MMO Worlds should be like Skyrim

Solitude Marshes of Skyrim

One of the first thoughts I had when I first stepped into Skyrim’s world was to question why we can’t have a MMORPG with this kind of world.  I’d love to have a big, open, natural feeling world; none of this linear funneling with 30 wolves stuck in this corner or boars spawning on the same path every time. I’m imagining attributes of a world significantly larger than the one in Skyrim, but possessing all the same traits.

  • Towns scattered around the countryside
  • A world big enough that people feel a connection to a certain area and do not take travel lightly
  • Random, open world dungeons

A world like Skyrim lends itself to certain game mechanics, such as askill based system instead of a level based system, given linearity is not emphasized and the world is designed such that the first town you visit holds as much important as the last.  A Skyrim-like world also accommodates the feel of player housing, player-driven economies, and focuses on the communities created in certain areas since players tend to gravitate towards people they recognize (part of a large world without ‘direction’).

Imagine Skyrim but as a MMORPG and you’ll see the point I’m making — the point I’ve been trying to make for years.  In many ways, Skyrim is single player version of the fantasy MMORPG sandbox I want to see made.  People love Skyrim — many who I know have decried the idea of such a similar MMORPG.  Before you say it can’t be done, it’s been done before.  Ultima Online is the isometric version possessing many of the same qualities.

Obviously Skyrim’s model is not 100% transferable to massively multiplayer status, but I personally think people are crazy if they wouldn’t want a multiplayer version of the Skyrim experience.  That’s why I’m on the edge of my seat whenever the prospects of an Elder Scrolls MMO come up.  It’s a brilliant idea that has already been proven to work.

  • Playing Skyrim reminded me so mcuh about playing Darkfall – it’s like what Darkfall should have been like :/

  • @Chaffy: Yeah, I can imagine Darkfall PvE being like Skyrim. Add player-built castles to the world and you’ve got exactly what Darkfall should have been. Honestly, that’s what I thought Darkfall was going to be like. That’s what I tried convincing myself it was when it released and I couldn’t get past the 3 month mark.

    Despite not being ideally what I wanted, Darkfall is still a game that most of my friends feel was the greatest MMO experience we’ve had as a community/Guild. It’s because of characteristics similar to Elder Scrolls.

  • @chaffy PvP open world MMO’s have been done, lets give a AAA developer a chance to actually make a PvE world now. Besides you could get your PvP in such a world with dedicated PK (Red) servers like how AC does it. I tell you this though, if DF had a PvE server I would of played there in a heartbeat.

    I am a huge proponent of RvR as being the PvP of choice, its easily the best of both worlds as far as the PvE vs PvP crowd is concerned.

    With that being said, I agree with what you wrote Keen. I think its high time we have a PvE sandbox game marketed, developed and implemented by a AAA developer.

  • everything you listed is asherons call. plus the skill ups in skyrim = asherons call. you work on on skill it lvls up,and you can put points in to that skill if you want.

    i think skyrim to me is a single player AC. its everything i would want in AC today. the looks and the feel of the world.

    AC is not just nostalgia it was done right what a mmorpg should have been. you are right though keen in its time, AC time is long past.

    i never played eq back in the day. i wish i had now, so could you or someone else tell me what in eq makes you think of skyrim.

    skyrim to me really is what i would want in a mmorpg today, hell give me a co-op mode i would be happy.

  • Completely agree. Everything about Bethesda’s style screams sandbox MMORPG… I’m quite surprised they still haven’t done any. Here’s hoping they realize what huge opportunity they’re missing and will try to fix it!

  • Nice to see people finally agreeing. For years I preached a community-centric sandbox fantasy game with a skill-based advancement system when all I really had to say was, “Skyrim.”

  • I have no problem with what you’ve said, especially since in Skyrim you can fast travel! If Skyrim were an MMO right now, I could hop over to Winterhold or wherever to meet my husband in-game without having to spend an evening traveling to get together (thanks for the wasted evenings, LOTRO), and that’s all I’d ever want out of any sandbox MMO I played.

    I also second Blogging TOR’s comments. Fighting dragons out in the open world in Skyrim feels… well, pleasantly familiar, given my demo experience with GW2.

  • Now you just have to convince a large number of casual types that the things they want in an MMO are wrong and a AAA developer will answer your prayers.

  • There’s a few things that are likely to be lost (or diluted) in a Skyrim to MMO translation.

    Chief of which is immersion and sense of importance in the world. Skyrim is centered around you, the Dragonborn, and NPCs never break character, an MMO would have to get by with a more instanced individual story and lots of other players not playing the same way you would like, talking about out-of-game subjects, and genociding whole towns or species.

    Skills are not likely to translate the same way either, or everyone will end up macro-skilling up to be plate armoured sword swinging spellslingers of 100 maxed stats. (People have already found sneak exploits to rocket to max in Skyrim, fer example.)

    Certainly the idea of a vast explorable world and player formed communities/towns is a refreshing one, reminiscient of oldschool designs. I liked it in both ATITD and Wurm. Two potential issues – abandoned compounds/ghost town syndrome is common in both games, and player communities involve a lot of hardcore time commitment, limiting the size of the playerbase to something nearer the niche end of the MMO spectrum.

    As an aside, I think the music greatly helps in the immersion. Especially Jeremy Soule. Guild Wars and Skyrim, both elevated a passable story to a fairly epic feel with that characteristic orchestral sound.

  • Darkfall gameplay and skill system is not even remotely close to be as good as Skyrim, and the world not even remotely closely as well designed. Add to that developers who confuse “sandbox” with “PvP gankfest”, and you have “Darkfail” 😉

    I’d rather say that Skyrim is what Ultima Online 2 should have been.

  • Oops, and forgot to say… of course I agree 200% with you, Keen, I’d LOVE to see a Bethesda MMORPG with similar sandbox features and skill based character development.

  • Zomg spam! Sorry, there’s no “edit” function, and I’ve noticed that on your screenshot, the trees were not antialiased. Do you know you can turn on “FXAA” in the launcher which makes transparent textures look WAY better? Well, at least on my ATI HD 6870, I can. Just a little tip 🙂

  • Yes, an mmorpg that felt like Skyrim would be great, but the sheer numbers would soon destroy the feeling of Skyrim. As such my holy grail would be Skyrim Co-Op. Now that would be awesome. I would absolutely love to be able to play Skyrim with my other half. Adventuring in to the wilds or dungeons and mines with another player. Gosh that would be marvellous.

  • Aye that would be nice too, a “Cooperative RPG” like NWN. Add a world editor to this and you have something absolutely awesome 🙂

  • The first time I played Red Dead Redemption I was thinking the same thing. Would love to see them make an MMO.

  • I agree and disagree: Skyrim is utterly wonderful but not sure I want to see pink-armoured tools, bunnyhopping around and “lol”ling in MY Skyrim.

    Loving every minute of it still and looking to knock Deus Ex: Human Revolution off my top spot already!

  • The big problem of MMORPGs is that even on RP servers, there is no active banning of immature players who should not be there and who only ruin immersion. There’s also a lack of game mechanisms that would provide more realism… while pink armor can easily be avoided by simply not making that color accessible to players, the bunny jumping could ALSO be easily avoided by making each jump consume stamina. Jumping in “real” life is strenuous, so should it be in game. The bunny hoppers wouldn’t jump long if they lost 25% stamina for each jump.

  • Jumping too often in towns could cost reputation with the respective faction. Stamina costs are also an idea. The problem nowadays is not that the fight is lost, but that it is not fought.

  • @Nils: aye, and the usual argument is “but but but… my FREEDOM! It’s just a game!”… If they want freedom, they can roll on a non-RP server where immature kiddies(*) abound and where they will be with likeminded players.

    (*)the term “kiddie” for me doesn’t mean a kid, but any kind of immature individual you usually meet in MMOs, no matter if he’s 7 or 77 years old 😉

  • Yeah, I fully agree that in MMOs jumping should have either a longish cooldown or a chunky stamina cost: there’s virtually no gaming mechanic that requires bunnyhopping so it would serve to improve the game in a small but important way 🙂

  • “A world big enough that people feel a connection to a certain area and do not take travel lightly ”

    I was this way when I first started playing MMORPG’s. I kept thinking they were RPG’s since it is in the tag, but after my 4th or 5th one I’ve learned that the RPG is very small part of the equation for these games and maybe that is why I get so bored with them.

    I’ve never played any of the Elder Scroll games, but some friends who enjoy RPG’s say I’m really missing out. My husband still has Oblivion in the closet as well as its expansions, so I might dig it out. I’ve still got a month till SWTOR to play around!

  • Must…..Resist…..Skyrim!

    If this had Co-op I’d be a mess right now! Still trying not to get this game due to lack of time!

  • For me, the aspect of Skyrim that would be most interesting in an MMO environment is the ongoing civil war. Imagine a MMO where instead of the cut and dried opposing factions, you could choose to fight for one side or the other, or choose to stay neutral, and possibly even switch sides again when chosen (within limits.)

  • @Anakh: Like an EverQuest 1 style faction system. You essentially choose who you align with, regardless of your race, by the actions you take in-game. Just apply it to more of a sandbox approach.

  • I think the only thing that’d have to be done with the skill system is a sort of skills cap like Ultima Online had. Obviously, we wouldn’t want everyone maxxing out every skill like is possible in Skyrim.

    Give folks 700-800 possible skill points, or a softcap of sorts that keeps it around that, and cap perk points at 50 or so, and you’ve got a brilliant game. Folks would take various skills to various points to acquire the set of perks they want. All sorts of different playstyles emerge.

    This would also bring the non-violent character playstyle back. Someone that uses thier skill points to max out enchanting, alchemy, smithing, sneaking, lockpicking, pickpocketing? yup, doable in a gameworld that’s built like Skyrim.

    Toss in item decay (which existed in previous elder scrolls efforts, and is totally reasonable in such an MMO). Done deal.

  • The questing style would be perfect if it was transferred to an MMO game. Quests where I have to kill x number of creatures and loot y number of doodads make me dead inside.

  • My first comment yesterday was just said jokingly. Anyway, I agree the mmo genre is poised for a high-quality sandbox game. MMOs have gotten more and more themepark-oriented. To developers think players just need to be hand-held for every step of the game? I’m in the TOR beta and…well, I can’t say more.

    Anyway, I’d also really like to see a huge open world mmo. One in which you can do what you want, go where you want, play how you want. I’ve grown tired of these ultra-linear mmos that keep coming out. Give players the freedom, power, and the choice and a living, breathing world will emerge.

  • I started playing MMOs after enjoying Morrowind and looking for a game that would allow me to have the same liberty while interacting with other people.
    With Skyrim I arrived to the conclusion that I don’t care about other people anymore. I just want a fun game.

    If they included the option to chat in-game with other people I would be happy.

    But I do agree that there are many design principles in Skyrim that should be translated into an MMO. Starting by the skill system, the superb crafting system and the enormous persistent world with accurate distances.
    However many things would have to be redesigned to work in a MMO scale.

  • I’m gonna echo the comments of some that this doesn’t need to be an MMORPG for all the reasons listed above, especially the ones posted by Jeromai. BUT …and this is a big but …

    …add multiplayer. There’s a difference. Don’t go for massive, just go for multiplayer, which allows players to host their own games and therefore cultivate the kind of Skyrim experience they want around those select few.

    Picture being able to have multiplayer options: invite up to, say, 100 friends to a game or just coop with a band of 6 friends through the game. Player server hosting has the same potential as it does in Minecraft all other multiplayer games that aren’t MMO. I don’t think Skyrim could be done justice in a massive setting, but a multiplayer one …my god this would be incredible for the RPG genre.

    @Merovingian: totally agree with the comment that MMOs currently fail horribly at RP server management, mostly because there’s a lack of it.

    @Nils: Completely agree on the jumping thing. The oddity is that Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls has proven in recent years that you don’t need to add jumping to an RPG to make the experience feel immersive and life-like. Jumping is overrated by developers. In most combat situations players are never needing to jump anyways. It’s only useful for getting over/around objects, which is almost never a feature of boss encounters.

  • @Pedro:
    “If they included the option to chat in-game with other people I would be happy.”
    You can, I think, through Steam. I think it’s “shift+tab” to activate it, or something similar.

  • everytime i read a comment in this post im thinking: “these guys want Ultima Online but with better graphics” (darkfall doesnt fit this category, sorry)

    developers should risk and make an updated version of UO, is what people is asking for.

  • People think the problem with porting over a game like Skyrim to an MMO is that they’d lose that epic feeling that Skyrim gives you. Well I can definitely tell you that in the first three MMO’s, even in DAoC, you still got that epic feeling.

    You could do what Asheron’s Call did and create a continuing story in your world that required cooperation from it’s inhabitants to figure and and quest in. Each month AC would present new quests in a continuing growing story. They would usually culminate in an epic event where an epic item or two would drop and only a few people on the server would obtain it. Things like that, to make you feel like you are in a living and breathing world. That is what I miss from the old MMO’s.

  • Yes. Please someone make an MMO like this. What you described in the article is EXACTLY what I want in an MMO.

  • I guarantee you a 2000-3000 person server on the continent of Tamriel would have players spread so far apart that folks might even complain about low population.

    Imagine all of Tamriel developed. Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock, the Summerset Isles, Hammerfell, Black Marsh, Skyrim, Valenwood, and Elsweyr. That’s a ridiculous gameworld in size and scope. You’re looking at probably over 70 major cities, 150+ villages, 1000+ dungeons, 1000+ other points of interest. You could spend months in-game just exploring and still never see everything.

    And since there isn’t an “endgame” region in the skill-based Elder Scrolls gameplay, those few thousand players are spread over the whole world more or less evenly, aside from the biggest of trade hubs.

  • and that’s not even counting game spaces like Oblivion and the other daedric realms that players would likely be able to access at times. Oblivion gate raids anyone?

  • A world that big with players spread out and ‘living’ in different locations would be a dream come true.

    Imagine large guilds you’ve never seen or even heard because the world is so big.

    Economies would not be world wide but instead be relatively local since you must rely on others near you.

    It would be awesome.

  • It will probably just be me, but I am severely disappointed by Skyrim.

    Darkfall was great, Oblivion was simply awesome, and I had high hopes for Skyrim. I thought it would rock my world. Until I actually bought it and tried to play it… Character movement is really clunky, looking around with the mouse is uncontrollable, and melee combat is nearly impossible to execute properly. I hope it’s due to my relatively old pc, but I have this feeling that isn’t the case. A little voice inside my head tells me to go back to Dragon Age until the Skyrim mods come out.

    Back on topic, an MMORPG in an Oblivi.. euh Skyrim world would be beyond awesome! 🙂 A true sandbox MMO in a massive world is what we all dream of, no?

  • The problem with Elder Scrolls and MMOs is the best parts of Elder Scrolls is the scaling to your level which makes you feel like a great hero (not sure if Skyrim does this, but since every other Elder Scrolls game did, I’m jumping to the conclusion it does).

    I’ve briefly discussed how this could work in a blog post from a few years ago, but I doubt any company would invest the time into making it into an MMO…it gets to be a difficult prospect, and if there are millions of people, each a special hero, then it doesn’t work. The reason there are static spawn points is because its not just you farming for those pig intestines (or whatever) it’s dozens of people on your server. YOu are a unique hero in Skyrim, and so, you are special. That’s the best part of the games.

    That said, the AI and such from Elder Scrolls games and others would be wonderful to have in MMOs….imagine the guards changing shifts, or the bankers closing shop and going to bed at night….it’d be a wonderful immersion.

  • I’m thinking the spawning system could be easily enough adjusted to account for MMO gameplay. You just repopulate areas as players leave them. In elder scrolls fashion, they get repopulated somewhat randomly, not always with the same stuff. A wolf spawn might be a troll the next time you stroll through.

    Skyrim does scale with your level, but even as you level up, you’ll still encounter lower level opposition in the wilds. I’m still one-shot nuking wolves at level 20. There’s still some bandits with leather armor and iron war axes.

    IMO, in an Elder Scrolls MMO, you wouldn’t be the world saving hero… but more like one of the mages at the mage’s college or one of the companion members in Whiterun.

    I don’t think you have to be the hero of the story in an MMO. This is what recent MMO’s do… but back in the older games you were simply a part of the world. That said, it’d probably work where you “could” become the leader of the local chapter of a guild. Archmage of Winterhold, for example. There’d be hundreds of those types of opportunities.

  • @Keen In addition to local economies over global economies they would also have the choice to use the system in the game where shop keepers only have so much gold on hand. Towns have less of a pool of wealth than a city and smaller shops can only buy so much stuff. I also like how you can not just sell junk items to any vendor you want. The local smith will not always buy your pretty flowers, what use are they to a weaponsmith? I love this idea as it helps with immersion.

  • Keen, your blog is always full of good ideas for MMOs I’d play and MMOs that should get made. How come they never do? How come all these ideas that sound perfectly reasonable, doable, and engaging never make it into an MMO? If Betheseda was reading just this blog, I’d get very close to the MMO I want to play. But all I’m getting is Star Wars PvE on rails and ZERO investment in any real PvP. I’m glad that AAA developers are making small strides and advancing the PvE experience. You co-op people are going to eventually get what you want, I wouldn’t worry. It’s the whole other half that’s being neglected by developers because they can’t tell the difference between a Darkfall PvPer and a DAoC PvPer. You people complaining about not having a sandbox PvE centered MMO really shouldn’t worry about it, eventually, you’re going to get one. The people that salivate for the same kind of story, immersion, and meaning in their PvP that SWtOR is giving us in their PvE are the ones that should worry. No one is going to give these people the game they want.

    If you want solo, group, or raid PvE I can name you a dozen games that will give you your fix, if you like no rules PvP I can name you a half dozen games just waiting (plus there’s always FPSs).

    What if I want my PvP to have a story too? What if I want my PvP to matter like the choices in my PvE do? Is saying ‘I like PvP’ and ‘I hate the very idea of Huttball’ really a contradiction in terms? Someone that liked DAoC for the solo, group, AND raid PvP that it provided is going to get nothing, and like it.

    When you guys get your sandbox Co-op MMO, think of the gamers that won’t ever get the kind of game they want

  • @iLkRehp I agree we will get a AAA sandbox sometime in the forseeable future. I think for the time being though we can count on 2 things. 1: Skyrim was a massive hit, and it would be idiotic to not see a developer looking down the the road for a sandboxxy style of MMO. 2: I think in the short term GW2 will tide many of us sandbox gamers untill such a time as a GREAT sandbox is made.

    I jsut hope and pray that Curt Shillings 38 studios in production MMO codename Copernicus is that title. With the way that their Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur single player open world RPG is shaping up (release date in Feb 2012) I am crossing my fingers. The other hope I have is that Blizzard’s Titan MMO project is more sandboxxy and set in the Diablo universe, but soemthing tells me they that Titan will be a MMORTS set in Starcrafts universe. Guess we can wait and see.

    Regardless I think the future of a AAA Sandbox MMO is as realistic as at any other time since the release of the granddaddy themepark MMO of WoW. Still I remain apprehensive as I think if SWToR does as well as expected then the future of themepark will remain ever alive.

  • Both Darkfall and Mortal Online COULD have been decent or even good sandbox games if the developers had been less arrogant and had listened to the player concerns. But both had their head stuck so deeply in their “PvP gankfest/endgame” design that they completely killed what makes a great sandbox, which is that ALL play styles are viable.
    The developer who will make the next good sandbox, if it ever happens, will have to make sure PvP mechanics are designed so that they don’t take over the whole game.

    DFO and MO could EVENTUALLY have succeeded by adding “PvE servers”. Yeah, I know the reactions I’m gonna get to this, but it would have been quite easy to add. In DFO for instance, on PvE servers, PvP could have been limited to consensual war between guilds, and to specific zones of the game (like e.g. the center of the map). It’s definitely not my favorite solution, I prefer everything on the same server, but here it was by far the easiest solution, and I’m ready to bet real money that they would have at least tripled their subscription numbers, if not more.

    The recent attempt at sandbox MMOs failed only because of the stubbornness of their developers. There’s another game that was more promising, Dawntide, but I kinda lost faith that it will ever go anywhere close to release quality. The only real hope is that a major development company with the funds required to make an AAA MMORPG starts such a project… I’ve heard that CCP, the guys who did EVE, are doing a new game… maybe that’s the one?

  • Skyrim is great. But when I try to envision this world as an MMO it doesn’t seem very big. It seems gigantic when you are playing it solo, but add 3k people to it and it would be tiny. Try to picture yourself playing original EverQuest as a single player and you will see what I mean.

    What Skyrim is though is open. You can go any direction and climb over almost any obstacle. I agree with your original point that an MMO should be like Skyrim, but they would actually need to expand the world a lot more to make it work.

  • MMO gameworlds are way bigger then the Skyrim gameworld.And Guild Wars 2 has towns scattered around the countryside.
    A world big enough that people feel a connection to a certain area and do not take travel lightly,even through there is fast travel but it costs and you won’t be rewarded for exploring.Dungeons are meant to be instanced.