MMO Mechanics: 2016's MMORPG mechanics in review
The holiday season is finally upon us: My decorations are resurrected from their dark corner of my storage closets once more, Jack Frost is beginning to nip at my toes on these frosty evenings, and even the MMOs that fill my free time are getting into the festive spirit with amazing seasonal activities. It's the perfect time for a dose of nostalgia and I thought that a look back at 2015's column entries and revisit the comments sections of each one to pull out some of your fantastic offerings on the topics I've covered over the last year. This column holds some of my favourite articles I have written in no small part because of the topic development that happens via your amazing thoughts and counterpoints that are added in the comments.
In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I'll revisit my top picks from the column's 2016 entries and summarise my thoughts on my favourite topics to provide you with an end-of-year roundup that should be particularly useful for those of you who have missed some editions and fancy a quick catch up. I'll also be quoting my favourite comments that were left on each of those articles too, so if you're a regular reader be sure to check and see if your comment is featured!
One of my gaming highlights from 2016 was the release of No Man's Sky so I very promptly decided to look at how its mechanics could be employed in the MMORPG genre. I said it last year and believe it bears repeating: MMO Mechanics is a fantastic example of why Massively Overpowered has a featured comments section! No matter the topic, there's always some great insight or argument to be found in there. Rather than getting into how well delivered the promises made by Hello games were, the article in question focused on the particular mechanics that makes the game so interesting under the hood, with a particular emphasis on procedural generation and the use of language and culture mechanics in games. I decided that it was too early to tell how much of an impact the game would have at that point, but despite a rocky road since launch and a huge patch with restorative inclusions recently I believe that No Man's Sky will have a lasting impact on how game worlds are created and populated.
The merits of the game's mechanics were hotly debated in the comments by many readers, but I particularly enjoyed the clever additions from reader BrotherMaynard with a nod to practical implementation. The comment outlines BM's particular list of suggested improvements for NSM's mechanics. I considered each point made when I first read the comment and while I don't agree that inventory stacks should be larger, I thought that the addition of more freeform piloting mechanics and a full mapping toolset were extremely clever potential additions that would make navigating those beautiful procedurally generated environments that little bit easier without adding too much bulk to the system.
My mild addiction to Guild Wars 2 is no secret, so it's probably not much of a surprise to regular MOP readers that one of my favourite MMO Mechanics entries from 2016 features my MMO of choice. This article goes right back to the game's April Update in which a large number of reparative fixes that greatly improved and refreshed the title. Reacting to feedback led to more responsive development that included instant access to expansion-only mechanics upon purchasing with the inclusion of a free level 80 boost, reiteration on endgame zone mechanics to increase uptake and remove barriers to farming, and massive fixes to World-versus-World mechanics that had been a historic problem in the game. The main takeaway in this article was that iterating on existing mechanics is a fantastic way to rejuvenate MMOs, reinvigorate low population areas and rid the playerbase of lingering bugbears to improve the game experience.
One of the biggest technical debates I've seen in the MMO Mechanics comments happened as the commenters weighed in on what metrics could be considered when discussing whether a game is increasing or decreasing in popularity or whether or not our very own Leaderboard polls were indicative of wider MMO market trends. While some people, myself included, saw a general upturn in player attitudes in-game and on Reddit, other players pointed to the Leaderboard results and other forum trends to back up the assertion that the game wasn't in any better a position for the iterations. Judging by Bree's comment on GW2 hits and my ravenous scouring of GW2 content across the internet, I still stick to my assertion that the update was generally well received, and I can now go one step further and say that further updates have had similar reception.
Line with more hugs added that the balance between new content and iterating on existing mechanics needs to be struck, especially when those fixes incentivise players to explore the open world rather than niche areas of endgame that appeal to only the top tiers of player. Working on fantastic fundamental mechanics that the bulk of players get to appreciate is a good development decision on many fronts, so I can't argue with that sentiment.
My absolute highlight of this year's MMO Mechanics articles was my entry that covered all things annoying to be found in MMORPGs. I managed to shorten my list down to only eight points (though I could have gone on for a while!), highlights from which includes tab targeting, simplistic rotations, bloated enemy health pools, and forced grouping. The article was inspired by a real-world debate I had with my housemates about all the mechanics we would love to boot out of the genre. Some of the list wasn't thought up by me since the points were taken directly from our conversation, and I totally appreciated just how many commenters came up with further additions to go into the MMO Room 101.
Tab targeting was the most contentious element that made it onto my list, with many people saying that the mechanic allows them to focus more on the more strategic elements of combat rather than the simple act of targeting. I argue that targeting can in itself be one of those strategic elements, but the point is well received nevertheless. Several commenters offered direct counterpoints to each item on my list, whereas others chose to add to the list or explain their rationale for agreeing or disagreeing with a particular point. The variety of responses only goes to prove that there is no magical cookie cutter for MMOs that will create a fabulously one-size-fits-all solution to where the MMO should go mechanically in the future. Heck, if I had a solid answer to that problem then I'd be creating that MMO myself!
Craywulf gets a special mention here for the rather humorously making the point that inflated health pools serve only to represent literal overkill in the real world, and I also particularly enjoyed the point that characters do not react realistically to in-game stimuli such as running everywhere or being scared by an enemy. Realism is fantastic for immersion and I'm all for any mechanics that can help in this department, and all of Craywulf's suggestions all work together to make the game world and character that much more realistic. Being a massive pen-and-paper RPG fan, I would love to play an MMO that used a game master to make boss enemies more responsive and elusive, with changing tactics depending on the strategy employed by players.
Over to you!
I hope you can tell how dear MMO Mechanics is to me and that it comes across how much the comments section makes this column so interesting to create. My intention with this column is to create lists or similar articles that have intentional gaps for you to fill, but even when I go in a different direction to suit a particular topic, the comments still manage to add to the discussion at hand. I really wish I could have shared my favourite comments from each and every article from this year but I can only cover so many pieces at once, so I do hope you'll add your favourites in the comments below. Happy holidays!