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The List: Five Forgotten MMO Features

Columns By Phil Bickle on October 21, 2011

Five Forgotten MMO Features

In February 2008 Paul Barnett, then Creative Director of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, gave a presentation at the European LIFT conference that rattled heads as much as it caused them to be scratched. You can watch the video here, a speech that if you care anything about the business side of things, should not be missed. During the presentation Paul compared MMOs to the Las Vegas Strip; once an idea is had, it is copied. The idea is made bigger, better and more exciting until it is driven into the ground. I'm sure most people can make that mental leap between Vegas and MMOs.

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While it is dangerous to only copy and do nothing new or innovative, sometimes you have to wonder why some ideas just don't catch on. Here is a list of a few things that just didn't seem to make a splash, despite their potential.

PvE Faction Allegiances (as seen in: World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade)

Most people can and will agree that the Scryers and Aldor were not the most well implemented feature into the Burning Crusade. The grind to max out your rep with either faction took way to long for the casual player, who really just wanted a new crafting recipe, and being forced to check online to make sure that the faction you choose would actually have something you wanted before you committed to one or the other was a break of immersion. That does not mean however that the general idea was bad. With some work, this could become a very powerful staple of the MMO genre.

Choosing glory with one faction at the cost of being hated by another is a great way to add a bit of individuality to your character, as well as some much needed freedom of choice. By being up front about what your allegiance will get you and rewarding players for simple tasks so that even the most casual of players can get plenty of satisfaction this simple game mechanic could be the foundation for an entire new style of questing model, not to mention the obvious use as end game stepping stone to raids. It’s not a huge deal choosing one of two factions, but what about three of eight? Not only will one choice effect and shape your character, but each subsequent one will alter it even more. Here is hoping that The Old Republic uses this scheme as part of their story based leveling.  Though it may work even better in something as “factional” as The Secret World.

Skip-able Tutorials (as seen in: Nothing! But similar to; City of Heroes, DDO: Unlimited)

While some would consider it pointless to put a separate tutorial zone in a game when you can just build the tutorial into the starting zones quest line, if taken a step further it would only make sense to keep them separated. Once you have one character past level 5 when the single skill baby-steps of the freshly rolled toon are out of the way, why should the player be forced to do it again? The games mentioned don't take their idea nearly far enough, but it is a start. In fact, why not have the ability to skip the first 10 levels once you have one character maxed out? It saves time for the player, which in a genre known for being an excessive time sink, will garner many much praise from the casual and hardcore alike, it also removes that boring section where the game truly is “auto-attack to win”.

Open World Raid Bosses (as seen in: Everquest, Final Fantasy XI)

Once a staple of the MMO genre, world raid bosses have fallen out of favour in recent years. This makes sense when looking at trends. MMOs have become much less competitive in terms of player interactions in recent years. With the genre gaining popularity since 2004, the separation between the casual and the hardcore just keeps getting worse. World raid bosses could be the perfect solution to this problem. Have the instanced raids tuned for everyone so that the lore related fights can be an experience by anybody and then the hardcore guilds can then have the harder, but less important to the mythos, world raid bosses to not only fight, but fight over. This adds truly needed competition between the hardcore guilds on a server as well as a way for them to really show they are the best.  This is being done quite a bit in Rift with their invasions, so I suppose there’s a chance for it to catch on again.

Designing Your Own Items (as seen in: Warhammer Online's Alchemy, Star Wars Galaxies pre-NGE)

Everyone wants it, so where is it? Being able to design your own potions and armor, setting your own stats, aesthetics and durability is a feature that nearly every player would love. There is some balance issues involved making sure dungeon and raid gear are at least as good as the crafted gear, but the added value and longevity added by such a crafting system will give yet another reason for many people to keep playing your game. This may be the most needed feature of any of them listed, so again I ask, where is it?

Not Credit Card Required (as seen in: various cash shop based MMOs)

I understand you want to keep people paying as much as you can, and a recurring system is one of the best ways to do so, but most people do not want to give you that access and information. With how fast and simple Pay Pal is and the new ease of bank transfers giving people as many options as possible to pay will net you more people in general, if not high overall gross income to your game. Either way, even if the costs of having multiple systems equal a net-loss, the PR of a boasting higher subscriber base is worth way more than that loose change that processing fees from 20 different payment options will cost you. Get with the times subscriber-based MMOs: more options for the player = more players overall.

Are there any features you've seen once or twice and never again?  Share them below!