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What makes players play a game for years?
What makes the same world and place new and different than last week?
What keeps the Game world moving?
I think answering these three questions, then a new virtual world will emerge and take over the MMO genre.
My personal views in how these three questions relate to the Longivity of a MMO is as follows.
1) The mystery of death, and the Bargaining of life as currency.
Introducing the Reincarnation system, each character you create has an hidden death meter, each person is different, each character is different, so if you don't adventur but instead only crafts, then eventually the meter will run out and you will die. But upon your death, you are given a new life, a brand new character. If you used to be a maxed out weaponsmith, your second generation character will have the knowledge to learn that specific craft twice as quickly than brand new characters. If you are an adventurer, you have the risks of dying quickly, each virtual death, brings your death meter closer to end. So you can't abuse it.
Instead of Levels, you have Hours played, that is your life, each character have certain numbers of hours to live. Ranging from 200 hours to 300 hours.
Using Life as currency, you can use death as a way to boost your skills to help you defeat a dungeon boss.
2) Having a world wide system that updates and data crunches the server's events completed, quests failed and mobs fought and death. Each Month, the world you are in changes slightly, prompting an specific world event based on predetermined criterias. World change slightly only meant that the world NPC reacts with knowledge of what has transpired.
3) What keeps the game world moving, is the same things that keeps our current world moving, the Governments, the Politicians, the Laws, and the Police and Economy that keeps the world moving.
Currently in all the games, only the Economy seems to be the biggest focus, but its time we start creating Laws and Rules and have the GM and NPC be the Police of those laws, and have Gamers become Politicians and form their own Governments to govern.
Why can't we have an NPC that sells lands, that we have to pay tribute/ Tax that when reached a certain point, they might get better roads, less roaming mobs but more organized raids to the kingdoms to steal from.
MMORPG shouldn't be a game build for Casuals, it should be a Virtual World that Casuals can come and visit, and others to live in. Where casuals can adventurer like normal, while the Hardcore governs the world in the background, where the Casuals are the undecided independents, and the Hardcores have their own guilds of supporters.
Because each character has their own death meter, no one character can beat the game.
4) Items are based on Durability other than Power, characters determines the strength of each swing, not items. Because A sword that is sharp is the same as a Knife that is sharp. But each item has side effects, a saw like sword creates bleeding effects, a knife with poison , poisons. A flaming sword, burns, an Ice sword freezes....etc.
Life is a Maze, so make sure you bring your GPS incase you get lost in it.