I was talking with some friends last night about EQ’s community. We were discussing how, back in the day, EQ players were extremely cooperative especially when it came to camps of mobs. For the most part, when you had an area or a specific spawn/camp staked out the rest of the community respected your claim. Lists would be formed or actual lines would be crated to wait until the spot freed up. Why doesn’t this happen anymore? Why can’t our communities be this tight knit? Why are in-game events where players gather together taboo or even impossible to organize? Why is the individual suddenly the focus? This is just one facet of the conclusion that I’ve come to: MMORPGs are being designed for too many players.
This is partially responsible for what I wrote about yesterday. The world that our characters live and adventure in has become little more than a shell housing the actions. Why? Functionality. It’s no longer efficient or even functional for us to make worlds like they used to be made if we’re going to continue making the games to attract as many people as possible — when quantity is the goal, quality (or possibility) suffers.
Look at World of Warcraft, Aion, or LotRO for a couple examples. How are the cities and regions set up? They’re set up to funnel people efficiently. You enter a town for the first time and you’re given objectives to immediately leave the town, go to an area, finish that area, go back to town, and move on to the next. At one point in time this might have been a design feature to attract the “casual” player or to reduce the emphasis on “hardcore gameplay” to make these games for “everyone”. Perhaps Vanilla WoW might get a pass for being the first, but their expansions and all other games released following the same model have done so for one reason: They’re designing their game world for more people.
The world is now a thing we use instead of this awesome force that can not possibly be understood in its entirety. I look out over the landscape of a new area I’ve never explored and all I see are people running around doing predictable tasks. There’s one path that goes down the middle of the zone. Everything is intuitive. I may have never been the area, never known what it would look like, but I immediately understand what I’m supposed to be doing and exactly where I’m supposed to be doing it. It’s not just being a newbie, innocent, or inexperienced that creates that sense of ignorance.
Individuals are now the focus. It’s a direct result of the game being made for too many people. The more people you plan to cram into a game (notice I haven’t said this is directly related to the number of people online, which is likely close to what it was even back with EQ) the more the focus will shift away from the community and on to the individual. It’s a little counter-intuitive since you’d think it would be easier to create an experience for everyone at once instead of the individual. It’s all about the quests that individuals can do, the groups individuals can join/form, the gear an individual can get, the goals an individual can accomplish, the ease at which a new individual can enter content, etc. Communities are all but dead and unification/cooperation are now considered a hindrance.
Like my Stats teacher always says after giving us a problem: “Solution!” There is a solution to everything. Start making MMORPGs with a smaller audience in mind. Create the world so that it isn’t merely a tool of functionality. Create the systems and mechanics that are interwoven into the world not for large numbers but for a niche audience. Do not design with the individual player in mind before the world is created or all you have accomplished is satisfying the needs for functional and efficient. Design for the community — design for the inhabitants of the world. What mark can the player leave on the world, rather than what mark will the world leave on the player, should be our goal.
When I enter a zone for the first time I want it to be an entire new experience. I don’t want to know exactly where to go and I don’t want to see a bunch of other people performing tasks or always doing things that are predictable — in fact, I don’t want to see a bunch of other people at all. There are too many people being herded like cattle through an obstacle course of predictability. Looking back at a game like EQ or even Vanguard it was not easy to predict what someone was doing if you ran by them. Are they doing something for a quest, traveling, hunting random mobs, exploring, etc.? I should have to ask them in order to get the answer. Does this place I am visiting even have a purpose? If not, what purpose can I the player create?
The industry is getting too big for its own good and the focus is being lost. Games are becoming about the big picture instead of the details. Our game worlds will not be able to sustain us at this rate which is apparent if you look at the turnover rates. Games are all feeling the same, becoming predictable, losing the spark of life, and people are becoming increasingly intolerable. Time for a change. The direction we are going now is not working — open your eyes. It’s only logical, and common sense, to try the other direction; a direction that would likely lead to increased success and launch MMORPGs beyond the current limits of this design.