The Soapbox: It’s the little things that make an MMO special

    
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The Soapbox: It’s the little things that make an MMO special

In the years that I’ve been playing and covering MMOs, I’ve noticed that there are two distinct phases when it comes to introducing a new game. The first is the big marketing push, as the team introduces the MAJOR TALKING POINTS and attempts to overwhelm players with how this will be the MMO to end all MMOs due to its sheer feature list. We — the press and the community — get a lot of talking mileage out of this, although it typically devolves into a straight-up comparison of other titles.

But then there’s a lesser-noticed but perhaps more significant stage, when people start checking out the game and commenting not on its impressive feature list but on the little details that stand out. I’ve read and written my fair share of posts where the author burbles excitedly about some cool little thing he or she noticed and enjoyed, and that sort of enthusiasm seems more genuine and personal.

What I’m saying is this: It’s the little touches that make an MMO truly special above and beyond its features. A game can offer everything in the world, but if it lacks a soul in how it details the world, then it will turn away all but the most masochistic gamer.

A game can offer everything in the world, but if it lacks a soul in how it details the world, then it will turn away all but the most masochistic gamer.
For me, the little touches are what I think of when I’m asked about immersion. I am drawn into a game world not by its mighty dragons but by seeing a cobbler having a row with his wife in the street while an urchin steals a loaf of bread and runs away. I am delighted when I notice how my character’s breath fogs in the cold air or how the sound changes when I’m running over different surfaces or when I find an out-of-the-way hidey-hole that exists simply to be interesting.

Each extra detail may not seem important to the overall effort. These touches may even appear to be a waste of resources for designers and artists who could be working on a new PvP map or yet another dungeon. But present or not, the tidbits matter. For a new player, the details could create a meaningful moment that could trigger a lifelong fan. For the jaded vet, they could jog someone out of a rut to notice the virtual world all around.

MMOs need far more of the little things, not only as set dressing but as interactive objects. I’ve played some single player RPGs, platformers, and adventure games that have more interactive doodads than I do in MMOs, where it seems that if it exists, it’s to intimidate or impress. Just because it lacks stats or doesn’t contribute to the growth of a character doesn’t mean that such details are meaningless. Fun alone has meaning.

Whenever I notice one of these small things, I think of how a developer put it in the game knowing that it wouldn’t be acknowledged by most players sprinting to their next quest but would be deeply appreciated by those rare few who stop to embrace wonder on a micro level. I wish they knew it when I stopped to marvel, which is why I do try to write about such things from time to time.

I’ll bet that you’ve noticed and marveled over something small and seemingly insignificant in an MMO, and in so doing, bestowed it with significance. What was it?

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The Soapbox: It’s the little things that make an MMO special | Massively Overpowered

UncleTopher
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UncleTopher

I remember in the very first MMO’s I played, the absolute thrill I would feel from finding some out of the way…thing…. item….cave..whatever.. As you so elegantly said, it did not matter whether it improved my toon statistically etc. It was that I had that sense of discovery. Shadowbane as FULL of them…half were bugs but they were FUN bugs to  try and play with. SWG as well had its fair share of weird stuff hidden out in the wilderness.Hell….in WoW, when it first came out, I used to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to climb over mountain ranges to see if I could find a way through to another undiscovered area I was certain was…..just…over…there. And half the time I would stumble on to some named beastie I would either kill or be quickly digested by.

The Easter Egg. The Thrill of the Hunt. Whatever you want to call it, those are aspects of the game’s soul you speak of. It is what a game makes us feel that defines it. Not what it looks like at 60fps or whether it has dragons or not.

This is where gaming and art merge and unfortunately this is both its greatest strength and biggest vulnerability. Many people simply don’t get it. Most successful games have to appeal to the masses. The 90 IQ’s.

MJ Guthrie
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MJ Guthrie

Zulika_Mi_Nam Every game needs that Time of Knowledge!  Loved it.

Kintigh
Guest
Kintigh

It’s funny I don’t even participate in WOW any longer but all these memories come flooding back because of this darned article :)

Someone commented on the world itself being so large and how you could traverse great distances without any loading screens. There were a couple real long flights that were well over 20 mins point to point.

In the early days Night Elves would take the journey through the Wetlands at low levels to get to Stormwind via the tram in Ironforge. More often than not to get to Goldshire the infamous little City just a short jaunt out the gates of Stormwind. Is was a great experience as the boats used to  ahem jettisone all the passengers into the drink on occasion causing you to basically drown, then there were the crocs in the wetlands that loved nothing more than to run down and one chomp a fleeing night elf for fun.

The early PvP encounters were loads of fun even though the balance was not as good as it could of been. Alterac Valley runs could last for days most of a week in some cases. The crossroads was a place you could always stir up trouble and the banter there was a side game in itself. Southshore and Tauren Mill was a constant scene of battling back and forth. Some epic skirmishes were in the Astranaar area were another Horde city was conveniently located close by.

Slowly all these things changed, with such a successful MMO on there hands it must of been very difficult deciding how to evolve it over the years. There was some magic in those early years that seem to have been dulled with time. What I am not sure about how much of this can be attributed to the game and how much to us as individuals -shrugs-

Aries62
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Aries62

The useless thing’s in a game, like in UO, being able to tinker things that are not really needed like candles, and pots. Oh, and the one thing I loved in UO was finding peoples runes and porting to the areas they marked. Always an adventure.

MirandaSyn
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MirandaSyn

Bishok Ah, the flower fields. =)  LotRO will always have a special place in my heart for those, as well as its gorgeous skies and the music in the Shire.

Zulika_Mi_Nam
Guest
Zulika_Mi_Nam

Little details will make me stick around in a game more and explore.  I listen to NPC chatter, pay attention to weather effects and I like stumbling across lore in areas where there is not much going on.  If I am in the middle of combat and some lore stuff pops up I will close it ASAP and ignore it, but I enjoy it when I am able to take my time and read it over.
I wish the Tome of Knowledge concept from WarHammer would have been picked up by all those that ran with the Public Quest idea too.  Even if I was in the middle of action and came across something interesting, I could go back and take a look at it later on.

EO_Lonegun
Guest
EO_Lonegun

Active NPCs definitely add to immersion. Something I noticed playing STO is the level design of the some of the new ground missions in Delta Rising. There is unique furniture and other details that help with immersion in that universe.

JakeDunnegan
Guest
JakeDunnegan

Another great Justin column. Good to be back! :)

The explorer in me loves finding the out of the way places that the 10% of us find and get a unique bit of enjoyment out of. And I agree – LOTRO was great for this.  And I think LOTRO was one of the first to take the idea of achievements and really knock them out of the park. And yes, many of them had in game benefits (like additional ablities or stats) but many gave simple things, like titles, that helped make the game fun. And slightly off-topic, but it also was a nice substitute for endless end game raiding, and allowed the “completionists” another carrot to chase after. (Rift had some of this, as does SWTOR and no doubt many others).

I think an easy measure of a games immersion and attention to detail can be found in how often you can simply walk inside a structure that has absolutely no other game purpose except for that very reason.