Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 22, 2012
 
The MMO of the future

I write this blog to make other people think. That isn't an easy task: People not only get angry if state an opinion they disagree with, they even get angry if you just ask a question where they feel somebody might give an answer they disagree with. Thus my special thanks go to Bob Flinston who took the time to actually think about my questions and answer them instead of just ranting about how unfair it is for me to even ask them. I agree with his summary that "To bring all of these points together, I believe that Blizzard have created a single player game, in a multi-player server environment, that is easy to play with a difficulty option only for the most dedicated raiders. This may be the MMO of the future, only time will tell.".

While World of Warcraft is undoubtedly very successful with this approach, I do think that the "MMO of the future" could look very different. If you consider network effects, it appears probably that if a MMO of the future could create a social system where players perceive each other as a help, as opposed to either an obstacle or a background decoration, that hypothetical game could have even better traction than WoW. The current model of solo and group play, where other player are perceived as competition for resources when soloing, or as reason for wiping when grouping, appears to be not ideal to foster a great community.

The other consideration for the MMO of the future is whether it should be based around killing monsters. I believe that killing monsters has two big disadvantages: People who want to do it together need to be online at the same time, and the outcome is binary, you either win or lose. The "win or lose" aspect creates a challenge level which isn't very flexible, thus if you want a game that is easy to play for most people, you end up with a system in which players nearly always win fights, but it feels trivial.

Now imagine a game which is about groups of players working together to build things. It could still fulfill the idea of being "a single player game, in a multi-player server environment, that is easy to play with a difficulty option only for the most dedicated". But it could also be set up in a way that players would not compete for resources, that they could work together on the same building at different times, and that the challenge is completely variable (x% of contribution to a common project).

I don't think we have reached the "end of history" of MMORPGs yet. The type of MMORPG where you level up a character and kill monsters solo or in groups might have reached its peak, but that is far from the only possibility of what a MMORPG can be. And the more the market gets flooded with similar games, and the more they fail, the closer we get to the point where somebody decides to make something different instead of copying the old, worn-out formula.

Comments:
Glitch had what you were talking about, in terms of feats and projects that individual players to contribute to complete and receive a commensurate share of the rewards.

...And then it closed.
 
It seems gw2 have made a nice step forward for this. I never saw a player in gw2 as competition nor they could ruin my game experience. I was always happy to see people around because that means we could kill mobs faster and everybody get loot

Many times I found myself killing stuff with others I wasn't even in group or I didn't know them. Not that it helped to build a community though. You didn't even talk to each other, you were just there doing mindless stuff with others.

I cannot see a game that can be very successful and at the same time build a good community. Only a difficult game can build community, because you need others. When half of the quests in wow were group quests and difficult we were forming groups in level up and chat each other, while we "wished" we could do it alone...but it ended up to meet people and know people and time after time it build a community.

the easiest the game, the less people need socialize, the more single player the game it is. Doing stuff with people I don't even talk I don't consider it a multiplayer experience. You could put npc there and couldn't tell the difference
 
@Tobold
"If you consider network effects, it appears probably that if a MMO of the future could create a social system where players perceive each other as a help, as opposed to either an obstacle or a background decoration, that hypothetical game could have even better traction than WoW."

GW2 made it. And as I said, people that played GW2 and returned to play WoW after MoP launch can see that.

"The other consideration for the MMO of the future is whether it should be based around killing monsters. I believe that killing monsters has two big disadvantages: People who want to do it together need to be online at the same time, and the outcome is binary, you either win or lose. The "win or lose" aspect creates a challenge level which isn't very flexible, thus if you want a game that is easy to play for most people, you end up with a system in which players nearly always win fights, but it feels trivial.

Now imagine a game which is about groups of players working together to build things. It could still fulfill the idea of being "a single player game, in a multi-player server environment, that is easy to play with a difficulty option only for the most dedicated". But it could also be set up in a way that players would not compete for resources, that they could work together on the same building at different times, and that the challenge is completely variable (x% of contribution to a common project)."

It is A Tale in the Desert. Sorry to say it, but ATITD is going to no where, player base is stuck at 10 k. The problem with sandbox games are two:
1- players can use that sand only with the tools devs give them: if players get only buckets, they will build only sandcastles;
2- creativity is rare: players will create the minimal common denominator, so we will see only the criche.

For make the things worse, some people want return to the "golden age" os UO, with sandbox and free for all pvp. That dream will only prove be a nightmare: the reason why the sheep don't get out UO was that they had no other MMO for play, but now there are a lot of MMO for sheep to play and the wolves are not more than 10% of the population of players. There are not enough wolves for pay for a 100 million bucks MMO (less than 100 k subscripters...) and wolves soon find wolf versus wolf is not fun because there is not easy ganking.

Mark my words: Darkfall Unholly Wars is the last card Aventurine is playing before go bankrupt. Syncaine will say I am saying a blasphemy, but the reason Aventurine will go bankrupt is simple: only a minority of players want play a free for all pvp game and they are not enough for pay the game bills. If Everquest Next too follow the same path (free for all pvp), I think we too will see SOE going bankrupt...

Tobold, the future, for the next 10 years, will be public quests (WAR public quests, RIFT rifts and GW2 dinamic events). When thecnology get a few more advanced things as storybricks and NPC behaving as alive persons will be the future, but I think we will not see it before 2018.
 
Things like player-built environments (Rift dimensions, Greed Monger) are the next wave of features coming.

Maybe someone will break the mould and create an MMO that is about crafting and farming and collecting and showing off your latest pet/mount/items without ever killing a mob. I'm sure there is an audience. Add real-life rewards like groupon discounts and you could really have a hit with the shopping crowd.


 
As disappointed as you can be at times with the behavior of visitors,myself included, compared to the general internet gaming discourse, it is quite thoughtful and thank you for that. It is an accomplishment.

My first two considerations of The Future are: sandbox? funding?

Sandbox: I feel MMOs "should" be sandbox. When they work, they can be more interesting and far cheaper to produce. Since the devs are not trying to build the next segment of the treadmill before the impatient wander away. And sandbox has economies of scale. WoW would not be that different with 100 players but a sandbox can generate more human quirks with a million players than a half. But I am skeptical that developers are clever enough to make a sandbox that many 2013 players would play.

"If MMOs never existed, knowing what you know now, how would you design an MMO?" is quite different than "what would be successful in 201x?" I agree with your ideas of monsters, yet don't see how a future AAA MMO could be about anything but killing monsters and/or players.


 
I suppose, to be the _next_ mmorpg, the players should have more interesting things to do there than in WoW.

In terms of content it's crazy and hard to pull off, so you've got to use gameplay which is less dependent on content.

So you have to either make content generated by players (think Minecraft), or make the game system itself robust enough to support more replayability (think Magic: the Gathering and Puzzle Pirates).
 
The "win or lose" aspect creates a challenge level which isn't very flexible, thus if you want a game that is easy to play for most people, you end up with a system in which players nearly always win fights, but it feels trivial.

More specifically, situations where fights aren't trivial become frustrating. Burning a potion or scroll in WoW may say where I'm in a challenging battle and have failed (not achieve goals at an reasonable rate) without losing (not achieve goals and have situation reset). But WoW's user interface and game design isn't built around regular potion use, and even single-player games (such as Dragon Age or Skyrim) where they're available they're very prone to breaking gameplay balance -- you can 'win' most any battle if you don't mind grinding potions and winning by a small margin.

GW2 uses the Downed state, where players are unable to move and slowly lose health, but can still attack and heal themselves, to take this role. Has its own benefits and downsides.

Now imagine a game which is about groups of players working together to build things.

Can you make doing so compelling?

I like the idea of an MMO where building and construction is a viable option -- or even where construction is a major part of the game -- but there haven't really been many successes, there. Glitch was almost universally found tremendously boring, A Tale In The Desert is giving away the first 48 hours of /played and still has an exceptionally hard time getting attention. PennyArcade gave Raph Koster a page to draw a theoretical one out, but 2500+ words came up with a game that I honestly can't see being very entertaining.
 
The building aspect you talk about reminds me a lot of Wurm Online.
 
Wurm has a lot of the cooperative building for those who want to do it, such as the big highways and some marketplaces and public mines.

However, as a regular player of Wurm, if seems like most people just go off and build their own village because they want to create it themselves. People help each other and trade materials, but a lot of the work is done by the one person whose village it is.

More group projects would be fun. You'd need a purpose for them though. Then once they were built, what do you do next? Unless a game has a mechanic for destroying group projects or constant new areas requiring group projects, sooner or later you're going to run out.
 
You seem to be asking for a whole new paradigm, which rarely comes about unaccompanied by major cultural or technological shifts. It's like saying, "There are so many problems with football, why can't we play a truly different sport?"

At this point, MMOs have probably reached the cultural status of sports, in that history and expectation prevent major changes without major technological or cultural change first. They're not going to

I see the community "problem" as mirroring real life. People typically work jobs in groups like that of guild structure, and it is mostly unpleasant. A leader motivated to get more and more productivity out of others who may or may not be that engaged, and resentment and dissatisfaction are ever present.

Our non work lives are mostly spent in a world designed to limit social dependence on others. Dependence does build community, but at the expense of liberty and choice. Life in a small town is filled with people that need your help, and not so much leisure time. MMOs are filled with players with lots of leisure time, and like it that way.

And then we're surprised that our MMO has a poor "small town" type of community? As well, the "will you play with me?" position MMOs require for most to initiate social play, mirrors a life stage and vulnerability most no longer have a taste for, if they ever did.

IMO, most of those (like Syncaine) that pine for the old days of grueling MMO play were the upper management types, who reveled in the power and leadership needed to overcome obstacles. The vast majority of the grunts, however, didn't enjoy it so much, and left in droves to newer games that allowed them more personal freedom and autonomy.

It's social revolution, baby, that drives the evolution of MMOs, not big ideas or paradigm shifts designed by the elite.

But as I've said in many comments before, the big idea to come in MMOs is how to COMMUNICATE with each other nonverbaly. A language or technology of some kind that allows us efficient and subtle communication is the keystone to building an MMO society, and would go far to making social play so much more fun and engaging.
 
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