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.
Player-friendly mechanics to pair with crowdfunding
Despite the general weariness seen on the faces of almost every gamer when they hear mention of the word crowdfunding, we’re seeing large-scale, ambitious MMO plans coming into being through crowdfunding that could point to a player-led rejuvenation of the MMO genre. This movement to player-led funding inevitably has a huge impact on how development proceeds, especially when you factor in stretch goals and the sense of ownership backers feel over the projects they choose to support. I’m very interested to see what this means for the mechanics of these MMOs, and I have a few ideas regarding what we might see in 2016 and beyond.
I believe that the wave of crowdfunded MMOs means that we’ll see an increase in player-driven mechanics across the board, not just in games that were crowdfunded themselves. Traditionally funded games need to compete with upcoming titles such as Crowfall and Star Citizen that feature player-led mechanics: Many have even opened up the development process of those mechanics from the earliest possible stages to intense community scrutiny. Other non-crowdfunded MMOs will need to look to and perhaps emulate the player-led development of crowdfunded MMOs and the mechanics within them, so I’d argue that it’ll make for some interesting developments in 2016.
I need look no further than my beloved Guild Wars 2 when I consider the impact that iterative refinement of mechanics based on player feedback has on an MMO, and I’ve been feeling very optimistic about the game’s future because of how ArenaNet has responded to the community in the last quarter of 2015 and presently. The genre has a fantastically rich history that has resulted in a playerbase that is acutely aware of its likes and dislikes: Developing for a certain niche and creating great community-designed mechanics isn’t a bad way forward for prospective MMO devs and veteran studios alike.
Hybrid mechanics employed in not-so-MMOs
The great “Is it an MMO?” debate rages on as strongly as ever in 2016, so I think it makes sense to look at these periphery cases for places where novel mechanics could filter into the genre. I’m not arrogant enough about my game genre of choice to believe that so many developers want a piece of the MMO pie without equally considering that MMOs could be greatly improved with the blending we’ve been experiencing recently. Why can’t we see some mechanics that offer MMO enthusiasts the frantic pace and immediacy we more often associate with non-MMOs trickle into current and future titles this year, for instance?
I particularly like how Tom Clancy’s The Division plans on tackling an open world PvP survival game: No classes to speak of is a brave step that not many MMOs have taken, especially when this is paired with a single skill tree that allows on-the-fly changes. While I haven’t noticed Ubisoft specifically call the game an MMO within the marketing, I don’t need to look much further than the official website to see the familiar hallmarks: the buzzwords include “social,” “player-to-player trading,” “exploration,” “player progression,” and “persistent and dynamic environment.” The choice to avoid the word MMO is perhaps more to do with appealing to the console market than accurate labeling. If it walks like an MMO and talks like an MMO, chances are it’s a bloody MMO!
So what mechanics do I think MMOs can be borrowed from periphery titles? For me, that largely depends on the game at hand! I think most of the stealable mechanics in my mind are more about quality of life, though: I’d love to see more MMOs employ a player-directed mechanic for regrouping quickly with allies in fast-paced PvP and open world scenarios that mirrors the effect of Splatoon‘s respawn launcher mechanic or Paladins‘ super-quick mounted return to battle, for instance. I’m not talking about automatic mechanics such as portals and the usual warping tricks employed in MMOs here, but rather fast manual mechanics that can be used strategically by a player to redirect or refocus assaults at critical moments.
Movement mechanics for VR development
This section is admittedly a little bit pie-in-the-sky, especially with the frankly unaffordable and unrealistic price point of the Oculus Rift, but we know that some MMO studios, CCP one of the most notable among them, are particularly interested in the opportunities offered by virtual reality technology. When you throw the traditional UI out the window and have the ability to harness the full range of motion and control of the human body, it stands to reason that the scope for new mechanics is absolutely massive if this technology realises its potential, and I believe that the MMO market will almost certainly be able to make good use of it.
EVE Valkyrie will be bundled with the Oculus Rift on launch, so we’ll have a solid conceptual development piece in our hands fairly soon. The VR dogfighter has garnered so much interest that the studio managed to get $30 million towards VR development, so I’m really excited about where the financial boost will take the technology and how (or even if) the team will apply it to the company’s future MMO development. Our very own Brendan Drain last played an early build of the shooter at EVE Vegas and was impressed with the polish it displayed despite being rather light on the customisation front. We’re both united in our opinion that such experimental developments are only a good thing for the gaming industry in general and the MMO industry in particular, and I can see plenty of opportunity for new mechanics to flourish in the virtual reality worlds developers are creating.
Plenty of MMOs could enhance their mechanics sets by employing VR, and I think we might see further development in that direction by the end of 2016. Graphical beauties with vast open worlds scream for this level of immersion: I am imagining how much sweeter GW2′s vista mechanic would be if the game worked with a VR headset, for instance. Explorative MMOs with rewarding journey tracking mechanics would be an absolute treat for escapists everywhere, and action combat would take on an entirely new meaning with the technology too. I’m sure I’m not even scratching the surface here, which is why I’m particularly keen to see what passionate MMO developers with cleverer minds than mine could do with the power of VR behind them.
Over to you!
I am hoping that this year, developers continue to explore genre mashing, new development sources, and promising technological advances to shape the future of MMOs. Borrowed yet reinvented mechanics could challenge the definition of MMO even further, crowdfunding has the capacity to change how developers approach the genesis of mechanics, and virtual reality technology possesses the power to transform more MMO mechanics that I can even foresee at this time, provided its adoption surpasses that of other promising yet overpriced home tech developments such as 3-D television.
What do you think? Have you any mechanical predictions for 2016? What do you think will shape those mechanics, and why 2016? Let me know what you think in the comments below.