I don’t think I’ll be in a position to make one any time soon, so I’m putting down my idea of a WoW killer. Feel free to make it if you can. It’s a radical change in what we consider them to be, and here’s what I want to see.
1. No levels. Oh, this isn’t about a love for sandbox games. This is even more radical. I don’t want any character advancement at all.
Character advancement is shit. It’s solely designed to appeal to the squirrel in all of us, who loves nothing more than to see a huge pile of nuts form from a smaller pile. Gameplay centered around advancement is very much like that: piling nuts, except instead we pile experience points and money.
The joy in an MMO should be from engaging in a well-designed combat system with others. It should be playing, not piling. That we’ve accepted this is because that kind of character advancement strikes a compulsive-obsessive chord in us: it appeals to subrational drives in a Pavlovian sense. Strip character advancement entirely.
2. The goal of an MMO should be large scale participation in a common story. This story should have purpose. Without both it suffers. Current MMOs manage to get the first half right sometimes in raids and large scale battles, but there is no REASON to any of them. They are just cyclical like the weather, and stuff people do with no long-term goal.
Games should have purpose. Each raid should not be just a repeatable instance to gain gear-events in game should have some form of impact to the world’s story, and the world must have one. EVE is the best example of failing at this. You can do a lot of it, but there is no reason to: a person you gank in lowsec doesn’t matter to anything larger than your own desires.
3. Use real-life people to voice ingame NPCs. Imagine playing a game for the first time. You see a npc in the middle of a square, and try talk to them. You find you can’t click on them, but to your surprise they turn to face you and say hello, talking to you in character about the world you are in. While you talk, they are suddenly attacked by another NPC and their minions, and they proceed to call for help and fight them in an intelligent way. All this accomplished by paying someone ten dollars an hour to “act” a virtual character.
This is taking live events to another level by making key NPCs part of the world in an active and persistent sense. These NPCs drive the story and are real humans, allowing them the ability to shape a plot and be shaped by it. Imagine a game where GMs with their powers served as bosses, or as generals, with the ability to shape the world and respond to characters individually.
4. Turn the rest up to eleven. Make players feel powerful, and make them feel threatened by powerful enemies. Remember the first time you watched an anime, and one of the characters was slammed into a building from the force of an attack? Remember watching the treetop kung-fu in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Give players joy in playing the game by turning up the drama and the situations in it: don’t just make auto attack with a flash of color and a slightly different attack animation: make every attack dramatic. Make your players feel like heroes in a dynamic world filled with danger: don’t make them beat up on rabbits with a club.
These are my core principles for my dream MMO. There are more, but I think out of all of them these four are desperately needed.