MMO Starting Areas

MMO starting areas are one of the most overlooked concepts despite being directly related to one of the most debated subjects out there: The World.   The latest EQ Next poll asks for feedback.

I am 100% against having just one starting area.  I feel like I’m always saying this, but that’s one of the big problems with MMOs today.  The experience is controlled, throttled, and linear.  I don’t want one starting area, and I don’t care how much the lore of the game is involved.  If your lore restricts you to one starting area in a MMO then there’s a big issue with the lore.

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and EverQuest are two of the best examples out there for starting areas.  Heck, even WoW didn’t do a bad job back at launch.  Players need to be spread out however it makes the most sense.  And I don’t mean spread out like you’re seeing in modern themeparks today where there’s a 2 minute walk or teleport to each of them.   Starting areas need to be very far away, and actually be part of the character creation process.

The classic example I’ve given in the past is #MyEQStory.  Players start hours apart, and in areas of the world so different from each other that the social mechanisms are different.  I remember seeing people say, “We do things differently in this part of the world.”  Someone hunting in Crushbone might be used to players behaving differently than those in Blackburrow.  Even the experiences are totally unique; Players on one side of the world might have a dungeon crawl deep into the depths of a vast cavern network, and players on the other side fight camps of orcs in a forest.  The unique experience matters because people can swap stories.

I like knowing that my decision to start somewhere matters.  I can’t be a shaman and start on the continent of Faydwer.  That makes meeting different classes and races a really neat experience.  I like knowing that the world is big and there are players far away experiencing something unique.  That feeling enhances my own experience and gives the MMO a huge sense of replayability.

  • Well so far in that poll just 3% of respondents want a single starting area, while 64% chose the option I preferred, namely multiple starting areas restricted by race or class.

    The problem is that SOE have already confirmed they will ignore these polls and do whatever they feel is best for the game and Jeff Butler and Dave Georgeson, the two who probably get say what goes I would imagine, both advocate giving preference to Story, even if that means a single starting location.

    Sadly the EQNext crew appears to be obsessed by “story”, which I would guess is possibly the factor likely to be of least interest to the players they are most likely to end up with. If they would just trust the players to make their own story and stick to providing the Lore as a backdrop for those stories to play out against they’d have a better chance of making something that might last as long as Everquest has.

  • I just do not get the obsession with ‘story’ in an MMO. It would seem to me that you have at your disposal an endless supply of story in the form of players if you just give them a diverse world to play in and explore and let them naturally shape things.

    It is of course my opinion but the best times and fondest memories I have from MMOs are in worlds that were less concerned about structured story and content and more about freedom and unpredictability. Ultima Online, Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, Worm Online, Eve and Fallen Earth. I have enjoyed my time with games like WOW, DDO, LOTRO and Age of Conan but they were short stays. The only story focused MMO I still log in to play is The Secret World and even that is only when new story content drops. Outside of story it is just a grind as the game offers no real ‘freedom’. (thought their skill system is kick ass!)

  • I think big worlds create more immersive gaming experiences, but I’m against forcing players to start in completely different areas depending on the characters they choose–unless there’s an easy way to fast travel between them.

    A friend and I started playing LoTRO a while back. I went with a dwarf and he went with a human. In order to play together I had to spend nearly an hour running my little newb butt through dangerous territory.

    MMOs are social things. Making it hard to socialize with your friends just because you opted to play different characters is not a Fun-O-Taining experience.

  • You cant keep removing the effort involved with game and expect people to have as deep experience as they did with old games where difficulties were there to over come. You can choose between your ability to socialize or you can choose between a deep experience. Games require that people make choices watering the consequences those down to create convenience destroys the deeper meaning of those choices.

  • @wufiavelli:

    “You can choose between your ability to socialize or you can choose between a deep experience.”

    But that choice is implicitly made when people decide to play an MMO over a single-player game, isn’t it? In fact, I’d argue that the whole point of MMOs is to socialize. Making it hard to do that doesn’t provide “deeper meaning,” it just makes the game irritating.

  • Just so you and your friend could be the same race you destroy journeys involved. You destroy player created stories of overcoming constraints and problems in their areas. And this is just one hypothetical. In any game you will be axing tons of meaningful but circumstantially annoying systems for small conveniences like this.

    It was just annoying for you and your friends situations, for the other masses going in it was a challenge they could bond with.

  • I agree. Limited starting areas only leads to lag on launch day.. And while I like the idea of giving certain options to certain races/classes, at least give options even then, to once again reduce lag. Plus, people roll alts. No matter what you do with a class system, people will roll alts. And they will want variety. Always. Especially these days. The MMO market is getting bored and needs some spice, variety is the best way to start. So yes. I agree. 🙂

  • I prefer huge world and specific starting areas for each race (not class). It adds a lot to immersion…Even if that means that I will make a huge trip with my level 1 naked character to meet with my friend and die xxxxx times in the process

  • I like specific starting areas also. There’s nothing like meeting different races/classes through your travels for the first time! I usually concern myself solely with the lore for my race/class, so when I meet the others, I’m intrigued and obsessed with learning more about them.

  • Bhagpuss I couldn’t agree more. It’s ironic how they want to funnel you into the ‘story,’ while they constantly stand on the highest mountain with a megaphone screaming that EQN IS A SANDBOX!!!!!!

    Game design speaks louder than words. These polls have really cooled me on EQN, which I was hugely excited for at its reveal.

  • a few months ago me and a friend rolled up some new characters on p99 – he a dwarf and me an erudite. About a week after character creation, I stepped off the boat onto the butcherblock docks where he was sitting, waiting for me. we celebrated with some blackburrow stout that I had lugged all the way from qeynos before heading to crushbone, the place we had wanted to hunt before even making the characters.

    It was the attainment of a simple goal, set entirely by my own intentions, and succeeding at it was one of the more gratifying gaming experiences I’ve had all year. What’s more, I remember it quite clearly and fondly a few months later.

    I call that a rewarding game mechanic.

  • Having only one starter area would be one of the worst mistakes they could make. For most games these days, and I gather it will be true for EQNext as well, it is a minor inconvenience you have to deal with for the first few levels or until some type of fast travel option is available. Even in EQ, you could get a porting friend or coax a stranger into porting you somewhere to shorten the journey considerably.