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Anticipation Kills MMOs

I hinted yesterday about anticipation killing games.  This idea about hype isn’t a new one.  If you read MMO blogs, especially if you read this one six years ago, you know how bad hype can be when a game is built up and put up on a pedestal. Nothing can ever, ever, live up to the expectations we create in our heads.

I’m generalizing a lot and speaking for everyone here, so let me explain why I can’t personally let myself anticipate MMOs as much as I used to.

My imagination runs away

I had a decent imagination as a kid.  I still do.  When it comes to MMOs, however, my imagination is crazy.  I envision worlds functioning almost like real life. I see people working together in ways that really aren’t probable. I start to see PvP like a real medieval battle. I see archers on battlements and rows of pikeman advancing. I see the battle of Helm’s Deep. I think about crafting like a blacksmith really owning a shop in Camelot.  All of that is what I want and imagine, but never what translates into gameplay.

I already experienced what I want and love about MMOs

Three of my favorite MMOs are: (1) EverQuest, (2) Star Wars Galaxies, and (3) Dark Age of Camelot. Three very, very different games.  All three were (almost) perfect (for me) back in their day. Those games have never been recreated. I’ve gone back and played emulated versions of all of them.  I’ve sought out sequels, games created by the same devs, and never have I experienced them again.  I can’t figure out why, but I know that’s been a trigger for experiencing that feeling of falling flat on my face when I anticipate new MMOs too much.

MMOs have become too much about business

Whether or not anything has actually changed, I think of MMOs today as more of a business venture rather than a team getting together to build something special. MMOs cost more money so more funding is needed. When more funding is needed you have to worry about making it back and then some. This industry has gone through a phase or awful new business models trying to find itself. We’re just now, maybe, starting to come out of that.

I can sit back and say that no game will ever again be worth anticipating and that we shouldn’t ever get excited, but that’s going too far. I’ve written plenty in the past about the fact that you can still get excited, and should, but keep your excitement in check. Look at the facts.  Consider 100% of the game rather than the 5% or 10% you like. If you’re like me and you know why you can’t anticipate games with such zeal, temper those expectations and look for other ways to get excited.

This Next MMO Is The One!

How many times have you heard someone say or read a comment from someone saying something like this: “Don’t worry, X game coming out will solve that” or “This next game coming out has exactly what you’re talking about and it will be awesome” or “In this game coming out you can do all of that and more!”

It’s the idea that the next game coming out is the solution to every current problem–the next big thing.  This syndrome is huge across the MMO player community. We see comments here all the time with people saying things like, “Oh man Keen you want a sandbox with all those features? Have you tried ArcheAge it’s the game for you!” I’ve had comments from people saying WildStar, ESO, the next WoW expansion, FFXIV, and every MMO for the last decade would be the game that has all those great things I want.

Sometimes those MMOs do have one or two of the good qualities I’m seeking, but let’s be real here.  We all know deep down that any themepark will never be that game.  Even the most devout themepark lovers who hype every new themepark like it’s the next Disneyland can’t look me in the eye and say they play past 3 months.

The next MMO to have what I want is either going to surprise everyone or I’m going to make it myself. It’s not going to be a game people spread around as the next big thing.  It’s not going to have a huge marketing budget.  It won’t rely on gimmicky dev videos full of buzzwords or trying to capture market share from various player demographics.

MMOs from the golden age were almost never anticipated.  EQ came out of nowhere. I was literally playing The Realm Online walking around and then saw mention in general chat about it.  Later that week my friend invited me over to his house to play the beta.  DAoC was out of nowhere and I got the game on launch day thanks to Graev who just randomly said, “Hey this looks neat we should get it.”  SWG only got on my radar because Graev payed $20 for the beta CDs (They charged you to send you CDs or something).  More on this idea of anticipation killing games in a blog post tomorrow.

Before any of us run around thinking that the next game is going to be the one or get excited that some game is going to have everything Keen is asking for in MMOs, take a serious look at the big picture.  We have a tendency to find the 5% of what we want, get comfortable in that idea, and ignore the other 95%.

My PvE Version of Darkness Falls

I’m developing this idea of a Darkness Falls type dungeon based entirely around PvE factions instead of how player realms are doing in some PvP/RvR/AvA type system.  First, I think a quick primer on what I mean by factions is required.

In this MMORPG I’m concocting in my head there are no predetermined sides.  You’re not joining the Alliance or the Horde or the Good guys vs bad guys. My world’s factions functions much in the same way the original EverQuest worked.  Every race has its own faction, and relationships are fluid based on actions taken by the player. If you are a Dark Elf and you kill Dark Elf NPCs you are going to be hated by your own people, but the Humans might start to like you more.  Killing certain monsters can bring faction hits or gains. An Ogre could work for a real year to gain enough faction to enter the Elven City.

Some of the work associated with factions can be done quickly. Depending on the race someone chooses, there will be predetermined dispositions. For example, Humans will have an easier time accepting a Dark Elf than an Ogre in their city. Some faction changes can be seen in a day, some a week, some might even take the player over a real year to accomplish.

Darkness Falls

Are you familiar with Darkness Falls? It was a dungeon in Dark Age of Camelot that would be unlocked for the realm (group of pre-determined allied races) who owned the most keeps in the realm vs. realm war going on in the frontier.  As soon as another group was winning, the dungeon entrance would lock for those who had it, and unlock for the other realm.  The other realm could then enter and kill the other players.

Darkness Falls in DAoC was an awesome PvE zone.  Great loot, great places to group, great PvP when purging the enemy, and all around a great place to be. It encouraged people to PvP.  People wanted this place.

My PvE Version of Darkness Falls

I’m still figuring out the entire idea, but I want to work a version of this type of open-world dungeon into my world.  I’m thinking about making it a dynamic dungeon that adapts to how various NPC factions are being treated by the players.  Imagine if the dungeon was centralized in an area where the orcs and the kobolds were naturally having a dispute — these would be NPCs.  If players in the area were killing more orcs than kobolds then the dungeon may be infested with Kobolds. If players were working especially hard to vanquish both of these NPC factions then another type of faction might actually move on and lay claim to the area.

What I don’t want is for the idea to devolve into some stupid public quest type feeling. I actually hate public quests and events because of how developers now rely on them to fake a dynamic and “changing” world. Bull crap people.  Take those lies to someone who believes them because they ain’t workin’ over here.

If this is ever going to work then the change has to be gradual, and the players almost have to be unable to perceive the change.  I don’t know, thoughts? I’m trying to work this faction system into impacting the world and I think this is one potential opportunity.  Whichever faction controls the dungeon would determine the mobs.  Think about how that can impact people based on what I said previous.

If I’m working really hard on my faction with the Elves and suddenly a faction of Fairies takes over the dungeon… I’m not going to hunt those fairies and take a faction hit.  In a sense I’ll have to work to influence the world in some other way to decrease the power the fairies have in the world.  If I can’t do that by killing fairies, I’ll probably have to kill the enemy of their enemy so that their enemy can overtake them.  It can add an interesting dynamic to how players thinking about factions.

As always your thoughts are wanted.

We Will Revolutionize MMO Mining

Two days ago I made a post about the MMO I want to make one day. From that post a ton of ideas have started to pour in about how certain features would work. I have been frantically taking notes as you guys expand upon my thoughts and even take the simple notes I posted and run with them in the exact direction I was wanting to go in-game.

One of our readers named Gringar hit the nail on the head with how I want mining to work.  I mentioned that I want miners to actually have to go into caves and mine, and he already jumped to where my mind was going: Vast cave networks!  Imagine if mining was done in massive mountains with tunnels and the deeper you go the better the resources you can find.  I started thinking more on the idea.

I’m not big into the idea of this voxel stuff where the world itself actually breaks. I don’t like WoW’s (and all modern themeparks’) style of nodes either. I think I would stick to something a little more like UO where you you can interact with various surfaces of the cave and resources can dry up and randomly replenish and rotate.  If you didn’t play UO, think like SWG.

These caves would be glorious to behold. I’m talking massive caverns, crystals, rare metals, super rare artifacts to uncover to be used by crafters to enhance weapons, etc.  The better your mining skills the deeper in the caverns you’ll be able to go.

Here’s where it can get interesting. Imagine how deep these caves can go… in the words of Saruman: “You fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dum… shadow and flame. “

Yep! I want there to be awesome enemies to stand in the way, traps and obstacles to overcome, and other horrors to frighten even the strongest miners away. What if certain areas of the cave could randomly be uncovered as a certain amount of ore or stone was withdrawn from deep enough in the caverns.  Imagine after a few weeks the caves have been mined deep enough that suddenly a door appears at the bottom with glowing runes.

The miners open the door and a massive winged abomination comes crashing through.  Adventurers would have to come and save the miners, or else the miners would have to retreat to a less deep and less rewarding tier of the cave.  That might be a neat way to get both gatherers and miners working together since the adventurers want what the demon guards, and the miners want the resources.

So many awesome ways to take simple systems like gathering and make them into a huge features. Keep the ideas coming  guys, this is great!

I want to make this MMO

Occasionally I ask myself what kind of MMO I would make if given the opportunity to lead a team and design something I want to play. In the past I’ve created long-winded paragraph heavy posts about the MMO I want to see made, but I realized all of that can be distilled into simple ideas. I started making a list in a document on my desktop when I realized… heck, why not share this with you guys?

Fantasy setting

Graphics are stylized realism

Sandbox with guidelines

No PvP at launch. Just PvE.

Magic is powerful and somewhat difficult, expensive, and/or rare to use

The world is dangerous, unforgiving, and not something to be adventured out into lightly

The world is massive and players form communities out of necessity for survival as well as human companionship

Cities are a place people come back to at the end of the day to relax and stock up for tomorrow’s adventure, not a place to “hang out” all day

No “quick” travel of any kind

NPC merchants sell useful items, but players can make much better versions

Items are tools, not character progression

Monsters drop appropriate loot

There are no “raids”

There are no instances or phases

Dungeons are open-world

Quests exist as massive undertakings and aren’t for the weak or faint-hearted

Resources aren’t random. Mining in caves and mountains yields ores and precious metals. Farming yields plants and crops. Trees yield wood.

Resources have quality scores that randomly rotate every few days or a week at random intervals meaning you can’t mine the same quality of resource twice in one place

Players can specialize in crafting and harvesting to the point where that’s all they do when they play

Housing is open-world

Night time changes the world significantly in both appearance and threat. Do not travel at night.

Monster camps are a thing

Downtime must be managed or given thought

Classes are clearly defined into roles with little to no overlap

Death = experience loss and going back to your bind point (oh yeah, bind points)

No Bind on Equip unless special bonuses are crafted into the gear at which point there becomes user-affinity and the item works only for the original owner

That’s my short list. I’ll expand on each feature eventually and most likely grow this into a formal design document.  I’m just about done waiting for the people making and designing the games in this industry to get their acts together.  If I win the lottery, I’m making this MMO.

Feel free to comment with your own lists or critique mine.