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.
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.
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.
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.