MMO Mechanics: 2017’s MMO Mechanics in review


I cannot quite believe that we’re saying goodbye to 2017 and ringing in 2018 so quickly: It certainly doesn’t feel as though an entire year has passed since I last looked back on the progress of the column and delved into the comments section to see how the topics at hand were debated there. MMO Mechanics is my favourite column to write, though I didn’t visit it quite as often this year since Guild Chat received quite a few submissions, and what makes it so fantastic is the way the comments section extends the topic beyond my offerings for a more rounded look at the topic at hand.

With mulled wine in hand and festive decor all around me, I’ve curled up on my couch to craft another look back at a year of conversation: In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll recap my thoughts on the main topics I covered this year and will highlight the comments that stood out to me because of how they furthered the conversation. This should be a great column snapshot for you if you’ve missed some editions along the way, and I also love having a chance to highlight the commenters that make the column great. Be sure to check and see if your comments are featured!

The modern sandbox MMO

Back in February, I decided to highlight some upcoming sandbox MMOs that I felt had mechanics to get excited over, and I was delighted with the response in the comments to my short list and rationale for each decision. Looking back, I’m still delighted with the mechanical offerings of the titles I chose to highlight and am still convinced that they will make an enduring mark on the MMO sandbox model. I’m sure I’ll revisit this piece in detail in 2018, perhaps with a follow-up that explains the state of each game today and discusses how the mechanics have transpired or grown in the last twelve months.

Some commenters seemed to suggest that they’d love a truly sandbox MMO that didn’t devolve into a PvP gankfest because of its freeform nature, which I found interesting since I also prize exploration and worldbuilding over combat. This was summarised best by Robert Mann, who explained that a strong societal system could be the way around this problem.

The game that will really capture my interest as my next MMO will have to include a more interactive world, less focus on just combat, and also not leave players wide open to constant griefing or ganking. Ideally it will have an actual society in which everyone plays a role, rather than a storyline in which everyone is yet again the special one of a kind hero. — Robert Mann

I also really appreciated Isarii’s assertion that a good deal of dumb luck and good timing would be needed for any modern sandbox to find the strong niche community that helps such games thrive: Many developers have tried and failed with similar mechanics, after all. MMOs are nothing without a dedicated playerbase that regularly logs in and their success often boils down to how well a studio can maintain concurrency, so it’s hard to fault the logic here.

There’s definitely a lot up in the air for whether or not it will actually capture the magic of any of those games though. Even if it nails the systems design, there’s quite a bit of sheer dumb luck involved in getting the right kind of dedicated, niche community that games like this need to thrive. — Isarii

Interesting healing mechanics

All too often, the healers among our ranks feel a little bit lacklustre and groups can struggle to find a player willing to take on the task in some MMOs. I made the point that mods and add-ons have the potential to dilute healing mechanics in some games down to little more than click and repeat, which isn’t much fun for anyone. This article was inspired by another: A Daily Grind had so many excellent healing setups in the comments section that I just had to explore what was discussed for myself in MMO Mechanics. I decided that healing mechanics that kept the same sense of heroic exhilaration as tank and DPS builds was the trick to making compelling healing mechanics before opening up the debate and gathering your thoughts.

Sally Bowls took the debate in another direction by questioning whether or not healers should even exist if players dislike filling the support role and tend to gravitate to DPS. Mentioning that some MMOs can afford to cater to those who do like niche roles but most cannot was also very astute: Player trends dictate future development, so how has the healer been largely left in a state of second-best? It was definitely food for thought, and I’d love to have the capacity to research what sort of roles players select when given freeform reign over character skill building and do some analysis to see if healing really is as unloved as I suspect.

I like healing, but think this warrants asking the meta question: should there be healers? If people greatly prefer buying blue shirts instead of lime green shirts, then instead of existential ruminations on how to better market/make lime green shirts, you could just make more blue shirts. If the customers are always going to prefer DPS, then at what point do all but the largest devs (WoW can afford to be an everything MMO; CU et al can not), after much “pearls before swine” and “back in my day” rants while drinking, decide their resources are more effectively spent trying elsewhere than trying to get their customers to not DPS? — Sally Bowls

I found myself nodding along while reading the points made by Zuldar too: The focus for the healer in far too many MMOs is, by the nature of the role’s mechanics, locked on the game’s UI and not on the action. It’s a tricky conundrum: Of course healers must be aware of the status of all teammates in order to strategically heal, but there are more appealing, intuitive ways of displaying that information that we see in some games.

My biggest issue with healing is you spend more time looking at the UI than the combat. I’d like to see at least one healer become a bit weaker DPS with healing as a side affect of doing damage. Every damaging move should then either have a varying level of heal or buff attached to it.

Then they could do something cool like giving multiple ways to rotate through skills, so in order to successfully heal the encounter you have to match the tempo of the fight. Use a big heal when you only needed a small one and you might not have it ready to deal with spike damage.

Then they could even tie it into the music, with the rhythm giving a hint as to what type of heal or buff would be best to use next. — Zuldar

GW2 mechanics on the brain: Materials and mountgate

The final quarter of the year was dominated by Guild Wars 2: I wrote not just one but two game-specific MMO Mechanics entries about the game. The first piece was about material storage and the game’s economy, and I explained that some new materials that came along with the Path of Fire expansion would not have a storage slot in the game’s rather useful material storage bank. I discussed why I found it so problematic and also considered the reasons why it would be ineffective at preventing the problem described by ArenaNet in which players would hoard new materials until they were sure they had no use for them, which would set an artificially high trading post price for them.

The comments section was excellent for this topic and several important questions were asked: Some readers found the measure taken by ArenaNet to be prudent and unobtrusive, while others found it problematic and pointed to wider mechanic faults that could be addressed rather than relying on temporary fixes for stabilising the economy. Other players noted their enjoyment of the storage mechanics in the game and were happy to store any number of things provided their purpose was made clear. The diverse range of opinions on this one was interesting as it’s a bit of a reflection on how much we struggle with balancing real-world economies, but that’s an entire topic of its own!

I still believe that the team have blamed the wrong mechanic for the flax problem and are really comparing apples and oranges here. One reader, Ashfyn Ninegold, summarised it quite nicely! Many thanks to Sally Bowls, Miol, Arktouros, and James Slate in particular for the inspiring debate here too.

You can say it. The problem is one of design that they created themselves. The premium on storage for mats is a design they created themselves. They are pushing it back to players in what will be an ineffective attempt to modify behavior that is the result of their design. — Ashfyn Ninegold

Finally, I wrote a piece on Mountgate that discussed the company’s experimentation with hotly debated lootbox mechanics when it came to providing players with access to new skins for the recently added mounts. The timing was absolutely atrocious and, as far as gambling mechanics go, the mount licence is by no means the worst offender on the market, but it was interesting to discuss what happened and the lessons the company could learn. I discussed the company’s response and what I would have done to make the lootbox more player-friendly while still incentivising its sale.

The comments section was a fantastic source of points for further thought and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the opinions there. While some people saw the lootbox as a non-issue, many agreed that it was poorly executed and that the company needed to rethink its purchasing mechanics for such highly coveted items. A few players, such as Aywren, even stated that, despite making purchases for coveted items previously, the principle of the licence meant that they wouldn’t spend at all on the mount skins.

I have a pretty staunch stance that I won’t pay a game for a chance at getting something I like. And I do like some of the skins, but the RNG is a no-no.

I would have purchased a few of these outright if I was able to choose the skin, even at a higher gem price — similar to how I have purchased glider skins in the past. However, because skins are locked behind RNG, I spent no money at all. ANet’s loss. — Aywren

Over to you!

I always really enjoy looking back through a year’s worth of column entries and reevaluating all the thoughts, discussions, and suggestions that fly around in the comments section. The MOP community makes writing the sort of content I do a joy because the discussion doesn’t end at the end of the article, and even when I don’t have time to weigh in again in the comments section, I read, digest, and value them all. You lot have caused more than one household debate in my home… long may it continue! Happy holidays!

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
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Sally Bowls

As always, I have a problem with “little more than click and repeat, which isn’t much fun for anyone. ”

When I am healing, I tend to be doing group content (cause dailies/questing as heals is rarely fun.) And group content is not much about playing your class, it is about learning/doing “the dance” (q.v. Heigen) Group up in phase 7, move apart in phase 11, go to the blue circle if you have the green debuff… Failure is caused more by mechanics than people not playing their class.

If I am playing in a group, it is more about the group reasons/dynamics/rewards than I want to play my X class.

So yes, I want to minimize combat demands so I can have the maximum attention for the mechanics.

Chosenxeno .

What’s funny Sally is after realizing what you said I’m actually right there with you. Sorry I got mad. I’m just sick of every company and people who don’t REALLY want to be healers(you see them in my comments! Saying blasphemous things like “off-dpsing”. grrrrrr) deciding that I don’t like healing the way it is/was. Get out of the way and leave me alone I’m trying to fill these boxes!!!!!!!

I was happy just filling boxes! I do not want to maintain a dot I’m doing enough! The Rogues do more than enough to keep me busy by standing in everything they shouldn’t be standing in! lol


Thank you Tina for writing this column, i enjoy reading them all and looking for more in 2018.

Chosenxeno .

I dislike Zuldar’s points on Healing. My problem with Modern healing is they assume all healers are Zuldar. If he’s not happy with healing he should go be a DPS. I was fine for 6 years in WoW with UI Healing. I was happy in Rift for 2 years healing(I was also happy with Wildstar healing). People like Zuldar are the reason they keep trying to get the people like me, that actually enjoy PURE HEALING, to be some sort of DPS mish mash. Just go and DPS if you are bored. Don’t drag the REAL HEALERS down with you. I’m perfectly fine playing Whack-a-mole.

I dislike Sally’s point too. Again, just go be a DPS. I’m tired of non-healers ruining healing for people like me. The “R” is for ROLEPLAYING. GW2 already proved the fallacy of a non-trinity system. Roles simply make the game better.

Addons do not make you a better healer. You are either good at it or you are not. There were plenty of shitty(that’s right I said shitty. I was a GOD! You will allow me this moment of elitism….) healers in WoW and Rift. There was also shitty healers in FF:XIV which doesn’t allow Addons but their UI is great.

Addons can improve the role. For instance, FF:XIV did not allow addons and the healing was just fine. SWTOR doesn’t allow Addons but the ui is god awful and it desperately needs addons. The lack of Addons and Macros is why I can’t even bother with SWTOR regularly. It’s an example of a game that could benefit from Addons and Macros(which they also don’t allow. I had ways of mouseover healing in it though. Muhuhahaha:P)


I think the point is that if a game is designed to have roles in it, how do you get more people playing a healer?

I don’t think anyone was disparaging your playstyle, I suspect the opposite is true and healers like you are highly valued. But, healers like you are a rarity, so if you are designing a game that requires lots of healers like you but not many of you turn up, the game is going to have issues. Certainly every MMO I’ve played this has been an issue – not enough healers. And its always for the same reason: they’re boring to play. Either they’re too slow and boring whilst leveling up, so players quit, or the healing mechanics are too boring during combat.

Chosenxeno .

Healing is a niche role I admit that. However, a few of the reason you can’t find healers are:

A) Games keep making 1 healer. They do not make as many diverse healers as they should: Lotro 1 REAL healer(they have other healers “sort of” but Minstrel makes them irrelevant) . GW2 1 REAL Healer. Bless(up until Mystic) 1 REAL healer. If your 1 Healer option looks boring no one is going to want to play it. There has to be options. I never had any real trouble finding healers in WoW or Rift when I played my alts. Even at the lower levels. I personally enjoyed healing in Rift because I had 3 different healing builds(on 1 of it’s healing classes) and it was cool how they worked. The build you used in Dungeons was awful in raids but much better than the Raid Builds in Dungeons. I think Rift even went as far as to give every Archetype a healer variant.

B) MMORPGs do not do a great job at the low levels of getting you ready as a healer. This is why LFD is so important. People have no Idea how important LFD is for a new healer. You need to be able to start your training as soon as possible. That is the number 1 thing I harp about when these pseudo-immersionist start whining about LFD. Tanks and DPS get their training all the way to the cap. The only way we can get REAL training is in a Instance or dungeon. A system that facilitates my training should be a welcomed addition since your success is dependent upon my greatness.

Healing philosophy should be: Make it Diverse(The more variants the higher the chance someone will see something that they think looks “fun”).

Make practice available early(this is the number 1 reason healers aren’t common imo).


I never had any real trouble finding healers in WoW or Rift when I played my alts. Even at the lower levels.

You were the exception, then. Most people I know had huge issues finding tanks and healers. I, in particular, decided to never again assemble a group manually after trying that in WoW — and I was playing a tank, so assembling a group for me was easier than for most other players.

That lack of readily available healers is why so many MMOs are trying other ways to handle healing: there doesn’t seem to be enough players wanting play as pure healers to keep groups going. So devs absolutely need to attract more players, even if that means twisting the healer job into something unrecognizable.

Chosenxeno .

I was using the LFD tool. That’s why you couldn’t find me. Also, you people could be a lot nicer to us when you do have the privilege of my healing. GW2 an BnS(to a lesser extent)actually added class that could heal after no trinity looked shaky. You’ll never be rid of us:)

P.S. if you are talking about Vanilla WoW I had to post myself outside of 60 instances just like everyone else(I was a Resto Druid). Your grouping struggles had very little to do with had nothing to do with roles. It was probably due to the clique-ish-ness of the game back then.


I kind of agree with you. That said, I find the ESO way for healers to be very entertaining (you are the healer, but you are also an off-dps, and it’s very important that you do your part dps-wise). It’s a lot of fun imho.

Chosenxeno .

“you are the healer, but you are also an off-dps”

That’s one of my biggest issues. I just want to heal. If I wanted to DPS I’d be doing it. I’m tired of the mish-mashing that only exists because people who don’t really want to heal complain about it being boring.

I want to be a PURE Healer.

Robert Mann

I think the problem comes down to differences in people again. Where I agree that full time healers are good for some people, I don’t also want to exclude those who want to heal and do a little of something else too. That… is where you lose me.

I don’t know that a game will manage to balance those playstyles and still be effective. I do believe that it comes back to not having every game do the same darn things.

Chosenxeno .

I think the people who want to do something else should just go be a DPSer and leave the healing to the Healers. Tanks just tank. DPS just DPS. Healers should just Heal. All this extra crap just exist because Developers are being told by the non-committed that healing is boring. Go do something you find fun then. Stop dragging Healing down for the committed. If you are interested in anything but the act of healing you don’t need to be a healer.

Robert Mann

That ignores the people who actually like and specifically seek mixed builds, and things outside the normal trinity… and there are many who like that not because they are not committed, but because they like that.

Yes, there can be builds focused ONLY on one aspect. I encourage diverse offerings. But to say that anyone else’s preference must go, in all games? No.

I’ll be the first to say I dislike things, and don’t want them in a game. I will NEVER say that means they should vanish, or people should change what they like. I’ll never agree to that either. It’s why I constantly say on here “Different games for different people.” We need more diversity in our MMOs.

One of those aspects might be games where the trinity is ultra-focused and people can’t step outside their role worth a darn. But saying that every game needs to do that, and people should just shut up and pick X role because you don’t like the trend? Not happening.

**Okay, fine, I admit it. I openly despise gacha and p2w enough to say those should die and not care about anyone who likes it… although I have also said that I wouldn’t mind specific games tailored to those with less time and more $. Just not in that way please!**


The issue with having pure builds and hybrid builds in the same game is, how do you balance them?

If you make hybrids as strong in each role as pure builds then no one is going to play pure builds, as they would be at best equal to the hybrids.

If you make pure builds stronger in their dedicated role then hybrids will not be able to join groups, since in a group, where every player only has to handle one role, pure builds would be clearly superior. This is why WoW eliminated the “hybrid tax”, as it was preventing hybrid classes from being accepted in raids and sometimes even in dungeons.

So, having both pure builds and hybrids can be quite a headache for the devs.

My favorite solution to that conundrum would be to allow players to tweak their build on the fly, to turn their character into any required pure role or hybrid, but a lot of players seem to have issues with the lack of commitment this causes.

Chosenxeno .

You seem to want to play a Support. Not a PURE healer. I support, Support Roles. I thought you’d see that role more after it was done so well in Rift. Peope were too focused on dismissing Rift as a WoW clone to realize how great it actually was I guess. While I’m critical of Pantheon the fact that they are going to have 1 or 2 more role specializations makes me happy.

Sally Bowls

I dislike Sally’s point too … but I regret that I may be correct.

My phrase for when devs work to make healing more “interesting” or “engaging” is that they want to make healing more fun for the people who will never play a healer. I enjoy playing an old-school healer. Playing a new-fangled healer-for-people-who-want-to-dps usually feels like the worst of both worlds.

Chosenxeno .

I might have jumped the gun but you seem to understand my frustration. So I will give you a pass….

lol yea yea I saw the the quote and raged. I admit it. Why won’t they jut let us heal:(

Robert Mann

I remain convinced that we will have a variety of interests, and no one game can meet them all. That said, I do think several cool things were proven in games this last year.

For starters, we have proof of the idea of server clusters with no load screens across them, and the ability to see people across them. I’ve also seen interesting new AI behavior, a few interesting ideas for building characters and classes, and the general willingness to stop producing reskins of WoW.

There’s a lot of potential yet to be realized in gaming outside the status quo… I look forward to seeing it!

Sally Bowls

First off, let me thank you and the site for this column. This is quite interesting and a change of pace from the “my MMO is awesome and yours is ugly and in maintenance mode” shouting matches.


I suppose for the sandbox thing is that there has to be different types of ‘conflict’. That can be warfare, economic or political and ideally a mix of all three. There has to be some kind of faction system otherwise it does become a free for all. But often sandbox type mmo’s end up hamstringing themselves.

To have crafting and the economy be viable you need some kind of perishable goods, whether that’s craft-able potions or gear that requires repair or can become broken, that either needs a replacement someone can craft or repair for you. The materials needed may need competition for the land where the mine is, so some warfare and maybe even just people around to protect gatherers and so on. A sandbox game needs stuff that require that level of cooperation but as noted that also requires a fairly stable population at a certain number of people. Crowfall sounds like it is trying to do a lot of these things and I guess we shall have to wait and see how it goes.

Robert Mann

Well, the warfare aspects aren’t really required, at least not in the typical PvP style. There’s plenty of prior examples of tech that could run invasions and give conflict without that.

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“I cannot quite believe that we’re saying goodbye to 2017 and ringing in 2018 so quickly: It certainly doesn’t feel as though an entire year has passed”

As you age each year is smaller amount of time relative to your entire lifespan. If you are say, 30, 1 year is 1/30 of your entire life. Compare that to a 6 year old where a year is a significant portion of their life – 1/6 in my example. So as a kid waiting for Christmas really is a huge chunk of your entire experience.

It’s the reasoning behind why as you age each year feels shorter and shorter.

~~doing my part to remove some of life’s mysteries and magic