This is a topic that my friends and I have discussed at length over the years.
We're avid MMO players and between us we've logged quite a few hours across various MMOs since 2000.
Some of the games we've played: Everquest, Ultima Online, Everquest 2, Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, Vanguard:Saga of Heroes, Guild Wars 2, Archeage, Black Desert, Elder Scrolls Online, Star Trek Online, Star Wars the Old Republic ... ... ...
We've been at one time or another: hard-core, casual, solo and group players in various degrees and depending on real life circumstances.
We've been generally dissatisfied with the state of MMOs over the past 5+ years and we've come down to various points/ideas of what makes an MMO a success.
Now, I don't claim to be the end all expert of what makes an MMO great. People will have their own opinions and will likely disagree with some of my points. I just want to jot some of my thoughts down about what I think makes an MMO a success.
First, let me lay down some basic points I think define what makes a successful MMO: (in no particular order)
An MMO must be/have:
1. IMMERSIVE (Makes the player feel they're in the game-world)
2. FAIR (Devoid of P2W and shoddy systems(buggy and full of exploits)for example)
3. EXPLORATION (Provide a high degree of the UNKNOWN, waiting to be discovered)
4. CONSEQUENCES (There must be a healthy risk vs. reward in the game)
5. COOPERATIVE (Provide content promoting community involvement)
6. PROGRESSION (Provide accomplishments and a sense of character progression)
7. STORY (A robust and deep story to be told)
To provide a bit more examples and explanation of my thoughts about the above points:
Anything that pulls you out of the game simply breaks immersion. Immersion is important, as it allows the player to stay connected to the game-world in which they're playing in. A BIG no no is loading screens. The technology for a seamless game-world has been around at least for 10 years now with a 2007 title (Vanguard:Saga of Heros) having it, and now games like ArcheAge doing it quite well.
*Personally for me and my friends, we find it very difficult to get on board with a game when it has loading screens in our faces.
Games like Archeage and Black Desert (to name a few) have elements of P2W. This is especially a sour point when games have a PvP element. It will also extend to Guild vs. Guild and impact what players can accomplish with greater ease to have advantage over others for the sake of how much real-world cash they throw at the game.
*To us, we feel this promotes poor and lazy game design in the form of mind-numbing grinds and a lack of quality Lore and PvE elements in the game. Simply not a fair model as well.
Some game-makers simply have very poor QA which promotes a multitude of exploits. As well the game design may make it easy for hacks.
*This is also a no no.
Too often game-makers simply 'give it up'. It means, they have most of the game-world already mapped out and provided to the player in some way. Of course, over time the game-world will be uncovered and people could easily look online for some map that provides information. However, there are ways to prevent giving up too much information to the player. A changing dynamic world is one way. Multiple levels of details of a map. Each player having their own map based on what they've uncovered, including how much detail they've uncovered.
The world needs to be dynamic enough to make a map become less useful over time due to the changing game-world.
Fast Travel = NO
*Fast travel just kills the experience and trivializes the game-world. The world should not be some website browsing experience. Forms of travel have to have more meaning than just some clicky somewhere that teleports you most anywhere.
Mounts are ok to a point, even flying mounts if there are systems in place to make it difficult to simply traverse vast distances with these.
*We want a game where there's just lots of area simply unexplored. Is there a river or lake over that mountain range yonder? How can we pass over that mountain range? (there are no roads or paths, maybe there's some caves?) Wow, that's a large ocean, how far does it go? I wonder if there are any islands out there?
Too many games have little risk vs. reward. Death is meaningless. Gear decay is there, but easily repairable, so it basically means nothing.
Without consequences, there is no real risk, and thus the reward is not very sweet at all.
Let's not CODDLE the player-base, hold them by the hand and make it very easy for them. Let's provide true challenge and risky situations.
Let's get that heart pumping and anxiety of the encounter back into the MMO.
Sure, go out and explore, at your own risk. You may lose most of your gear if you stray too far away from any safe location and you get yourself killed. The world is a dangerous place, and you better be prepared for the consequences of your actions.
But hell, when you do succeed, through proper planning, using your brain, and a bit of luck to boot, the reward is soooo sweet!
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