Your Next: Playing to Strengths - GLHF 3

LockSixTime discusses the spike and fail culture of MMOs.

Two whole columns have passed with barely a mention of EverQuest Next or Landmark; today we find out if it was worth it.

As I said in part one, I have been thinking a lot recently about why I enjoy MMOs, why I seek them out, and why I put an inordinate amount of hours into them, as opposed to seeking out the more carefully directed gaming experiences to be found elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong, I love games like Portal, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Skyrim, etc, that exist to revolve around the experience of an individual player. I just like to spend the bulk of my playing time in a virtual world, alongside like-minded people like you.

The more I think about the great single player games I have played, the more I lament how much MMOs have been trapped trying to capture success in the same way that they do, and I think it comes down to playing to the strengths of the medium. By and large, MMOs miss out on their opportunities by looking to emulate greatness from other genres.

In part one, I lamented the use of the classic single player storytelling mechanics in MMOs. I can't understand why a team would put so much effort into creating systems that drive players apart when the platform is at its best when it brings us together. 

Why did Star Wars: The Old Republic make us leave the open game world to listen to some exposition instead of interacting with other players every few minutes? Why is it when I discover something that has been lost for thousands of years in The Elder Scrolls Online there are several strangers standing around the same spot? And don't get me started on the phasing. These are two sides of the same coin, and to me show that this type of 'Chosen One' narrative just doesn't work in the genre. Millions of dollars are squandered on voice acting and quest dialogue that will never be listened to or read by a game population becoming increasingly frustrated with this kind of narrative.

Yes, the lore-hounds like it, and I dare say there are a few of you reading this that do read the bulk of the quest text or listen to the glassy eyed bit-players, but there are better ways of communicating the story and history of a world than this.

Think about the way games like Portal communicate story: the world is the story, you can see the consequences of events and learn from the inconsistencies. That's why, for all the thousands of words written for books in The Elder Scrolls Online, not one will be remembered like the simple 'THE CAKE IS A LIE'.

Part two in this trilogy was mostly about my experience with WildStar. There are many great things about WildStar, and I would encourage anyone looking for the 'traditional' MMO model to give it a look, but for me they aimed to fix a symptom instead of a cause.

The combat system in WildStar is great, and while it may not be a style you enjoy, you'd be a fool to ignore the many things it does remarkably well. It’s exciting and intuitive while allowing for an incredibly high skill cap. Unfortunately for Carbine, the system does nothing to address the core problems its design has inherited: repeating puzzle based content with a reward based context. We've been down that road before; we all know where it leads.

There is still hope in the Warplots, and hopefully the scene is competitive enough for it to grow.

I believe these are the two core issues with MMO design right now that are damaging the genre. Developers spend more and more time and effort with their delivery of 'Chosen One' narrative. They put so much into novel combat systems that I'm often left wondering if they even asked themselves why it is people like us play these games to begin with.

So I'm going to talk about another game that isn't EverQuest Next or Landmark, but you may have heard of it.

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MMO's should be social
# May 20 2014 at 9:15 AM Rating: Decent
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The issue I have with many MMO's is that the social elements are tacked rather than being integral to the game. Meeting another player in game should add to and not detract from your experience.

So if you are soloing and see another player having a fight, you should be rewarded for aiding that player (even if its just something like a reputation system).

The game should go out of its way to help you make friends/allies/enemies and make everyone feel like part of the community whether you prefer to solo, co-op or pvp.

D&D irl was only ever fun if you had other people to play with.
Great Read
# May 18 2014 at 9:58 AM Rating: Decent
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Very interesting read Lock. I feel largely the same way about MMOs. I hope someone can re-ignite my interest in the genre, but I've become a little cynical. Sometimes I wonder if the golden age of MMOs has past and its just time to move on rather than just try to recreate it (except with better graphics, different combat, and fancier storytelling).

On the other hand, maybe part of the reason I can't get into another MMO (and believe me I've tried) is the time factor. When I was hardcore into MMOs I was single and then newly married. Now I've got kids and work and other hobbies that take priority. Its hard to envision finding time to even consider leveling a character in whatever MMO to max level.

For now I'm sticking to tabletop RPGs. But I am curious to see what Everquest Next will hold.

Thanks for the articles. Once again, great read.
MMOs are not that similar to D&D IMHO.
# May 17 2014 at 8:49 PM Rating: Decent
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While I was a big fan of D&D, I think it differs from the MMO experience and the computer game experience for a whole slew of reasons.

No computer game(at least in my lifetime) will be able to compete with our imaginations, computer graphics show us exactly what we see. This compares with reading a book and seeing a moview, D&D is the book, computer games are the movie. The movie often doesn't compare with what our imaginations cook up and this is why people are often disappointed with the movie version.

D&D was played in many many different ways by different people, and those preferences on how to play the game were not always compatible. Thus the player population was very segmented by it's very nature and was more like a thousand different games on segmented servers of tiny groups than anything resembling an MMO.

While I agree MMOs should be more focused on communication and bringing people together, we run into several issues. People want to play differently. Small communities can work but can be very hard to maintain and keep active, also less players = less revenue = less development/features. So there has to be a balance. Simply having a large player base is not necessarily the answer either. If your game constantly has a lot of players but is like a revolving door, it is nigh impossible to build a community. This is why simply being free to attract more players doesn't always work. If you want a large number of players and you want them to stick around, you need to widen your focus.(being too wide can have the opposite effect as well) The more kinds of play you support, the more players you attract. The longer you can keep them entertained the more they come back and the more stable your playerbase the easier it is to build good communities which reinforces them wanting to stick with the game. Communities are not built of players who are clones of each other. Players may have only a few shared interests with one other but that is enough for players to build relationships on, IMHO it is those very differences that make for a vibrant community. This is in fact what I like about Wildstar even though I am not personally interested in all of the play types, instead of trying to shove all their players into one play mode and thus making that mode widely accesible and shallow(like WoW raiding for example) they have designed a wide variety of play modes for different players. This prevents a variety of different opportunities for players to come together and also creates more opportunities for players to try things together that they probably wouldn't have sought out on their own.

Honestly I am not sure whether or not EverQuest Next will be able to do that. As a niche game it may succeed, and those can be great too. But I am not sure MMO is the proper word to describe more niche like games as they often tend to not feel very massive, and are probably closer to small D&D communities. Don't get me wrong I love small D&D communities and niche communities, but those are just not the same thing as what MMOs have the potential to be. But then again it may turn out to be widely accepted, but personally I'm just not convinced yet.

Edited, May 18th 2014 1:05am by bombardj
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