Friday, December 15, 2006

Removing Focus from the Experience Grind

Psychochild's Weekend Design Challenge for today talks about how MMOs these days seem to focus on the monster-bashing grind style of gameplay. The question is, how can MMOs get away from this relatively rote, boring and overused concept.

First off, MMOs should be skill oriented rather than level oriented. Secondly, character progression should not be directly tied to monster-bashing. Eve Online does an excellent job of breaking the mold with their skill system.

If players are slaughtering a camp of orcs, there should be a reason for it. Not simply a desire to reach the next level and gain one point of strength. Perhaps the orcs are raiding a nearby town and the merchants hire adventurers to take care of them. Or, perhaps the orcs have accumulated a good amount of treasure from their raids and the players want to take it from them. Or, perhaps the player simply wants to be a hero and prove that they can walk in and single-handedly defeat an entire orc tribe. These are all valid reasons. 'I need two bubbles to ding' is not.

The MMO obsession with experience gain needs to evolve. Gameplay, roleplaying and purposeful actions that have a cause and effect should instead be the focus. And this will never happen while players are encouraged to count their experience points like misers with a penny jar.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Radical MMO Idea #1: No Numeric Stat Display

Simple idea. Players just don't get any numeric stats about their character. At most they would have some sort of generic statement along the lines of 'You look Very Strong.' Players can get a general estimate of how they measure up to other characters via various competitions, duels and other such in-game feats. No numberical stat values displayed in-game at all. No, 'You gain 1 Agility' or 'Your skill in Basketweaving increases by 0.1' or any such overt, spreadsheet-encouraging nonsense.

Your character is defined by their actions, not by an in-game spreadsheet. If the players find some way to reverse-engineer their stats, that's fine, but the game won't support them in such endeavours, nor will it cater to the number-crunching crowd.

[Cross-posted this on the MMO Roundtable forum here]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bursting of the MMO Bubble

Pretty much everyone remembers the big dot-com bust that happened a few years ago. Everyone wanted to jump on the Internet bandwagon, investors threw money around like Mardi Gras beads and all the young techinical folk lived the high-life. But few of these Internet companies actually produced anything useful, companies went bankrupt and the bottom fell out of the market.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the resurgence of the industry. What's different this time? The difference is that instead of simply tossing together a slick website and expecting people to throw money at you for nothing, service, content and community have become the focus. First you deliver something useful / informative / entertaining... then the money rolls in. Sites such as YouTube and Flickr are excellent examples. They provide a great, free service, that provides an incredible amount of content to anyone who wants to browse through it, and in turn, an online community is created and supported. In the previous dot-com days, a wesbite with half the features would have tried to charge fees for this sort of thing. This is what the Internet was meant to be, not some guy who wants to make several 'competing' websites to sell tires (I actually worked briefly for someone who was doing exactly this!)

How does this relate to MMOs? Well basically, we're in the burst bubble period of MMOs. There were a few big hits, they got some decent media attention, and suddenly, there were thousands of companies throwing together craptastic games and expecting the public to pay for them! The public answered by sending many into bankruptcy. Too many for me to name here. Half-baked derivatives, shoddy game and interface systems, lack of features and content and such brought these games to their knees... and rightfully so.

So is the MMO industry ready for Phase II? One where the community is the focus rather than the publishers? I certainly hope so. It looks like a lot of interesting games are on the horizon. We'll just have to see if they take the time to deliver a content-laden, community-oriented game, or if they instead push out yet another unfinished MMO onto the already bloated market.