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!

img-4No Man's Sky is still mechanically genius!

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.

Once the planet is generated, all terrain info can be easily translated into a 2-D colour coded map. It's a fairly straightforward computation and in a game entirely based on it, should be easy to implement. --Brother Maynard

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.

gw2-00Refreshing Guild Wars 2 with some mechanical innovation

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.

New content is important, we're always happy to find new things to do in our MMOs, but I've always thought that fixing bad and uninteresting mechanics was far, far more important than just slinging more crap on the pile. That's the kind of thing that should be fixed long before they add another +1 enchant with 0.14% of success as content. -- Line with more hugs

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.

eve-forced-openworld-pvpeveMechanics that grind my gears grind yours too!

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!

Character action animations - Where are they? Where's the animation that shows my character running out of breath? How about animation that corresponds to the cause and effects of your enemies? There're so many details missing in today's characters all in the name of having a more responsive control of our character. -- Craywulf

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!

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
Esc JO
Esc JO

I'm working on MMORPG game concept including Player Supported content, including Player GMs and player controlled NPCs . . . I guess that term wouldn't quite apply then though!


lies number 1: a generated planet can be easily represented by a 2d color bitmap.

Blatant lies! What about caves? What about multi-storey buildings? What about flying islands? What about lakes on flying islands?

Ok sry stopped reading the article there lol...

Nyphur moderator

If we're talking about generating a mini map, most games handle this by just drawing a top down view but you can also do multiple discrete layers with a button to switch between them. For No Man's Sky, the layers could be caves, surface, and floating islands.

Or you could do it where the minimap is a view rendered from above but all geometry above the player is faded out so you can see through it to your current terrain level clearly. Then you could add a slider that people can use to increase the height where the fading stops, that way you could basically inspect all the terrain above or below you without any discrete layers. That would be a live rendered view of course and not just a 2d image.

Edit: Ah, just realised we are definitely talking about generating a map/minimap. Have edited the comment to reflect that.


I've seen a lot of wave-based defensive gameplay (mini-forts in Rift, tower in Devilian, holo-sim in Marvel Heroes, excavations in Warframe, PvE ladder arenas in Smite) yet Endless Tower from MU Legend is absolutely the best - and it's actually fun. Devs simply added one small detail: ability to skip easy waves if the group kill enemies too fast so it doesn't take hour(s) to get to max accessible level. Also waves themselves are a dynamic puzzle - like group have to separate mobs with healing and invulnerability auras from bosses.


I would prefer dodge be a skill and not a button.


while tab targetting is the whipping boy of social media mmo pundits, time and time again we see that things don't play out that way in the market place, with tab target mmo's both animation lock and gcd based pretty much dominating the top spots internationally and in NA and europe,as well as korea and japan.

which while tera is failrly popular (tho i suspect more in south america than primary markets), it's moe the exception that proves the rule, and often cited as lacking severely for most classes in the aimy fps lite action combat style regard.

in general if you want to aim in combat there's just much better offerings than mmorpg genre offers, with multiple settings and genres to choose from, many of which eschew the more tired tropes of the mmo genre.


@agemyth @deekay_zero o ove a good mmmorpg with tab/click targetting. and i've love to get away from tab to just click. but that being said, it's feels nicer. in pvp it's nice and busy and rewarding. in pve it's nice and relaxing.

where as in action combat typically in pve it's tiring, and in pvp teh server doesn't proc critical hits in time which ruins my/your day.

that being said i agree, a game like gtao i couldn't imagine as non shooter. and even tho i suck at it really i do ok and work with it. but i feel like gtao is an exteme exception even in terms of shooters.


@deekay_zero I still prefer tab targeting over most of the modern "Action MMO" combat systems. Or maybe I just prefer the games that have tab targeting over the games that have had action combat in MMOs.

My exception would be with games designed for first person shooting, but there aren't very many true MMOs with actual Counter-Strike-like hit detection and all that.


@agemyth @deekay_zero Agreed.  I also prefer tab targeting over "Action MMO" for MMORPG.  I prefer to play FPS instead of Action MMO's.  Tab based targeting MMO's satisfy a different craving for me.  They are a little more strategic and mathematical rather than reaction clicky.  To each their own.  I just wish I could find something as good as Wrath based WoW.  Still haven't found an equal.


@Vladamyr @agemyth @deekay_zero tab target can be plenty twitchy in pvp and high end pve. just in a different way than fps are. and definitely perhaps in a more "strategic" or "tactical" way than aiming controls lend themselves to.

which i've never cared for adding action bars to aiming. which only one i like is wildstar's "aiming" which is alot less aimy really as it generally ignores the z axis and has a more tab target feel to it (as it should since it's derived from a tab target base)