Back in 1997, when Ultima Online released, MMOs were a fledgling genre. No one was sure if they would succeed. Hell, no one even knew exactly what constituted an MMO. Of course there would be a persistent world for the players to interact in (in the case of Guild Wars that persistent world would just be the city and the player hubs), and character progression would be included as that is the basis for all computer role playing games.
So, in 2011 has the genre become a more solid entity? Do we understand exactly what makes an MMORPG, let alone what makes a GOOD MMORPG? The answer, I feel, is no. Right now there seem to be two categories of MMO gamer. The first is the old school MMO player, the guys and girls who cut their teeth on AOL Muds, Ultima Online, Everquest and the like. These people will take every opportunity to let you know that they’ve played UO or EQ (much like I’ve done above, and right here, and probably below this too). The second is the player who got drawn into MMOs because of World of Warcraft. These are not necessarily still playing WoW, and it’s these people who are often the most likely to rant and scream about how terrible WoW is.
To that first category, which from here on will be referred to as Old People, todays MMOs are missing that spark that made UO and EQ great. No one is exactly sure what it was that made them so great, but everyone has a theory and they won’t hesitate to share it with you. From the more sandbox nature of UO, to the neverending grind/socialization of EQ, players will talk about how much more ‘alive’ the old MMOs were.
The second category, which I have dubbed Noobs, doesn’t have those old school games to warp their perception. Often these people have only ever played WoW, or if they have branched out most of them haven’t been able to enjoy the other MMOs out there. Why? Because for them WoW IS MMOs. They may have stopped playing it because 3 years of any single game is enough to drive someone insane, but WoW is still their basis for comparison. To these people the more social aspects of MMOs take a backseat to their personal progression.
So which of these people are right? Neither really. The Noobs (forgive me for the name Noobs, it just fits when compared to us Old People) believe that an MMO that forces them to group up is a failure, while the Old People will scream about how the old games, like EQ, were far superior to the new games because they forced you to group up and interact with people. Coincidently they will be playing one of the new games and NOT one of the old school MMOs.
Now that I’ve grossly over generalized an entire group of people, let’s get to what I think an MMO is, and what I want to see in an MMO. The first thing is that we need the basics: persistent world, character progression. That’s the basis for an MMORPG. Sadly most companies making MMOs, ever since the early days of EverQuest, decided that the most important thing about making an MMO was keeping their players playing for as long as possible. This has resulted in the dreaded EQ year long grind to the level cap, the 40 or more man raids, and the horror that is rep grinding.
When do we put up with shit like that in our single player games? If I picked up the new Dragon Age II and it told me I needed to grind the same quests/mobs for a few months before I could fight the final boss it’d be the first game I brought back to a store and demanded a refund for. So why do we accept it as part of an MMO? For the same reason millions of people play FarmVille. Is it tedious and ultimately pointless? Yes. Does it take hours out of your day just to do something you get no enjoyment out of? Yes. Does it also allow you to space out, like vegging out in front of the Television, while at the same time interacting with friends and feeling like you are accomplishing something? DING DING.
So MMOs, since the beginning, feed on our basic want to improve ourself, while at the same time allowing us to sit around and space out, grinding away on mobs for rep or xp. Was it fun in Final Fantasy XI to get a good group of Linkshell mates and just grind mobs for hours? It could be a total blast if you had the right combination of people to chat with, but you know what? I could get that in a damn AOL chat room too. A video game should not have a caveat like: Sure the gameplay and story are boring as shit, but I get to chat with people and compare myself to others as I play! A video game, of ANY genre, should above all be fun to play.
I’ve recently been reminded, thanks to several blog posts and friends playing DCUO, exactly what I always wanted in an MMO. Ever since I first started playing Ultima Online I realised that I wanted a video game with a persistent world. That has yet to happen. Instead we’ve gotten repetitive grinds, whether quests that are meaningless kill quests or straight grinding for rep or XP. There is very little ‘game’ in current MMOs. I want the basic concept behind games like Demon Souls multiplayer aspects taken to the extreme.
I want a single player experience wrapped in an MMORPG. Give me an 80 hour single player RPG like Dragon Age, then make it the same persistent world that everyone else playing the game is occupying. Let me hit the city and see thousands of players walking around, doing quests, shopping or just chatting. Don’t give me bullshit quests just because you’ve decided it should take me a month to get to the level cap and you need more quests to fill up the time. Treat it like Dragon Age, where most quests are either directly involved with the main questline, or if not they are epic on their own.
Then what happens when you’re level 20, at the level cap, and you’ve finished with the 80 hour storyline? That’s end game baby, time to do some end game dungeon runs and start raiding just like everyone else. Don’t let it end there either. I don’t need massive expansions every year, but instead I should have DLC constantly. Perhaps a five or six hour story once a month, and perhaps a new raid or so every two months. Then the expansion hits and the level cap is raised to 30 and everyone levels up and gets ready for end game again.
So what’s the difference between that and current MMOs? Removal of the boring stuff. Should you have to go spend a while gathering herbs for potion making? Yes. Should you have to spend three weeks grinding daily quests to get your rep up with someone so you can get one piece of enchantment that you need for raiding? No, that’s done ONLY so that you spend more time playing and thus more time spending money on the game.
Does an MMO need to keep me playing nothing but it for three years? No. But it should be fun while I am playing it. When did we start accepting bad design and purposefully gimping our playing experience just so the company making it could (theoretically) make more money. It seems stupid to me, but I write this while waiting on the PVP que for WoW to pop, so it’s not like I’m voting with my wallet here. Still, it means The Old Republic could be exactly what I’m looking for.