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!
Ever since I considered the responses to a Massively Overthinking article in which a developer asked if a prestige system to encourage replaying an MMO from level 1 would be a viable design approach, I've been mulling over the sorts of mechanics that developers can use to reward players for experiential learning in a game's world. I love to consider ways in which playing in and learning about a game world can be rewarded without necessarily stacking on more levels or unlocking more skill points, so this question prompted a good deal of thought.
In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I'll explore some well-established mechanics that reward in-game learning and will also suggest some that could perhaps be employed that come from other game genres. Also up for consideration will be the importance of learning-based development in MMOs and why I find it so interesting in the first place.
No Man's Sky has been on my hotly anticipated list for so long, and you might remember that it has had particular mention in a previous MMO Mechanics entry in which I discussed several in-development titles that promised some amazing mechanics. Awe, wonder, and the thrill of discovery pull the player onwards while specifically engineered feelings of loneliness, danger, and tedium add just enough realistic grit to make gathering and exploration feel immersive and challenging. In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I'm going to walk you through Hello Games' stunning title with an eye on its mechanics, particularly the use of procedural generation to incentivise exploration and depth.
I'm currently bogged down in an over-the-shoulder crafting blur, vicariously depleting gold and recommending several YouTube-approved crazy material gathering runs as I get my husband acquainted with Guild Wars 2's crafting system. I've been ill for last week or two and have spent each night this week helping him through the experience as a wind-down activity to try and encourage my eyelids to finally close. Watching him progress made me think about what it takes to create a mechanically engaging crafting system that doesn't act as an at-best inconvenient time sink or at worst a snore-inducing snoozefest.
A great crafting system should consist of so much more than a tired old "clickety-clack, look in my pack, look at that stack of crap grow" grind, and in this edition of MMO Mechanics, I want to discuss what developers can do to ease the grind mechanically. I'm sticking with mechanic headers instead of game titles here because I wanted to attempt to group together the actual mechanics themselves rather than a specific roundup of the best crafting games. You'll be able to mention many games that could equally (or perhaps better!) apply to the titles below, so take my named examples as mere illustrations only.
The recent E3 hubub about The Elder Scrolls Online new level syncing mechanics being extended has got me thinking all about the mechanics behind zones in MMOs, especially after I pored over an edition of Tamriel Infinium about how the feature's extension could impact the game by Massively Overpowered's own Larry Everett. Sooner or later, every MMO with a levelling system has to tackle the issue of what to do when players of differing levels want to play together, and while there are several ways in which to tackle the disparity, I'd love to see an MMO that combines some more traditional methods together in a case-responsive manner that also incorporated some degree of competence-based vertical scaling of content too.
In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I'll have a look at the most common methods of dealing with zonation and bridging level gaps in horizontal progression systems and consider the rewards for both player and developer that the various scaling mechanics might offer. I'll briefly cover the various scaling methods before evaluating the impact on gameplay and also the developer rationale that inspires their use.
I usually keep MMO Mechanics quite general by looking at several games as examples to highlight my point regarding the mechanics of choice in each article, but I have a different format in mind for this edition that I hope you'll enjoy. I'm going to flip things around, instead using one game -- and several mechanical examples -- to construct my argument.
It's no secret that I have Guild Wars 2 on the brain anyway, and with the recent April update being such a reformative hit, I felt inspired. I've always believed that innovating mechanics is the secret to MMO longevity and the recent quarterly update for Heart of Thorns is an excellent case study to show how mechanical tweaks specifically can refresh MMOs. In this edition, I'll outline some of the changed mechanics that gave ArenaNet a newly invigorated playerbase and wide praise for the update.
The recent news about EverQuest Next's cancellation has renewed the debate about whether or not MMOs should get sequels, which have given me plenty to think about in terms of mechanics and future MMO development. There are a variety of strategies that online games use to stay updated and introduce new mechanics, of course, and each comes with varying levels of disruption for active players. This disruption is an especially important factor for MMO developers since they need to be conscious of the fact that MMOs are living products with persistent worlds.
Some game developers opt to add new game mechanics in self-contained expansions, causing a separation of those players who own the expansion from those who don't. Full-fledged sequels may make more sense in cases where the disruption caused by new content would be too great or the gap between new and old mechanics would be too much for the current playerbase to swallow. Some studios have even eschewed both sequels and expansions, opting to use iterative development methods where old mechanics are often updated and retired players who decide to come back can return to a very different game indeed.
In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I'll look at some examples of each of these three update methods and discuss the impact of each on game mechanics.
The inspiration behind this edition of MMO Mechanics is a recent conversation I had with my housemates about the column and the inner workings of our favourite games in general: It took a turn toward hilarious when we ranted on about the most annoying mechanics we've encountered, and I knew I had to start taking notes for a future article. I managed to make our rambling vaguely coherent by whittling down the list to the eight most annoying mechanics in MMOs, but the fun part is that the list is torn straight from our conversation. I present points from a range of opinions that I may or may not agree with, but I'll be sure to explain why each mechanic made the list. Expect the discussion that lies ahead to be derailed by plenty of inconsistencies, blanket statements, and brazen exaggeration by our debaters!
In the last edition of MMO Mechanics, I looked back on 2015 and the mechanics I managed to squeeze into the column: We looked at fast travel, barriers to exit, and some mechanics tied to previously untapped IPs, but I haven't yet talked about my hopes and expectations for 2016. I was quiet during the various discussions the Massively Overpowered team had about 2016 and what it might bring to the MMO scene, so I owe you guys some predictions! Rather than being too specific here, I'm going to look at the industry trends that are most likely to create new mechanics or at least heavily innovate on existing ones.
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!
In order to create the most truly challenging MMOs that connect players with the specific virtual environments they're traversing, developers have always worked on unique ways to make navigation and adventuring as important to the MMOverse as every other way to play trope. At the core of any good exploration-heavy MMO should lie a solid set of movement mechanics that enhance the explorative experience and add layers of challenge or intrigue to the game at hand, rewarding the brave adventurers among us for completing epic journeys across dangerous environs. Those same movement mechanics can also bleed into an MMO's combat system to create a more complex, engaging encounter that provides a fantastic potential for differentiation between enemy types in specific zones.
In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I'm going to run through some of my favourite movement mechanics, discussing their best implementations and how they enhance some of the MMOs that employ them.
I really enjoy being a guest on Larry Everett's video series Massively Opinionated, a series in which MMO enthusiasts answer some tough questions and argue the case for their answer to trump the other guests' submissions. On each episode, Larry asks his guests to design their own MMO based on certain prerequisites or criteria. It's a really fun question in which the answers are only limited by the question parameters and the panelists' imaginations, so it's not surprising that it's my favourite question type on the show.
On one particular episode of Massively Opinionated, we were asked to design a sticky MMO that really grips players for a prolonged period of time. For that question, two of the three given answers looked to non-MMO IPs to bring something fresh and compelling to the genre that would optimise player retention rates. Ever since that episode, I've been mulling over how unique non-MMO IPs carry the potential to bring new, exciting mechanics to the genre.
I've sat on this idea for some time while I've mulled over which specific mechanics could potentially be derived from some well-known and loved IPs, and in this edition of MMO Mechanics I'm finally ready to put those thoughts down on figurative paper for you lovely readers. I've thought through three examples of IPs that could add something unique to the genre, but there's so much unexplored possibility for the future of MMOs that I'm sure you could think of so many more. Don't forget to scroll down to the comments to add your own thoughts.
MMO economies are notoriously hard to balance, so most MMO players have seen the effects of stagnation and hyperinflation in an MMO economy for themselves. MMO developers must put in a significant amount of effort to prevent this, otherwise they run the risk of trivialising the economy, its virtual currency, and the items players buy, craft, or otherwise encounter. Virtual economy balancing is complicated by the fact that there really is an infinite amount of currency that can be created alongside an infinite amount of goods that can be bought or sold, necessitating the need for a controlled inflow of money and also a way to drain money from the economy regularly. For most MMOs, this balancing act is a full-time job for a whole team of people, and some of the most complex economic systems, such as in EVE Online, require an economist's help to maintain.
In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I'm going to look at some of the ways MMO creators keep the circulating currency pool under control by exploring some taps that trickle currency into the pool and the common MMO money sinks that keep the money reservoir in check, and I'll also discuss the mechanics that could be employed to help prevent economic stagnation.