Ever-evolving and Changing Worlds…

MMORPGs are the ever-evolving and changing worlds. At least that’s what they used to be. That was a major selling point back in the 1999-2006 era. We would purchase an MMO, subscribe, and play a game knowing that it was going to keep growing and changing over the years.

Now MMOs have a number of issues keeping them from ever being an ever-evolving world. They might be a 3 monther without any sort of vision or a F2P title with design goals aimed at increasing cash shop sales rather than increasing things to do in-game.

I find myself remembering back to the day where I was happy to pay money — subscription or otherwise – because I was paying for the game to keep growing and developing. Now the same concept feels more like I’m paying for them to fix the game. The difference between fixing the game and growing the game is one word here in a blog post but massive in its repercussions for gameplay and the experience in a game.

MMOs are launching in a state of disarray. When was the last time you played a MMO at launch that felt truly ‘done’ or ‘ready’? For most people the answer will be a resounding, “Never!” Features are missing, bugs are prevalent, content is underwhelming, character development is non-existent… I mean seriously, some games launch as the next big raiding game and don’t even have a single raid in the game at launch.

Am I okay paying to fix a game? That’s the questions we must ask ourselves in 2015. That’s a question that sadly reaches even beyond the MMO genre and into anything asking players for money before it is complete.

Returning to the idea of ever-evolving and changing worlds, it has become clear that MMOs are being designed on a ‘start to finish’ plan. The entire picture is being sketched out on some dry-erase board somewhere and put into a design document. “Our players will start at level one, quest to level 50, do some dungeons, raid, then we’ll launch more raid dungeons and pvp gear options to keep them playing.” I just summarized the last 10 MMOs in one run-on sentence, and some people are being paid huge salaries to come up with that crap.

Launch a world that grows organically. That can only be done when a virtual world is created and control is handed off to the players. Development should only be loosely planned by the developers and flexible enough to adapt to the dynamic nature of real life. If your design doc is so rigid that it can’t accommodate change then you’ve likely built yourself a me-too MMO that will last for 3 months before the pattern is figured out and people quit. You’ll have bored us before we even could play long enough to get bored.

If your world isn’t ever-evolving and changing then, in my opinion, you’re not really a true MMO. You have a shell of a product with no soul or sustainable direction. If you’re charging a subscription for this shell then you’re the reason people think the sub model is bad. If you’re F2P then you’re one of two things: (1) Still trying to prove the model actually works, or (2) Building a business model instead of building a game. I think it’s smarter to just go back to how the industry got started.

  • My dream MMO, if I was somehow on a design team, would focus on an NPC’s interactions with players and other NPCs. Every NPC would have randomized “stats” for their personality traits and strength too. Orcs for example would still largely be aggressive marauders but if one spawned with exceptionally high rolls he would eventually dominate the others and lead them. Possibly raiding towns and cities if his aggressiveness is high enough. Maybe you’d come across the rare outcast that just wants to get away but if possible it wouldn’t be scripted. He’d have just rolled minimums in his aggressiveness, strength, and loyalty stats. Maybe your group didn’t know his true intentions and just rolled over him. Or maybe you talked to him and learned where he last saw one of those “leader orcs”

    Townsfolk would follow the same rules too. Anyone could be killed and their replacements would have a new randomized name and personality set. Ideally it wouldn’t happen commonly, townspeople dying, but every once in awhile you’d hear something like the arrogant newbie trainer finally died in an orc raid and his replacement is much cooler.

  • Careful with the rose tinted glasses. Very few games launched without some pretty big bugs and issues.

    A lot of older games weren’t Themeparks because they hadn’t even thought through their content that far. I remember getting into Everquest, and it wasn’t even a “kill 10 rats” situation. It was walk outside and hit wolves with a rusty sword for a few hours. I loved it, though. Information was so sparse that I had to figure things out as I went, mostly by talking to people. And the game was slow. So slow that I had a friends list full of people I would consistently see for over a week sitting in the same camp site I was in. We knew each other, and became friends while we explored an insanely massive world over the period of months, without even trying to synch up with one another. Still, the gameplay was clunky and, by modern standards, boring.

    I wonder if the really simple gameplay actually enhanced things, though. When you turn on auto-attack and hit whatever num-key you’ve synched up to your taunt you wind up with a lot of time for chatting. If your job is to sit and meditate, occasionally throwing out a complete heal, that leaves a lot of typing time.

    I think they did Lore pretty fantastically, though. I didn’t read a bunch of stories and backgrounds, or do quests that explained the zones to me. I walked through and saw it. Fight your way through a series of valleys full of orcs running around to wind up at a fort heavily guarded by humans? You know what is going on there without a bunch of dialogue or quests. They showed you the world, instead of telling you about it, and I remember being incredibly impressed by it back then. Now every game you play has a very specific story you NEED to be told for every zone, making it seem less impressive when you actually see it. You get a bunch of stories about these epic struggles going on, and how you need to play your part etc etc, and then you get sent to a spot with constantly respawning mobs that you cull by yourself as fast as possible so you can move on to the next epic struggle filled zone.

    The last game I can say I actually was “addicted” to was SW:G. Sure I did endgame in Rifts, TOR, TSW, and probably others I’m forgetting, but once I rushed through their world to queue up into endless repetitions of the same content over and over while grinding tokens, I quit. The worlds weren’t interesting to me (Rifts was damned beautiful, though, and I loved the class system and the story was good) because they were just there as roadblocks and hurdles to get to the next part. All of their content was just… jump through this hoop to get to more content. I always knew what was coming, and that made me want to get to it and advance.

    I spend most of my free time on TTRPGs, board games, and Wargames, now. D&D can still rekindle that feeling of discovery and awe, when done right. Board games are great for socializing. And if I want something a bit competitive, I can throw an army of monsters onto a hunk of plywood and spend an hour making them fight it out with of a bunch of robots (I really enjoy painting as well).

    I hope one day someone can throw out an MMO where I can explore an interesting world at my own pace, while being part of a community and making friends. Where in a matter of hours I’m not “done” with a large chunk of the world. When The Repopulation comes out (I donated on Kickstarter, but am abstaining from testing anyway), maybe I can find my place as the pre-eminent crafter of guns you put on robots, and make friends with all the people who want to put guns on robots. Or be the guy who has a reputation for selling the highest quality lizard-dog meats or something. But really, I just want to be able to find my place within a community of people having fun and enjoying a fantastic world.

    P.S. I have no idea why your blog makes me want to type obscene-huge comments. I’ve been a consistent reader since Allods (I think we met in there at some point, I had the same name and was a mod on the forums), and really appreciate all of your thoughts on gaming/the gaming industry. Hopefully the disillusionment manages to be washed away eventually.

  • Hey Keen, I really appreciate the effort you put into this site and have been reading and enjoying it for a quite some time. You bring a lot of good conversation to the community and your consistent posting is refreshing.

    But I have to say that I’ve had a hard time enjoying your recent posts. You bring some reasonable criticism to the table, but your tone has been so aggressive and negative that it’s very hard to have a good time reading it.

    I’d love to hear more about what you are excited about in MMOs and other games, rather than what you hate about them. That may just be a personal preference, but I wanted to mention it.

    Again, I really appreciate your site and all the work you do to keep it fun and exciting to read! Happy new year:)

  • Ah josh, while harsh, is probably right. The failures of mmos for the last 5 years now have worn us all down. You can’t blame keen for finally catching up though. But it can be hard to read.

    I actually never desired a single part of EQ to evolve back in the day. I just loved its goodness. Kunark was kind of a surprise tbh. I just need a game to be great from the start. Hard at times. Not something everybody can be the best at.

  • My opinion is that you probably need to stop financially supporting these early access AAA games, especially the one’s that are going F2P.

    These are overt scams, they don’t actually care about your input, they have preset roadmaps, nonetheless they are more than happy to take money if you are willing to throw it their way.

    These are corporations and not a bunch of friendly game store nerds who actually care about your feedback. They already know where they are going with their product and your enlightened criticism is meaningless.

    Stick to the indies if you hope to actually influence game development.

  • Great comments made by all. Gank you are 100% correct. I can only pray that Unchained will be the game we have all been waiting for.

  • Fabint is spot on. Game try to achieve a lot more on launch these days and standards are higher. Personally, I’m fine with it. Had a lot of fun with FFIV:RR and Wildstar on launch for example.

  • “” That can only be done when a virtual world is created and control is handed off to the players. “”
    Not possible.
    Old games were designed for true D&D/Fantasy loving players. So it’s content, world and design was much better.
    Now games are made for any schlub with a computer/console. So content driven by players, which again the majority is that schlub and not true Fantasy loving people, is watered down to what we have now.

  • IGN has a similar article about console games. This is not just a problem for MMOs. Games are launching unfinished on all platforms. I am sure developers are given strict time schedules that have to keep for marketing purposes but you need a company that is willing to delay a game to fix it up before shipping. You are seeing the big companies doing this less and less and relying on patches to fix it.

    In the end, the consumer is at fault for continuing to buy unfinished products.

  • “A lot of older games weren’t Themeparks because they hadn’t even thought through their content that far. I remember getting into Everquest, and it wasn’t even a “kill 10 rats” situation. It was walk outside and hit wolves with a rusty sword for a few hours. I loved it, though. Information was so sparse that I had to figure things out as I went, mostly by talking to people. And the game was slow. So slow that I had a friends list full of people I would consistently see for over a week sitting in the same camp site I was in. We knew each other, and became friends while we explored an insanely massive world over the period of months, without even trying to synch up with one another. Still, the gameplay was clunky and, by modern standards, boring.”

    This is a great observation, and it fits well with the changing expectations, of a changing audience, and the “improvements” on game mechanics to foster greater accessibility enacted by corporate game outlets.

    One reason this observation hit home is that in addition to sharing such “Golden Age” of MMO experiences, it also strongly reminds me of my shoestring backpacker world travels and the transformation hidden places on the map undergo once they have been discovered by Western travelers.

    Initially one comes into a sleepy picturesque river village and there are no real traveler amenities, so one must ask around for information, often with fellow travelers, and explore for hidden sites as no substantial network of communications have yet been established by the locals (by analogy the relatively naive game developers).

    The locals are often eager to help and pay a great amount of attention to visitors, but often things fall a bit short as they aren’t experienced hospitality nor familiar with Western expectations in general.

    Nonetheless it is a great learning experience for everyone, as it is an intimate cultural exchange and one actually sits down with local entrepreneurs to troubleshoot their hospitality services (like correcting their menus to not describe “Fried Children” or “Eye Scream”, two actual examples I have run across) and one feels like they are not at a guesthouse, but at a homestay.

    This is the “Golden Age” of a backpacker’s travel destination, a place where one might spend an extended amount of time settling into.

    Koh Phdao, Cambodia > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQhYS-TylPQ

    Overtime more travelers hear about the experience as the destination becomes less challenging to reach and explore (fast travel) and better suited to host a larger more diverse and less dedicated audience.

    Greater amenities are offered often in a spectacularly bizarre fashion as the local culture tries to enhance profitability through trial and error catering to the needs of the new less culturally sensitive audience; we start seeing the emergence of drug laced consumables (“happy shakes”) and sometimes dodgy business practices that are not always in the travelers best interest (river bars that encourage over consumption of recreational substances and then set up services to inner tube and water slide into shallow rocky river beds while intoxicated).

    Nonetheless, it still is fun and often strangely funny, as perplexing and exciting stories are shared with a greater base of varied travelers, and the former isolated villages turn into tourist towns with the gain of Western sophistication/exploitation at the expense of traditional cultural values.

    This is the “Transition Phase” of an old-school hardcore backpacker’s destination to one of a more mixed casual traveler’s where one might stay a week or two until the faster pace burns them out.

    Vang Vieng, Laos > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ktl5qwPOBCw

    Eventually as more people flow in with maximum accessibility fostered by numerous competitive travel and lodging options, the town turns into a city in the form of a full-fledged tourist trap. Corporations now own have established hotel chains and seaside destination are on cruise routes.

    Formerly genuine local customs are staged in an artificial fashion to better suit the short attention spans of day trippers with the primary goal of maximally extracting money as quickly as possible prior to them rapidly moving on.

    Formerly hidden often locally sacred places are now organized into large group day trips (public quests) as something to check off of a list of sites mentioned in a traveler’s guide, basically maximizing the experience per hour before moving onto the next destination along the route.

    The former charm of the sleepy village is forever lost in the mad money grab by corporations, pickpockets, drug dealers, scammers, and whores.

    This is the endpoint of Western corporate driven development where the underlying realization is that no one would want to spend more than a day or two in such squalid exploitative surroundings as such every effort must be made to maximize short term profitability including the point of commercializing travel to and from the tourist trap they have helped to build.

    Welcome to the current state of AAA MMO development.

    Kuta Beach, Bali > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmZShPDSVVA

  • @Topauz: I agree. People need to stop with this “must have on release” now now now attitude and actually wait for reviews/wait to see how the game performs before deciding to buy. Way to many people just buy games on release now, and so have no chance to see if it is unfinished or not before paying out for it, which is why companies don’t care. They can get away with releasing unfinished products because people will buy it before they know better.

  • @Josh: Your feedback is appreciated. Admittedly I am not the greatest writer, and my tone is often misrepresented by my own failure to punctuate or phrase something correctly. I’m not at all upset, depressed, angry, etc. I’m coming at this more from a matter-of-fact and a ‘let’s fix this’ mentality. The facts really are that we are still to this day, years and years later, seeing the launch of me-too MMOs all failing one after the other to live up to anything worth playing. They may be financial successes because they sold X boxes, but they’re not good games. Until someone takes note and changes that situation, it’s important for those capable of seeing the problems to voice them and to help guide others toward understanding them. When I can find an MMO to get excited about then you better believe I’ll talk it up. It’s one of my favorite flaws: I like to hype. My goals for 2015 include actually playing and posting more about what I’m doing in-game and why I’m having fun. Those things will come! 🙂

    @Fabint: Most games launched with major issues. Probably all of them. But there’s a difference between launching with issues, and launching a game that isn’t completed — IF — you’re launching a game designed from start to finish. The key is what you said: They hadn’t even thought that far ahead yet. So much of the direction was influenced by how the players took a very basic concept and rolled with it. You’re spot on with your comments about the simplistic gameplay giving way to a better experience.

    @Everyone Else: Comments appreciated!

  • Thanks for the response, Keen 🙂 I really appreciate all of the effort you put into this blog and especially in the comments section — I can’t wait to see the new posts this year!

    I also totally understand your frustration with so many of these games that’ve come out. It’s all the more upsetting because, like you said, there’s so much potential in the genre! Here’s hoping we get a better batch in 2015, and we all find something we can get excited about 🙂