“It’s like the chicken and the egg, Will, the chicken and the egg!”

[Time Travel Picture]It’s both interesting and frustrating to watch people be skeptical that something in or about a MMO can work when many people, myself included, experienced those very things in a MMO years ago.  I see it all the time on gaming news sites.  The comments from some people make it very clear they missed out on a great game in the past.

I often find myself wanting to tear a hole in time so I can drag people back with me to see for themselves that many great ideas deemed impossible have been fully realized in the past.

Ideas like Planetside where you have a giant persistent world with massive battles consisting of hundreds of people fighting over a persistent base; Keep sieges in Dark Age with 500 people on the screen at 2am defending their realm’s lands; a world where houses can be placed anywhere and people claim a part of the world for themselves; Games with communities so strong that players literally spend hours just sitting in a tavern talking to each other because that’s how they’ve chosen to play their character — and the game facilitates that experience!  I could go on.

Games don’t have to lag with more than 50 people on the screen.  Quests aren’t the only way to level.  PvP doesn’t have to be confined to a box.  There’s more to games than combat.

When you see someone say “that will never work” to something that has been done, and done well, do your best to educate them.  When someone doesn’t ‘get’ what a game is trying to accomplish, inform them.  Often the ideals instilled into a game do not translate well over a video, press release, or web page.

My hope is that all good things don’t come to an end.  Nothing would give me more pleasure than to sit back and see others experience the same amazing things I got to do in MMO’s only a handful of years ago.   I believe the games in this industry will come full circle once this exploratory phase of trying new things is over.

  • Huh. I remember keep sieges in Dark Age of Camp-a-lot as incredibly laggy. Then again, you enjoyed DAoC while I remember it with loathing, so….

    UO did have the ability to place houses anywhere. As did SWG. In both cases, the landscape filled up rather rapidly, resulting in severe cases of virtual urban blight. I would not try to argue to anyone that open landscape housing had “been done, and done well.”

    I’ll agree on the rest of your examples, though. World PvP -can- work in the right game. Players -can- have fun just sitting around and chatting. Etc.

  • I secretly fantasize about a new MMO with mediocre graphics so that we finally can have large scale open world PvP without the lag…

  • I agree and I find the same things frustrating as you Keen. However, I understand that it is extremely difficult to look or learn from games in the past if you have not experienced them. I started MMOs with Ultima Online and I have to say that everything that came before that has absolutely no meaning to me and it isnt even part of my radar. I would think that many people feel the same way about what came before their first MMO.

  • PS: that’s also source of most of the community problems in games in the last years compared to pioneer games (UO, AC1, EQ, and hell even DAoC, AO and SWG). Veteran gamers have more patience and have learned to enjoy the setting, the atmosphere, the world (when those games were still worlds…). Today’s MMO player generation are mostly console rejects who don’t have a clue about what a mmo>>RP<<g used to be, they play that like they play the latest Super Mario.
    I call them "Fast Food Gamers". Everything has to be handed to them, fast. Result is worlds are shrinking to the point of not being worlds anymore, instant travel everywhere killing immersion, and spoiled brats whining on forums as soon as the game contains something remotely challenging.

  • I played alot of Anarchy Online back in the day, that game was huge. I remember, running off in a random direction looking for advanture. I ran a long time, (alot of zig zagging to see interresting stuff) I didnt see any1 else, and when I finaly did we hooked up and played together the rest of the weekend. When I finaly came back to the city, i’ve spent the last 20 in game hours away from it, and I was kinda like comming home

  • Anarchy Online also had a very steep learning curve if you wanted to fully use all the character customization options, way harder than DAoC or other games of the same period. Such a game would flop nowadays, the “Fast Food Gamers” don’t have neither the patience nor the will to learn such things, they just want purple loot, and they want it now.

  • yeah your right. I played a MP, and damn it was hard figuring out. But it was a big part of the fun. A simple thing as getting a macro right, and get a pet to do as you wanted was a victory and really satisfying 🙂

  • I remember just hanging out in the cantina in SWG for hours just hanging out and enjoying the music and dancing. You’d get to know the performers as many of them dedicated their entire characters to entertainment. I miss that in today’s MMO games.

  • I agree and disagree. Your basic point that many of these features have been done before is absolutely sound. The problem is that these games generally came from an era where investors and publishers were defining success by maybe getting 250k or 500k subscribers. A game with these kinds of mechanics could manage 250k or 500k, no doubt. The problem is that the investors now want much larger audiences for their game. They want to be the next WoW, or at least to try to pull a few million subs.

    And frankly, as other posters have already pointed out, you aren’t going to get huge sub numbers with these kinds of features. Ultimately what turns people off of these games, I think, is when they realize there is something that they can’t have. And all of these features that you yearn for (well, not all… but most) are features that create that experience of not being able to have something for some gamers:

    Massive PVP that matters? The losers lose out.
    Open world housing? Late comers lose out when all the real estate is taken.
    Challenging content? Less skilled players or players who don’t have the time to put in lose out.

    For an entitled gamer, why play a game where you can’t have something when there are plenty of games that will bend over backwards to hand it all to you on a silver platter? And unfortunately, the majority of gamers are entitled. Note that I am not using the word casual here because there are some casual games who are not entitled and some serious gamers who are.

    I hate this system. I hate that the vast majority of new games shoot for the lowest common denominator to get as many subs as possible rather than finding a niche in the market and shooting for a reasonable slice of the pie.

    Everybody is aware that the problem isn’t that these games can’t be designed with these features. The problem is that they can’t be successful based on current standards of “success.” The market dictates that these types of games can’t be made and it has nothing to do with the possibilities of design.

  • @SoS:

    The big problem with most new AAA games (SWTOR for instance, is that they want to be WoW right up front with a large casual player base. Unfortunately the casual crowd is just that and likely doesn’t share the same rabid fanboy dedication or loyalty that a hardcore player will when they commit to rolling their 1st new toon in a game. Why should a casual player keep paying a monthly sub for a game that is not nearly as large or refined than one that has Mr. T, Chuck Norris, and Kung-Fu Pandas?

    Another problem is designing a product for accessibility to the large casual crowd by making the game very easy in virtually all aspects, again SWTOR. People with short attention spans receive frequent positive reinforcement and level rapidly. The problem is that the “hard core” players are not challenged, and the casuals lose interest at cap unless constantly supplied with new content.

    This is especially problematic for themepark games where success is more likely to be judged by accumulation of tokens from mini-game victories; there are only so many rounds of Huttball people can compulsively play before they realize that the primary reason they are playing is to get more tokens to exchange for better gear to allow them to win at Huttball and accumulate more tokens. http://i.ehow.com/images/a06/er/kg/carnival-games-kid_s-party-1.1-800×800.jpg

    WoW was able to build over years due to their original smaller “hardcore” gamer base keeping them afloat. In the beginning it was not considered mainstream to be playing a MMO like WoW; you were part of an ostracized nerd minority and I am doubtful that it turned many investors heads in the first few years of development. It was the nerd early adopters that allowed for WoW to grow to a point where they were able to insidiously change the game to appeal to the larger casual crowd, and ultimately leave the dedicated supporters’ interests behind.

  • You are wrong about me being wrong about casual players, but feel free to elaborate… 🙂

  • The real casual player doesn’t care about what the hardcore do and just plays… casually, you know? I even know people who haven’t reached max level in SW:TOR yet.
    Most of the supposed “casuals” whining about lack of content are people who often play more than the “hardcore” who raid like 3 evenings per week. And those fake “casuals”, who are actually people who play a lot but don’t want to make the same effort than the “hardcore” to experience the content, give a bad name to the real casuals. It’s those you see whining they want “raid gear” without doing raids.

  • I’ve recently started playing the classic areas of Everquest again and it is the most fun I’ve had playing an MMORPG in years. I don’t mind the new streamlined areas of the game but its nice to be able to slow everything down and step into the old content and challenge myself a little more than most modern games are willing to do.

    I have to say though that the classic areas and the lower leveled areas of the progression servers are fairly empty. I have no idea how to get people who are used to the fast-paced, streamlined, modern experience to change the way they play. Would a new MMO that was more like classic Everquest even be given much of a chance by these players?

  • @Tara: I believe old ideas can be made new and popular again. It’s all in the execution. I know there is enough interest out there. If you build it, they will come.

  • @Keen: I really do hope that you are right.

    I remember when I first played WoW. I had been playing DAoC but then I was lucky enough to get into closed beta for WoW. I thought it was a lot of fun. It was like I had gone from shopping for ingredients and cooking my own meals to just being handed an ice cream cone. Eventually I got tired of ice cream and wanted something a little more substantial than that again.

    I’m worried though that if someone has just always been handed ice cream cones their whole life, then they might be afraid to try the meatloaf.

  • I would love to see a shift where players generated their own content. Until they can actually build the world the content will be themepark.

  • Well, to be fair to those people, all the games you mentioned would be considered massive failures if they were released today, even if you doubled their peak sub #s.

    So, yeah… they are kinda right, at least when you are referring to the definition of success that seems to dominate the MMO genre.

  • @Don: I sort of believe that in the long run, this is where MMOs will evolve to – towards total player control. The early MMOs showed two important points: 1. Players are the MMOs worst enemy 2. Players are the MMOs best asset. Player driven and player generated content is vastly superior to static themepark content. The randomness, the dedication of players, and the imagination is in my opinion far beyond anything a development team can dream up. The problem is that player generated content requires control of the MMO mechanisms by the players. This is where the first point comes in – MMO players also have a talent to use this freedom to make the game challenging, frustrating, if not unplayzable for many people.

    This is why there has been a shift – starting with EQ – to reduce player control and DEV teams have taken charge and try to control every little part of MMOs in order to make the game accessible and pleasant. With increased DEV control comes of course increased DEV responsibility. If players lack the tools to create their own fun content then any lack of content is the fault of the DEVs. Ultimately, it seems that there is little room for further evolution down the path of DEV control. However, there is plenty of room in the other direction.

    The problem to be solved is: How do I give players more control, thereby giving the ability to generate fun content, without having the negatives associated with it? The answer to this may very well be: even more player control. I read about World of Darkness yesterday and they are starting this by letting people run for office and hold certain positions wherein these positions actually have some power or authority attached to it.

    One trivial example of player control could be the old housing situation in UO. Many people liked the idea of going out in the world and being able to throw down a house somewhere and call it their own. No real restrictions. The problem, however, was that the landscape looked like a clusterf$#@…imagine as part of elections, some people got voted onto a housing development council and one requires permission to place their house in a certain location within a town jurisdiction. There can be bribes, there can be careful plannings to make nice towns, some people can just decide to make it random and clusterf#$% like…being President of the Housing Development Association sounds on paper boring…but hell, how much fun could you have with it!

    Player control can be extended to almost anything (death penalties etc.) DEVS would be responsible for providing the tools and the players will be in charge. There is a lot of room for development into that direction for MMOs and it may be the only unexplored venue for future MMOs to settle in. If you imagine a linear scale of player control and you would start with UO…on the right side you would go down the path that MMOs took…towards less player control (EQ, AC, DAOC, WOW etc.) but the entire other side is still unexplored.

  • The problem with giving too much control to players is the average immaturity of them. In such free environments, it only takes a couple of immature griefers to completely ruin the fun of many other players. That immaturity can range from simply ignoring the fact that there are real persons behind the other characters too to the simple enjoyment of being a total ass to the others without any of the risks it would involve in real life.
    Total player control in a MMORPG will never work because of human nature.

  • Neverwinter Nights let people build their own worlds. The player generated content and communities were pretty amazing. I can’t believe this style of game was never modernised.

  • @Don : Well, they made NWN 2 with a more evolved engine.

    I’d love to see something like a “MMORPG construction kit” where you can focus on creating the rules, mechanics and world of your game without having to worry about technicalities and graphic conception and animation.

  • @swarmofseals

    Uhh, Massive PvP that matters? The losers lose out.

    Well, that’s the advantage of having 3 factions instead of 2, the alliance system if one faction was dominating meant the other two would team up against them, and the simple fact that you could be hit in the back by the enemy realm meant that losers could come back. And the massive open pvp lands meant it was difficult to keep all your bases covered, you never knew when they could ambush you or attack your keeps, thus splitting your forces and suddenly, the fights aren’t so one sided anymore.

    Open world housing?

    Yeah real estate can run out, I think that happened in UO, DAoC’s solution was to make entirely seperate zones especially for housing, and that could be entirely expandable, it was kinda cool and meant late comers could still get a plot of land.

    Challenging Content?

    Thing is, you can have challenging content, you just need to make it so there’s SLACK in the content so that you don’t need everyone performing at 100%. “Doesn’t that make it EASY content?” No, the boss can still be complex and difficult, just have space for the less skilled players to do something, or give them the ability to participate as well while the more skilled players take the larger risks/more difficult tasks in a particular encounter. Things like *allow people to die and not instantly fail an encounter* have fallen out of favor, I mean sure skilled people should be able to win faster and more easily but less skilled should be allowed their more chaotic, longer, and more death happy tactics, zombie zerging that boss till he goes down… that’s fine. Heck Albion’s dragon strategy REVOLVED around getting a quarter of your raid slaughtered, then having another group pick up the boss while you in combat rezzed everyone.

    These are all things older games have done, while most recent games focus 100% on the combat maximalist attitude… and that’s why they’ve been getting so boring. When it comes to casual combat leveling and ease, WoW wins, and all it’s competitors offer *nothing* superior or “innovative” in terms of combat, or any secondary activities. The gear treadmill however is dieing, people are getting exasperated with the system of constantly escalating loot, which is why blizzard is trying to focus the next expansion on the pvp conflict and secondary activities. What they’re doing wrong is a post I don’t feel like typing up at this time of day, so there ya go.

  • @ Merovingian re NWN2

    I am aware of that but the world making tools were too difficult for anyone but programmers to operate.

    The more modern the game the more it seems like an experience on rails.

  • @Don
    There will always be a part of scripting and programming if you want decent freedom of creation in such “toolboxes”. You can actually use the NWN2 toolset without coding a single line, but you’ll have to stay with the default behaviors.

  • Im not going to say rose tinted glasses…ok so I will say rose tinted glasses. Somethings worked back then but back then the genre was about the most niche in the PC market place. I can easily remember 10’s if not 100’s of things I disliked about old MMO’s, including my beloved Asheron’s Call.

  • @Zederok

    Some things worked, some things didn’t, but people tend to throw out the good with the bad which is unfortunate, and in turn… take in the bad with the good as well. These older MMOs had problems, DAoC had plenty of problems, but mechanically it had some GREAT ideas that have never really been implemented since, with only a few basic attempts at it only coming around recently. Same goes for other games, with far too many attempting to emulate wow, and unfortunately copying everything that makes people disatisfied with wow along with giving a “not as good” experience as a fresh release simply can’t have the polish wow does with it’s years of additional development time. SWTOR is an extremely unfortunate example of this, although the legacy innovation is something I love, and that’s the kind of idea I would enjoy seeing more of in the future.

    So yeah, I can think of tons of things I disliked, but I can also remember tons of things I liked, heck, vashjir is the first time I’ve seen anything like the underwater world ToA did in DAoC, and for all the problems ToA brought, it’s enormous, detailed world was not one of them.

  • @Merovingian:

    Sorry for the late reply. I think we are using the term “casuals” differently. By casuals I mean someone in contrast to the dedicated/hardcore gamer, which for me is more dependent upon attitude than hours spent playing. As an example I consider a Farmville player a casual gamer even if they are habitually playing 8 hours a day, 7 days a week; conversely anyone who cares about game mechanics enough to write thoughtfully on gaming blogs is most likely a dedicated/hardcore gamer regardless if the time they actually spend in a game(s) (by choice or life circumstance).

    I think that what I refer to as a casual gamer (at least a subset of) is what you call a “Fast Food Gamer” that is a person who races through games without great consideration for quality of the game play as so much the overall background theme and the presence of a standard intermittent reward token economy.
    Many of the original WoW adopters were dedicated/hardcore gamers by my definition that insidiously were supplanted by the greater casual fan base as content became simplified and themes became more accessible (such as Kung Ku Panda Bears).

    I agree with the points you made in your other posts if you replace “Fast Food Gamers” with “casuals”, and perhaps the same might be true in principle for you vice versa.

  • @gankatron
    I agree on the form but not on the term. Back in the “old school” games, you had casuals too, but most weren’t spoiled brats like today’s “fast food gamers”.
    I just don’t agree with the amalgam of the terms “casual” and “lazy player”/”bad player”. My “fast food gamer” can be a casual or a hardcore.

  • @Zederok: Danath already replied with what I would have said, but I’ll just reiterate that it’s not “rose tinted glasses” to identify good ideas. I know there are things in MMO history that aren’t worth bringing back, but those have no bearing on the good things that have been entirely neglected.

  • I agree Keen, but there are things that I really want back in MMO’s too but I am not naive enough to realize that some of those really fun things we liked back then wwill never work in todays MMO. Plus if soem of the things I loved back were put in then you would segregate the game off from a huge share of the population. Like it or not WoW made MMOs mainstream and if you want some niche things then be prepared to play a niche game.

    I Would love to see player housing again and I dont understand how a game like WoW can implement pokemon pet battles over player housing in MoP but then again I also understand that Player Housing is niche at best. There are many other things I wish were back in but we either have to play an Indie MMO with a shoestring budget or daydream about what-ifs.

  • @Zederok: Oh, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not saying WoW needs player housing. I’m not at all saying every MMO needs all of these features.

    What I’m saying is, a game like Planetside 2 is announced and people can’t wrap their heads around a persistent world game with massive battles. They’ll say something like “Why would I play this when I can play Battlefield 3″…

    People will also say that houses being placed anywhere in a MMO would never work. I literally read that at least once a month. I feel like strangling those people because they say “That would never work” when it HAS worked — MULTIPLE TIMES!

    I think it’s naive to think that these ideas can’t work in a modern MMO. One day these features will resurface and a new generation will think it’s the first time they’ve ever happened. Only thing keeping it from happening is a developer wise enough to get it done.

  • great post Keen. I don’t know if new MMO’s will ever capture the same spirit and community of the older gems.

  • Keen , One of our favorite practical jokes to play on new gamers on WOW was to tell them that our guild had a guild house in Burning Steppes.This was right in the middle of Vanilla Wow. And as long as you belonged to the guild the mobs wouldn’t aggro you when you entered the zone. Thinking about it now it would have been cool to actually have housing in Burning Steppes, but alas zones mean nothing now in Wow.

  • Hmmm, reminds me of the first time in WoW that I was told in an instance to click on the large glowing ring to get a buff…

  • On the subject of DAOC…keep sieges.I’ve been inside the ck….perhaps 50+ all casting etc….no lag(this week). This ain’t your grandpa game and grandpa’s technology any more.Cable connection and a modern computer work wonders.Even on an old warhorse.

    I play DAOC atm.It’s the only game I’ve found worth paying for.