MMO Mechanics: 2015’s MMORPG mechanics in review

It’s my favourite time of the year once again: The mulled wine is flowing, the festive lights are all aglow, the weather outside is most definitely frightful while my fire is indeed delightful, and I have a major increase in my gaming time since uni’s out until 2016! I resurrected this old column earlier this year in March and I decided to see in the holidays by looking back on the 2015 entries and scrolling through your comments. It was great to look back at nine months of writing and feedback and see how the column has progressed in that time, and some of the topics sparked amazing responses in the comments that I believe deserve a second (or tenth!) read.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’m going to revisit some of my favourite topics from this year and regather my thoughts on the topics discussed, popping it all together for you in one quick read. If you missed out on MMO Mechanics this year, this is a good recap before I launch into 2016, and if you’re a regular reader, be sure to take a peek to see if one of your comments is quoted in the article!

fast travel (1)

Fast-travelling to Massively OP!

I kicked off MMO Mechanics with an exploration of some of the most popular fast-travel mechanics offered in modern MMOs, and I was blown away by the depth of the comments on the topic. This column is perhaps the best case that one could put forward to justify our featured comments section: There’s always, no matter the topic, going to be something worth highlighting in there! I presented the argument that although fast-travel mechanics exist for the sound reason of abstracting away tedious and repetitive slack time that eats into our gaming hours, I was also keen to point out that over-reliance on fast and instant travel systems would ruin the rich worlds and context in which each zone is depicted.

The journey is supposed to be adventure, yet many view it as annoyance and just want to face the battle at the end, ultimately the reward at the end. Traveling should be rewarding and your legend should grow through your travels. — Craywulf
The topic was extended beautifully in the comments by several readers, but I particularly enjoyed Jersey C’s response in which the idea of “heat-mapping” an open MMO world to gauge player density and thus potential desire to get to that place for creating smart waypoints for instant travel. I really liked how this mapping could also improve weighted resource spawning mechanics and monster density. Craywulf also brought up an excellent point: We quickly lose the RPG in MMORPG if we cut out the “mundane” or TL;DR the journey, and many MMOs don’t adequately reward the adventurer with notoriety or other benefits for making the journey in the first place. Heroism is a difficult and sometimes boring job that isn’t all saving damsels and slaying dragons, after all.
barrier to entry (1)

Community: A barrier to exit or an exploited guilt trap?

When I wrote an article discussing how MMO developers can mechanise the community to form a strong barrier to exit, I discussed how important it is to create many in-game incentives for those who form and maintain connections with each other, be it in guilds, alliances, or just a similar bunch of players occupying the same map. I considered the perceived casualisation of MMOs to be a damaging force on the community barrier to exit and thus the lifespan of the games in question, and I made particular reference to group-finder tools as an example of these damaging mechanics.

The problem with bad games, lazily designed games, is that they use systems of addiction, compulsion, and control in order to keep the player playing. They sink in their meat hooks and do all they can to see to it that anyone who tries to wriggle off is in as much pain as possible. It’s grotesque when you actually sit and think about it. — Werewolf Finds Dragon
An excellent counterpoint, framed with the help of a very clever YouTube video on the topic at hand, was offered up by Werewolf Finds Dragon; the video argues that manipulating the community of an MMO in such a way is no more than thinly veiled entrapment that is, in fact, an unhealthy barrier to exit that can lead to toxic communities filled with those who don’t really wish to be there in the first place. WFD also links high barriers to exit, and specifically community-related mechanics, to fatigue and burnout, which I’ve tied to horizontal progression and a strongly perceived grind in the past without thinking about how barriers to exit might exacerbate it too.

wot (1)

New IPs and novel mechanics

One of my all-time favourite edition of MMO Mechanics was the piece on how non-MMO IPs could help to reinvigorate the MMO market by introducing more innovation in the mechanics department. The star of the case I presented was World of Darkness and how guild mechanics would be forever improved through the layered depth seen in the franchise. I went on to discuss some more popular ideas and how I’d use them to push various mechanics, even suggesting that turn-based strategic MMO combat could be possible.

The players were just out exploring, but the AI Narrator has crafted a simple little plot and set them on its path, a more complex system might even try something more ambitious, but either way you wouldn’t go around collecting quests from people with exclamation marks over their head, but instead receive dynamically generated quests that are related to the players location and geared towards the party make up. — Wakkander
One particular idea given in the comments made us almost run on our knees to a developer with our threadbare wallets and overspilling enthusiasm to beg them to create our fancies. There were plenty of fantastic suggestions, but when Wakkander mentioned the Wheel of Time series, we knew that was a winner. Several commenters thrashed out the topic and we came up with some excellent ideas that revolved around personalised, dynamic story mechanics and the IP’s political maneuver system, Daes Dae’mar. I adored the books and would potentially enjoy the MMO described in the comments even more, which is a bold statement indeed considering that I still can’t bring myself to read the last few pages of the fourteenth book because then it’ll be over.

Over to you!

MMO Mechanics was the first column I pitched to Bree that helped me secure a contract back at old Massively in 2013, and I still enjoy writing it just as much today. I adore the way the comments fill in the gaps I intentionally or unintentionally leave in my articles, and I’m hoping to see some great responses to this edition too. I only have so many words and so can only cover so many items at once, unfortunately, but I’m sure you can come up with some more great responses to MMO Mechanics articles that really further the topic at hand. If your favourite one didn’t make the list, be sure to let me know below. Happy holidays!

MMOs are composed of many moving parts, but Massively’s Tina Lauro is willing to risk industrial injury so that you can enjoy her mechanical musings. MMO Mechanics explores the various workings behind our beloved MMOs. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see dissected, drop Tina a comment or send an email to tina@massivelyop.com.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Code of Conduct | Edit Your Profile | Commenting FAQ | Badge Reclamation | Badge Key

LEAVE A COMMENT

16 Comments on "MMO Mechanics: 2015’s MMORPG mechanics in review"

Subscribe to:
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most liked
Metadirective
Guest
Metadirective

While playing I regularly ask myself two questions :

1) Is this challenging for me ?
2) Am I enjoying the experience right now ?

If both come regularly negative I know I’m NOT really playing a game or an entertainment : 
I’m being played at.

Two of the main “mechanics” developers use to manipulate behaviours :

1) By focusing on extrinsic rewards

2) By focusing on random rewards

I’m not sure why this not taught in school? 

Maybe because it wouldn’t be profitable if people see also the mechanics behind some advertising, legal gambling etc 

So easy to manipulate large group of humans in social context that it’s scary to me. 

“You are not prepared” 

They knew.

Craywulf
Guest
Craywulf

Thanks for quoting me. Totally appreciate it.

schmidtcapela
Guest
schmidtcapela

magnor7874 schmidtcapela 
I believe many people care about those things, and to a certain extent the devs are responding to that. Though, unfortunately, they can each be fulfilled in more than one way, one of which is bad for those that want a more immersive and social game.

Take travel time, for example: you can solve the issue of travel being a boring waste of time by either making travel challenging and enjoyable, or else by removing travel time altogether. For those that think travel time is important for immersion, the best answer would be for the devs to embrace travel into being actual game content, something you need to pay attention, that won’t allow you to just tab out of the game to do something else while your character autonomously gets to the destination; but that is hard, while simply making travel instant is easy — thus the push to simply remove travel from games, particularly MMO ones.

The same can be said for in-game social bonds. The two easy ways to handle the social aspect are to either force players to band together — which pleases many of the extrovert players who think other people are what make the game worthwhile, but will drive out the introspect, the shy, etc — or to make the whole game a solo affair where you merely see others passing through. The middle road, a game designed so players can group or not based on what they find more enjoyable, without forcing them either way, is hard.

But yeah, your recommendation to not play games one doesn’t enjoy is spot on. I really wish more players followed it, because that would force the devs to stop relying on designing the game around punishing the player for leaving and force them to focus on making the games enjoyable. Kinda what the linked Extra Credits video was all about.

TomTurtle
Guest
TomTurtle

Esoteric Coyote I don’t necessarily agree with that since people can find many things they enjoy in an MMO but find things like instant travel to be annoying. I’ll use WoW’s LFG as an example as I often see it come up as a comparison between current generation WoW and vanilla. Yes, currently those who enjoy WoW could spam Trade chat to find a group for X dungeon, travel by gryphon taxi and by foot, and so forth but that’s made immensely more difficult when the majority of players don’t play like that anymore.
The game has changed too drastically, as result of things like LFG and flying mounts, to not severely hamper the playstyle experienced in vanilla WoW. Telling those who like that playstyle to simply march to the beat of their own drum doesn’t really solve the issue when they don’t really have others to adhere to those rules as well.
I’m not saying that they should be catered to, as this is a business and all, and the overall playstyle has shifted, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong for wanting to play that way with others too. (In this specific example, it would be nice for Blizzard to open official vanilla WoW servers.)
There could just as easily be game mechanics that you’d prefer to be the new norm for everyone but is not for one reason or another. It’s those very rules set down by the developers that largely push the players in one direction or another. I can understand why many people who enjoy a certain playstyle would pine for its return, even in a scenario where it’s a new game that didn’t have previous iterations like WoW has.
It isn’t as simple as telling them to not worry about it sadly. And to clarify, I’m not saying your advice doesn’t ever apply. I just felt the need to touch upon this point of where it doesn’t.

Esoteric Coyote
Guest
Esoteric Coyote

When it comes to just about any game mechanic, I think players need to be focused on what they like about it or don’t and style their play around that, and not other people.  If you hate fast travel, don’t use it.  It doesn’t matter if other people are teleporting around, unless your group is waiting for you.  If you think mobs are too easy, take your gear off.  I always find it amusing when people say “X is too easy”, while they sit there with their best in slot gear.  Of course it’s easy, you’re over-geared for this content now.  Personal goals are easy, forcing your gaming style on everyone else isn’t fair or fun.  So play for you, not them.  Don’t worry about them.

magnor7874
Guest
magnor7874

tobascodagama magnor7874 schmidtcapela true..

tobascodagama
Guest
tobascodagama

magnor7874 schmidtcapela He spent literally his entire post explaining that he does exactly what you said.

magnor7874
Guest
magnor7874

schmidtcapela Well good for you, you can do what you want but nobody cares. If you’re not enjoying them then don’t play them.

SallyBowls1
Guest
SallyBowls1

TY.  I enjoy readings about mechanics of MMOs as MMOs which is refreshingly different than the fanboi vs hater “discourse” over each specific game.

SallyBowls1
Guest
SallyBowls1

woolydub  I was so disappointed when StoryBricks went away.

schmidtcapela
Guest
schmidtcapela

Best Extra credits video ever. And, what’s more interesting, serves as a strong counterpoint to their own series on MMOs and social challenges, which is the series that I disliked enough to make me stop recommending Extra Credits to other people.
And, BTW, what is described in the video is part of why I like modding so much, and also why I moved from spending all my gaming time in MMOs to spending most of it in offline games. Modding allows me to remove the grind, the RNG, and much of what the dev might have added to make the player simply waste time.

My personal take on travel in games as a whole is that it needs to be either an adventure on its own or else be completely optional. The middle road, where it’s not challenging in any way but still forces the player to waste time, is something that nowadays makes me abandon games, including MMOs. If the dev have no respect for my time, I have no respect for the dev.

As for community as a way to keep the player in game: that only works for me if the dev doesn’t attempt to force the player to take part in the community. Having in-game friends is great, but I will immediately leave the game if it looks like I won’t be able to enjoy it without connecting with people — I approach others at my own pace, usually taking weeks or months to find others I want to truly play together with, and that is a process I will never rush. Also, I will immediately leave a guild if anyone with authority in it ever tries to order me around — which, in turn, means that I won’t stay in guilds in any game where a successful guild requires all its members to take on active roles.

(Or, in other words: if the game attempts to use guilds or community as a way to lock players into the game, I will immediately leave upon noticing that.)

Wratts
Guest
Wratts

But that’s totally what they did! U0001f600

PurpleCopper
Guest
PurpleCopper

One does not simply walk into Mordor…

woolydub
Guest
woolydub

That was great! I thought about it a bit and I think the one thing I’d like to see across the board is MMOs getting rid of static enemy placement all over the world. Why’s that witch standing in the middle of nowhere in the snow at 3 in the morning? I think that’s why GW2 worked for me so much in the beginning. A lot of the enemies you encountered were tied to something that gave them purpose rather than a quest giver telling me to collect ten wolf pelts and all the wolves were 100 yards from the quest giver.

Thanks for the good read :)

deekay_zero
Guest
deekay_zero

anyways because it’s relevant i guess i’ll link my own wet dream mmo design docs rambling bs stuff. i recently put to paper my general class design ideas (except for my bard class, but including my hacker class and hacker class gameplay stuffs), which also touches on combat and controls design.

as well as pinned down my setting/lore genre, which it will be set in a near future dangerous urban environment based on a canadian city with heavy cyberpunk stuff in teh gibson/dick and shadowrun (sans fantasy elements) traditions.

http://qpla.ca/tagged/dream%20mmo

deekay_zero
Guest
deekay_zero

i’ve long dreamed of a wot mmo derived more from lineage 2 than either of the since then more established sets of tropes the genre has become formulaic with. one of the biggest challenges to me in my day dreaming of such a game has been how to make good use of jordan’s emphasis on each gender’s strengths and weaknesses that is, in my opinion one of the focal parts of the series, well beyond just the gendered nature of the one power and the taint on the male side of the source. i think some of the answers, or at least leads to the answers, are found within the pages of the books itself when he’s describing stuff like combat or combat training or how the two halves of the source differentiate from each other.

unfortunately jordan and jordan’s estate has never been the best at partnering up with people to produce merchandise in other mediums for the IP. wether it was teh half baked shooter game years ago or the more recent “pilot” in which billy zane shows just how far he’s fallen in stardom. poor poor billy. you were so great in 13th floor.

i haven’t gotten past the first few pages of the first sanderson entry in teh series. jordan is an acquired taste that can be at times very tiring to read, and indeed i rage quit the jordan books a little more than half way through on my last reading becuase what’s her name the princess aes sedai girl was being such a bitch to mat (and the thing i love about jordan is his incredible and rare talent at bringing women characters to life, in both positive and negative ways.) and even though i had read that scene countless times over the years, i couldn’t deal with it that time and put the book down. but sanderson just isn’t jordan, wether you think he’s a better writer or not. so i will likely never finish reading the series i’ve bought at least a half dozen copies of each jordan book over the course of a decade. tho i have been tempted lately to just go ahead and find a wiki synopsis of the sanderson books – something that i really enjoyed doing with both kotor games’ extended lore and comic stuff before i got back into comics last year.

wpDiscuz