I have tanked. I have spanked. I have healed and pew-pew'd*.
For a while, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing-Games have been a huge interest of mine. I've spent countless days and nights in these virtual worlds, playing with friends from all over the globe. We were slaying orcs and dragons, raided dungeons and crafted powerful items. And when all of this was accomplished, we've done it again. And again.
The endless grind of these games may seem odd to a lot of people, but we loved it. We were friends, though we never met in real life. We shared personal stories, we laughed and yelled. And we played the game as if it was a sport.
Eventually, though, I stopped. Not because I grew out of it, or money was tight. I simply started to get bored with the same old money sucking development cycle, that refused to improve, but continuously let its player base down.
Though I'm connected to them through social media, my friends and I aren't in much contact anymore. I still miss them, and I still miss the fun we had playing these games for hours on end, whilst talking about everything but the game itself--family, music, and the craziness in our lives.
While I should rather improve my social communication skills and get back in touch with old friends, I gave some thought to what it would take for me to come back to play an MMORPG.
Immersive Skill Interaction
Many games I've played focus around the click & queue system. After selecting a target, you click your skill and it executes. Often, you can click a second skill right away to be executed, if possible, right after the previous skill is finished. Some skills will have an induction time, which makes you wait until a certain time is up before the skill goes off. And then there's the cooldown--a time it takes for the skill to recharge, so it can be used again.
Other systems might use a realtime, swing-by-swing approach. This works well for shooter-esque games, but starts to get very dull in a melee setting.
The best combat system I've seen so far was in the game Age of Conan. In melee at least, you would select a combat skill to be used, but then you had to enter a sequence of movements--left, right, lower left, lower right, forward--to finish the skill. Each movement in that sequence represents a swing with your weapon in that direction. The attack would do most of its damage in the direction of the final move. To make it more interesting, the targets could balance their defense in the different directions, thus making you change your approach to your attacks based on their current defense.
This approach has always kept me in the middle of the battle, forcing me to think about positioning and skill timing, without any annoying inductions or queues. On the other hand, magic was still handled with the click & queue and induction system, which is the reason I always only played a melee fighter of some sort.
I would love to see this kind of involvement in future MMORPG. Once I start leaning back, clicking a cycle of skills and watch my cooldown and induction timers, I start to lose focus. And without focus, I start losing interest and immersion.
Done Right Free-To-Play
This is a hard one to tackle.
In the past, players would simply pay a monthly subscription fee. Often there where bundles of multiple months for discounted prices or other perks.
Then the free-to-play thing started to take over the MMO world. Now anybody can play the basic game with, usually, heavy restrictions. This might include a limit to the amount of in-game money a character can carry, or the amount of characters a player may create. Access to abilities, entire classes, regions of the world and other content is usually restricted.
To access these perks, a player will have to buy them separately. Not unlike games on social media and other services, this can become a very deep money sink. Because, not only is there interesting content, but there's also a lot of junk advertised for purchase. Things like cosmetic hats, extra strong healing potions, mindless pets that follow you around, and so on.
Often, some of these items become needed to complete harder parts of the game. Others simply add flavour without any bonuses to your character, while some will actually enhance vital statistics, such as attack power. I'm against this entire concept, because I don't believe that real money should have an effect on the in-game balance of the game between players and content, ever.
On the other hand, I'm not against the idea of making content available as purchasable extensions. After all, I do believe in supporting the team behind the game, which has to maintain the servers, the software and the community for the entire game around the clock.
Having a base game for everyone to enjoy, with content, classes and so on to buy as I see fit would be okay with me.
On top of that, a subscription for full-time members should still be available. This could give access to members-only content, such as more inventory space, player housing and special events. These things should be nice perks, but neither game breaking, required to finish the parts of the game the player can access, nor silly (such as useless hats or dumb pets).
Things should be random. I can't even count how many times I've run through the very same parts of the very same regions, over and over and over again.
Games like the Diablo series have a very good effort of random maps and encounters. Of course, this would be harder to implement in a 3D setting, but it could be done on a smaller scale. For example, the same cave could have different tunnels blocked at different times. The castle with the evil wizard has a lot of different doors, that could be open and closed on different times, maybe based on the number of players, their classes/abilities, or even tied to entire world events.
I would like to see the spawn points of monsters vary a bit. Time of day, day of the week (in-game, real-time, based on the rotation of Saturn around the sun) could change the amount and types of monsters on the landscape. The landscape, too, could change. Rivers rise when it's raining, vegetation grows over rocks and cave entries, and so on.
I'm not expecting full-out seasonal changes, but variation that I can't set my clock by would be a selling point for me.
Quality Over Quantity
I believe this is tied to the free-to-play model very closely. Things expand too fast, too far, and stretch way to thin. Old content becomes obsolete faster than most people can finish it, new content is thin and wears out fast.
I want a game, that lets me explore the same region over and over again, while still allowing me to find new things, try out new approaches and combination of game mechanics (classes, skills, and so on).
Games need to let the player be able to change things up and try out different perspectives, instead of offering newer updates with tweaks and add-ons.
For example, my friends and I played the a lot of The Lord of the Rings Online - Shadows of Angmar. That was before the Mines of Moria was released, before the free-to-play model, and before the buy-out from a very large company.
Eventually, we've done everything we could do. Every raid has been raided, every dungeon had been crawled. Yet, there's still stuff to find. There is a specific dungeon we used to run over and over again to get certain items from one of the encounters. We were able to bring in less than the needed number of people without the all the required elements and still managed to overcome the challenge. We found ways to work together with what we had, and we beat the encounter every single time thanks to teamwork, creativity and dedication. Nothing game breaking, no cheats or exploits. Something, I find has been lost in future updates of this and other games. It seemed that you needed a certain setup for success, no matter how well you know your game.
This is the kind of thing I want. I don't care for more content, if I can't play it the way I want, but instead the way the developers thought I should play.
The Secret World had a good approach to this issue. No classes. Over time, everybody could learn every single skill in the game. The hook: Only a very limited number of those skills can be brought into play at the same time. This forced the player to build their own versions of the classic setups for healing, damage and support.
While this sound like an amazing system, it still ended up to be very limiting. After a while, certain combinations of skills where simply required by the community if you wanted to fulfill a certain type of role in the team. Sure, you could change out one or two skills, sometimes you even had to for specific encounters. But overall, a tank needed that, certain damage skills where preferred, and so on. Obviously, this system wasn't balanced enough to make every skill worth the same.
I like the aspect of classes, anyways. The trick is to implement skills, that a truly meaningful and unique. I rather have a handful of abilities that really make or break an encounter, than dozens of similar effects that other players could just as easily bring to the table.
Other RPG, such as Sacred, have tried very unique approaches to classes and their skills. The classes felt fresh, and the way skills and abilities were handled felt as if I had control over how I want this to advance.
Guildwars tried the main class plus secondary class approach. It worked, I guess, but not quite to my liking. In the end, there were, again, the perfect combinations of skill and class, thus removing the feeling of a true diversity.
Rewards, Not Baits
There was a time, when we would be running the same content over and over again, until we gathered everything the place had to offer. Then we would ran it over and over again for other people, that still needed stuff from there. And we had a blast as a community.
Then the systems changed. Cosmetics entered the game. There were trophies, pets, mounts, new emotes, and so on. Sure, it all looked cool, and you could show off your character wearing the spider-dragon-underwater-pumpkin head, that only drops one out of a hundred times in that dungeon. But who cares? Everyone ran this thing forever, you just got a little more lucky than the rest of us. Even worse was the fact, that most of that stuff could be purchased for real money from the in-game item store later on, when the dungeons became obsolete.
I wanted meaningful items. Something with special abilities, that matter in encounters. Something that improves my statistics, my numbers and abilities. That does a certain type of damage, or protects from it. And I wanted an entire closet full of these things, even if it meant I had to raid this dungeon every week for the next year. It was fun to do, we laughed and freaked out at each other. It was a sport, an event and a community gathering. Once the cosmetics hit the loot table, when the trophies dropped and everybody spammed their new emotes they've gotten from that one quest, I lost my interest very, very quickly.
Give me a reason to spend my time in your digital world by adding items and rewards that I can use later in the game, and I'll say, "See, it was worth running this dungeon for a week straight."
Meaningful Player Contributions
This might just be the hardest thing to do. I would love to see players changing the world through their characters actions. Maybe there are certain points in the world, that can be conquered by factions, changing the amount or type of monsters and treasures to be found.
Some games let entire guilds take over regions through battles, giving them control over things like taxes in the region. Whenever someone buys an in-game item from a vendor, they also pay the tax, which goes directly to the guilds bank.
Maybe, if enough people keep storming the same dungeon, it will open secret parts to that place for daring adventures to enter and so.
Some games add some of those things, but with future updates and content expansions, they tend to get forgotten and forsaken.
The world should react to the characters. Social values could be part of the characters statistics, changing the behaviour of non-player characters (NPC) and monsters towards him. When a top-level hero enters a starter region, I'd like to see the goblins and thugs run away in fear, instead of just standing there. When a fair amount of successful end-level characters gather in an outpost behind enemy lines, the game could let the monster spawn rate drop, because they the villains are afraid of what's to come. Or, and this I'd really like, the game could send an army of elite monsters to that outpost to deal with those pesky
Worthwhile Player vs Player (PvP)
I've never been a huge fan of PvP, mostly because it wasn't implemented interesting enough. Usually there are certain PvP zones to battle. Some games have the entire world open of PvP, which usually ends up in a mass slaughter of new guys.
Lord of the Rings tried something that I really liked as a concept. Maybe they stole that idea from somewhere else, I don't know.
They created a dungeon that, in theory, could be entered by two opposing sides of players. Within this dungeon, there were a lot of monsters, very high profile bosses, and some worthwhile loot. The hook: Both sides had to fight the monsters, as well as each other.
In general, I like that. I would love to see a huge zone, or multiple regions, where opposing player parties (factions, player guilds, or small groups) can enjoy content, but will also run into each other. They don't have to fight, and maybe they join forces to overcome a bigger challenge. Maybe they even have to do that, but to keep the reward for themselves, they would have to take out the other team at the end. There ought to be a way to combine PvP with the normal game, instead of battle grounds and zones with camps to conquer for no apparent or meaningful reward.
There are a few other things I'd always wanted in an MMORPG. However, they aren't need to make a game a good game, but would sure make my experience better.
I'd like to see details on my character. I'm not just talking about armor and weapons. I want scars, dirt and blood. As durability of an items goes down (which it does in many game), I'd like to see the armor being torn, capes being ripped, swords being battered and splintered. It wouldn't even have to be 100% accurate based on the damage received. After I'm done, I would just like to see the dangers of raiding a dungeon for several hours on my character.
Changing economy. It would be nice to see NPC run around, selling basic goods through out the game. These could be basic crafting ingredients, potions, food, and other things that players will want thought their time in the game. Those NPC could start with a random table of items, moving from town to town and trade things back and worth with local merchants. This could change prices for items based on demand, and encourage players to take part and influence the local economy, instead of just playing games on the auction house, that's usually in these games.
Crafting. Maybe it should have been its own topic, but I've never been much of a crafting fan, to be honest. I'd like to see a system, though, that allows personalized items that matter. I want my precious and hard-earned items to be upgrade bale through crafting, for example. Usually, there's only the choice between crafted items and found items, and you usually choose whichever is better. I'd like to see both kinds combined to craft something truly unique with the found loot as base or upgrade.
In my opinion, games in general have regressed over the years. This is especially problematic for a game, that wants their players to keep spending money on its content.
While most of my ideas might be partial implemented in some game or another, the entirety of those games is still lacking passion and commitment, as far as I'm concerned. It seems to me that everyone wants to do what browser games, free-to-play money-sinks and the like, are doing.
I know of the hardships and difficulties of making and maintaining video games and content. However, as the indie developer scene is teaching us these days, maybe developers will need to find a slower, more intimate approach to their conceptions to create a game that maybe isn't as broad as the bulk out there, but does what it does well and with heart and brain.
Maybe the big names behind the current and upcoming generation of the massively multiplayer world will take some hints to create compelling content for us, not just for their bottom line.
Until then, I will properly not dust my axe and find my way back to slaying orcs.
*pew-pew is a term for ranged combat.