Why are MMOs trying to make everybody THE hero?

MMO heroesI was thinking about this earlier, and I find it kind of odd. It seems lately quests in MMOs are trying to portray you as some important person or somebody who interacts with important people. What I mean to say is that according to the story in the game you seem to be quite the mover and shaker around these parts. This really perplexes me because I don’t see how thousands of people all existing within the same game world can all at once be the hero of the story without cheapening it.  If you really want a unique story that casts you in the role of the savior of whateversville then why aren’t you playing a single-player game? They tend to do the job a whole lot better.

I’m not saying that quests where you play an important role are bad. However, it seems that so many games nowadays are designed around questing. Also, every MMO is trying to infuse a story as well because, hell, that’s important right? No… No it isn’t. It REALLY isn’t. And this is coming from somebody who loves to hear a good story and loves even more to write them. Stories in games can be FANTASTIC but MMOs really don’t need them. You can have an overall theme or direction that shapes the lore of the world over time but when you try to tell important, epic stories through quests it is just bad. It’s so because you are making each player the main character of the game and that’s really not the point. Like, at all. It really isn’t, trust me. People that are looking for this experience, again, should seek better offerings. No, really, there are some great games out there where you don’t even have to interact with other people.

Deep down I know I have no right to dictate that players should play something else, but I still really want to. I mean, I liked it when MMOs were a certain way and catered to a specific demographic. However now it seems like there exists a large population of players that want, basically, a single player experience with the option to play with others if they so feel like it. What the hell is up with that? I just don’t understand this at all… The point of MMOs, or at least what I thought, is to exist in a world with MANY additional people and communities of which you needed to rely on and be apart. You are just a cog in the machine as it were. This culture of self-centered players and games that essentially put you at the center of attention primarily, and oddly enough, to your own self… it just… there are no words, man.

Go play a freakin’ single-player game.

  • You were a cog in the machine in Everquest. Many asian MMOs still work that way, where you’re one of many contributing to the cause, but nothing particularly special. They have not proven successful in the western market. That’s why western MMOs tend to be largely single-player experiences– it’s what people want.

    And speaking personally, it’s what I want too.

  • For me the everybody-is-a-hero attitude probably reached a low point when SWTOR was trying to get around the conundrum of 1. Jedis are much tougher than everyone else while 2. offering other classes that need to be balanced. SWG at least recognized the need of the Jedi to be an “über” class but SWTOR skipped this and made up some nonsense argument why Jedis are not more powerful than other classes.

  • Jedi being an uber class completely destroyed SWG. SWTOR made a lot of mistakes, but it handled that particular issue correctly.

  • I know exactly what you mean. The biggest disconnect caused by this hero syndrome for me was Aion. I actually asked my brother “So everyone is a former commander suffering from memory loss?”

    As far as Jedi go I think it’s better when you can see that there are Jedi of all different skill levels. Everyone remembers the legendary ones like Obi Wan and Yoda but that doesn’t mean all Jedi are that strong.

  • I remember the good old days of Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call and EverQuest.

    I want them back. Damn it, Blizzard… why did you ruin it for us?

  • @Rodalpho

    I think asian MMOs don’t appeal in western markets mostly because of the character aesthetics. Our cultures are too diffent when it comes to our understanding of beauty.

    But yeah, there seems to be this weird, almost condescending attitude with the MMO developers of these days to create the game for “them, the audience”, rather than creating something they would like to play themselves. Chosen Ones, Dragon Knights and lately it seems like the “create a new character” button had to be changed with one that says “create a new hero”.

    A good rule to live by when doing these things seems to be that if you, as a developer don’t buy into the pandering words, the audience probably doesn’t either.

  • but when you go to a “raid” to kill the most evil creatures in the world, you can’t be just the guy on the next door..I don’t like the story telling too and the quest that take you from hand to meet the important NPCs to tell you how important you are e.t.c. But regardless the game tells you with story quests that you are a hero, you eventually end up to be a hero because you killed the strongest enemies that the whole world fears.

  • Well it one thing when you actually do something thats impressive, it can make you feel like you achived something. Just because 10 npc’s tell’s me that i’m a big dog, doesnt mean I buy into it.

  • In a themepark MMO the ability to craft a unique story is severely limited and the results are often in sharp contrast to the dramatic incidental music playing in the background.

    In SWTOR my character ended up being one of the most powerful Sith Lords in the universe, me a half a million other level 50 sorcerers with the same named companion who were also trying to sell “Blue Goo” on the GTN that is.

    This was actually the biggest disappointment for me with SWTOR as it was to be a massive story-driven game, but it wasn’t, in reality it was a loot-driven game with good voice acting.

    I think that leveling, and at its base an “American Dream” MMO mentality, also undermines story immersion; people expect to become astronauts and ballerinas, not welders.

    Looking at a fantasy world of Lord of the Rings (not the game, but the novels), why should every player expect to eventually become Gandalf; perhaps Frodo is a better model? Frodo saved Middle Earth which was an epic feat, but was he the best wizard, thief, or swordsman in the realm?

    The establishment of a token economy using experience points is problematic, at least in how it is implemented in most games today. It worked well in our old P&P games because I never actually reached “cap” over the course of an ongoing game; although the acquisition of a new level and the commensurate abilities were highly desired, they took so long to achieve that I only paid attention to leveling if there was a chance that I could hit it that specific gaming session.

    In most MMO’s the rate of experience gain is so ridiculously fast that the story is incidental and gets spacebarred through. There were times in SWTOR I would get 10k by flying over and talking to a new NPC, which seemed cool at the time, but in reality devalued everything else that actually required effort.

    When Quests/Missions are judged on the basis of their exp/hour payout and not by the intrinsic details of the story, players will race to cap and stop, like travelers on a package tour checking sights off of a list.

    Gear-centricity also substitutes for effective storytelling. The formula of short term intermittent positive reinforcement (i.e. token economy) is not lost on game designers and of course loot is the easiest way to provide this.

    Back in the P&P days, this approach was called a “Monty Haul” dungeon. DM’s that lacked creativity would substitute loot as a distraction, but like a sickly sweet treat the appeal was only in the moment, since what is better than a +5 Vorpal Sword, a +6 Vorpal Sword, of course.

    Was gear important to the P&P player? Yes of course, but in my experience a +3 Flaming Sword was a massive achievement and not easily trumped, except perhaps situationally in a crypt by the +1/+4 Sword of Undead Slaying. In these games I spent time planning out my encumbrance carefully, as a flask of slippery oil, a shovel, and sharpened wooden staves was more likely to help me survive than stacking stims and adrenals.

    Sometimes the best story is one where an everyday Joe overcomes adversity through ingenuity and resources at hand.

  • @leddyhs: Nah, that’s not it. Lots of asian MMOs have a western look. Aion, Tera, etc.

  • It’s important for players to feel like a central character in a story.

    The problem is not that everyone wants to be a central character of the story, the problem is that there is only one story (the single chain of progression). It works great in single-player, breaks down online.

  • Both games had models changed from the asian versions to look more western. Do they look like WoW or EQ2, no, definitely not. But they have less of an asian look than many others.

  • If there’s an eastern/western dichotomy in storytelling I don’t think it centers around whether the player is a hero or not. There are a lot of cultural differences in how the stories are constructed and presented. And speaking of culture…

    I think the reason that everyone is a hero in (western) MMOs is that they all come from the same cultural origin as single player RPGs – which would be tabletop games, by way of D&D, and LoTR. Most MMOS are single player RPGs that just have a lot of people. Designing an MMO, and an MMO story, that’s appropriate for a living world is something that the vast majority of people who are involved in games have no experience with. You can’t just treat it as a larger RPG if you want to take advantage of what an MMO can do, but pretty much everyone does.

  • Go play a freakin’ single-player game.

    Go play a sandbox. Saying “I’m tired of all these military shooters having guns all over the place” is just silly. Themeparks are directed experiences; it’s not a deficiency, it’s a feature. And I wish there were more single-player games that were still fun to play three months later.

  • It is fun to be the hero, yes, but you don’t become a hero simply because the lore says you are. You choose to become a hero through heroic actions. In EverQuest you gradually worked your way up from handing your new recruit’s letter in, to killing beetles, and finally slaying dragons and gods.

  • Totally agree Graev. Easy example coming soon, Skyrim will 100% be a better PvE experience than anything the upcoming elder scrolls game can possibly come up with.

    If they just tacked on the ability to play Skyrim with a friend co-op and scale the world to account for it, it’d totally wipe out the need for any MMO.

  • One of the many reasons that I believe Camelot Unchained will be incredibly fun. Nobody is the hero. It’s about the realm, and everyone working together.

  • If you wonder about a lot of the decisions being made by developers these days, wonder over to “Psychology in Gaming” and have a read;

    In the beginning, games were more ‘art’ than business. The people behind them weren’t as interested in making their first million, as they were in building something they were passionate about.

    Fast forward and those days have faded. Huge projects take big money. That money is fronted by people who’s goal is to MAKE money.

    Hence, you design your game to appeal to the biggest market, hence biggest return. The only way I see this kind of thing being reversed is for the player base to adjust it’s expectations.

    Would you be willing to play a text based game, if it had all the features you were craving in a sandbox / MMO? Probably not. You’ve grown used to amazing graphics. What about a game with ‘Quake 1’ style art? no?

    The point is as gamers tastes became more refined, they’ve come to expect much more. What they’ve come to expect costs a fortune, both to develop and maintain.

    I’m hopeful that sites like Kickstarter will provide a market for more ‘niche’ products to be developed again, so those with particular tastes can continue to play the games they enjoy.

  • “However now it seems like there exists a large population of players that want, basically, a single player experience with the option to play with others if they so feel like it.”

    You’ve hit the nail on the head.

    But there is also a range of games like ATITD, EvE, DF:UW, Mortal Online out there.

    If we stop referring to themeparks as MMOs, would that make you feel less angry? Or is it the fear of an industry-wide themeparkisation that keeps you awake at night?

  • @Anon: The issue with text MUDs isn’t so much the text, but the interface; I don’t enjoy typing everything, e.g. “go east; look at ogre; attack ogre”. As for Quake 1 style graphics… that’s good enough for me as long as the world setting is interesting, there’s depth to the game mechanics, and the game-play is fun. (Actually, if you could re-capture the feeling and atmosphere of Quake in a MMO… that sounds awesome to me!)