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Five Assumptions that are Killing the MMO

GreyfaceGreyface Detroit, MIPosts: 390Member

Let's talk about the assumptions we all make about MMOs that are suffocating the genre.  I love MMOs -- I've been playing these games for a long, long time.  But it's suffering from a serious case of stagnation.   If things don't change, I see MMOs going the way of the Adventure Game. 

As players, our own expectations are to blame.  There are so many things we simply take for granted -- no one even thinks to question them.  Developers, for their part, have gotten lazy.  Very few can even articulate what's wrong; they just know that they're bored.  Bored players don't rant on forums -- they cancel their accounts.  Developers, for their part, respond by doubling down on past mistakes.  The list is strictly my own opinion; feel free to disagree or add your own. 

Assumption #1 Developers should listen to the players:  Henry Ford once said "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."  Developers who design based on player feedback get a lot of praise.  They really shouldn't.  What do players ask for?  More of the same: more raids, more gear, more levels, more buffs, more nerfs, more convenience.

The truth is that the players don't know what they want, because they've never seen it before.  Verant (now SOE) took a lot of crap back in the day for talking about their "Vision."  Sure, they sounded like jerks, but they also built a landmark game in Everquest.  Back in 2004, no one was demanding more quests.  Blizzard did it anyway, and you got the runaway success of WoW.  When was the last time a game feature came out of left field like that?  The reason why there's never been a WoW-killer is that the AAA developers can't move past the WoW-clone.  Players aren't game designers -- they're going to ask for a slightly different version of what they know.  Innovation comes when a developer takes risks.

I'm not saying there should be no communication between the people who make games and the people who play them.  But the industry has gotten into the habit of trying to please everyone, and the players have gotten into the habit of expecting it.

Assumption #2 Players are the problem: I cut my teeth on Ultima Online, a game where players brazenly tormented one another and exploited even the smallest bug.  It was one of the best gaming experiences of my life.  You never knew what was going to happen when you logged on, because human beings are unpredictable.  Note, I wasn't a PvPer in those days -- in fact, I spent a lot of time complaining about player killers.  But I loved the spontaneity -- the sense of player agency.  There were a thousand ways to play that game, and someone was always coming up with a new way to turn things to their advantage.  It was far from perfect, but like many other gamers, I was hooked.

Fast forward to 2013, and all you have are walls to prevent players from bothering one other, and from playing the game in unexpected ways.  MMOs used to be one the most social and creative of genres; today, players are isolated from one another.  Group finders match us up with random strangers, so we can grind away at scripted content in instances that ensure that we never run into anything, or anyone, unexpected.  Groups are fixed in size and composition, and deviating from developer-planned strategies will result in a wipe at best, bans at worst.  When soloing, you follow breadcrumb trails of phased quests that enclose you in a cozy little bubble of isolation where no one can get in the way of your progress.  Trade is anonymously conducted over auction house.  PvP is more like football than warfare – except you can’t trash talk the enemy because we don’t want anyone to get their feelings hurt.  Nothing you do really affects anyone else, and nothing is unanticipated.

Other players could make life hell back in the old days, but in our quest for convenience, we've tossed the baby out with the bathwater.  We play alongside one another, not with one another.  There has to be a happy medium between Lord of the Flies and It's A Small World.  This brings me to...          

Assumption #3 Sandboxes are sandboxes, theme parks are theme parks:  To read these forums, you'd think that we're discussing two entirely different genres.  It doesn't have to be this way.  In spite of what I've written above, I'm not a die-hard sandbox guy.  The game I played longest, besides UO, was WoW.  As players, we need to move beyond seeing sandboxes and theme parks as irreconcilable opposites.  They should be looked at as points along a spectrum.

Sandboxes avoid a lot of the problems in #2.  But they trade those problems for a new set of issues that have doomed them to a niche audience.  Where theme parks suffer from over-scripting, sandboxes leave new players adrift.  EvE, for example, almost dares a new player to enjoy it.   Why can't we have a game that starts off simple and gradually expands your options as you progress?  Why do we have to choose between free-for-all PvP and instanced battlegrounds?  Why does persistance have to mean dog-eat-dog?

In the real world, both totalitarianism and anarchy are seen as bad ways to run a society.  Most places opt for something between the two extremes.  Why do we, as gamers, fail to see that there's a third option?  I'm no game designer -- I'm not sure what it would look like in practice.  But I know that the game that combines the accessibility of WoW and the persistence of EvE has the potential to be the next ginormous hit.

The lack of publisher support for this concept is a little baffling to me.  One of the biggest headaches in running a modern MMO is keeping up with player demand for new content.  Allowing the players to have meaningful interaction is an inexhaustible -- and free -- solution to that problem.  

Assumption #4 Story is important:  After the failure of Star Wars: the Old Republic and The Secret World, I'm amazed that the takeaway seems to be that the subscription model is the problem.  Subscriptions are fine -- players will pony up for a game if they think it's worth the money.  The problem with both games is the notion that voice-acted cut scenes are the magic bullet for a smash hit MMO.  If we, as gamers, want this sort of thing we'll play single-player games.  They still make those. 

Being the Chosen One in an MMO is just dumb, because there are 500 other Chosen Ones pouring out of the same instance right behind you.  Context, not story, is what we need.  Make the world and its back-story live, and give the players the tools and freedom to create their own story. 

Assumption #5 The Endgame is all that matters:  So many gamers -- and games -- have this idea that the process of developing your character is somehow a precursor to the "real" game.  If a single-player game shipped with a 40-hour tutorial and 3 hours of actual gameplay, how do you think that would go over?  WoW is one of the worst offenders, which is stunning to me.  Most of their initial success came from the fact that Blizzard was the first developer to put actual content into their low level game.  But these days, people level as fast as they can just to get to the raids and battlegrounds.

If players are rushing through solo content just to get to group content, the solution should be obvious.  Instead of shortening leveling curves and then adding loot grinds to slow down the rate of content churn, why not just put the good stuff up front?  

Just spitballing here, but imagine a game without a level cap.  As you progress, the cost to level up increases and the benefits shrink.   Eventually, players would hit a de facto cap, but it would take a long time, even for the worst content locusts.  How would players respond to that?   In practice, there wouldn't be much difference from the current status quo: slow advancement coming in tiny steps.  But it breaks from the idea of loot as "endgame" progress.  Players would be free to seek out the content and activities that they enjoy, rather than just charging into whatever instance gives the next set of gear.

Anyway, that's my list.  If you read the whole thing, I'm grateful and a little amazed.   Of course, your mileage may vary -- this post isn't intended to be a universal proclamation of the way forward.  Looking forward to hearing the responses (if any).

   

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Comments

  • fat_taddlerfat_taddler Wanaque, NJPosts: 286Member
    I would tend to agree with you sir, nice post.  
  • BadSpockBadSpock Somewhere, MIPosts: 7,974Member

    Well done.

    I read most of it.

    Especially like the part about making a game with the accessibility and fun of say WoW with the persistence of EvE.

    "Where theme parks suffer from over-scripting, sandboxes leave new players adrift.  EvE, for example, almost dares a new player to enjoy it.   Why can't we have a game that starts off simple and gradually expands your options as you progress?  Why do we have to choose between free-for-all PvP and instanced battlegrounds?  Why does persistance have to mean dog-eat-dog?

    In the real world, both totalitarianism and anarchy are seen as bad ways to run a society.  Most places opt for something between the two extremes.  Why do we, as gamers, fail to see that there's a third option?  I'm no game designer -- I'm not sure what it would look like in practice.  But I know that the game that combines the accessibility of WoW and the persistence of EvE has the potential to be the next ginormous hit.

    The lack of publisher support for this concept is a little baffling to me.  One of the biggest headaches in running a modern MMO is keeping up with player demand for new content.  Allowing the players to have meaningful interaction is an inexhaustible -- and free -- solution to that problem. "

    Very well said.

  • apocolusterapocoluster newport news, VAPosts: 1,321Member Uncommon
       Disagree with #4...I do want to be the special little pony.  

    No matter how cynical you become, its never enough to keep up - Lily Tomlin

  • bcbullybcbully Westland, MIPosts: 8,277Member Uncommon
    Not much to add to this one. 
  • MyTabbycatMyTabbycat SP, MOPosts: 312Member
    I definitely agree there needs to be more games out there that are a true hybrid between sandbox and themepark. I like elements of both. Why can't I have both in one?
  • Rthuth434Rthuth434 uniondale, NYPosts: 346Member
    revamp the first asheron's call.
  • apocolusterapocoluster newport news, VAPosts: 1,321Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by MyTabbycat
    I definitely agree there needs to be more games out there that are a true hybrid between sandbox and themepark. I like elements of both. Why can't I have both in one?

    ...and with a great story to boot  :)

    No matter how cynical you become, its never enough to keep up - Lily Tomlin

  • Rthuth434Rthuth434 uniondale, NYPosts: 346Member
    nothing wrong with a great story or even a personalized one...just pay some attention to the multiplayer aspect.
  • JemcrystalJemcrystal Champaign, ILPosts: 1,552Member Uncommon
    I only read the part about faster horses.  I knew it was going to be said by someone and it's stupid.  Fix is easy.  Give the gamers a voting forum where they can decide amongst themselves for a year what idea of theirs is best.  Present the winner(s) to the game makers every new years eve.

  • DauzqulDauzqul Detroit, MIPosts: 1,405Member Uncommon

    I strongly disagree with #1.

    The developers don't listen to anyone. Star Wars: The Old Republic is the prime example. I was part of their community since day 1 - Oct 08 account. Every single day... the same questions and concerns fromt he community, e.g., "Stay away from funnel-zones", "Stay away from gear-grind battlegrounds, optional planets for world housing etc", exploration, "space exploration", etc...

     

    What we got was the exact opposite. Free to play before the first year.

     

     

  • GreyfaceGreyface Detroit, MIPosts: 390Member
    Originally posted by mmoDAD

    I strongly disagree with #1.

    The developers don't listen to anyone. Star Wars: The Old Republic is the prime example.

    To be fair, SWTOR is probably a special case.   I get the sense that they ignored everyone but the marketing department.

  • Rthuth434Rthuth434 uniondale, NYPosts: 346Member
    Originally posted by mmoDAD

    I strongly disagree with #1.

    The developers don't listen to anyone. Star Wars: The Old Republic is the prime example. I was part of their community since day 1 - Oct 08 account. Every single day... the same questions and concerns fromt he community, e.g., "Stay away from funnel-zones", "Stay away from gear-grind battlegrounds, optional planets for world housing etc", exploration, "space exploration", etc...

     

    What we got was the exact opposite. Free to play before the first year.

     

     

    they did listen...selectively. they listened to the least common denominator who wanted that grind, who wanted the hand holding, who did not want to lose their comapnions...who did not want to be in danger of being killed by your average hostile mob in a zone.

     

    all else, yes Gorge Zoeler pretty much said "fuck off". 

  • DarkVergilDarkVergil Memphis, TNPosts: 73Member

    Completely agree here.

    Going to post this on mmo-champ stating you as the original author.

  • AeolynAeolyn Langley, BCPosts: 216Member Uncommon
    Great post and the only thing I would really disagree with you on is combining WoW with Eve, I'm not really into any modern type game, instead give me the ease of WoW with an UO story(medieval setting with GW2 graphics).  As for danger, umm as a self-professed carebear I kinda prefer having some kind of toggle keeping those who live to grief from using my gaming dollars for their entertainment, if I want danger I can always go running into an imp/demon infested maze. :)
  • Cephus404Cephus404 Redlands, CAPosts: 3,675Member

    I really disagree with point #2.  It's not that I'm against people being innovative and trying new things, it's that when new things show up, they tend to be exploitive and obnoxious.  They are typically directed at making the individual more powerful than everyone around them, gaining an unfair advantage, screwing others out of their belongings, etc.  That's no fun for the people not using these exploits.  I'd much rather be protected from the dickishness of others, either by not allowing that kind of in-game innovation at all, or by insulating my character from the actions of others.

    It's not that I don't trust people... yes it is!  I don't trust people!

    Played: UO, EQ, WoW, DDO, SWG, AO, CoH, EvE, TR, AoC, GW, GA, Aion, Allods, lots more
    Relatively Recently (Re)Played: HL2 (all), Halo (PC, all), Batman:AA; AC, ME, BS, DA, FO3, DS, Doom (all), LFD1&2, KOTOR, Portal 1&2, Blink, Elder Scrolls (all), lots more
    Now Playing: None
    Hope: None

  • ShakyMoShakyMo BradfordPosts: 7,207Member

    agree with everything but 2

    players can be a problem, one of the problems ive noticed with a few recent mmos, they dont take into account the "path of least resistance" psychology of modern mmo gamers.  Im thinking particularly of server hoppers in GW2 and lets all lump on the zerg faction types in swtor and tsw.

  • ScalplessScalpless SnowballvillePosts: 1,396Member Uncommon

    It's a great list, but I do think players are a problem. Maybe not THE problem, but a problem nevertheless. Herd mentality can be a real game-breaker nowadays, combined with the general desire to GO GO GO through content. It leads to things like finding the most profitable way to do X, repeating it ad nauseum and leaving the game later on because doing things ad nauseum rarely ends well.

    GW2's dungeons and events are a recent and perfect example of this. Without going into details, at first there was a real problem with people only running certain paths of dungeons and grinding certain events so much that the other parts of the game were nearly deserted.

  • OrenshiiOrenshii InYourDreams, KYPosts: 61Member

    themepark sandbox again.

     

    you all realize there is no diference, they both have the same exact qualities.

     

    doubt ppl will understand.

     

     

    O

    Destiny has cheated me
    By forcing me to decide upon
    The woman that I idolise
    Or the hands of an automaton

    Without these hands I can't complete
    The opera that was captivating her
    But if I keep them, and she marries him
    Then he probably won't want me dating her

  • xAPOCxxAPOCx Vineland, NJPosts: 869Member

    I agree with this 100%. Nothing in the OP i would even think about changing.

     

    image

  • jpnzjpnz SydneyPosts: 3,529Member
    Originally posted by Greyface

    /snip 

    Assumption #1 Developers should listen to the players:

    Assumption #2 Players are the problem: 

    Assumption #3 Sandboxes are sandboxes, theme parks are theme parks:  

    Assumption #4 Story is important:  

    Assumption #5 The Endgame is all that matters: 

       

    This is a list that while I can see where the OP is coming from, I disagree with.

    The over-arching theme of this post is that MMOs are being 'killed'. The problem with this is that it is factually false. MMOs are more successful than ever before and is continually expanding as more and more players get into the genre. 

    1. Disagree. Out of how many risks taken by devs, how many were successful? Lotro, DDO, Aion etc countless 'WoW-clones' were financially profitable for a lot of companies. Why take risks when the chances of success are small?

    2. Video games are an entertainment product. Some like the 'grouping / community' side and some don't, vast majority do not.

    3. Both have fairly different game design and start from a different point of view. A themepark that transforms into 'sandbox' might appeal to some but there are evidence that it won't have mass appeal; EVE Online's New Player Experience is essentially that as the tutorial is all 'quests / instances'.

    4. Story is what holds the RPG together. Normally an RPG is 'Talk to NPC X -> Go to Location Y -> Do XYZ'. The 'story' makes the player want to do those 3 actions. Not sure how SWTOR can be a failure when it is still running and has a fairly decent sub. Did it achieve its lofty targets? No, but it'll make back the money invested (remember the 500k sub break even quote?) and profit afterwards.

    5. EVE essentially does this with the whole 'skills' thing and I don't think its a good template. It creates a fairly large level gap between the new players and veterans but now the new players can never 'catch up' with the veterans.

    Gdemami -
    Informing people about your thoughts and impressions is not a review, it's a blog.

  • Gaia_HunterGaia_Hunter BristolPosts: 2,816Member Uncommon

    People are expecting the rush they had with their first MMORPG (or the second/third if the previous were really bad) - that rush of everything being new isn't coming back because the new was being online with a ton of people. (the rush might actually come, but will be short lived)

    With the quality of games that only require the box or not even that (GW2, PS2 and even the MOBAs) people won't be willing to pay a subscription anymore. They will pay to keep the progress in games they have been playing for years and have invested thousand of hours and thousands of $$$.

    A new game out of the blue with a sub?

    There is too much offer and diversity to keep players.

     

    Currently playing: GW2
    Going cardboard starter kit: Ticket to ride, Pandemic, Carcassonne, Dominion, 7 Wonders

  • hugtime4everhugtime4ever nonePosts: 37Member Uncommon

     

    Assumption #1 Developers should listen to the players:

    Assumption #2 Players are the problem: 

    Assumption #3 Sandboxes are sandboxes, theme parks are theme parks:  

    Assumption #4 Story is important:  

    Assumption #5 The Endgame is all that matters: 

     

     

    Story IS important but the problem with most MMO stories is that they forget that there is more than 1 player part of the story even when adressing to for example: multiple recruits in dialog.

    Not every player wishes to follow the same route as another player.

     

    Listening to players is important but it is also important to be able to ignore them and have a own vision it's not a one-sided view kind of thing. 

    Looking forward to uhh.....
    playing: Civ 5, Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD

  • TuchakaTuchaka san diego, CAPosts: 468Member
    Agree with all of them only thing i would add is i think most gamers would be shocked how often in this industry the developers suggestions are totally and completely ignored by either their boss or the company paying for the game.  The reason they just wanna get a big chunk of money from pre-orders and from people that buy the game before everyone discovers the game sucks.
  • GreyfaceGreyface Detroit, MIPosts: 390Member
    Originally posted by Jemcrystal
    I only read the part about faster horses.  I knew it was going to be said by someone and it's stupid.  Fix is easy.  Give the gamers a voting forum where they can decide amongst themselves for a year what idea of theirs is best.  Present the winner(s) to the game makers every new years eve.

    If you design games the same way that American Idol chooses winners, you'll end up with the Fantasia Barrino of MMOs.

  • Caliburn101Caliburn101 LondonPosts: 636Member
    Originally posted by BadSpock

    Well done.

    I read most of it.

    Especially like the part about making a game with the accessibility and fun of say WoW with the persistence of EvE.

    "Where theme parks suffer from over-scripting, sandboxes leave new players adrift.  EvE, for example, almost dares a new player to enjoy it.   Why can't we have a game that starts off simple and gradually expands your options as you progress?  Why do we have to choose between free-for-all PvP and instanced battlegrounds?  Why does persistance have to mean dog-eat-dog?

    In the real world, both totalitarianism and anarchy are seen as bad ways to run a society.  Most places opt for something between the two extremes.  Why do we, as gamers, fail to see that there's a third option?  I'm no game designer -- I'm not sure what it would look like in practice.  But I know that the game that combines the accessibility of WoW and the persistence of EvE has the potential to be the next ginormous hit.

    The lack of publisher support for this concept is a little baffling to me.  One of the biggest headaches in running a modern MMO is keeping up with player demand for new content.  Allowing the players to have meaningful interaction is an inexhaustible -- and free -- solution to that problem. "

    Very well said.

    I've said this plenty of times before - the hybrid is completely possible - it's not however a pony many game companies seem to think is rideable - start off with an intelligent idea and the more people jump in the lower the average IQ gets, and the idea suffers.

    These are online forums - so the rule applies through an amplifier.... to mix a metaphor or three ;)

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