An interesting topic was raised on Empire Avenue by InGame reader and smart cookie extraordinaire Lyraxsis. Questions were lobbed in the original post, but the thought brought up by Lyraxsis that I zeroed in on immediately was this: “I hear people say that they want innovations in MMO (and other) game design but no one is ever very specific about what they want to see happen.” After some back and forth, I figured a blog post might be in order.
I think the first thing you have to look at is what makes any experience fun at all – novelty. New experiences give the human brain a unique playground within which to navigate. There are slides, those cool bars you can hang upside down from or hand-walk across. There're swings. There's a see-saw. The ground is made of lava. In your brain. That's where headaches come from.
|And nightmares, maybe.|
When MMOs first surfaced, what did we have? MUDs and their like, basically. Here we were, interacting with other living, human brains. Sure, the world was entirely represented in text, but that world was relatively MASSIVE and there were hundreds of others to share it with at the same time. Provided you could read and type, this was a magical playground unlike any other.
And then years passed. The magic faded. I'm simplifying here, but eventually the late nineties happened and we got graphics to replace our text, instantly transforming MMOs into something else entirely. The genre was new again, and beginning to resemble the MMO as we know it today. What was the next step? Well, regardless of what you thought it SHOULD be, Blizzard saw the future as being one of ease and convenience, and thus World of Warcraft was born. The “grind” as it was understood was reduced considerably and you even got rewarded for not playing at all.
|This is you raiding.|
For all intents and purposes, there has been a holding pattern since WoW launched. With unprecedented success came all the waves of copycats. That's understandable. There have been breakaways of course. EVE Online introduced players to a massive world (okay, a massive GALAXY) policed largely by the players themselves. The emergent gameplay that resulted – in-game corporate takeovers, developer condoned swindling of digital goods worth exorbitant sums of real world money and time, scandals involving developer wrong-doing – all of this was new and exciting. EVE is one of the very rare examples of a game starting small and actually succeeding, showing sustained growth of its subscribed playerbase over time.
|I was going to make a metaphor or something then just realized sea monkeys were gross.|
It's getting rarer and rarer to find a game release from a major studio without some sort of substantial multiplayer element. This trend is not going to suddenly reverse. With that in mind, I gave considerable thought toward what tactics I'd most like to see implemented to move the genre forward or see it take its next novelty-step into the future. There isn't really an easy solution. Perhaps something sort of free-form like EVE would be appropriate, with methods in place to assure a far easier learning curve. Something akin to how WoW changed the EQ-style of MMO into something far more palatable for a wider audience, so too can this mystery sandbox game do for the style EVE represents.
The other option, I think, would be to start looking at and designing MMORPGS on a more dynamic yet smaller scale. Through phased content, games like WoW and LotRO have already teased at creating environments and story the players themselves change. It is a thin veneer, however, and one with little real permanence. The game still exists in its unaltered state for some players, as it should be and the player DOES know this, thus ruining the illusion. It is the necessary evil of Massive Online games. I think if you reduce the Massivity of it all, perhaps by drastically limiting the number of players on servers or drastically scaling back the scope and design of the game itself to simply serve a smaller audience at a time, you open the door to so much more interactivity and Permanence Empowerment than can be achieved with trying to keep as many paying customers happy in your gigantic theme park as possible.
|15 bux/moth bliz gg thx cu l8r shtlrdz|
Is any of this possible? I think the more appropriate question would be to ask if any of it was potentially lucrative. I'm not sure, but maybe in the meantime we should all just dust off our D&D source books once more and try to find a DM worth a damn.