An MMO Without a Focus on Loot

I was having one of my regular MMO discussions with a friend yesterday when we brought up a subject that started to make a lot of sense. MMOs didn’t used to be about the loot; sort of, but not really. The following are just thoughts we came up with while having this discussion.

We started thinking about a few examples of the older games we played extensively, and tried to identify in as few words as possible why it is we played — what was our drive or our reason for logging in each day.

Ultima Online – We were essentially living life. We made houses, started careers, accumulated wealth, and everything centered around making the act of living life easier.

Asherons Call – The world was constantly changing and we wanted to see it evolve; all about seeing what happens next.

EverQuest – Building relationships and creating dependencies on others was what kept us logging in. EQ (before Velious) wasn’t about raiding or looting as much as it was seeing how far we could advance and what challenges we could overcome.

Dark Age of Camelot – We lived in the world to defend our realm.

Loot can’t be the focus in a MMORPG that is going to recapture our attention. An MMO can and should have loot; we decided to nix the idea that maybe an MMO didn’t need loot at all, but can’t be the center where all roads lead.

When loot isn’t the focus, the other aspects of the game suddenly because exponentially more important and visible. There’s a reason players don’t participate in things like exploration, socializing, housing, or care about things like “realm pride” anymore. Those things do not actively drop epics, nor should they because that doesn’t make sense.

An MMO without a focus on loot is set free to be so much more. Design becomes a slave to gear when too much focus is placed upon it.

Broken Systems Were The Funnest

Over the past week I’ve done a lot of thinking back to older games I’ve played like DAoC, SWG, EQ, etc. Raph Koster’s posts have been particularly enlightening since they discussed the hows and whys of their decisions, and even revealed what they were actually trying to create when they delivered something entirely different.

I started to think about the fun I’ve had in older games, and then realized a lot of that fun came from systems that were completely broken or so stupid they should be considered broken. Despite that fact, I still enjoyed them. In fact, I think the games might have been less fun without them!

Here are just a couple examples.


The health, action, and mind bar system of SWG was both brilliant and horribly designed at the same time. Using different abilities depleted these bars. Being hit by certain abilities wounded those bars. Let’s say my pistol used my mind bar, and someone shot my mind to wound it and thus reduce my total available mind resources. I could then use fewer mind abilities. The result was that you were killing yourself every time you used abilities.

I’m laughing right now thinking about how stupid this system was, and how much I wish it was like what Raph describes as “bouncy” where your resources regenerated and the entire thing was a rock paper scissors game of undermining your opponents weapon choice and tactics.

All that said, it worked even by not working. Yes, I enjoyed being able to see someone who clearly didn’t work on their mind pool enough. I would one shot them with my pistol.

EverQuest’s Mob Camping

I remember standing in a single spot for 15 hours just waiting on the right monster to spawn. When it finally spawned, it didn’t drop what I wanted. The wait began again. People would stand in line for these monsters to spawn. It could take weeks for it to be your turn. Yeah, it sucked.

At the same time, forming lines and relying on the honesty of others meant you were communicating and building a community of players who cooperated. If you broke the rules, stole a spawn, etc., you were ostracized; your life was over on that character and you would probably never get a group again.

Screwing Up Character Stats in DAoC (or any game)

Who didn’t screw up a character in a game at some point in time? It was a right of passage! It was also completely stupid. To be able to ruin a character and start over without some form of fixing it? I remember in DAoC back in the early days when you messed up your character’s stats or skills or whatever it meant you … screwed up. They eventually added respec stones so that you could undo a mistake and reallocate those skill points.

Screwing up a character and committing to a path that ends up being terrible is… terrible. At the same time, actually having to commit to something and put up with consequences or having to care about how your character progressed gave us substance and meat to character progression. No decision was made lightly.

Strafing in EverQuest

Mob pathing in EverQuest was terrible, and pretty much broken. Characters could strafe (run at an angle) and that meant that mobs had to make an additional path to move into your path… something like that. I won’t pretend to understand it all (it’s probably geometry or something and I don’t do math) but it meant that mobs struggled to actually hit you. Exploit? Maybe. Broken? Yep.

While broken, strafing allowed us to circle kite, and avoid enemies (who always seemed to run just a little faster then us) from killing us when we flee. It became just something you did.

Okay, now that I think about it this post was sorta stupid and broken itself. But do you get what I’m trying to say here? These dumb features/mechanics, when combined with other mechanics (which were often dumb) made that game what it was and if removed would take away a huge part of the magic that made it all work.

New games can come out that refine those broken mechanics, but I think when we fix too much we lose a little bit of the heart and soul of these MMOs. Rather than remove them, I think they can simply be modernized. Modernizing =\= removing.

DAoC was about PvE

In yesterday’s post about Crowfall I mentioned long-term goals and driving factors for why players should care. What makes someone wake up at 3am to defend a relic? Why should I care if I lose my keep? Many games creating a PvP system these days seem to look to DAoC as an example. WAR, GW2, ESO, and Crowfall all have the keep capturing mechanics and really did/do borrow heavily from the system. While they miss many features like proper character advancement in PvP, map size, and the nitty gritty details of how sieging should work, etc., there’s one bigger picture key ingredient they’re all missing: A focus on PvE.

DAoC was about PvE. The game long-heralded as the best RvR/PvP game of all time was driven by the players caring about PvE and how their characters performed outside of the frontiers (where the realm war/RvR took place).

DAoC had relics which increased your character’s stats and damage. Owning these was paramount and the goal of RvR was typically to try and push hard enough that you controlled the keeps necessarily to make the relic vulnerable. To make players care a bit more about those relics, the realm controlling most keeps had access to the best PvE zone in the game: Darkness Falls. Darkness Falls was the best place to level characters, get gear (that wasn’t player made), and earn money.

I have memories of being in Darkness Falls grouping for Legion and hearing the announcement that Albion was advancing and taking our keeps. We bailed out as fast as possible and rushed to the frontiers to defend or retake our territories in order to keep our coveted Darkness Falls longer.

Player made gear was typically the best back in the day. You weren’t going to earn that gear by PvPing. PvPing gave you realm ranks and points to buy new abilities which made you much stronger, but you still needed that player made gear. Player made gear, like all gear, wore out and broke over time. There was always a need to earn money which meant PvE.

Perhaps I should have started with this, but getting to level 50 was through rigorous PvE. Leveling wasn’t quick (before people macro’d and abused the leveling system like they do in every game). Leveling could take months to reach 50, and you weren’t a ton of use before level 50 out in the frontiers. Leveling through PvP wasn’t an option, and the silly “scaling” systems of today (another way for these games to ignore Pve) did not exist.

Although the “end-game” of DaoC was PvP, and one could PvP the entire time they played (after reaching level 50 and gearing up), the core of the game still maintained a healthy focus on PvE. The key isn’t to ignore PvE or come up with systems to avoid it. The two play-styles needn’t compete against each other. A great game can and perhaps should utilize both in harmony.

The Council of Gaming Elders

I had a very interesting dream last night. I was evaluating the current state of MMORPGs and decided that the current state of affairs had gone on for too long. Our beloved hobby and industry was degrading past the point of recovery. I took action into my own hands and called a Council of the Gaming Elders.

I was standing in a dimly lit room with a solid round wooden table in the center. A chandelier with glowing blue flames hung above. There were 6 chairs. As I stood at my seat the other Elders entered, each announced by a low voice. First to enter was Mark Jacobs. He stood next to the seat at my right — the table in front of his seat embossed with the realm triad from Dark Age of Camelot. Next to enter was Raph Koster stood by his place marked by a lightsaber crossing a crafting station and house. Steve Danuser was next and took his place by a lore book.  Dave Georgeson entered next and stood near his place marked by a map. Last to enter was Mike Morhaime who took his place next to a seat marked with golden coins.

Once all of the Elders had entered, we sat together in unison. I began the meeting by stating that I had called them all there to discuss how we can restore these games to their true potential. Each of them possessed talents necessary for restoring MMORPGs to their previous state. What followed was an enlightening discussion and meeting of the minds. Each Elder brought up ideas and we began to craft the perfect game… the game to restore balance. It ended with the Elders departing, each committed to bringing their resources together to make this game (which we completely planned out) happen.

I don’t know why my mind chose these people. Mark Jacobs is an obvious one because he has become a friend and I value his contribution to PvP and the MMO community. Raph Koster is someone I’ve always thought of as a virtual world connoisseur. Steve Danuser is someone who gets the idea of a living world and I like his sense of lore and continuity. Dave Georgeson because he is attached to EverQuestand I respect him as a person and his career. Lastly, Mike Morhaime (who surprised me since I thought this would be Chris Metzen) because of his position over WoW.

The game we designed was ideal. That’s the general impression I get. I remember only minor thoughts I was having during the dream. This perfect MMORPG was some sort of mix of every game these Elders had worked out. I was in charge of the vision and I know that I felt like this was the true spiritual successor to every ‘great’ game I remember playing from 1996-2004.

I woke up feeling like I had accomplished some great work. For a moment I was even anxious to go play this game. If only…

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.