The Daily Grind: If MMOs scaled back on combat, what should fill that space?

    
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I know that I’m not the first or the last person to accuse modern MMOs of being far to combat-centric in their design, but still, it must be said. Combat ends up consuming the aims of most systems in this model, and I feel that this comes at a loss to the full potential that MMOs could wield.

Then again, I understand why developers go all-in on combat. It’s flashy, visual, and repetition-friendly. It’s fun to watch our characters look all awesome while kicking butt, and combat can be both satisfying and relaxing. I’m not arguing that it’s a terrible system, just one that takes up too large of a slice of the MMO featureset pie.

But here’s the conundrum: If an MMO was to scale back on combat to make it less than a full-time activity, what would fill that space? Would other systems such as diplomacy, crafting, the economy, and housing need to be beefed up to compensate? Or should players with roleplaying and created content take the lead on this? What do you think?

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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Neurotic

Enriching the actual world with systems that make it more immersive and ‘world-like’: weather and day-night cycles; housing that lets you actually build the house/castle/fortress/whatever from modular parts and then decorate it entirely (Sims-style); deformable terrain (Landmark et al.); NPCs and fauna with predictable, logical travel patterns and behaviour, maybe closer attention paid to atmospheric SFX, etc.

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Rottenrotny

Non-combat class and activities. Lots of players want to play home maker and/or crafter and/or vendor and pretty much no modern AAA MMO caters to this.

packagegrope
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packagegrope

if ffxiv is any indicator, weebs with female characters that have tails dancing in cities.

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Josh Gorman

Runescape is a pretty good example! Just cut out the combat and there is still incredible content!

MurderHobo
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MurderHobo

I don’t know. Neither do they (the developers), or you.

Themeparks are a bust. Gankboxes are too volatile for prolonged investment.

I think this is ultimately a logistical issue related to curation/ownership of the content. There is no process, factory or team that can produce what is necessary, and the bulk of what the players need comes not from developers but through CM’s and GM’s and CS reps. Players need tools to create, and a market for trade that isn’t black, gray or some exploitative pachinko parlor. If they actually served the people in the worlds they provided, they might get a better understanding of what, other than combat, they need to grow.

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Bývörðæįr mòr Vas´Ðrakken

combat allows for a quickly resolved mechanic. Meaning that as long as you are not in a dungeon it is the balance against the quest log that takes hours and requires too many steps for a single play session.

If you want something like diplomacy in a video game, you first have to have a political system in game. Which means that you have to have NPC controlled territories that are not allies.

So step one create a patch work quilt of territories that have roads through them. Then to move goods through them, you could create quests to negotiate either rights of passage or more binding treaties. Much like in actual treaties and so forth bribery and the heavy hand verse the soft gloved gauntlet (cloth covered metal gauntlet is an old way of suggesting sugar coating a deal).

This means that players would talk to a factor who would have a trade route from their nation to another, and you do not necessarily negotiate the route as a whole route but you start by talking to the first nation about moving goods and services between that nation and the starting nation.

So the player might have to find goods or services for sale in that nation that the NPC blocking the trade route wants sold in the other nation and the player might have to go back to the starting nation and try to find a buyer for those goods, and once the goods from the initial factor(quest giver) and goods from the second nation in the trade route have buyers, then you talk to a tariff council representative in republics and a chancery (Exchequer) in monarchies. Then they take the signed right of passage document back to the factor(quest giver). This then grants the playerʻs account a right of passage seal between the two countries. The Factor (quest giver) then has the player attempt to extend the right of passage to the next nation in the trade route. It also opens up the second nation to quest in.

This does have a side effect of requiring that players have a patron country or factor and they have to use those colors to enter or exit other countries. So unlike in most MMO where you are either allied or enemies, the players are under colors meaning that use the colorʻs faction to be neutral which means entry and exit and you can not raise that standing except by doing quests for factors that raise everyoneʻs standing using those colors. Doing something wrong under false colors means that only the player suffers for bribery or theft or murdering NPCs. While everyone benefits from the trade route that use that factor for colors. Factors would either match the war vs peace standing of the nation or be considered spies.

People under there own colors means they have done something significant in that country to be there own person, meaning colors in their own name. They would be able to flee a country prior to nations going to war and having more of what they do impact their standing and have the possible of gaining standing in a country to gain some control of the NPC factions. The important thing there is that the first step can be as simple as passing a magraves test or bar exam type thing but to gain higher more thought needs to be in place to prevent the system from being gamed. That does not mean that the players should not be able to gain control of a nation, but that they have to hold each position until they can do the job above them better for the nation out look and the players with homes there. In actual life the USA has a single step because the path to queen or thane is one of several life times and more of duty than privilege. So the players would want to be developing the nations resources and the NPC cities and improving them by creating trade routes through and increasing the NPC standard of living. As the players find ways to increase the quality (even if they just loot monsters and build nicer buildings) the surrounding districts (including the player districts) are going to shift the balance between the NPC that is in control and the player that is next door. When it is two players you run into gaming the system so the method would then be if the standard of living (the building and NPC shops pricing and available shops plus the pc run shops) drops below an acceptable for that nation then a NPC tries to depose the player. The player run cities have resources based on the amount of gold they sink into upgrading the available house designs to have nicer exteriors with the same amount of size. It makes more sense to start with with a wood construction wall around the lot until players are assigned them or they buy them with in game currency. no taxes no tariffs and one home city. this prevents the cities from having no lots available and players from having warehouses to ship between. So when the player buys the empty lot they then can store stuff in chests on the site. If ten people buy homes that triggers the opening of a general store and bakery. The cities being laid out and the players have to buy lots on thoroughfares, which as more are bought the first city walls go up at a hundred homes, this helps with occluding the houses from players line of sight out side the city. owning a home would set faction for the nation they are in and create company colors, like in the USA. It would not be allowed to match actual company or corporation logos to prevent actual company politics from influencing the game. That would be on the live team and actually give legal some billable hours that are fun to work.

If they manage to gain house colors they would have to match the deed not the imagination of the player. Setting up a trade route would give them a scale balance, a hand with sheave of grain, or anything that can be seen to represent that deed. Much like in the actual college of arms. This would be again on the live team and needing the most oversight as one player running around with something that looks like a soda can might be minimal impact, some one trying to put a nike logo on a castle pennet would be bad for the video game company.

That then opens up player run stores and restaurants in game, breweries and casinos. the auction house would be two parts one the player run cities would have a global auction house as an independent faction, and the national action houses that players could buy things off it from any where in the nation and have be able to have it shipped via NPC to anywhere those NPC factors have trade routes or rights of passage. This requires small scale dungeons and monster invasions on a limited scale so that peopleʻs stuff is largely intact ninety percent of the time (except when the town expands. My thought is that while players what their home to be exactly where it was if there is an city upgrade, with walls going up and the terrain to change slightly to change from a mostly level town to more of a sloping terrain as some of the player housing starts to raise above the walls as the city expands outward. So that the initial towns would be twenty units by twenty units and half of those would be NPC locations. So that players could convert their outer lower floor to have a shop counter and display wares there, the idea is to use the that outer area as display the playerʻs personality but limit what can be displayed in those areas, so to protect the frame rates of players walking by. The lower right in the image below is how the lower floor would look. So that you have a moot hall or area that players can walk into with permission and the entry hall could have invisible walls that set permission of who can gain entry, by party, by raid, by guild, by invite, and so forth.

The NPC towns expansion is not controlled by the number of players wanting a home but by level of investment that the NPC or player in control of the district ruler. So the player towns are going to be more of a mix of styles, crafting units on homes, flight towers and colors, while the NPC towns have less homes and are in the style of the lord or lady, and change with the change in ownership of the district, which means if you use the portal system to go between your player town home and the city you adventure and quest out of you might find that the rep you build with the city only increases based on the actions of the lord or lady, the quality of life in those cities goes up and down and what it looks like might change styles. Which means that when the world events lead up the district changing hands all the player stuff is put into storage so they have to redecorate their shops after the change over. Player living there can chose to move their home to one of the player cities the next time they log in post district change over.

This keeps most of the players living in the player controlled cities and upgrading the materials in those cities based on personal taste, and being able to change lots while keeping the decorations in place as the lots would be square with the corners cleared for intersections, thinking that the player towns would start looking like cobbled stones and as they players sink gold and plans into their homes, the city value increases and when they get one hundred players the upgrade happens and the terrain is based on pre layed out design but the type of walls and style of the towers would match the style of the player town would be an NPC at first and then a player if they decide to play through those new types of game play. So the materials that the homes would look to be made of would be masonry of stone blocks, glass storefront (think skyscrapper), cobbles, clay adobe, brick and then things like wood paneling, or steel in sci fi. Those would match the style of the MMO, and the new game mechanism would drive the playerʻs individuality. It does require that the areas over run by monsters be neutral or hostile to the players be separated by barrier that player farm for loot.

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Scott Roy

Yeah, no scaling back of combat, but additions of fun player driven economies are always fun, like on DDO with the auction house.
That’s a great thing… it gives you the opportunity to make some plat for use in game.

kjempff
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kjempff

To scale back on combat I think you need to do it indirectly. Meaning .. not less combat as such, but increasing the not combat systems. More non combat systems means more diversity and freedom for the player to choose from. I mean combat is at the core of a mmorpg, so removing it is not a meaningful goal.

Or(And) you could change how combat functions to make it feel differently, more tactical and challenging, reducing amount of enemies that die left and right and making the fights, not unique but more meaningful. Doing that will change the players perception of combat, and it wont matter if there are more or less or the same when counted in hours spend.

Many non combat things to improve on … deeper and meaningful crafting systems that also require co-op, “housing” which is a broad definition of giving a life to your character, diplomacy and other interaction systems with npcs and their factions and orginizations, which leads to dynamic worlds, player to player interaction through trades of all kinds and player run organizations or factories/workshops and player work orders (player quests), and other emergent gameplay between players. And other things…

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Robert Mann

All of those and more. It isn’t really so much that combat has to go either. There’s room for a lot of different MMOs to suit different people. The thing that has to go is every game focusing on combat.

Saying that every MMO must focus on combat is like saying every activity other than combat is bad and uninteresting to everyone. Anyone who thinks that is true needs to remove their head from something that is blocking light going to their eyeballs such that they can see again. Similarly, thinking that because some MMOs should change this up, that combat focused MMOs must go away… is just ignoring the real need, which is diverse game design.

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Mark Werenczuk

Servers with land to build player creations.