MMO Mechanics: Three non-combat mechanics to love

    
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The wheels in my head have been turning over non-combat mechanics in MMOs for a while now, perhaps because of the buzz surrounding Wander, the latest MMO to ditch combat entirely in favour of less violent interactive mechanics. I have to confess that I’m not a massive fan of thoughtless violence in my MMOs, so I tend to favour those with strong supportive mechanics that affect what I do outside of my usual mix of PvE combat. Characters in MMOs, for me at least, are an in-game reflection of the player, and I’d much rather rid the world of threats than kill other players in a frenzy without a plausible in-game reason.

I don’t believe than an MMO absolutely requires combat, and I certainly feel that other game genres have much stronger combat mechanics than ours if that’s what you’re looking for. Titles that allow players to choose another path if they wish are ultimately much more rewarding, filling my time with various pursuits and labours that use excellent mechanics. The virtual world I inhabit feels much richer when I have a hand in its economic or socio-political development through these mechanics, which is exactly what keeps me enthralled with the genre. In this issue of MMO Mechanics, I’m going to unpack three ways in which MMOs employ non-combat mechanics to enrich the game’s virtual world.

Wander tribe1. The mechanisation of language

The Massively Overpowered team recently got together to discuss the impact of the diverse range of native languages in a playerbase and whether we would play MMOs that are not available in our mother tongue in an installment of Massively Overthinking. The responses from both the team and the commenters were fantastic to read, with plenty of wonderful anecdotes about the power of gaming as a learning tool. Several people gained a real-life skill – a new language proficiency – out of their playtime, and that can’t be said for some other less social game genres.

Language forms some sort of natural mechanic that enhances the realism of the virtual world in MMOs, creating a realistic diversity between players that both challenges the relationships between players and also makes them mutually beneficial as the linguistic information exchange happens during interactions. Still, the language barrier can also cause fractures in the playerbase and could potentially harm the uptake of MMOs made in less widely spoken languages.

The upcoming explorative MMO Wander formally mechanises the power of linguistics: Rozhda, the in-game language that all players communicate with by drawing glyphs, is the only method of communication in the game. The knowledge exchange I outlined above is hence kept in-character, and each explorer can retell the essence of his or her journey through these glyphs. The glyph drawing system is undoubtedly rough in its early conception, but I really like where it’s heading. Real-world language barriers are broken down and conversations are articulated in a way that is in keeping with the immersive qualities of the title. Chat spam, gold sellers, and griefers of all kinds are greatly limited, making Wander stand out from its more traditional MMO cousins.

ever, jane painting2. Diplomatic and social mechanics

In the real world, we usually try a myriad of social techniques to quell disputes or settle differences before we start swinging our fists or other heavy implements. Those who don’t are most often rejected from society and the law sides with the victim, so why do we go all guns a-blazin’ into delicate situations in MMOs? Several games have within them unique social mechanics to allow players to interact with each other and the virtual environment they share without initiating combat straight off the bat.

Vanguard had a diplomacy system that was the envy of most MMOs out there, so much so that Daybreak programmer Timothy Lochner thought so highly of the mechanics that he mused aloud on Twitter about whether or not there would be hypothetical interest in a Vanguard diplomacy mobile game. There was no green-light given, and this was purely a wistfully meandering thought on Lochner’s part, but the response to the idea highlighted how well-liked the mechanics were.

Roleplay-heavy creation Ever, Jane is still quite early in its development, but I’m intrigued about the social mechanics it plans on bringing to the genre. Gossip and emotes will flow between characters, each player creating a character who finds his or her place in the Regency era world through social manipulation, reputation, and status. The game ditches the usual roleplaying traits such as strength, dexterity, and wisdom and instead replaces them with gentility, wit, and grace. These traits are developed through practice: Every lie, boast, or slight can potentially be overheard by the wrong ears, which will have an affect on your active and passive traits. Your in-game behaviour matters and is reflected in your traits, which could be a fantastic system when it becomes more fully realised.

FFXIV Chocobo3. Farming and animal husbandry

If you’ve been watching Larry Everett’s new video series Massively Opinionated, you may have noticed that I quite like to be put to work in my MMOs since I keep suggesting chore-like systems for the design-an-MMO question! Often, farming and animal husbandry isn’t a priority for the grand adventurer characters MMOs tend to feature and the mechanics that drive such features can suffer as a result. Just as we’ve seen with the other mechanics I’ve mentioned, such systems have the capacity to enhance the realism of the virtual worlds we enjoy, especially if the fruits of our labour enhance other game features.

ArcheAge has a well-developed faming and husbandry system in which players can cultivate fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and grains. Both flora and fauna must be maintained in order to prove bountiful: Players must water crops, feed and cure livestock, and gather their produce. I like that each crop or livestock cycle takes a different length of time, so players need to carefully balance their workload to maximise profit just as a real farmer would.

Final Fantasy XIV feature the IP’s most desirable long-legged creatures, chocobo, which serve as both mounts and combative companions. Chocobo raising has been a wonderful addition to the game as it allows the player to enhance chocobo with a little bit of effort. Those wee scamps require tempting during training, so the player must bring some tasty treats to each training session. Chocobo aren’t just accessories, and stable maintenance is crucial to raising chocobo effectively; mucking out becomes a part of your in-game routine.

I appreciate that mounts and companions aren’t just a means to an end in FFXIV: It makes much more sense to me that you would have to care for the creatures you depend on in your adventures. Many MMOs don’t have a system in place to hold the player responsible for his or her cohorts, leading to a detachment between them. It’s very difficult to care about the mount or NPCs that accompany you if they are made disposable and bland by the game mechanics.

Wrapping it up

Whether or not an MMO features combat, it’s clear that the non-combat mechanics on offer have an enormous capacity to elevate each title to become something unique in the genre. Several of the titles I mentioned above are still in development, and I’m certainly keeping track of how well their mechanics are realised over the next few months. There is a definite movement towards more engaging non-combat gameplay in the recent wave of MMOs, and I hope this continues.

I can hear you guys already: I know my shortlist is far from definitive and I’m expecting to see some great additions to the list I’ve begun. Think of this as a starting point and let me know which non-combat mechanics really enhance your favourite MMOs in the comments below.

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.

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Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

Mark Jacobs  Thanks so very much for your kind words, Mark! It means so much when a veteran talent takes the time to look at what Brendan and I are working on.

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

The same system that provides one player with gameplay content can be another player’s inconvenience, if that system isn’t optional. Pile up enough inconveniences and players will leave for something that is less of a hassle to play.

This is the issue with trying to add different systems. While they are optional — and truly optional at that, as in choosing to ignore it won’t penalize the player — there is no harm in having those systems, but from the moment they are not optional then the devs are basically pushing away everyone that doesn’t enjoy that system. And a system that is truly optional, in a game where players somehow compete with each other, is one that is going to be ignored by most players and will leave those that do like it feeling like they aren’t part of the intended audience.

Single player games have this easier. When the players aren’t in direct competition and the character is meant to last just a few (or a few dozen) hours, the devs can more easily allow players to choose which content they want to do without issues. Part of why so many offline games have difficulty settings (which can be used to plough through unwanted content without paying attention), dev-supplied cheat codes, or even menu options that turn on or off part of the gameplay.
And, for the record, I do feel like this about many of the older game systems. For example, while I love crafting myself, few things have me packing and leaving a game faster than having to locate a player crafter in order to create or customize a piece of gear.

mbbrazen
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mbbrazen

Vexia mbbrazen Yeah I’m not sure why the developers chose not to mark it early access. This is one of the games I  funded and follow, but imo, it is not ready to be considered complete. Perhaps it was a funding issue, I’m not sure. It may also be the developers underestimated how ready they and the product were. Truthfully, I don’t remember what level of experience the development team has. Anyway, I just hope the game won’t be permanently scarred from the release problems as it does have great potential.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

I never saw Vanguard’s diplomacy system. It is sad that more games haven’t made an effort to develop engaging and viable non-combat methods of getting things done (other than the ubiquitous and overdone “stealth” mechanic in all its many forms). Star Trek Online has a whole reputation track devoted just to diplomacy, but sadly it amounts to little more in practice than “click click click until someone likes you.”

Even Morrowind’s “persuasion” interface seems interesting next to what most more recent games offer in terms of “diplomacy.” Taunting someone into attacking you can be useful if you need to kill an NPC and don’t want to be flagged as a criminal (though, to be fair, it can mean just click spamming until the target gets sick of you and attacks, at low skill). The system does at least have one relevant skill and an attribute you can raise or buff (or even specialize in) to get better at it. And you can either “admire” for positive disposition, “taunt” to try and make someone attack, or just straight up bribe them with gold. It at least offers a real alternative to just blindly murdering people in many situations, which is more than most games can say.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

An MMO where you can’t text chat in any IRL language sounds . . . different. I’m not sure whether to call it mad genius, or simply mad. It may turn out to be just an annoying gimmick, but it could be something wonderful as well.

Kaaz
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Kaaz

A_Dad Supreme Robert80 loved Vanguard crafting, so complex and awesome

Craywulf
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Craywulf

I too dislike PvP or PvE combat without cause. I would prefer to have a plausible reasons and resolutions to combat. I definitely think creating a fictional language barrier and advance diplomatic mechanics would really raise the depth of any MMO, and I don’t think it would cause as much of accessibility problem as developers like to claim. I think the latter is just lame excuse for not increasing the amount of labor involved in the development of such a game. 

I hate the term “farming” in MMOs, the correct term is pillaging. I was quite intrigued by ArcheAge created legimate farming and I hope to see more advancement of this mechanic in the future of MMOs.

Radfist
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Radfist

Rustybladez The system adds to the games charm for its core audience.  As you said, you will only play the game casually. Appealing to the mass market for an hour or two is probably less important to the developers than building an immersive world where the core players will live for a long period of time.

Rustybladez
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Rustybladez

I stopped playing Wanderer at the first language bit. The reason was this – I will only play the game casually. I don’t predict myself living and breathing the game so why in the world would I want to learn a now annoying language just to play the game? Although cool sounding the language seemingly a requirement is a play blocker for me.
Yes a game of exploration and no combat sounds fun, but just don’t imbed stuff that can possibly deter folks from playing. Don’t make user interaction overly complicated, don’t make chunks of the game obscure, and keep K.I.S.S. in mind when designing the core systems Don’t make the game a chore.

Robert80
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Robert80

Werewolf Finds Dragon  On ESO:
1.  The most racism, canonically, is actually in AD.  For reference, they have the only book actively promoting a culture of discrimination (found in Alik’r Desert where they are invading.)  The queen does deal well with races in her faction, but we do not get much from her about other races (in fact, the only races ‘elevated’ to be equal are the faction member races for AD… the others are not mentioned in the lore of her decree.  She claims at one point that she does not support discrimination against non-Aldmeri, but also offers lines that show such discrimination… such as a statement that she would accept any mer on the Ruby Throne, rather than any human, regardless of character.)  She does tend to be a little more liberal than the others, and that does shape some of her choices and dialogue, but it isn’t to a point where it would offend a reasonable person who was not of socialist bent.  Much like the other leaders of the other factions would not offend a reasonable person of socialist bent.
2.  Not everyone bases their faction choice solely upon the leaders.  In fact, it was the background of slavery and discrimination being overcome that drew my guild to EP.  Beyond that, however, each faction has both strong and weak points in both culture and leaders.  They all have high points, and lows that are exposed mostly when playing one of the other factions zones.  That was, most likely, a strong consideration in the design of the game.  EP has issues, sure, but their story is all about overcoming the past to work together… not simply to sit around and grumble about how they hate each other.
3.  Perhaps the best evidence about how you are not correct about the nature of the players in EP, at least, is how they act when mention of discrimination is made.  Even in game discrimination (for example, zone chat talking down about one of the non-faction races) is met with requests to go away, and notices that it is not tolerated and will result in blacklisting if continued.  Out of game mention (seen once) resulted in immediate backlash that filled zone chat with so many ‘reported’  posts that we started making jokes about it filling a whole newspaper.  *Of note, people immediately note that things like werewolf scratch and vampire bite are/should be free on EP, and even offer things like recipes around for free at times.*
On the options for completion, that is indeed an excellent part of the game.  You get choices to harm people, or not, and sometimes to try to allow them redemption.  I hope that some of those choices come back into play as they work toward new content… it would be fun to see what happened to many of those NPCs!