MMOs have been around for a long time and have morphed and changed over the decades now as we enter 2017. We're in a period which I would consider the second era of MMOs with Ultima Online for all intents and purposes kickstarting the genre back in 1997. Games began simple and expanded over time, breaking off into sub genres, independent projects, and huge AAA titles. Let’s look at a few titles which made this leap and how studios are bringing the genre back to what we all loved in the first place.
You join an online world to see other players whether it is in PvP combat or to group up and fight bosses, you want to play with others. MMOs had always been sandbox worlds until they started to become too big for their own good. The top example of getting too big for its own good could be Star Wars: The Old Republic. The game itself had a massive amount of content. It had huge worlds to explore, instances to follow, and PvP areas to battle in right from the start. The main selling point to the game was that it was a BioWare adventure which meant you could play through it all solo. With all of these mechanics BioWare even included a huge story arc for your character which was truly amazing. This huge game still does exceptionally well today several years after launch. Expansions continue to perform well and there is a strong fan base around such a fantastic part of the Star Wars universe.
However, Old Republic’s development price tag was always a haunting rumor behind the game. Large numbers were thrown around and players wondered just how much was spent on this title. If you truly care enough to do your own research, go ahead, but Star Wars did successfully make a giant splash in the MMO market and remains a strong earner for EA today.
Games now may not have the budget to fit a huge RPG into an MMO and combine the mechanics. So, developers have to be careful just how much RPG they want to put into their MMO. With persistent worlds like Minecraft being so popular, it seems like the sandbox trend is where MMO players want to plant their flags now. That being said there is still plenty of room for story. Games just have to think about how and where they put those stories to give players the right boost when they need it.
EverQuest, Ultima, and Dark Age of Camelot all hit us with a healthy case of brutal PvP in the early days. However, I always go back to DAOC as the game that perfectly estimated and calculated the PvP system as it should stand. Camelot gated off PvP areas and made sure you knew that when you walked through that gate you were hitting the enemy. Heck, we camped out at enemy gates all the time just waiting for people to come through. Many games have tried to get by just on PvP or factions, or some kind of war. They all spun into different ideas with so many concepts. In all of these Camelot’s three faction system still remained the best for this purpose. It was the number three which set it apart. Two sides would always go back and forth, while three changes the entire system. Now there is always some type of equalizer. World of Warcraft instituted their Alliance and Horde and everyone made the jump into those factions. It was always a back and forth and PvP was huge in Warcraft, but never became a top of the line mechanic like raiding and gear. To this day, if a game wants to add PvP to its MMO, then it needs to make sure there are clear boundaries which work well for all types of players.
Crafting systems have been one of the biggest debated areas in MMOs for years. Star Wars: Galaxies is the game that I felt had the strongest crafting system ever created. It was a great system and it worked very well for players. Whole guilds were founded in that game just on the crafting alone. The question here is when does crafting become too much? In World of Warcraft you could craft some amazing items, but they were always a back seat to raid drops and top gear. This is where the MMO went wrong. If I spend three hours crafting to make an epic shield, or three hours raiding to find an epic shield the results should be the same. Unfortunately they were not, raids became more important than crafting and other MMOs followed suit. Soon what was once a complex system within a game, became an afterthought for many MMOs.
The lesson here is, if you include crafting, keep it simple. Make it so the player has fun with what they are doing and the final results are equal to the overall top tier of the game. Also, I am a firm believer in offline crafting. Now that you have so much game ability on your phone or tablet. Why not log into a cool crafting interface from work and set up your goals for the night. That way, you are included in the game and feel ready when you actually get home to log in.
These are just three areas to talk about when you get into just how big MMOs had become. They seemed like overloaded cities in Civilization. So much going on in them that they were impossible to maintain. As so many developers go independent and more computing power becomes available I think we will see much more streamlined MMOs in the future. Games that will capture the essence of what made MMOs so much fun and still allow us to have fun lives outside of the worlds we enjoy.