Been saying it for years

When I got home from work yesterday, Graev shouted to me “Hey, did you see this ex-WoW Dev’s article?  He’s saying the same thing you’ve been saying for years!”  I was skeptical at first.  Rarely do the things I preach get repeated by anyone in a serious role and able to produce a game.   I was pleasantly (and annoyingly) surprised to see that Mark Kern wrote an article highlighting essentially a summary of everything I have said over the last few years, even the last few weeks (My EQ Next Wishlist anyone?).  Seriously.  Everything from mudflation, accessibility, the journey vs. the destination, end-game… you name it, I shouted it from the rooftops, and he wrote it. 
Keen and Graev Thrall

As content gets easier in order to appeal to a wider market, it at some point also pushes that market away. We feel bored by the same formula over and over. We never explore the world, having been indoctrinated to just follow a laundry list of tasks. There is no thinking, and not much choice, as the ideal path is spoon fed to you in a linear fashion (ironic how open world MMOs have become linear quest fests). It may be great for relaxing and having a fun couple hours of gameplay, but it doesn’t last. No wonder we have such a huge crowd of jaded and bored MMO players.

I agree.  I’ve said it a million times that having to work for something makes every win, even something minor, feel like it was earned.  MMOs should feel like an investment.  I don’t want to drink from a fire hose, nor do I want to have to follow a check list of tasks in order to proceed.  Quests should be an adventure, not a chore, and should take weeks, not minutes, to complete.   Let me struggle to survive, fight to gain ground, and bask in the glory of victory because I did more than talk to the right NPC.  Just yesterday Graev wrote that he doesn’t want to be punished for grouping.  I’d like to go one step further and propose that players actually benefit from grouping.

It’s not the end game that we should be worried about, its the journey. An MMO should be savored, a lifetime of experiences contained within a single, beautifully crafted world. The moment to moment gameplay should be its own reward. You should feel like you could live your whole life there, not by having infinite quests, but by having a living world that makes you feel good just for being in it and experiencing all it has to offer at your own pace.

One of the best lines I’ve ever written was in a recent blog post, so I’m going to say it again: I need to get the feeling that I’m simply too small to matter in the grand scheme of things, and no matter how hard anyone else tries they need to appear insignificant too.  I want [the world] to always be the center of attention, not Bob the Gnome and his guild of 200 sycophants.  I want to be overwhelmed.  I want to be scared.  I want [the world] to be so grand in scope that I can’t possibly comprehend the breadth of what’s out there.

Just so summarize my thoughts (and six years of blogging):

  • MMOs should be overwhelming, mysterious, and too enormous to comprehend — the scope should be magnificent and complex
  • Grouping should benefit players, and cooperation should be paramount
  • End-game isn’t the focus.  End-game isn’t even the goal.  End-game technically shouldn’t even exist.  Let the journey be the only thing anyone ever needs
  • Accessibility is fantastic for themeparks, and should exist, but a serious virtual world MMO (the kind that lasts more than 3 months) shouldn’t focus on making everyone equal; focus on creating an experience that rewards players for trying to be different
  • Players should feel like they are living in the world, not playing through it
  • Content should be woven into the experience of living in the world, should be challenging, and rewarding

I mentioned right up front that I was both pleasantly and annoyling surprised.  I’m annoyed because I hate seeing these types of articles used by developers just to market their games and try to grab the attention of a demographic desperate for anyone to say the right things.  I hope Mark Kern truly believes these things as I passionately do, but I’m skeptical that a F2P MMOFPS can provide the solution.  F2P inherently brings with it mechanics that are polar opposites of just about everything above.  Regardless, I’ll continue to believe these things, write these things, and one day (I pray) see them enacted again.

  • I don’t always agree with everything you say and think about MMO’s (I sometimes feel you are always wearing nostalgia goggles), but I do agree with enough of it to have continued reading you blog for about 4 years now (since WAR).

    While this guys article seems to have well intentions, the Firefall game he is talking about is just not very good right now. I’ve been in the beta for a while, and there are just a lot of things fundamentally wrong with the game still.

    The starting experience is absolutely horrible. They did at least add a tutorial that is fairly decent, but as soon as you leave that the game breaks down quickly. I’ve tried 4-5 times to honestly get into the game, and the first hour of it always turns me away more so than any other game I have played. I’m all for having to learn how to play a game the hard way (loved Dark Souls, etc…) but having this much frustration just trying to do the starter “quests” is fairly ridiculous. It’s not that they are hard, they just cannot be done by the way the game is telling you to do them…and because of that you really cannot continue on to learn more about the game

    The game is also way too much of a Global Agenda clone. It’s fairly remarkable how closely the games resemble each other. I will continue to give the game chances while it is till in “beta”, but they have a lot of work to do to make it into the game he claims it to be…

  • I enjoyed the read but also found strange. Why is Mark writing this, I wondered. Because his game meets very, very, VERY few of the points he raised. Firefall was barely an MMO last time I played it, which was admittedly over six months ago. Maybe things have changed, but I walked away from his article believing that he would need to be working on an entirely different game for it to be at all promotional.

  • @picpoc Doesn’t that make you wonder what they’ve been doing through these years of beta? Shoot, they were buying gaudily oversized expo booths like two years ago. I loved the concept but, really, if they haven’t got something unique, fun, and worth releasing by now I wonder if they ever will.

  • I had the same thoughts as both of you. The two don’t match up, so I was rather annoyed to see the ideas I’m passionate about being used as marketing ploys — unless Firefall has drastically changed from the frag arena I’ve seen in all the videos.

  • I just wrote a massive long reply to this then fat-thumbed two keys and deleted it! Grrrrrrr.

    Short version:

    1. I agree.

    2. The idea that our “huge crowd of jaded and bored MMO players” is anything remotely new just demonstrates a lack of perspective. We had exactly that when I was playing EQ back in 2000-2004, only as well as being bored and jaded they were also highly aggressive. SOE had to close their own forums because of the endless negativity and that was before the NGE! We got where we are because players consistently demanded that MMOs were made easier and then easier again both in game and on every available public forum and, as soon as easier alternatives began to become available, by moving to them in hordes.

    3. Which isn’t to say there’s not an audience for true virtual world MMOs. We really aren’t going to know that until someone makes one that matches all the big MMOs in size, scope and budget. Maybe we’ll find out when we get a look at EQNext.

    4. Firefall is fun. I was surprised how much fun. I read the Mark Kern article a while back and shook my head at the same thing you all are. Firefall IS fun but it isn’t that game he’s describing. Maybe he thinks it will be. I hope he’s right, but I doubt it.

    And yes, that really was the short version.

  • Would like to add players should benefit significantly from grouping.

    The best quests, the best xp areas, the best loot should only be available to groups. Like in EQ the best levelling was only possible in groups.

    If one wants to play a single player game… go play skyrim. There I said it. Don’t play mmos. I am sick of casualised gemeplay.

  • Damn you keen we are thinking so much alike it frightens me.
    Every time you bring up topics like these a spark of hope is born within me just so i get even more disappointed on the new genre releases as time passes.

  • Guy could have just linked to my first blog post and saved himself a lot of trouble. Of course, back then he was part of the problem, so that would have been awkward.

  • “MMOs should be overwhelming, mysterious, and too enormous to comprehend — the scope should be magnificent and complex”

    I disagree with this because it paints MMO’s as one thing and if it doesn’t match this vision then it is wrong. There is room for multiple styles of MMO in the market, there is nothing inherently wrong with themepark style mmo’s they gained popularity for a reason, because they can be fun. Not every RPG has to be like Baldur’s gate or Elder Scrolls or Diablo, three very different types of RPG that were all very successful.

    The problem is no one has stepped up to the plate and made a solid deep virtual world style MMO as they are all chasing the market share that WoW got, and realistically that style of MMO just won’t reach those numbers. The good news though is it seems that since the recent flops of WoW clone MMO’s maybe more devs and publishers will take a chance at going outside of the themepark mode, maybe EQ Next will scratch that itch. I remain skeptical till it actually happens but I too would like to play a virtual world MMO sometimes as well.