Massively Overthinking: Making MMOs ‘sticky’ without vertical progression

Today’s Massively Overthinking question comes to us from Kickstarter backer Jersey C, who asks,

If you were asked to design an MMORPG without vertical progression like levels or gear grind, what kind of system(s) would you implement to give the game long-time appeal, or “stickiness,” instead of the usual grind? “Interesting PvP” is too obvious an answer, so let’s assume the game you’re making is going to be PvE only.

Why not open our series of Kickstarter-inspired staff questions with a really meaty one, right? I polled the Massively OP staffers for their thoughts.

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): Removing all progression systems from an MMO feels like a really big ask, but games have existed for a long time without things like levels, unlocks and gear with stats. In many ways, progression feels like a cheap way of keeping people playing in the long term, with goals spelled out explicitly for the player and dangled like a carrot on a stick. It’s a very easy way to motivate people, so it will need to be replaced with intrinsic motivators strong enough to keep people actively engaged and playing.

I could imagine a sandbox game based around the idea of territorial warfare fitting this requirement quite well. Imagine EVE Online but everyone automatically has the maximum skills, and the draw of the game is about working together to build empires together and wage wars over control of space. Or a game like Wurm Online, which let people build cities together in a land based environment. Ownership of the game world and gaining a degree of mastery over the game mechanics can be a more powerful motivator than any progression system ever could.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): You’d probably assume I’d launch into an appeal for a deep economic system that underpins the game, or maybe even make the case for housing, or maybe I’d start talking about a lovely horizontal free-form skill system with plenty of non-combat activities. I want those things. Those things are important. But to maximize stickiness without gamey progression, it’s not mechanics at all I’d turn to; it’s community, community, community. MMOs must find ways to make their community awesome so the sticky happens in spite of or in addition to the mechanics. People will play terrible, awful, no-good games with wretched mechanics if their friends are there, if the community is friendly and helpful, and if the GMs and other socially interfacing devs are down in the trenches with the players day in and day out. This is how games like Ultima Online have continued to hum along so many years after the mechanics have become old hat. Toxicity is discouraged; cooperation is encouraged. The gamemasters are still running RP events, the devs are still posting their phone numbers on the company blog to help players with bugs, and the players stick out for each other and celebrate their members. Heck: Look at City of Heroes‘ community. The game no longer exists, and those guys are still mobilizing, still making projects happen, still inspiring academic research. Or look at how the community for Camelot Unchained, which doesn’t even exist yet, has rallied around its cause and its devs. That, my friends, is sticky. MMORPGs should be harnessing that. It’s magic.

And this is why when studios draw down their community services, all I can do is shake my head.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I think there are a couple of good places to go with this. Fire and foremost: the skill system. Use something that hits points of both the original Guild Wars and its ornate system of skills with Transistor’s multi-functional skill setup; a given skill can augment another skill, act as a passive, or go in as an active ability. With a limited action set, this means that more skills serve to offer more options without any strict vertical progression; your character build would become more flexible and useful, but the actual power cap would be pretty fixed.

Content-wise, I’d love to see a serious attempt at bringing the dynamic potential of RIFT’s eponymous rifts into a cross with territory control mechanics a la Saints Row III or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. You could have a world where there are invaders creeping in around the edges, a constant battle to push them back and maintain control, even fit in a light form of PvP in terms of contested control if not direct combat. (Final Fantasy XI uses a similar system; you aren’t fighting other players directly for control, just competing for influence.) Having access to more spaces and more safe regions along with more opportunities to explore and take quests in relative safety would provide a decent carrot.

All right, so there’d be a little verticality there, but we aren’t grinding item levels here.

Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): My answer to this would depend on whom I had to design an MMO for. If I could design it for myself and players like me, there would be very little focus on progression, and the “stickiness” would be up to each individual’s imagination and desire to make his own fun using a variety of toolsets focused on a) roleplaying, b) crafting/trading/terraforming, and c) combat.

If I had to design it for the majority who need constant direction and developer-driven stimulation, I’ll defer to my usual do-it-like-Star Wars Galaxies answer. Thirty-two skill-based professions including crafters, combatants, and socializers provided ample opportunity for grinders to grind and grind and grind while also providing people like me with the opportunity to master a couple of combat professions and a crafting profession and happily hold my own in PvE and PvP without ever grinding again.

And the theorycrafters had a field day mixing and matching various professions and skills when the devs did the usual change-for-the-sake-of-change buff/nerf cycle.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): These days I think that a lot of people are embracing the theme of creation in games, so I’d look to give players outlets for creativity in building a world. How about a literal virtual theme park, where you are in charge of one of many, many sub-zones that make up the best amusement park in the world? I’d allow players to do missions, visit other park areas, and achieve objectives to get more materials with which to construct and create and then turn them loose to make rides for others and design the music, aesthetic, etc. Yes, I was a huge Rollercoaster Tycoon player back in the day; why do you ask?

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): Personally, I don’t like the gear grind. I play for interesting mechanics in group activities and story. There are many things that Star Wars: The Old Republic might have got wrong, but I do believe that it is right about story being a major pillar that had been missing from many MMOs. BioWare, of course, told “story” the BioWare way. I don’t fault them for that, but there are many ways to tell a compelling story through the mechanics of the game not just in cut scenes. EVE, for instance, tells great stories — and I don’t mean with its mostly silly trailers — the stories of the battles and corporate takeovers make the game at least interesting to watch and one that I’d play more if I weren’t a disembodied spaceship for most of the game. It could also be possible to tell compelling stories by allowing the playerbase to make them with storytelling instruments like Neverwinter’s Foundry or SWG’s storyteller skill line. Personally, I would go with a system like SWG’s Storyteller skills to make the game more sticky because it allows for a innumerable amount of players to participate and isn’t confined to a dungeon group size.

Mike Foster (@MikedotFoster, blog): This one is super difficult, especially for someone who is almost always hooked by PvP over anything else. We’ve also seen a few titles try this and fail. For example, the original beta build of Firefall didn’t have vertical progression, and it resulted in a very boring experience where every combat scenario felt exactly the same. To create stickiness, you need something that players can aspire toward. If you start a game and immediately have access to everything it offers, what’s the point of even playing it?

I’d say the core components of a good game still stand out. You need a beautiful, interesting world that rewards players for exploring it, if not through gear and levels then through learning more about the game universe and through discovering unique vistas or hidden secrets. You need character customization so that the player feels as though he or she is represented in that world. And you need deep trading, crafting, and roleplaying mechanisms that make interacting with other players the best way to survive and succeed. For this to work, a developer has to make building a community inside the game the primary win condition.

Actually, this is one area in which a survival theme might actually sing. Build a dangerous, threatening environment that simply can’t be explored alone. Put resources in that world that player communities require to survive. And then give players the choice to either work together to find those resources or watch their community starve and die. It would be niche, but interesting. EVE Online is pretty close here, if one were to ignore the game’s skill points.

The trick is to build a game that’s rewarding to play without worrying about the next XP bar or recipe or item drop. The gameplay itself has to be engaging and fun — most MMOs absolutely suck at this. If the philosophy were shifted from “what sticks” to “what’s fun,” we might see more games without the built-in grind.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Wow, that isn’t a quick kind of answer at all! I honestly think the key there is to make a world that feels like a home that folks want to spend time in and always want to return to. It has to have many different things players can actually do, depending on their mood. And social elements are a must! While it is really hard to pare things down, these are my top components:

I would absolutely have a housing system with very robust decorating; everyone needs a personalized place to call his own and give him a feeling of true ownership to bond him with the game. I swear the reason I can never leave EverQuest II is that there are so many building projects I still want to do! I’d also pay particular attention to crafting and the economy, making crafting be superior to drops and rewards. I would also make the system interdependent: Crafters need other crafters, fighters need crafters, crafters need fighters, decorators need fighters and crafters, etc. Items should never bind to players so that there can be a market for them. Even for the markets themselves I would encourage social interaction by having player-run marketplaces/vendors that can be set up in shops all across the world that players travel to in order to purchase (though to search for these goods could be from a major hub or city).

Even if some don’t like to admit it, it’s often the roleplayers who hunker down and really settle in the worlds. That’s a good thing! People who use creativity to tell/participate in stories are invested in the world, and once invested, they find it harder to walk away. Even if you don’t generate the content yourself, there needs to be a way for players to generate compelling content that others can consume. I’d want to be sure there is a robust mechanism for storytelling, like the system from Star Wars Galaxies that was out in the open world. This brings up another vital point: I would make sure my world isn’t instanced and gated off! Let players play with friends regardless of levels, and let people roam wherever they darn well wish — even if it is at the risk of instant death.

To further personalize the experience, I’d make sure there was an amazing guild interface that can be made to fit the needs of the group, from personalized permissions to rank names to even a running achievements board. I’d go further and create an alliance system for guilds to take advantage of. The more ownership players have of their experience, the more it fits into their style and needs, and the more ties to the game and community, the more they will feel a part of the world. Ergo, they stay.

Tina Lauro (@purpletinabeans): This is a question I think about all the time! I would design an amazingly complex and interconnected skill tree that allows freeform character development that suits the individual player’s unique playstyle. Instead of levelling, you would hone skills as you explore the virtual world, and each decision you make or action you take would affect how your character progresses, leaving you with a character that is perfectly adapted to how you like to play. The “stickiness” in a system such as this is that without input and dedication skills simply won’t improve; just as in the real world, effort is required to get anywhere. You could also be rewarded skill points for questing, exploring, or any other task that may not benefit any one particular skill, which would give players a degree of control over their characters’ skill development.

You would start at one area of the skill tree based on your character selection choices, sure, but then you would have endless possibilities for making your character your own. Steps away from the expected skills of your class would be costly but not impossible at all. A ranger who can wield a greatsword, or a mage who can don the heaviest battle armours without spell encumberment? No problem at all, providing you don’t mind spending the time or skill points to get there! Most of the fun of this mechanic would be seeing how far you can break the usual character archetypes.

Your turn!

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98 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: Making MMOs ‘sticky’ without vertical progression"

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milosanx
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milosanx

For me, I play pretty much every AAA mmo that comes out, but the grind/level progress never keeps me. The sandbox keeps me. A place where everything I do I impact my skills and the environment. A place That is mine, I made it, I formed the land and build the biulding from scratch and exactly the way I want to build them.

So when I play a new mmo and get bored I just go back to my deed in Wurm Online and it’s still there, been there for years. The trees have grown back, the livestock have all gotten older and my neighbours place has probably decayed away by then and someone new has moved in. Really there no game like it, it’s the perfect mmo and tbh I don’t think any other company has the balls to make this type of game. Rolf keeps Wurm going implementing new stuff all the time and even if something else comes along it will be years before a new sandbox has the depth and immersion that wurm has. Wurm has pure mmo sandbox freedom, 113 skill and a world that you can do anything you want.

Tiogui
Guest
Tiogui

CazCore You’re right. Sadly, a company aims profit, and, if that way is working… 
That message should reach the players, and you hope at least one of them gets it and do the right thing.

RagnarTheDrunk
Guest
RagnarTheDrunk

CazCore This should be stickied on the front page of the site

CazCore
Guest
CazCore

a fun game is its own reward.
having fun is sticky for health individuals.

problem MMOs have is they have lots of unhealth addicts who don’t play for fun.
they get satisfaction from their virtual work ethic, and doing virtual chores,
and amassing virtual collections.

cuz its so much easier to do than real life chores/work, and amassing real life
valuables.

just stop taking advantage of unhealthy people.  that’s all MMOs need to do.
quit targeting that audience, and contributing to their problems.
what those people need is REAL progression in their REAL lives to be proud of.
not some easily quantifiable dings and number increases and virtual item collecting,

which gives them a hollow sense of reward for wasting their life away doing mindless busywork.

all that “accomplishment” is totally erased from ANY form of existence as soon as the game gets 
shut down.
real life progression is a wise investment that STICKS WITH YOU FOREVER!

naritha
Guest
naritha

melissamcdon naritha krieglich As I replied to someone earlier, there are normally at least 1300 connections so its hardly a ghost town.  But everyone’s entitled to an opinion, and I personally have been enjoying my SWG time :)

naritha
Guest
naritha

social_crime naritha krieglich There are normally at least 1300 connections, I think you are thinking of ProjectSWG (NGE emulator) which is not the same.  But meh, not gonna argue.

social_crime
Guest
social_crime

naritha krieglich Noone but 6 emu devs who sit in Tatooine talking shit about NGE play it.

Tiogui
Guest
Tiogui

Collections! Collect house stuff, collect skins, collect customization stuff, collect titles. Players will need to do things to get those. And the shiny stuff on EQ2 ground are so…shiny!

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

RagnarTheDrunk thegirlwiththehair EO_Lonegun  Another valid question is if we actually want a cash shop in the game in the first place…
Really, if you create a player driven economy in a purely horizontal progression MMO I would predict the economy to be driven mostly by cosmetic items. And because of that, I think even selling cosmetics in a cash shop can hurt the game economy, unless you’re smart and modest about it.

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

Loyheta Spacejesus3k  You’re not off topic. Not having content locked away behind a level or gear grind would be good for “stickiness”, I think. It would for example make it easier to play together with friends, and this will net your game some “community stickiness points”.

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

Golden_Girl Jersey C  No, you didn’t, and I didn’t say you did ;-)
But you linked progression to storytelling. That’s just one more area where I think horizontal progression can really outshine vertical progression, so I couldn’t resist throwing in a post :-)

Golden_Girl
Guest
Golden_Girl

Jersey C Golden_Girl I didn’t use the word “vertical” ;-)

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

Foggye  Great video, made me think of this old classic again:
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/Bxszx60ZwGw” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

Golden_Girl  But does progression have to be vertical for it to work as a storytelling tool? I think not.
Sure, levels representing character growth works quite well as long the illusion doesn’t fade and you realise that “I gained a level so now I have 5% more health and hit 5% harder” usually goes hand in hand with “I now have to fight monsters who hit 5% harder and have 5% more health”.
Contrast this with for example “I learned a new skill that increases my chance of not being knocked down by those annoying giants” (just to stick with common tropes). Isn’t this a valid form of character growth, even if you look at it from a pure storytelling point of view? I would actually say this is a better tool for story telling as I think it makes more sense. The story asks you to fight giants to save the world. But the story also suggests that you should first take your time to learn how to stay on your feet when they hit you with their huge clubs.
What I like about this last kind of character growth is that it’s horizontal. You’re not increasing your character’s base power level at all. Monsters who don’t knock you down are still just as difficult as they were before. Especially so if your skill bar is restricted to a limited number of skills, now you may find other monsters are actually harder to kill if you equip skills for fighting giants.

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

Needmoreloot  Hello, I just have to chime in here. I don’t think they cheated. I think they answered in the same spirit that I asked the question. I didn’t ask for no progression, I specifically asked for no vertical progression. Yes, there is a difference :-)
That said, I agree with you. If you manage to build a sticky game world without any progression you probably could and should buy yourself a yacht. I particularly like your approach of linking rewards to helping other players!

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

DPandaren Nucleon  GW is a good example of a skill system where you had a virtually infinite number of possible skill combinations. Of course, the number isn’t actually infinite, but it’s so high that it’s impossible to try all combinations in your lifetime. In fact, I think I’ll go out on a limb and claim there are still a huge number of builds that has not yet been played by any human. Sure, most of them are probably rubbish but I expect there to be lots of strong and viable, maybe even overpowered, builds that nobody has played yet even when it’s almost 10 years since release.
That feeling of always having something new to discover and play around with made that game really sticky to me.
Of course, for the same reason, balancing this must’ve been hard, since the developers can’t catch all combinations either. But if you designed a game primarily with PvE in mind I think achieving perfect balance is much less of a concern.
I agree, Nucleon, having a limited skill bar is a really good thing. It makes it easy to reach a power plateau, just learn 10 skills (or 8, if we’re talking GW). But the more skills you learn the greater diversity and flexibility you’ll get.

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

I want to add some of my own thoughts to your excellent posts, but that’s also quite a mouthful. In fact, enough of a mouthful that Livefyre complains that I write too much. So I’ll have to break it up…
Brendan, I absolutely agree that (vertical) progression feels “cheap”. But isn’t it possible to implement that infamous carrot on a stick in a way that makes the grind 100% voluntary? I’m thinking for example purely cosmetic titles or gear, you can easily skip it if you don’t want to grind. This probably won’t satisfy players who insist that their efforts should be rewarded with more power. Unless someone smarter than me can think of a golden solution I fear a purely horizontal game won’t be for them.
Your territorial warfare sounds great, even in a PvE game as Eliot also mentions. I’ve also been playing with the idea of having a sort of dynamic war against an AI army (maybe with a developer controlled strategic master plan?) in certain areas of the game world. That could offer huge replay value as the front lines would move back and forth depending on how well players do. This could also help build a great community in the game.
Speaking of which: Community = sticky! Your post is spot on, Bree. But, dare I say it, I think you’re only answering half the question. The other half is: “how do we build a great community”? Relax, I’m not questioning your community building skills, this site community proves it beyond doubt! No, I’m just chasing the “how”. Developers and game masters building a community hands-on is great, but they are only people and people have limited time. Therefore, I think we also need systems and mechanics to help our community building. MJ, you mentioned good guild and alliance systems, and I think your idea of crafters, fighters and decorators all depending on each other will do a lot here.
I’d like to add a couple small ideas of my own here. The humble friends list should get some love. For example allowing you to write a private comment to help you remember why you added someone ended to your friends list would probably make socializing with new people easier for many players, including myself. I would also add a way for players to create quests and other content for each other. Finally, the game has to encourage people to play together, so how about giving players an extra reward for helping another player completing a quest or mission for the first time? Ideally, I would like to see plenty of veteran players eager to help newcomers, adding replayability for veterans and a welcoming atmosphere for newbies, in turn making it more likely that new players stick around.
Eliot, I love how you mention the original GW for its skill system. That was one of the big reasons I kept playing the game for more than 7 years (the other major “stickiness factor” was community, I was in a very nice guild in a very nice alliance). One of the things that made this skill system so good, in my opinion, is the fact that your skill bar was limited to just 8 skills. I think this is a case of “less is more”.
Jef, Mike and MJ, you all mention roleplaying one way or another. I have to admit, I’m not much of a roleplayer myself, but I do find that having roleplayers around makes the game world feel more like a world and less like a game. To me, that “worldiness” helps to make a game sticky. So yes, I would add plenty of roleplay oriented systems like tons of emotes (with a user friendly menu), usable furniture, character bio and character “family relationships”. The last two I would guess are pretty cheap and easy to implement, so I’m almost surprised not many games have them.
Justin! You win the prize for the most unexpected answer, easily! That is a really amusing idea! It is just that my head keeps spinning, isn’t your virtual theme park actually a sandbox? ;p
Jokes aside, you really got me thinking! This is actually a quite brilliant concept that can be used for much more than a theme park simulator! Players creating dungeons for each other? I see some untapped potential here!

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

I want to
add some of my own thoughts to your excellent posts, but that’s also quite a
mouthful. In fact, enough of a mouthful that Livefyre complains that I write
too much. So I’ll have to break it up…
Brendan,
I absolutely agree that (vertical) progression feels
“cheap”. But isn’t it possible to implement that infamous carrot on a
stick in a way that makes the grind 100% voluntary? I’m thinking for example
purely cosmetic titles or gear, you can easily skip it if you don’t want
to grind. This probably won’t satisfy players who insist that their efforts
should be rewarded with more power. Unless someone smarter than me can think of
a golden solution I fear a purely horizontal game won’t be for them.
Your
territorial warfare sounds great, even in a PvE game as Eliot also mentions.
I’ve also been playing with the idea of having a sort of dynamic war against an
AI army (maybe with a developer controlled strategic master plan?) in
certain areas of the game world. That could offer huge replay value as the
front lines would move back and forth depending on how well players do. This
could also help build a great community in the game.
Speaking
of which: Community = sticky! Your post is spot on, Bree. But, dare I say it, I
think you’re only answering half the question. The other half is: “how do
we build a great community”? Relax, I’m not questioning your community
building skills, this site community proves it beyond doubt! No, I’m just
chasing the “how”. Developers and game masters building a community
hands-on is great, but they are only people and people have limited time. Therefore,
I think we also need systems and mechanics to help our community building. MJ,
you mentioned good guild and alliance systems, and I think your idea of
crafters, fighters and decorators all depending on each other will do a lot
here.
I’d
like to add a couple small ideas of my own here. The humble friends list should
get some love. For example allowing you to write a private comment to
help you remember why you added someone ended to your friends list would probably
make socializing with new people easier for many players, including myself. I
would also add a way for players to create quests and other content for each
other. Finally, the game has to encourage people to play together, so how
about giving players an extra reward for helping another player completing
a quest or mission for the first time? Ideally, I would like to see plenty of
veteran players eager to help newcomers, adding replayability for veterans and
a welcoming atmosphere for newbies, in turn making it more likely that new
players stick around.
Eliot,
I love how you mention the original GW for its skill system. That was one of
the big reasons I kept playing the game for more than 7 years (the
other major “stickiness factor” was community, I was in a very nice
guild in a very nice alliance). One of the things that made this skill system
so good, in my opinion, is the fact that your skill bar was limited to just 8
skills. I think this is a case of “less is more”.
Jef,
Mike and MJ, you all mention roleplaying one way or another. I have to admit,
I’m not much of a roleplayer myself, but I do find that having roleplayers
around makes the game world feel more like a world and less like a game. To me,
that “worldiness” helps to make a game sticky. So yes, I would add
plenty of roleplay oriented systems like tons of emotes (with a user friendly
menu), usable furniture, character bio and character “family relationships”.
The last two I would guess are pretty cheap and easy to implement, so I’m
almost surprised not many games have them.
Justin!
You win the prize for the most unexpected answer, easily! That is a really
amusing idea! It is just that my head keeps spinning, isn’t your virtual theme
park actually a sandbox? ;p
Jokes aside, you really got me thinking! This is actually a
quite brilliant concept that can be used for much more than a theme park
simulator! Players creating dungeons for each other? I see some
untapped potential here!

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

First,
I have to say I’m truly honoured that you picked my question as the first
one. That is, unless you’re saving all the best questions for later, haha
;-)
I
really enjoyed reading your answers. And what’s really fun to me is that your
answers combined touched on almost all ideas I’ve had myself. It makes me
wonder if this is the reason why I read MO or if my thoughts and
ideas are caused by it. Did you somehow hack my brain? Anyways, I’ve been
pondering this question for quite some time, I didn’t just pull it out of a
hat. So I knew all too well when I submitted my question that it’s
quite a mouthful to answer. But I also knew you would be up to the
challenge! Thank you all for a good read and lots of food for thoughts.

Nanulak
Guest
Nanulak

Everything in life seems to be cyclical, from politics to fashion trends and pretty much everything in life. MMO’s are a pretty new phenomenon in life and I see no reason that game mechanics would not fall into some cyclical cycle itself.  People in general get bored with the status quo and start looking for something different.  Thus a new cycle begins.

While I am excited about this new cycle I foresee it lasting only about 10 years or so before we start back to the level grinding mechanic and horizontal progression.

This is all natural and a good thing as new generations need to protest the status quo and feel like they are leading the charge down a new path (even though it has been done before).  Bottom line – we are entering the second half of the first MMO cycle and can be considered the forefathers (and foremothers) of a natural cycle of life. Congratulations to those of us alive today to participate in this evolutionary cycle.

Jacra
Guest
Jacra

People make games sticky and experiences that are shared – and there are lots of things that can feel like accomplishments without being vertical. 
For example group choreography (I’ll never forget that attempt in DAoC to get everyone waving at the same time for a group picture, we spent hours about it and had actually fun). Finishing a building or unlocking access to something (in Istaria the bridge to the newest player housing island years ago come to mind, we spend weeks working on it, people joining and leaving. And we waited for almost an hour for everyone coming from any part of the world they had worked at before all together placing the last stone). Managing to get through a dangerous dungeon together or killing a tricky enemy. Raising pets, caring for a farm … things that need persistent attention and are best done in a group.Crafting as in AtiTD where the player skill matters much more than anything level based – if you cut the diamond wrong, you cut the diamond wrong. Collecting something and finishing the collection. Exploring a story and learning how it ends (or better: it never ends), nobody levels while reading a book or watching a movie!
Etc etc. Just because current MMO designs are often so simplistic or hierarchical in their reward structure, doesn’t mean it is necessary. Look at Minecraft, nobody cares about levels really. In EQ2 I played for years in the same equipment and level with switched off level/xp gain (yup, they have a setting for that), simply enjoying the content.

fangGWJ
Guest
fangGWJ

If you have such a thing as a sticky, this thread should be a sticky.  The topic isn’t going away and people aren’t going to stop being passionate about it.

Maybe if you don’t have stickies, then revisit/update this topic once in a while.

fangGWJ
Guest
fangGWJ

I think one of the fatal flaws of systems that let the player do what they want and have the character develop alongside that is that works only up to a point.  At some point down the road, the player will see someone else do something totally different and say,”I wanna do that!”  And then they will not be able to, or they will but it will take as much effort as they have already invested in their current character, or they will realize that they will have to do things they don’t like along the way, or they will realize they will have to compromise and lose some of what they have already done in order to get to the point where the other player is.

Transitions in these “do what you want and you character evolves with you as you want” style games are always a mess.  Usually the player is left in a neither here nor there state for great lengths of time.  And at this point their character may be stuck not being able to do much if anything worthwhile and not hiddeously repetitive.

Zaeja
Guest
Zaeja

I wholeheartedly agree with both Bree and MJ – community is everything here. Only other players can make a gameworld feel enough like a living place that you would want to keep visiting for month after month, and wanting to play alongside your friends is a powerful thing!

My vision of a sticky persistent world would have actual in-game mechanics and systems designed to create relationships between players and foster tight-knit communities, all taking place in a single massive world without shards. 
The tutorial would involve inducting you into a player-run organization that fits your alignment, faction, class or profession, and mentoring systems would immediately reward both newbies and oldbies for cooperating and passing on a bit of experience and immersion. While I prefer the consistent lore of classes to the emptiness of freeform skill building, either way the skills themselves would be tied to your character personality and choices, such that what you are skilled at doing matters as much in your daily interactions with other players as it does in how thematically you dispatch a foe. If you are a warrior you might be responsible for training players in your city with combat drills, arena battles, and leading sorties against enemy factions. If you are a psionic you might be tasked with screening citizens of your faction for hints of disloyalty, or mentally buffering them against the psychic attacks of enemy players and monsters, or coordinating vast mind links involving many of your nation’s players in order to pierce into other dimensions for fun or profit.
 Player organizations would have their own leadership structures and roles with tangible mechanics for the duties each player can perform. If you’re part of the treasury, you actually set taxes and start money-raising events. If you’re part of the security force, you defend against invasion and patrol for crime. If you’re a diplomat or a teacher or a mage or whatever you can contribute to your organization and be recognized in turn, perhaps even being voted into leadership.

Sure – there would be the usual systems of expressing yourself such as housing, costuming, player-designed crafts, theaters, music, art and literature, but they would all be designed in such a way that they are based around players interacting and cooperating. Your home isn’t an instanced retreat for you alone, it’s an integral part of your community, and you have to think about how it can help or impact upon others.
Everything has a social dimension, and the idea is that you don’t need to bring real-life friends to the world – if you stay long enough you will make them simply by playing the game (massively multiplayer) as intended. If you don’t start to know people by name, then the game isn’t doing something right!

RagnarTheDrunk
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RagnarTheDrunk

thegirlwiththehair RagnarTheDrunk EO_Lonegun
A cash shop that sells progression affecting items is pay to win. The sub model works just fine without progression however….

thegirlwiththehair
Guest
thegirlwiththehair

RagnarTheDrunk EO_Lonegun

Value.  If you don’t want anything (because there is no progression), they can’t sell you anything.

You can sell cosmetics, but those never make as much money as people think they do.

thegirlwiththehair
Guest
thegirlwiththehair

Bango

For EvE, wealth is a pretty strong vertical progression system.  Even within the same class (frig vs frig, destroyer vs destroyer etc), the player that can drop a billion ISK is far more likely to win against the player who can only drop 1% of that.

Anatidae
Guest
Anatidae

One huge thing not mentioned by the staff: Item decay.  The fact that everything lasts forever in an MMO means that progression hits a cap. I realize that the opposite is a grind, but I believe with a sense of balance the decay or loss of items makes it worthwhile to repeat content. 

EvE shows this in spades. You lose your stuff. It’s just the way the game is. People might be upset to have their ship blown up, but they move on. I think in games like WoW forever-lasting items just lead to souldbound items which leads to crippled economy, etc… 

Second, better communication tools. Why are we using chat interfaces that resemble MUDs from the late 80s? Seriously. There HAS to be a better way to interact with fellow players. And although there is controversy sometimes over chat bubbles, games who remove them only end up disabling the one single improvement common in MMOs from  80s MUDs. And that is basically the visual identification of who speaking where.

fangGWJ
Guest
fangGWJ

I’d like to have a system with base building but in the vein of Sim City.  Instead of Housing, Commerce, Industry you would have Magic, Armory, Weaponry.  Based on the percentages of each your character or class would be a wizard, tank or weapon dps.  If you wanted more defense on your mage, increase the size of the base that is armory.  If you wanted some magic for your melee dps increase the size of the magic region.  And you could have mechanics just like Sim City where bigger clumps of the same type area will build bigger and more specialized buildings.  For instance you could have a wizard’s tower be a 2×2 block, a magic library be a 3×3 block and a magic university only fit in a 5×5 block.  Specialized buildings could also give unique stat bonuses or perks/traits.

Equipment would be looted but I think it would be neat if your regions spawned items with the frequency being determined by the size of each region in your base.  For example magic could give you reagents or spell components or items like wands, the armory would spawn armor bits, and the weaponry regions would spawn weapons.

You will also loot money which will speed the rate at which your base grows in both complexity and land allotment.  The base will grow on its own over time.  And you can have server rankings for bragging rights for your base.  I would think you can link bases within guilds and have things like tithing that way.  You could also develop guild-wide perks/traits that way.

I’d like to see another area that is a zoo/bestiary/summons once your base achieves a certain size.  Perhaps you could even develop arena combat challenges for others to fight the creatures you have defeated.  Where the combatants and the arena’s owner get rewards.

A lot of this base management could be done with a mobile app so that when you play at home, you can spend your time adventuring and actually exploring first hand your ever changing/growing base.

dorn2
Guest
dorn2

Character maintenance.  People will call me crazy but UO sort of had this at first.  Essentially you could lose skill points through various means.  It wasn’t onerous but if you wanted a “perfect” character then you had to do certain things occasionally.  You also had to avoid doing other things.

Honestly I don’t think it was a good system at all.  To me though there was a fair amount of fun in just working on my character constantly.  Even if I didn’t “progress” it felt rewarding just to keep my char at the top of his game.  I think there is room for a similar concept with better execution.

RagnarTheDrunk
Guest
RagnarTheDrunk

wolfyseyes Xsyon?

RagnarTheDrunk
Guest
RagnarTheDrunk

EO_Lonegun honest question – how/why?

krieglich
Guest
krieglich

melissamcdon naritha Yeah, it’s just not the same. We have to face the bitter truth: SWG and CoH are gone forever.

EO_Lonegun
Guest
EO_Lonegun

Without progression it becomes difficult to monetize an MMO.

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

UtopianWarrior ManastuUtakata 
On the side, the problem with designing any group reliance content, is that the devs never seem factor that for whatever reasons players move on, leaving nobody around to help you do it. That is, the content only really designed for when lots of peeps are around using it. Whether it be certain Paths in WildStar that rely on other players. Or leveling content back in Vanilla WoW, where a large portion of quests had to be done in groups. This has always been an annoying oversight.

Maggie_May
Guest
Maggie_May

A lot of good ideas below …. one of the things I remember about my time in a certain virtual world was the quote “at some point you will find a job or you will leave”. Giving people the tools to do a lot of things in a game is great, it won’t help those who have no imaginations or want their hands held. 
But you need the tools. Virtual worlds are different than games in a sense, there is no compunction to do anything you don’t want to do but by the same token you need to find things to do which have meaning and push forward your story and presence within that world. 

Everyone has different ideas of what they want in a perfect game maybe the future will be some sort of customizable experience where you set up the game with modules that have what you want in them and network with other players who have those same interests to play the game together.

RagnarTheDrunk
Guest
RagnarTheDrunk

What if the devs allowed more integration of IRL systems… perhaps giving up control of those systems for the sake of security?

This would work best for games set in the present and future, but for example – imagine having an apartment in The Secret World with a working computer that was basically a window back into your actual computer. Then you could be “in game” while doing other things. Add a couple TSW apps – like access to in-game IM outside the game, maybe access to in-game email from a standard web interface. Or the other way around, how about a to-do list for real world things that gives you in-game experience?

All this sounds kind of weird, I realize, but imagine these features in concert with something like the Microsoft Hololense, Occulus Rift or HTCValve Vive… you’d basically be “in” your Secret World apartment, but working on real world things on your PC.

IDK, it’s far out I know, but I’m all about immersion and blurred lines between the real and virtual worlds.

Robert80
Guest
Robert80

Story.  Not ala GW2, but rather a full world where your actions actually matter.  Where things happen, and the world changes.  Get rid of the old repeated spawning mechanics… make the world a dangerous place with little civilization and have the player be busy building up their world!  Give it enough sandbox to allow them to make their own place in the world to hang out, where other people can travel through, and plenty of places to go off and seek adventure.
This, of course, means you need a system in place to generate lots of content relatively quickly in the world.  You need GMs who can do things like prod the horde of goblins growing in X place to move toward Y place, generating an event that players hear about because some NPC town was destroyed, or because somebody sees them and calls for help.  Have the destruction they cause matter, with effort required to rebuild it, and give the players options with how they go about that (and for goodness sake don’t make it ‘gather 10 planks to help rebuild this place, again, because you didn’t hate it the last 482 days!)
Yeah, I know… I’m dreaming.

DPandaren
Guest
DPandaren

The only I would really do at this point is take out levels and replace it with a Gearscore. Since most games do that anyways whenever a player hit level cap. Also, this Amazon adchoice really wants me to spend $300 on this D-Arts Lizardon. This ad is EVERYWHERE.

melissamcdon
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melissamcdon

naritha krieglich but it’s a ghost town.   and very unfinished.

melissamcdon
Guest
melissamcdon

Since basically every MMO has combat, it’s the everything-else-besides-combat part that keeps me in a game.   Cosmetics, emotes, housing, mini-games, fishing, swimming, ‘living my life virtually’ in that game world is what actually keeps me coming back.

DPandaren
Guest
DPandaren

Nucleon On the otherside of that, a mountain pile of skills is a balancing nightmare and more then likely most of them will be incredibly useless to players. Guild Wars is a good example of that.

Bango
Guest
Bango

Easy answer. Eve Online has already achieved this. No classes, no “levels”, no “alternate advancement”. Instead a skill system that gives people long-term goals and the primary focus of the game on achievements – whether that’s financial, sovereignty or just good old pvp.

naritha
Guest
naritha
thegirlwiththehair
Guest
thegirlwiththehair

“Even for the markets themselves I would encourage social interaction by having player-run marketplaces/vendors that can be set up in shops all across the world that players travel to in order to purchase (though to search for these goods could be from a major hub or city).”

NO.

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Cyclone Jack
Guest
Cyclone Jack

CistaCista ArtemisiaWS 
Level cap is 20, which gets you a fraction (1/8th maybe?) of the way through the game, and lets you easily get the best armor in the game (stat-wise).  From there, you continue to progress through the story, gain new abilities and elite skills, of which many define your build.  There are materials that can be used to give your gear a small boost, but you can only have a prefix and a suffix per item.  There is prestige armor that looks cool, but offer no change in stats compared to the standard L20 gear.  With GW, your progression was mostly tied to unlocking more elite skills in which to build around (unlike GW2 where your elite is just a generic ability on a long timer).
From there, you can take your character from one game into the others (Prophecies, Factions, Nightfall) and once you get to ~L18 I believe, the Eye of the North expansion become available.  All of which have the same L20 cap.  The game is fun and challenging, and the overarching stories are fairly decent.
You do gain XP in GW1, and continue to do so after reaching the cap.  Each time you level, or each time you fill your XP bar after hitting cap, you gain a skill point. Skill points are a resource used to learn skills, craft some consumables, etc.

Polyanna
Guest
Polyanna

Here is what I know about myself after years of playing MMOs: The games I play longest are the ones that are most like a big drawer of LEGOs, that let me tinker and tweak and try lots of weird combinations of character setups to make things that ought not to work, but somehow do.

If I run out of new combinations to try, I will get bored and quit. If I can’t get any of the really cool blocks without grinding for weeks and months or dumping a bunch of cash, I will get annoyed and quit.

I don’t mind running around and doing things — even hard things — to get new blocks to build with. But I want to get something cool and new every time I put a little more time in, not just sit around waiting and grinding for a week to get some boring stupid thing that has nothing interesting about it except numbers that are slightly higher than the last boring thing I got, and where none of these boring things are going to change anything about how I play the game or what I can do until I spend three months getting five other boring things to go with them.

If I were going to build a game, it would have an absolutely flat power budget, and a finite number of simple but interesting blocks you could put together to spend that budget in an endless number of strange and interesting ways. And then it would have lots of strange and hard problems scattered around the world for you to solve, some of which would not be solvable in any apparent way — even to the game designers — until someone comes up with a really clever and unexpected way to defeat them. “Expansions” would mean adding more strange and interesting blocks — some without even any apparent use at first — but the overall power budget always would remain the same.

It would be a game with a deep, robust, varied, but easily and fully accessible toolbox for character skill building, and it would be filled with enemies that, at least at the time they were created, were apparently killable in any obvious or straightforward way. The interesting part would be seeing if players could come up with characters and combinations of characters that together could kill things that weren’t obviously killable when they were first put in the game. And when players figure out how to kill the last crazy thing, then the developers would come up with something else even stranger and harder.

I could play a game like that for a long time.

GeekFitness
Guest
GeekFitness

I think UO did the best job of this. With an ever-changing set of skills, I never felt like I was stuck with a character. It wasn’t quite levels, and the gear mattered far less than almost anything else. I liked that.

krieglich
Guest
krieglich

blast tyrant Yeah, that too. :/ It’s a shame that such good games had to close their doors.

blast tyrant
Guest
blast tyrant

Just reading the staff responses, I’d definitely play a game based on Jef’s world design philosophy if it used a skill system like the one Tina described.  Fully customizable characters and a full world-building tool set would be pretty close to the Neverwinter Nights writ large MMO I’ve always wanted to see.  After writing the above it strikes me as funny that after 17-18 years of bouncing from MMO to MMO what I am really looking for is a game that gives the individual users the ability to create virtual worlds that approximate the tabletop RPG experience.  Let me build the world and my characters in it and I’ll gladly shower you with filthy lucre.

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