The Daily Grind: Is truly dynamic content still possible in MMOs?


This morning’s Daily Grind comes to us from a Kickstarter donor at (who by the way is still linking to Old Massively! Gasp!). The donor asks one of those lovely simple questions that unravel into intriguing threads of thought:

Why do many MMO players complain about the static nature PvE content in MMOs when they are against PvP and the many non-static, interesting experiences it can bring about?

The donor is right that PvP is one way of adding non-static content to MMOs. But some players really don’t think that seeing their characters murdered is interesting and don’t really want to serve as other people’s “content” under any circumstances, dynamic or not. And frankly, gankbox gameplay has become a bit of a crutch for low-budget games that can’t afford other types of content at all. Even people who like PvP in general don’t want to see it become the only kind of dynamic content in town.

There are a few games that are still doing PvE dynamic content, real dynamic content, like Ultima Online, which still employs a small fleet of live GMs to run roleplay storylines and events across the shards. That’s what I’m looking for in my dynamic content, not a cheapie players-do-all-the-work PvP free-for-all, but whether we’ll ever see developers focus on that gameplay again is up for debate.

What do you think? Do you agree there’s a contradiction when it comes to PvE-only players and dynamic content? Is truly dynamic content still possible in MMOs?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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breetoplay ChristopherPierce UO is definitely not an ugly game.


Things like the ill-fated StoryBricks is likely the answer. Put the tools to make content in the hands of the playerbase. Stop relying on itty-bitty developer teams to generate fresh content, and let the massive playerbase do it for you. They will do it for free, but you could even reward them with credits in the game, free play, perks, bonus, or whatever. Even if one-tenth of one percent of players is capable of putting out a decent dungeons/event/encounter/whatever, that number will dwarf any development team in the world.

I think voxels might be the path forward. Games like Landmark, where Storybricks was supposed to launch, could be set up to ‘sell’ voxel/storybrick content to any other game that uses voxels. There are a looooooooot of layers anxious to make content for other players, if only given the tools.


ChristopherPierce Thank you :D That is my old house when I still lived on Lake Austin, taken inside the Kingdom Reborn client (which no longer exists, unfortunately). It looks a tad weird from that angle since I’m inside and the roofs are down, but man, the game really isn’t as ugly as people whine about!


schmidtcapela dwhisper I can sum up my general distaste for PvP in the same sentiment as why I play games: for fun, and getting ganked over and over isn’t fun. Maybe some people find it so, but in all the years I’ve played MMOs, I’ve found that PvP brings out some of the worst in people.


For the same reason that PvPers just can’t be satisfied with fighting the games AI wolves… ;)


The very design is different between PvP and PvE.

For example, think about crowd control skills as a whole: stuns, roots, interrupts, etc. It’s deeply satisfying to use them to take on multiple opponents and prevail through skill and strategy, which means they are great to have in PvE, and often with lengthy effects or the ability to chain them.

In PvP, though? Few things are more annoying than being stun-locked, which means crowd control abilities need to be rare and last very little time.
Another one: PvE bosses have long animations for many attacks, with clear tells, so players can see the attack coming and properly dodge it, while player attacks in PvE tend to be nearly instant to make the controls responsive; PvP has to seek a middle ground for everything.
Mixing PvP with PvE means going for compromise solutions. Like how WoW did with crowd control; it has full effect on mobs, very reduced effect on players, and no effect (apart from interrupts) on bosses, meaning the same skill has to behave differently according to what the player is doing.
(Though that isn’t actually why I dislike it :p)


It’s not helped by the fact that splitting focus means that they are likely not doing either particularly well. WoW has more budget so it’s a bit of an outlier, but they also focus on what’s probably 25% of their player base, tops, for the majority of their content.
I’m completely with you on the being forced into an activity though. I play games for fun, and that means I want to play on my terms and pick my own stuff to do. It’s why I quit FF14 and ultimately why I quit ArcheAge (despite knowing it was a PvP game for the most part). Maybe it’s just the issue with getting older… I have less time to do what I want, and that means I value doing what I want a whole lot more.

Ben Pielstick
Ben Pielstick

solaru Ben Pielstick I don’t remember dynamic world scaling in vanilla WoW, but as you might know, Firefall had a lot of ideas that were implemented and removed at different times during its long beta lifecycle.  One of the big ones was the melding mechanic, which ended up with several different uses at different times.  It was supposed to work like an ongoing AQ event to globally unlock new content, it was supposed to be a constant back and forth as NPCs destroyed repulsors and players rebuilt them, it was supposed to be a boss fight mechanic that temporarily opened up limited windows of opportunity to down huge world bosses, it was supposed to be a mechanic that let players temporarily explore beyond the boundries of the normal map into ravaged territory infested with hostile creatures, and so on.  

At times many of these were fulfilled in one way or another to varrying degrees of success.  One of the first open world instanced zones beyond new eden actually did pretty much what you’re asking.  Players could run encounters within a fairly limited space at first, but within the area a special resource dropped, and if the players collected and donated enough of it they could power up a repulsor which greatly increased the playable area and provided some additional encounters and better rewards.  The time was limited though so if players wanted to keep the area expanded they had to keep feeding the repulsor, and if I recall there were multiple layers of them so you could keep making the area bigger if you were farming efficiently enough and had enough people.


Ben Pielstick I honestly hope you don’t mind me asking a bit more about Firefall.  On this topic of Dynamic PVE content, I honestly felt that Firefall would be able to understand and play with the parts of WoW that I remember loving in vanilla and BC.  In perticular, the idea that a world can be expanded/shrunk on in real time to some degree. 
Was is ever in the card for that to be possible in FF, or was the pushing back of the miasma more akin to just releasing new content in waves as the world expanded?


I would say yes, since Richard Garriot was initially trying
to do so in Ultima Online, he gave up
on it. Hartsmann’s team was talking about making their rifts in RIFT actually
have the ability to spread across the world and turn it into… say a world of
darkness if players failed to stop Death Rifts. I don’t know why they give up
on their endeavors other than the fact that it’s very costly and the amount of
time required. It would seem a greater waste of time to spend thousands of man
hours on content that players will run through a handful of times and then forget
for the rest game while the game keeps growing by gigabytes every year.
Firefall was
actually showing the promise of making that kind of dynamic content. Seeing the
“melding” envelope an area during beta was an intense experience, and many
thought that Red5 was going to be the one that actually pulled this off before
they threw up their hands and went the World
of Warcraft route with their content. So many of these developers know
exactly what they need to do to make dynamic content, but they don’t want to or
can’t stick their necks out far enough to put the capital behind making such a
I’m hoping that it eventually becomes completely impossible
to make WoW throwaway content due to the speed that players devour it. So that
someone in some development team says: Ok we’re not going to make over 75% of our game
assets completely throwaway. We’re going to find a way to make every pixel work
for us by making an actual world, not a damned theme park! This is
beyond using the dead end of Roguelike randomization. This is about actually
making building blocks within the world that players can trigger with actions in
PvP and PvE.Not with incredibly short
threads that can immediately repeat multiple times while doing nothing like Guild Wars 2’s, but ones that can span
weeks and months. Ones that are so in depth, players don’t realize that what
their playing through is scripted.
Developers when they started MMOs were looking at this
challenge square in the face and they were actually making mechanics that could
foster an MMO world. However, they blinked and now we’re stuck with the design
that Everquest started and WoW
refined. I see some truly insane branching paths in some Visual Novel titles,
and some of them manage to use their assets in such a way that they can weave a
narrative while managing to make their limited assets do overtime to bring
their story to life. There might be lessons in the way VNs are made for MMO
In the end it’s up to the companies, but I would caution
them. The average MMO player is becoming a savant at grinding, and with the
companies selling skips, boosters, and cheats in their stores so players don’t
have to play through game… something’s going to have to give and these WoW reskins
are going to finally hit rock bottom and die the death they should have when
they were subscription.