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Bringing players back to older MMOs

Today I want to pose a question to our readers: What would it take to get you to go back and play a MMO?

I was thinking about this when I read a statement from the GW2 devs saying something like, “Don’t count us out yet.”  My personality tends to feel sympathy for others and I put myself in their position.  A year and a half ago they were at the top of the world.  Their beta was going strong and all the hype was focused squarely on their game as the next big thing.  Their team was probably larger, their spirits high, and their future bright.  Now you won’t find GW2 being talked about because it’s last year’s news, it’s no longer the game everyone plays.  The general consensus may even be that GW2 is a good game, but the fact remains it has slipped.

What about games that are even older?  EverQuest 2 and Vanguard are still being updated with content, still making the news (maybe even more than GW2) yet I know their populations are smaller.  They are 6… 7 + years old?  Yet I personally believe they are both good games; arguably some of the best.

What would it take for a game like that to bring people back — to bring YOU back?  I’m genuinely interested in your opinions.  Is it even possible for an older MMO to get people to play?  I think about solutions like the Station Pass where you pay one subscription and get access to every game a company makes.  That works when a company like SOE has a large portfolio.   Veteran rewards are often used to keep people playing but rarely to bring them back.  Going F2P works short term (SWTOR) but doesn’t really work long-term.  Maybe an active game constantly developing new content and truly showing progress?  Even then, why would I go back and play something like GW2 when I can just wait for EQN, WildStar, or ESO?

If you’re someone who goes back to older games I am interested in hearing why.  I think there’s a door here waiting to be unlocked that will really help a lot of companies keep people interested in their games. I’d love to see the industry stop transitioning together to every new title.

I really do want every game and studio to see success.  The more real options we all have the better off the entire industry becomes as competition increases quality and the entire industry flourishes.

Dungeon finders are dangerous

MMO Dungeon FinderGroup finding tools that instantly pair people together and teleport them to a dungeon are one of the most dangerous innovations to ever come to MMOs.

In themepark MMOs, they are a great addition.  Without tools like the Dungeon Finder, players in WoW would sit around in cities spamming all day.  In SWTOR, I remember experiencing nothing but frustration as I tried to find groups for dungeons that literally had no entrance in the world — players just teleport to them with a group.   The apt themepark analogy perfectly defines a situation like this: players don’t want to sit around all day when the entire point is about going on the rides.  Going through the content is the entire point, and facilitating that with ease makes perfect sense.  Getting a group is like waiting in line, and that’s the worst part.

Virtual world / pseudo-sandbox / sandbox MMOs are entirely different.  Part of the gameplay is traveling to locations.  Content isn’t something players stand around all day expecting to ‘run-through.’  The dungeons themselves become hubs of socialization.  Meeting people and staying in the area around the dungeon for days isn’t uncommon.  ‘Living’ in a dungeon is part of your character’s progression, and blowing through any content diminishes the fun.  Someone backpacking across Europe doesn’t want to instantly get to each destination; the experience is rooted deep in the journey.

Why are dungeon finders one of the most dangerous innovations? Not every MMO is or should be a themepark.  In the themeparks dungeon finders are amazing, but any other kind of game it becomes a shortcut.  The path of least resistance is so tempting for both developers and players.  On the flip side, when a themepark doesn’t have a dungeon finder then the game feels incomplete or inferior… almost annoying.  Suddenly dungeon finders have become this tool that absolutely must be in every themepark, and tempting to non-themepark devs to just include it because they think it’s what the modern gamer wants.  All anyone gets in the end is homogenization and cut corners.

ZeniMax: TESO not a MMO … sorta

This is why community managers are so important: The Elder Scrolls Online Game Director Matt Firor is quoted in an interview today saying the following:

“This is more a multiplayer Elder Scrolls game than an MMO. [You'll see] very limited UI, nice and clean, not a lot of bars.. the combat system is very much action-based. It’s also soloable… you can solo almost the entire game. [...]” [Source]

TESO not MMO

Solo the entire game in this mostly multiplayer RPG MMO.

He has a point.  TESO has already been outed as highly-instanced, and that’s not the first time Firor has come out to saying the entire game is soloable.  The thought crossed my mind to go to their site and look for any references at all to TESO being a MMO, and sure enough I wasn’t able to find a single reference; not that there’s much info on their site at all, though.  But they haven’t really been honest in their marketing either.  ZeniMax has taken every opportunity to feed major MMO sites with TESO info, their videos emphasize MMO, and the beta application is clearly MMO bait.  Ask 9/10 people and they’ll tell you TESO is going to be a MMO.

I should be really happy, though.  I don’t want TESO to be an MMO.  TESO should never even have hinted at MMO design, even in the vaguest possible sense.  They should have always marketed and designed TESO to be a multiplayer RPG.  If TESO even smells like a MMO then it will be judged like one, and I can already tell you the crippling wave of fear is settling in on the ZeniMax team, likely fueling the backpeddaling, that being a MMO and falling short of the mark will be the kiss of death.

Someone needs to take charge and get the MMO community some much needed clarification.  You’re confusing the hell out of people, Zenimax.  You’re sending mixed messages, designing it like a themepark MMO, but calling it multiplayer RPG.  TESO has SWTOR written all over it, and that’s horrifying.

PSA: Water levels in MMOs at an All-time Low

We’re facing an epidemic here, people. Over the past several years vast quantities of water have been rapidly disappearing from our online virtual worlds. We’re already at the point where you cannot find a body of water that is more than knee-deep. If we don’t do anything to solve this crisis– Yeah, this bit is going on too long… But really, where has all the water gone? Some of my fondest memories in MMORPGs have been related to water and now it seems like most games don’t bother with it at all.

SWTOR Knee Deep in Water

Water in SWTOR never goes above the knees.

First off I should probably mention that large bodies of water are terrifying. If you don’t agree then you are a crazy person. You don’t know what kind of crazy, messed up stuff is going on down there. Giant sharks, huge kraken things, slumbering old gods, male water horses that give birth? It’s a freakshow, man. And no, I do not have an irrational fear of water that stems back to a horrific family vacation on a house-boat. This shit is legit. On a more serious note… Water can be really frightening but also very exciting. Back in EQ I LOVED raising my swimming skill and exploring underwater locations. When I got the water-breathing spell I was happier than the fat kid in school on pizza day. Of course I was that kid, but that’s neither here nor there.

WoW did do some pretty good stuff with water, and GW2 tried (though I think they missed the mark), but aside from that I can’t really think of another game that has really done much at all to create a real underwater experience, and that’s a real shame. Underwater zones offer the opportunity for some more interesting encounters and tense situations that you don’t normally find on dry-land. It really doesn’t have to be underwater, either. Navigating the ocean on your own ship and suddenly being ambushed by water monsters that leap onto your deck would be AWESOME. Even better would be some kind of giant sea creature, leviathan or kraken dude wrapped around your vessel. I mean, dang… That sounds like it would be so much fun but nobody wants to do it. I won’t go into detail about how many games have promised me boats and straight-up LIED to me. It’s a sore subject around here.

It really bums me out that water is pretty much only knee-high these days. Maybe I’m alone in this but I want the danger and excitement of sailing the open seas, exploring under-sea ruins, and stabbing some fish dudes in the face.

MMO Crafting

MMO Crafting

Having your crew craft for you fits the setting really well, but the execution and implementation falls back on the waiting game mixed with WoW’s material combining simplicity.

MMO crafting hasn’t seen a lot of innovation for quite some time.  In fact, I think crafting has slowly been sliding to a worse state or neglected entirely by the latest generation. The complexity, depth, scope, involvement, and opportunity (I think most of those mean the same thing) of the SWG and EVE era are all but gone.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that depth has been replaced with tacked crafting that is repetitive and mostly meaningless.

Crafting in a contemporary MMO falls into two categories: (1) Throw in the mats and press combine, and/or (2) Passive, waiting game.

WoW’s throw in the mats and press combine has been shared across everything from LotRO to GW2 and SWTOR.  The light mini-game style of Vanguard and EQ2 is only a variation on a theme.  Then there’s this fixation on ‘professions’.  If you want to be a Leatherworker you probably have to be a Skinner.  It’s very prescribed, very scripted (everyone makes x widgets before getting to the next tier).  Crafting is about leveling and ‘maxing out’ and obtaining recipes, and if you’re lucky they throw in some whack-a-mole gimmick to distract you for all of two seconds.

Crafting in almost every MMO for the last 8 years has been a selfish endeavor.  People craft for themselves because there’s one or two good recipes they hope to get one day.  Most of the time it isn’t about the items at all, but the bonuses associated with that profession.  Few people craft for others, and few games restrict people so that you can’t craft everything — do everything –  for yourself.

I’d like something new and more creative.  I want to see crafting involve more customization, more free-form individuality.  What if MMO crafting was more like Minecraft where we put things in and shaped the items ourselves? Why can’t we have a system where no two items are alike, and I can experiment and become well-known for the way I make the weapons?  I want crafting to impact the ecosystem.  I want the world to change because Legolasers crafted something magnificent and suddenly we find ourselves having to adapt.

Crafting can be about more than making items.  Trade can shape the world.  Someone should start innovating on what should be one of the most influential and powerful game mechanics rather than forgetting about it or tacking it on at the end.