The Daily Grind: What’s the greatest MMO innovation of the last few years?

    
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Last week on the Massively OP Podcast, we tried to answer a question from long-time listener Spagomat, who told us he keeps going back to older MMORPGs because newer ones just feel like the same design tropes playing out, over and over again. “It feels as if the genre has discovered a collection of design boundaries over time and can’t figure out how to surmount them,” he lamented.

“So I was wondering if you could lay out, say, a list of the top-10 design innovations of the past 3-5 years. Whether well-known and influential or tried in some small game and mostly undiscovered, anything you could say has changed the landscape, or could be a seed for change in the future.”

While Justin and I came up with a few, some of them were definitely older than five years, like level-nullification, and others aren’t catching on as well as we might want, like co-op harvesting nodes. Can you guys do better? What’s the greatest MMO innovation of the last few years?

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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AGx
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AGx

For me, I’d have to say dynamic events: Think RIFT’s rifts. It was such a cool idea when it launched and was a load of fun.

BoomBiddyBye
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BoomBiddyBye

Sargonnax Funny that now, years later, countless “improvements” to the genre ended up making the old games feel more innovative and desirable while the new ones become stale and repetitive.

Spagomat
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Spagomat

Thanks to Justin and Bree for not only answering my question — and providing some good examples — but following it up with a Daily Grind!  Lots of good answers here, and some that make me want to check out specific games.

One niche innovation that comes to mind:  Playing as the hero in Marvel Heroes.  Playing a lore character has typically been a no-no in MMOs (except in LOTRO-style session play), but it turns out that having multiple Wolverines running around isn’t a big deal, and may even be part of the fun.   

I’d also give a nod to ‘necessary sidekick’ concept from SWTOR:  The gameplay is balanced for two characters throughout, which has only been done for ‘pet’ classes in the past, usually by nerfing the playable character to help balance the combo.  

Here’s two more that are well off the radar of most players:  Turn-based tactical combat from Wizard 101, and task-based grouping from Puzzle Pirates (I’ve worked as a designer on kids’ games, so I’m a little more familiar with that space).    Puzzle Pirates is particularly interesting as you choose a task on a pirate ship and play out the task by solving puzzles.  The better the shipmates are at these tasks, the better the ship is at sailing combat.  

Speaking of puzzles:  Honest-to-god difficult brain twisters in The Secret World.  It’s really fun to work through these with other puzzle fans.  

These aren’t necessarily ‘Top 10’ but they’re unexpected interesting ways to expand the very familiar gameplay model that we’re all used to.

milosanx
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milosanx

Teraforming -Wurm online still does the best at this and it’s probably the first if not pretty damn close to it, nothing come close. It’s a reason why so many people play it. 
Megaservers
Mob sharing
Tera Combat

Mind numbing Themepark copycat mmo’s…my favorite innovation. People say they want new innovations, but really they can’t let go of handfed mmo’s we have today and either can the companies. People keep wanting the crap, so they keep feeding it.

camelotcrusade
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camelotcrusade

Estranged  Good one, I hadn’t thought about it but I hadn’t seen legacy before.  Too bad it’s kind of everywhere-and-nowhere as it developed, but hey, it’s still a concept others could pick up and improve even if they don’t.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

At the top of my head here’s 5 that I can think of:

1. Cash shops – the single biggest reason why the MMO market has busted wide open and allowed free-to-play games to exist and compete with subscription-based games. It’s basically given publishers free reign in how to market their game, whether it be free-to-play, but-to-play, or pay-to-play and even go as far as hybrid marketing of having subscriber benefits. 
2. Phasing and the evolution of megaservers – The biggest technical hurdles that allows the existence of virtual world to thousands of players all playing at various times. It phasing eliminated mob-tagging and queues, guild squabbles over dungeon times. Mega-servers give virtual worlds life by consolidating the population.
3. Dynamic events and node-sharing – This eliminated redundant questing, allowed the world feel more alive, it also eliminated loot-stealing and ganking. This was more than likely the biggest change for how games are designed today. Not many gamers like doing kill-ten-rats questing or being denied access to a node. These things are pretty much expected in modern MMOs today. 
4. Fast travel – while not really a favorite of mine, it has drastically reduced boredom for a vast amount of consumers with an essentially short attention span. It’s not really innovating, but it has dramatically affected the way virtual worlds are designed.
5. Realm vs Realm – This form of PvP has breathe new life in PvP for MMOs. Sandbox PvP never had it’s appeal to the mass audience. It was and still is a place for poorest kind of gameplay. RvR changed that by providing balance and actual directive that helps shape the PvP play. Also the inclusion of PvE in a PvP setting has basically invited a wider audience of gamers.

SomewhatEclectic
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SomewhatEclectic

DPandaren I can’t actually think of any MMOs that implemented it before City of Heroes. What were they?

Denice J Cook
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Denice J Cook

Actually, the addition of leveling XP to PvP kills in MMORPGs was pretty cool.  Dark Age of Camelot may or may not have had that (I played it back in the day but can’t remember now), but it really seemed to spread to more modern MMOs after Warhammer Online launched with it.  Everquest 2 is about the only MMORPG previous to War that gave you XP for PvP kills that I can recall.

OzobNXT
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OzobNXT

Porculasalvania Pashgan Oh totally.  It’s no more right than saying any feature you like or don’t.

OzobNXT
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OzobNXT

deekay_zero OzobNXT Pashgan KaiserPhoenix Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like turn based games.  Just not in my MMO’s which I would want to be as immersive in the game as possible.  If I want turn based, then a party based old school single player RPG is fine.  Or a tabletop board game is just perfect for socialization with friends.

For me, MMOs are about an immersive experience.  So the less I think of mechanics, the more I enjoy it.  But I also like the RP aspect in MMORPGs.