Redefining MMOs-Time to move beyond.

Massively is asking its readers to give their own take on redefining MMOs.  they’ve written a full series of their own thoughts here.  It’s been an interesting read, so I’ll give my own take on how MMOs should be redefined in the future. I’m going to limit it to 4 points.

1. Kill off the RPG aspect.

By this, I mean we need to get rid of things like levels, hit points, magic points, strength, dexterity, cooldowns, fkey fighting, and the whole idea of dungeons and dragons inspired gameplay.

There’s zero reason why we need to tie games to the old pen-and-paper or offline rpg style of combat. It’s a level of abstraction that was needed early on because the simulation aspect of RPGs were limited in terms of what you used to simulate with, be it dice or a 16 bit videogame system. However, those systems still have endured and become tradition, even when they make little sense.

Yeah its an easy shortcut for balance, but it stifles true creativity in terms of what you can do in the game. Most magic using classes have high intelligence and cast the same old debuffing and damaging spells using a fixed pool of points, and need to rest or boost them when they run out.

Why not instead do something like make magic based on the land surrounding you? That to use magic you need to tap the resources of the land, and mage battles are a tug-of-war over that? Or needing to do some form of ritual minigame, or having to type in a chant? There’s a lot of things we can do that really have potential to make a living world, but using old mechanics can prevent that.

2. Have Style.

I wrote about this briefly in a previous post, but MMOs need real style. We don’t need the same old tired space/western fantasy/superhero/korean fantasy archetypes. Most MMO’s are very bland in terms of real visual or gameplay style, almost to the point of being ugly. We need much better design.

It’s hard to define it, but to me style is a consistent, unique vision of your creation, which attracts people and differentiates you from the crowd. Stylish games set trends. Jet Set Radio is probably one of the best examples ever of how pure style and great gameplay can not only define a genre (and start a cel-shading trend) but look and play good 7 years from launch. Can you honestly say any of the current MMOs could do so without graphical facelifts?

3. Ultima Online and World of Warcraft suck.

This isn’t about gameplay or whatever, this is about a mindset. There’s a Buddhist saying: “If you meet the Buddha on a road, kill him.” It means that you cannot have sacred cows, the Buddhist search for enlightenment is self-driven to the point where even heroes and masters can be an impediment.

For MMOs, I’ll be simple. Developers need to stop being enslaved to the historic games of the MMO genre and vow to kick their ass with the games they do create. They need to ignore the trend towards conservatism in design and the attempt to recreate what works. Instead, they need to start trailblazing before the genre stagnates.

You can have respect for what was done before, but you are not Raph Koster or Jeff Kaplan, why let either define what you do, or fight against the ghosts of what has passed? Don’t be Jaeho Lee. I used to think modesty was good, but you’ll never go beyond and be nothing but a copy with this attitude.

4.Go beyond what is expected to what is unexpected.

How many of you ever predicted a game about a rapping 2-dimensional dog would have ever been popular? Or a game where you roll a big sticky ball over things to pick them up and grow it larger? Or even a game which has no regular enemy fights at all, just titanic boss ones?

Yet Parappa the Rapper, Katamari Damacy, and Shadow of the Colossus exist. They aren’t anything like the conventional games on the psone or two. Boiled down to the concept level, could you imagine trying to pitch these to a developer? But they surpass a lot of things that you would imagine would succeed.

The best games are creative, and unexpected. They use new and unique concepts in a game world to really open the eyes of players to see what is possible. They don’t settle for what is safe, because that is what kills a game series. That’s what killed Tony Hawk: Pro Skater, it’s what has killed Megaman, it’s killed the entire genre of fighting games, and its on the way to killing off sports games.

Games are incredible, they have the power to have us experience, not just imagine things. It’s sad that MMOs waste that power with the experiences boiling down to grinding, f-key spamming, calculating builds, parsing, party building, and all of the nuts and bolts of what we really do in it. We need to be hit over the head with the unexpected to shock us out of routine, and need it fast.

All of these points are interlinked, and most are very theoretical. I usually am more about practical changes to game systems and mechanics over pure theory, but I really think the true way to redefine MMOs is to be radical in mindset instead of mechanics. MMOs are at the fad stage now. They can either become mainstream permanently, in the way video games themselves are, or they can continue along the same path and become like fighting games, Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, or many of the other media that have died back down to a smaller niche and lost the momentum and energy which made them great.

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5 Responses to Redefining MMOs-Time to move beyond.

  1. c# games says:

    i think you had some other good points too, but the key thing i agree with you on is the whole RPG/dice-rolling-point-acquiring gameplay.

    despite the popular opinion this is NOT what attracts most people to virtual worlds. before everquest came along there were all kinds of gaming magazine articles such as “Is The RPG dead?”. because it had become so niche once 3D games took over the mainstream. and ever since everquest got away with charging a monthly subscription everyone got this idea that the RPG aspects were what people payed good money for. instead of looking for actual UNIQUE aspects of the game that had never been done before (a massively multiplayer virtual world). ANY genre could be set in a virtual world (or have a VW attached to it). NOT just RPGs. and yet for 10 years now, even ones that claim they are other types of games (such as an MMOFPS) castrate their gameplay with a bunch of RPG trappings (xp points, levels “character progression”). all trying to capture the supposed magic formula that worked for somebody else.

    • Dblade says:

      Yeah, exactly. It’s like even when the setting may demand it we still are hobbled by the old stat progression systems. Its hard though because for me at least, it’s all I know of the genre. I wonder how we can beat that in specific steps.

  2. Tesh says:

    No major MMO dev has yet really even used the platform well. All we get are persistently present, perpetually unchanging worlds with Diablo 2 multiplayer, padded out with time and money sinks.

    Where are the living, dynamic worlds? Where are the reasons to play with thousands of other players?

    Some of it is almost certainly technical limitations, some of it is the hidebound notion that subscriptions are the only way to go, some of it is risk-averse investors and high dev costs, some of it is plain old laziness.

    MMOs can be a LOT more than they are at present, but as long as people keep sending the $15/month to Blizzard, EA or Turbine, there isn’t much impetus to change.

  3. Dblade says:

    Yeah, you need more people willing to challenge the status quo. Not sure how, maybe the rise of the niche MMO will be what drives it, or maybe the genre will leave its fad phase and blizz, turbine, and ea will lose power to determine the style of MMO’s.

  4. Tesh says:

    Probably all of the above. ;)

    I also tend to suspect that strong, cheap, effective middleware will be a significant component of any MMO revolution.

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