear available at the time. I'm on my 70 Rogue, with only 1 epic dagger, and everything else is all Blue-quality gear. I challenge him to a duel and he accepts. The fight started and I started by stunning him, getting another combo point, and running back into stealth without using vanish. I re-initiate with garrote and then rupture, run away and vanish. Letting him bleed for the duration. I rinse and repeat as much as my cooldowns would allow, while also sapping him when he tried to bandage or eat. A while later, The fight ends with him killing me in like 2 hits, with him at 10% health. I was promptly called a "scrub" and a "noob". And that I was no match for him. Now then, I could only imagine what the match would've been like with the best gear my class could get, but the result is obvious: He would've lost on equal terms. But according to him (And a large amount of the spectators) He was simply the better player. Fri Jun 25 2010 2:37AM Report
Madimorga writes:

When I played Anarchy Online, I gravitated toward the class and activity (NT kiter) that relied most on the type of skill the OP seems to be talking about, reaction time and spatials, and in WoW, pvp relies more on reaction time and spatials than pve does, and that was by far my favorite activity, so I have to say, "Yes, more skill please!"  Then I remember what more twitch does to my old computer.  Erm.  How about more twitchy skills in MMOs but first put them on consoles, please? 


I'm not just crying in public (yet again) about my annoying old computer.  I really do think that, for MMOs to become more twitch heavy, the significant differences in the types of systems people are running these games on has to be addressed.  Then there's latency/ISP issues, too, I suppose. 


Fri Jun 25 2010 4:17AM Report
JaggaSpikes writes:

MMO's in general do not need more twitch. what MMO need is more diverstity. people are different and play different things for different reasons. i want twitchy games for twitcy people, and social games for social people. or even different playstyles within same game. enforcing gameplay will never work. people will never play what doesn't work for them.

Fri Jun 25 2010 6:27AM Report
Lord.Bachus writes:

Its a pitty they never got a chance to create a good game from it, but spellborns combat required lots of skill and tactics.

Fri Jun 25 2010 6:38AM Report
MMartian writes:

Many people confuse the importance of equipment in MMOs an meaning that they have no skill.

Many also confuse the lack of the repedative FPS twitch style skill in most MMOs as also a sign of lack of skill.

The example of the undergeared rogue not beating a superior geared warrior in WoW shows that the poster had the better skill but was trunped by the opponent's gear. But that does not mean that there is no skill involved.

One thing  to remember is that many people like to collect ans whow off their acomplishments. In an MMO like WoW the developers cater to this by adding new and better gear. In some ways this hurts since many players unfortunately have come to equate gear with skill while in the game mechanics that is not true.

Most of the arguments that I see about skill seem to center around mustle menory reactions for twitch based combat = skill feeling that many have. There is also the tactical strategy skill that many MMOs seem to fucus on that are not pandering to the dexterity advantage that certain ages have.

Fri Jun 25 2010 8:13AM Report
uncus writes:

One thing nobody seems to mention here is that games with "twitch"` skill are still subject to the LPB.  Your IP as well as your home network and your machine's specs all havea major effect on your "skills".

Fri Jun 25 2010 12:59PM Report
DSBHR writes:

I completely agree that skill is not a component of MMO's having come from a FPS background.  

Clans that make it up the ladders in OGL in various FPS games can only due so 2 ways.  Skill or cheating.  I grew despondant about FPS games with all the cheating and hacks alot of people use.

MMOs on the other hand have built in aimbots etc.  At that point it really does boil down to "Time in Game"  or RMT to make a person a more powerful player.


That is really what the difference in the the genres.

FPS go for skill (or cheats)

MMO  go for power (time in grade or RMT)

Fri Jun 25 2010 10:18PM Report
shantideva writes:

Kinda strange how noone has mentioned Meridian 59 yet, it came out a few years earlier than ultima, had very fast skillbased "twitch" combat and really a close to perfect system overall. strange how it keeps getting overlooked, anyway Hail 107=)

Sun Jun 27 2010 1:40PM Report
muchavez writes:

I always thought it was funny how people have such huge egos in MMOs yet it is the least skill based game genre.


Sun Jun 27 2010 9:06PM Report
stayontarget writes:

Being able to ride on the efforts of others once to attain gear and defeat those in pvp who have more skill but fewer resources or gear.

Now I ask you: is that skill?

Sun Jun 27 2010 10:45PM Report
ntstlkr writes:

While I think the Chess Player vs Olympic Shooter hits the skills vs skills analogy on the head, the real issue for me are Gear and Player Character Level.

To what extent should gear [and gear doesnt have to include stats if they are going to be worn as a way of showing accomplishment] offset a players ability? Or to what extent should gear trump player ability if at all? Why does gear have to include stats or bonuses to begin with? While a "nice" thing it's not a neccesary feature since everything that exists within a game world is a artificial construct.

Hand in hand with that is Player Character Level. To what extent should a PC's level trump player ability? Sure I've seen a few posts describing a PvP match where an on-average under level group or player beat a higher leveled character. But I would point out that those battles only took place within a narrow range of circumstances which only reinforces my observation. Noone can show [well so far at least] a new level one character beating out a max level character because it just can't happen. The bonuses that accrue to a PC as they level up often include strength and health leveling up also as well as health regeneration. A level one toon just couldnt hurt a max level toon fast enough to override his regen. 

A knife in the hands of a teenager will kill a guy in the prime of his life if the teenager sticks it in the back of the guys neck. 

Maybe there IS no answer and game play mechanics for MMOs and RPGs are what they are and forever will be. But I am curious how Secret World will incorporate their no level system.

Mon Jun 28 2010 12:32AM Report
ihaveurnose writes:

in all honesty...a lot of those ppl with "skill" are just ppl that have made a "long commitment" to a game(s). They had to get used to the controls, had to learn what weapons were or were not good, what combinations to use...where to find weapons/vehicles on maps..where to hide/camp at, and finally a bit of luck and a good connection for online gaming (such as c.od., halo, battlefield etc.) ... plus another thing that a lot of the ppl that r "skilled" at a game(s) usually just camp with OP weapons, and that's why i choose to play MMO's over online console least there's more chance of things being fair, as long as u don't get ganked by a group of higher lvls.


as for an MMO that requires this same type of "skill" u r referring to, i suggest trying out chronicles of spellborn. If you've played it already then u should know that it's pretty much exactly what u said u wanted, a game that takes skill with gear just being a bonus...for the most part anyways. i never got too far into the game so im not sure how things work out for mobs/bosses with aoe attacks. but from what i learned while playing is that u actually can kill a lot of monsters without needing any gear at all, just skill to keep out of the mobs "reticule" while still keeping yours targeted on the monster. And if you haven't played it, i rly do suggest you try it out..


now u may think im not as much of a "hardcore" gamer as you make yourself out to be (lolz)...but at least i actually know of 1 game that has what you're looking for, and im positive that there are plenty more out there that are the same way...

Mon Jun 28 2010 6:45PM Report
Shinami writes:

Guild Wars I is an RPG that has SKILL involved because you have to learn how to use the skills and make the builds work. It gets defeated by the fact a Wiki Exists where anyone can download the skill template set and apply it.

Of course characters have to develop their abilities through play experience and not EXP Points to actually get better to make the skills and builds work.

Right now there is more skills in Shooters and coordination than there are in MMORPGs...All I have to know to play most MMOs is to have my skill quickslotted as well as weapons in a party and then follow instructions to a certain predictable order and then its just a matter of time..

As long as the party just follows the "Order of Activating" skills any enemy gets killed. It all amounts to skills and equipment along with character levels.

This is how most point and click RPGs are...Just watch any video out there of any major boss battle in practically any day and you wont even think of your own survival..Just think that you can CLICK at the right time and not mess up....(which gets the party killed)..

Like I said before....Shooters offer more independence than RPGs now. In a shooter I went with two friends as snipers...We were losing by 30+ , by the end we won by four...and we ran a triple-angled sniping strategy.

Mortality exists in shooters and people know they will die...They know even if you have ALL WEAPONS and POWERUPS that anyone can kill you just as easy, specially if you are doubleteamed...Due to this, a very good player takes their role a lot more seriously and because of this, there is more roleplaying involved in say...running away and trying to not die and hoping your shot makes a kill and doesnt miss, giving your position away.

Roleplaying needs to create that intensity, that dynamic. I love both genres (RPG and FPS) and bring in mortality into it...otherwise it will remain a click-fest tailored to powergamers with the illusion of roleplaying written all over it. :(

Sat Jul 17 2010 5:35PM Report writes:
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