Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 01, 2008
 
Features of MMORPGs in 2020

It is the year 2020. Since World of Warcraft first passed the $1 billion annual revenue per year barrier in 2007 a lot of investment has been attracted to the business of MMORPGs. There are now several MMORPGs with several million players each and over $1 billion of annual revenues. MMOs have become big business. In view of the phantastic profits that are possible, development costs have gone up, and the production crew of a MMORPG now rivals a Hollywood film crew in size and budget. The latest release proudly markets their $500 million development cost, and is sure to become the next big thing. So what features will these games of 2020 have, and in which way will they be improved over the games from the start of the century?

1) Combat: Due to advances in technology both from graphics animations and data transfer, MMORPG combat has become more interactive. The old system of autoattack coupled with special attacks on hotkeys is gone. Players now need to watch what the computer controlled monster is doing and react accordingly. Earlier experiments to have this interactivity be based on split-second twitchy reactions have failed, as only a small audience of male teenagers were able to master that sort of gameplay. So now taking an intelligent decision and activating the right tactical response to what the mob is doing has become more important than being able to click in milliseconds. Combat hasn't become any faster than back in the days of WoW, but it has become more interactive and interesting. Most importantly scrolling combat texts have gone the way of the dodo, you need to react to whatever animation the mob is displaying, not to a text warning. As a positive side effect bot programmers have been unable to keep up with that technology, and bots performing combat are now a thing of the past.

2) Quests: Storytelling has much improved in the MMORPGs of 2020. Again text is a thing of the past, since developers realized that nobody wanted to read badly written two-paragraph stories as background for their quests. Quest backgrounds and objectives are now told in cutscenes, little films using game graphics, with a narrator telling you what to do. Game companies even hired film directors and huge artist teams to produce these quest intros. Instead of being told that orcs plundered a village and asked to kill 10 orcs and bring a stack of food back, you are now shown scenes of the plundering, with the cutscene giving visual hints in which direction the orcs went afterwards and where you now might find them. You *still* need to kill 10 orcs and bring back the stack of food though, it'll take another 20 years before somebody comes up with a better idea.

3) Character development: The level cap of the games of 2020 is relatively low, you'll just need about 200 hours to reach it. From then on it is horizontal development. Players still collect gear, but not things that makes them stronger overall, but specialized gear to fight specialized opponents. Expansions don't raise the level cap any more; modern game developers point at the strong decline in World of Warcraft players where after one expansion per year raised the level cap by 10 to now 200 there are huge and unbridgeable gaps between veterans and new players.

4) PvP: PvP is still very popular, but all forms of non-consentual PvP and negative consequences have been removed. The worst that can happen to you now is that you don't win. There are various forms of PvP: battlegrounds, arenas, duels, fighting over the control of keeps and other in-game objectives. But at their core games are mostly PvE, and PvP has become one of many possible activities at the now so low level cap. MMORPG historians point to Guild Wars as having invented this system.

5) Crafting: MMORPG developers in 2020 have realized that many players want a wide selection of options to play games inside the game, not just combat. In a development pioneered near the beginning of the century by Puzzle Pirates, every different craft is now a different mini-game. The games are skill-based puzzles, easy enough to play but not trivial to master. The times where you could buy gold from a gold farmer, buy lots of stacks of raw materials from the auction house, and master a craft in an afternoon have gone. Many people just craft for fun, as developers realized that crafting as a money sink didn't make sense, and as long crafting an item took as much time as getting things from combat, it should be profitable to do so. Some dedicated players built up great reputations as master crafters, really mastering the puzzle games, and some even claim that being a master crafter is being more leet than people who only do combat well.

6) Business models: Business models are still being experimented with. Monthly fees are now considered to be a sign that a game is targeting a hardcore audience. Many games use game cards which effectively have users pay a few cents per hour actually played. This has turned out to attract a far broader player base, without significantly reducing the average income per user. As people now only pay when they play, casual players are less reluctant to open accounts, and hardcore players now often have game cards for several different games. Micro transactions are often used in combination with those hourly fees, offering a wide selection of options to improve the look of your character, as well as scrolls giving temporary buffs to stats. The existence of such scroll buffs that double gold earned in game has lead to third party RMT mostly dying out.

7) Social interactions: The broadening of the appeal of MMORPGs to a much wider audience was only possible by them becoming the new places to hang out. Social interaction between players has been much improved. Guild features have exploded, encouraging players to work together for the greater benefit of their team in a more permanent way than winning some encounter on some evening. Player-built cities are at the core of this system, with various crafters and adventurers all adding to the splendor of their guild's city. Finding groups has been much improved, and making new friends online is now much easier. And you don't need to lose contact with your friends when you log out, game chat is now accessible from both web-based and mobile platforms. The MMORPGs of 2020 are a mix of the old MMORPGs and the old social spaces like Habbo Hotel or Club Penguin.

I'm looking forward to the games of 2020 and hope to be around to compare these predictions to the reality then.
Comments:
Character development: The level cap of the games of 2020 is relatively low, you'll just need about 200 hours to reach it. From then on it is horizontal development. Players still collect gear, but not things that makes them stronger overall, but specialized gear to fight specialized opponents.

Maybe its just me, but this is exactly WHY I'm tired of wow. My character is just sitting at 70, with a limited amount of content left and he really isn't advancing as a character. I'm not growing stronger or gaining new abilities, I'm just having to lug around an increasingly large amount of shiny bullshit that I wear. I could be outside the norm, but I know I enjoyed leveling up from 60 to 70 a lot more then siting at 70. Everything was shiny and new, the whole of outland to explore, and not only was I tripping over loot upgrades left and right, but my character was getting abilities, more talent points and what not. I'd be happy playing wow for a long time I think if blizzard was able to increase the rate of expansions to the point where I was never able to reach the cap in levels.

I played Everquest for four years. And I never reached the level cap in that game regardless of what it was at the time. I'm not a hardcore power-leveler so I basically just took the game at my own pace, and saw as much of the content as I could. Looking back the best thing about EQ was that SoE had a new expansion about every 6 months. It kept the hardcore raiders happy, and it kept me happy because I always had something to strive for, and I never had to repeat content.

If the level cap is to low I'd probably just get board and leave. I've never found gear to be a compelling reason to do anything, Gear is there to facilitate content in my eyes, not the other way around. Sure I'd like to have those crazy huge swords Illidin drops, but I'd rather raid black-temple to see the encounters and the back story then to get a few swords that are cool looking but ultimately will be replaced with something else.
 
"Quest backgrounds and objectives are now told in cutscenes, little films using game graphics, with a narrator telling you what to do."

Oh, god, no.

I'm playing Final Fantasy X at the moment, which decided to use cutscenes to introduce basically every element of the plot. And goddamn, it's SLOW.

Text is a great medium in many ways. Primarily, it's a lot quicker to read a paragraph than it is to speak it. Now, actually, I often rather like the stories told in WoW quest text. But I certainly wouldn't want to watch each and every one of them dramatised.

Here's an experiment - next time you're playing WoW, try reading the quest text for each quest aloud. If that feels slow and boring, remember - that's about a half to a third of the time it would take to tell that story as a cutscene.

(Note - I like Machinima. Hell, I make Machinima full time. I STILL don't want to see this!)
 
I believe its more likely that "MMORPG" as a genre is going to stagnate. But the features of MMORPG's will be included in things which claim to be nothing like MMORPG's. Until 2020 you'll maybe see two new genre kings which takes the throne from WoW, most likely both will be made by Blizzard.

Following that you'll start seeing things like avatars, guilds raids, loot, quests and so on pop up in all kinds of wierd places. Google, eBay, Amazon, Blogs, online casinos.. I dont think they all will have all the MMORPG features but they will have a sub set of them.

Just to comment your predictions:

1 - Dont think so but if it came true bots will still be going strong. They wouldn only need to decrypt the traffic from the server to the client. More likely you'll find that the actual combat mechanics differ more between different titles. Altho the most successful ones will still be the design with the lowest entry barrier which can scale towards tactical and strategic play.

2 - Movies in games is a crutch, using them to display quests will not make the game more enjoyable, it might make the game more markettable. However you'll start seeing quests which actually change based on things that happen, which gives some content to players wanting to explore adventures. I find it more likely that you will arrive at a village where a band of orcs is hard at work plundering. Then get various quests from surviving NPC's to take the fight to the orcs or help repair their village.

3 - Quite likely yes. The long levelling times of today are an accident.

4 - The main changes to PvP will come once the developers get better at developing system which support strategigal PvP. Today this is only available to most hardcore pvpers in games lik EvE and maybe DAoC.
 
I agree with the Hugh, I'd be willing to sit through each cutscean once, but I know a lot of fidgety little 13 year olds who just skip through anything resembling a cutscean in any game. Ever watch a young kid playing something like a Final Fantasy game? The whole weight of a game like that rests on its story which are often deep and involved, and I've seen people just skip past every bit of video in the game.

People don't skip reading quests because they don't want to read, they skip it because they frankly don't give a shit about the story behind the game. It does't help that with a few exceptions most of the quests in wow are the same stupid shit over and over. I mean, the second some undead guy in a robe asks me to gather ANYTHING at this point I automatically assume its because he wants to brew up a fucking plague that he can put in a bottle and then not actually do anything with, just like the other 30 undead guys in search of stuff to make a plague that I've assisted between levels 1 and 70.

Its one thing to acknowledge that the undead are evil and want to unleash their own plague on the living, and another to apparently show the player that they have absolutely no fucking clue how to do it, and at this point are basically just gathering anything they can fit into a flask and swirl around a bit before they feed it to some poor sob they've got captive to see if it has any negative effects.
 
Kind of nice predictions, but I can see most of this happening in a few years, not in 12.

I suspect the game genres broadening, but fragmenting more. We'll see a real, dynamic MMORPG and dynamic MMOG based on the same world: the difference is the content,where MMORGP is aimed for the explorers and socializers, while the Game version is aimed for the PvP and Raid oriented people, the achievers.

I think we'll see a next generation dynamic content MMORPG before 2020, in which the quests will form a continuing thread for each character, the continuity based on the choises the player makes. The quest structure will involve more group and guild activities but without forcing the grouping. The quest chains will create the feel of the character story being meaningfull and compelling, urging to continue it further.

The difference will be also measured in the data available: in the RPG type the numbers are unnecessary and the skills are measured in visual terms, and the progress of the toons is not based on levels.

I agree on the platform variety, though, but I believe we'll see that spread happening before 2020.

What makes this prediction hard to make is the fact that 10 years of hardware and software development is pretty hard to guess at the moment.

The worlds will become dynamic and the content will follow. That's my guess.

Copra
 
"Earlier experiments to have this interactivity be based on split-second twitchy reactions have failed, as only a small audience of male teenagers were able to master that sort of gameplay."

I have to resent this remark, Tobold. I'm 24, and I realize that's a pup to you... but there are far more twitch gamers up and coming than there are folks who prefer a slower pace.

I'd point you to any number of indicators that show this trend, but I'm sure you're aware of them. Action-oriented gaming is in an upswing, even in RPGs. Next-Gen ran an article today on this very trend.

This bit isn't so much a prediction as it is a hope on behalf of your preferred playstyle. And it's insulting to a lot of gamers that you'd relegate this method of interaction to teenage males.
 
2020? At that point, most people will have implants that allow for total immersion by tapping into the appropriate parts of your brain. In fact, you'll be going to work while sitting at your chair in your home. Chances are that you won't be doing your job in a cubicle, but likely a very large office, or a gazebo on the beach if you prefer.

The meatspace in your house will be spartan, mostly because you will spend so little time in it. Your abode can be whatever you wish it to be, since it's easier to build virtual castles than it is to put together an IKEA sofa.

The immersion insofar as video games will be total. You'll feel the heat and taste the dust in the Barrens while you hear raptors growling over the next rise as you ride towards the Xroads.

Oh, yes...it will be very, very different.
 
Interesting takes on the future, man. Most of them I fervently agree with, so I'll only mention the ones I disagree with:

1) Combat - By 2020 I will be 60 years old. In a 1.5-second timeframe (WoW's GCD), there is only so much strategic complexity I will be able to handle. Sure, make it turn-based and I can strategize with the best of them. But real or near-time combat is not going to get my dollar. There will be a niche for games that are MUCH slower than 1.5 seconds.

2) Character Development - I play RPG's (single and multi) to watch my character advance. If I reach a point where he isn't going to get more powerful, I am probably going to roll an alt, or be done with that game. I actually *like* level cap increases (as opposed to gear upgrades). A gear upgrade might give you +20 agility, but a level cap increase might give you a cool new ability. The extra agility is a degree of increase in the same sort of gameplay you're already doing, the new ability opens up entire new possibilities. More levels FTW.
 
@bildo: "I have to resent this remark, Tobold. I'm 24, and I realize that's a pup to you... but there are far more twitch gamers up and coming than there are folks who prefer a slower pace."

Sure you can twitch at 16, 18 or 24. But if you love games, you will still want to play them in 12 years. Do you think, at 36, you will have faster reflexes than the archetypical 18 yr old male? As you said, I'm sure some of this prediction is Tobold projecting to his demographic...but there are good reasons for him wanting to avoid twitch =).
 
The game you describe really doesn't sound much better than EQ1. Sorry, but nothing you listed sounded very enticing to me.

In 2020, all activities in a mmorpg will have three paths to success (like Fallout), so players who can't group very often can still see all the cool zones and experience all the content.

In fact, my hope is that a mmorpg in 2020 is pretty much an online massive version of the two groundbreaking Fallout role playing games: superb story, tactical combat, multiple paths to success (even for solo heads) and a world that you can slightly (though not too much) change.

Storytelling has much improved in the MMORPGs of 2020. Again text is a thing of the past, since developers realized that nobody wanted to read badly written two-paragraph stories as background for their quests.

Sounds like hearing impaired gamers will have to go back to checkers )
 
I'm thinking since I've grown up playing action-oritented games that yes, I may be better off than Tobold is now when I'm his age.

I may not be able to cut with the younger crowd, but that's how it goes. Even now, at 24, a kid of 14 who's been playing games since he was 6 will likely kick my ass.

But I'd STILL rather have action-oriented style of play as opposed to a slower pace. That's my preference. :)
 
Character development: The level cap of the games of 2020 is relatively low, you'll just need about 200 hours to reach it. From then on it is horizontal development. Players still collect gear, but not things that makes them stronger overall, but specialized gear to fight specialized opponents. Expansions don't raise the level cap any more; modern game developers point at the strong decline in World of Warcraft players where after one expansion per year raised the level cap by 10 to now 200 there are huge and unbridgeable gaps between veterans and new players.

Bingo, thank you, brilliant, yes plz.
 
I'd point you to any number of indicators that show this trend, but I'm sure you're aware of them. Action-oriented gaming is in an upswing, even in RPGs. Next-Gen ran an article today on this very trend.

I'm aware, and that is why I mentioned that trend. I also believe that this trend is carried by a young male demographic, and thus will clash one day with the desire to expand the audience. Did you see how I predict a merging of WoW type games with Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin type games? The typical audience of the latter two won't be interested in twitchy gameplay.
 
"Did you see how I predict a merging of WoW type games with Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin type games? The typical audience of the latter two won't be interested in twitchy gameplay."

I'm not so sure, Tobold. The way gamers have evolved since they broke ground in the late 70s seems to indicate that the gamers interested in Habbo and Penguin now will someday soon look for more advanced, deeper, forms of interaction in their games and this will continue as they age, assuming the trend we early to mid-80s babies set remainds.

That's what really is up in the air. Will the path of evolution the core gamer has followed remain the same path the Wii-introduced gamers follow, or the Habbo ones?

That's where the question mark lies. Is Habbo, Penguin, and other titles of that ilk a "gateway drug" for games?
 
I think this article should have been called "What Tobold wishes MMORPGs will be in 2020". Most of those ideas sound like things you've wished for in other posts, rather than an extrapolation of current market trends. I have to disagree with a lot of those ideas, I really don't see game development heading in those directions. Guess we'll see in 12 years with WAR 3 and World of Warcraft: Burning Ruins of the Wrathful Crusading Titan, Sargeras' Progenitor Edition ;)

Also, 12 years isn't really such a long time. Consider when EQ came out. Yeah, let that sink in. Scary, isn't it?
 
2020-2030 years will be the time for only one big virtual world project, involving billions of citizens. It will be fully integrated with internet/media and become bigger part of our lives then internet is now. It wont be a game, but the place where you could create any game and any your dream land. Similar to SL, but much more advanced visually and technically.

This project will be run by the leading software companies and make hundreds of billions dollars profit. MMORPGs as we know it today will die in 20 years, since nobody will need them
 
On quests exposition (2), I'd hope they lessen the front-loading, and design in more detail as you go: drop grey junk which are clues of a kind, have NPCs say things out loud as you pass by (no clicky-to-talky tedium please), and so on.

Pick up a quest, and as you pass the guards on the way out of town one says "Good luck hunting the harpy queen.. by the way, i heard she were last seen in the northern vale" ... later, as you kill a few murlocs you find that those near the northern vale are carrying various grey junk detritus of harpies, and you also find various bits of mining junk - ore, a broken pick etc. Odd, murlocs don't mine, you think to yourself. Once you reach the northern vale sub-zone you have to decide if the harpy queen is hiding in the swamp ruins or in the decrepit mine near the sea shore.

Much better than some tedious cut scene, imho.

Also, make the quest objectives spawn in different places (eg. swamp ruins vs decrepit mine), but not totally random - make it such that they spawn in the same place 90% of the time, but 10% they switch to start spawning in the other place, thus leading to a situation where the location of a quest mob stays mostly consistent for days at a time, and then at some random time starts spawning in the other place. My theory is that this would facilitate more social interaction amongst players but without (a) the irritation of noobs asking about something that is always in the same place (Mankrik's wife anyone?), and also without (b) the utter futility of asking when the next random spawn could be bloddy any one of multiple locations.

---------------

Something Tobold left out entirely in his prediction is world persistency vs world changes. I don't mean just player housing, but larger game stuff .. will the horde in the barrens finally put down those damn centaurs, will the dwarfs in Bael Modan get reinforcements, etc. What would be really neat is if these sorts of changes were tied to public quests .. if lots of Horde did repeated raids against Bael'dun Keep, maybe they pack it in .. unless lots of Alliance did lots of supply run quests or whatever which strengthened their position.

I'd like to see different quests being available according to changes in the world .. if the centaurs of the barrens are eventually suppressed, maybe the harpies to the north take advantage of that vacuum .. leading to the horde offering lots of kill harpy quests instead. Meanwhile, a new digsite has been opened on Dreadmist Peak but have so far managed to avoid the attention of Thrall (cue ominous drum beat).

The art of science of balancing world changes is, by what I've seen elsewhere, still pretty primitive and falls into the trap of positive feedback loops leading to oppressive domination. The "map resets each week" thing is a cop out.
 
On biz models ... how long until the game publishers start leasing your spare cpu cycles to fold proteins, play container ship tetris, and search space for aliens a la SETI?

After all, they supply the players with software that runs on their PCs which then connect and communicates with the game servers.

Blizzard is running, effectively, a massively distributed super computer .. and all they can produce is endless nerf whines in the forums? Put those CPUs to work blizz!
 
I like most of the ideas I see here, I do have to agreed with most that the cut scenes area bad idea. We want more emersion, cut scenes will not help. I like Garumoo's idea.

Same with change, the MMO games of the future will have constant change, imagine that on the PVP servers you are actually trying to take land and resources from your enemies. It has been mentioned that it would get to the point where everyone who defect to the winning side but I'm sure they will figure out a solution in 12 years.

I really like the idea of a lower lvl cap. The only tricky part is giving people something to do once they hit it. When I hit both lvl caps in WoW I pretty much stopped doing quests, since the primary reason I even did them was for exp. I pretty much just focused on professions and instances, I'm sure it's the same for many. For a lower lvl cap to work you really need to find some motivation to keep the solo players going. If a lower cap (or possibly no lvl's at all) is going to work we are going to have to see "end game" that is 10 time greater than WoW currently offers.
 
I appreciate the blog it was well written and entertaining to read Tobold. I respectfully hope that this does not come to pass in this mannor. I hope MMOs advance in a much more creative, and open direction.

I thank the author for this article. I enjoy this site very much.

I appreciate the comments from others I like those too
 
I've been thinking about the world-changing possibilities, but like Arrow I see problems, and I also hold out hope for design inspirations.

Some ideas: once a faction has grown very powerful, it could stop offering quite so many quests. This could be explained by the faction no longer relying on unruly free-lancing adventurers to execute government policy, having built up their own military force.

Meanwhile, which ever faction is currently oppressed would (a) be highly motivated to effect a change in the status quo, (b) have insufficient resources of their own thus putting out calls to adventurers and other vagabonds, and (c) would in extremis offer all the gold and epics they still retain in desperation. There would also arise brave leaders and champions that lead daring expeditions against their oppressors, and would welcome the assistance of adventurers.

Thus, the pendulum would swing.

I'd also look into engineering some internal strife and chicanery .. possibly leading to great empires undergoing bloody mitosis into two or more new factions.

Fun fun fun :-)
 
Lowering the level caps, or just geting rid of levels entirely, would be quite nice for people like me who enjoy trying out everything in the game, (Which with the way most current games work means trying out all the character classes, finding ways to try out all the skills, switching between PvP, PvE, etc.). Spending long periodsof time on levelling puts a big damper on this style.

Instead of level increases as a reward, people could perhaps get things like fame among certain numbers of NPC's, money, larger player houses, etc. (That might have a tiny gameplay effect at most.). to help keep skill levels equalized, it might be that players automatically get enterred into PvE or PvP areas tuned to how well the player has done in the past, with fame, housing, etc. rewards increasing as the player finishes more difficult areas.
 
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