Today I want to muse on two alarming trends Graev and I have observed in the MMO industry, and highlight the unfavorable outcome we’ve already begun to experience.
Developers are terrified of upsetting or frustrating the player.
Somehow this idea got out there that if something takes effort or thought, and can’t be done with brute force, it must be broken or unintentional. Developers are spoon-feeding us solutions and giving us powers to take shortcuts everywhere. Quests are almost at the point of completing themselves.
Fast travel is everywhere; Guild Wars 2 lets players teleport to towns that are literally less than two minutes walking distance away. I prefer a large world that conveys a sense of size. I remember playing EQ, or even Vanguard and thinking how the sheer distance alone ruled out a choice to go somewhere.
Somehow the “holy trinity” concept of healers, tanks, crowd-control/dps (depending on what generation you started MMOs) is being shunned as inconvenient or a frustration to players. Everyone heals, everyone can do damage, no one is better than anyone else at any role, warriors can be archers and archers can be rogues because, supposedly, players are frustrated by class roles.
Developers are scared of punishing players with mechanics.
MMOs continue to move away from death penalties. I think it’s safe to say that death penalties have found their stride as nothing more than re-spawn mechanics. You die, you have to respawn — and sometimes no more than 30 seconds away at a conveniently placed in areas as not to, once again, frustrate the player with a walk. Players are too cavalier with death now. This is death! Death should be the absolute and ultimate negative end result.
I remember EQ’s death penalty; If you weren’t careful, you could actually lose your corpse. You avoided areas you shouldn’t be in, and you acquired skill to avoid death. If you died, you lost experience. You would even be sent back to your bind point which may be over an hour away. Say what you will about the severity of the penalty, but it deterred death.
Group dynamics are almost gone entirely. Developers are scared that players will perceive the need to player with others as a punishment. We went from heavy group-based gameplay to solo friendly play where grouping could still be considered more rewarding, to a system where if the solo player does not earn experience faster than the groups they’re being oppressed.
The least common denominator is dictating the direction MMOs are going.
Games from these trends breed worse players. MMOs are turning into metaphorical Wii games aimed directly at the ‘waggle’ casual market. As players become worse at MMOs, and they do from these tends, developers become ever more fearful of striking out and trying something new. You wonder why there isn’t innovation, or when someone tries something new it fails? We’re just over two years shy of a decade in this mentality. Millions — MILLIONS — of players have been brought into this mess and they don’t know any better. The ignorant see a single step towards the past as some horrific or uncouth act.
In every other genre, mass market appeal games are looked down upon by the players, but somehow MMO success has been attached to a mass-appeal mentality and it’s being directly supported by the players. I’m not going to suggest any sort of call to action like ‘vote with your wallet’ because bad game design sorts itself out in the end (see: The 3 Monther). I strongly believe we can create positive buzz around what we do want to see, and as a result make developers more aware and more inclined to create those games to obtain a greater share of wallet.
The point I’m trying to make here is one of simple recognition and information. Recognize what’s happening and determine if that’s what you want. I believe a richer and more enjoyable experience can be had by playing a MMO that instills in the player a sense of accomplishment, social interaction, and connection to the world. That’s the direction I want to go.