The Daily Grind: What does an MMO need to do right at the start to keep you playing?

    
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I don’t think it can be overstated enough that the introductory experience of an MMO is absolutely crucial to pulling in and retaining a player. In these first few minutes or hours, opinions are quickly formed from design features and pacing that can produce excitement, frustration, confusion, joy, or apathy in the beginner.

What does an MMO need to do right at the start to grab you? I’ve wrestled with that question a lot, and while I have no firm answer, I know that it’s a hellishly complex feat to pull off. There has to be enough instruction — especially of strange or unique features — while still allowing players time and freedom to approach the game by their terms. It’s always a good idea to use story as a hook, but too much story can result in a limiting experience on rails.

Whatever the recipe to a successful start is, it should result in a fun and thrilling time for the newcomer. Personally, if I log off and can’t wait to play again, that’s a win for the game. If I log off and think “I still don’t get it” or “I wonder if it gets better later,” then chances are a design team hasn’t thought the starting experience through. What say you?

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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Ken from Chicago

A good tutorial that explains the setting of the game, the lore, the features and abilities of my character and gives me a chance to practice before throwing me out into the deep end of the mmo pool.

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Toy Clown

One of the things I adore about playing a shiny new MMO is hopping in for a new experience. My favorite aspects of an MMO are the encouragement to explore and discover. I fell in love with BDO because it was one big path of discovery. I’ve done just about every quest, talked to nearly every NPC and obtained knowledge on all the mobs up to the point my gear holds me back! BDO was so different and had a huge learning curve, but it was logical and made sense of how the path of progression started your character’s travels.

Before that, I enjoyed discovering all the systems in ArcheAge. Before that, I had a grand time moving through the main story of GW2 and getting all the achievements in every zone I visited – up to exclaiming in horror of how they rebuilt Lion’s Arch! Before that, I enjoyed the stories of SWTOR. In between, I’ve enjoyed romping around Tamriel in ESO on my Wood Elf Sorcerer, discovering everything I could. There are aspects of FFXIV I enjoy as well, such as stumbling across epic quest lines that introduce a player to Inspector Hildebrand and learning who his father is, getting attached to Haurchefant and shedding a tear when he dies. That game has a way of making me care about the characters and looking forward to upcoming content to see what happens to their stories.

Discovery, getting to know new characters and their storylines, exploration are things that keep me glued to an MMO these days. I guess it’s a glorified way of readying epic tales that span across 20 books or so. Alas, I’ve read them all with the exclusion of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, which is on my plate now!

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Schmidt.Capela

Before I even purchase or download the game: to have enough readily available information about the gameplay for me to determine if I’ll like it. I’m more lenient if it’s a F2P game or it has a fully featured trial, but even then I’ll never download a MMO without making sure I can completely avoid PvP and raiding without having to give up on anything important.

At character creation: being able to create or choose a character that is aesthetically pleasant for me. In particular, if all the options are busty females or beefcake males, I’m out.

When starting to play: the tutorial needs to either be non-annoying or skippable, the controls need to be reasonably tight, the animation needs to be reasonable for the graphical style chosen, and the core gameplay needs to be enjoyable even in the incomplete shape found at the start of the game.

After that, it’s a matter of not doing something that will drive me away and being fun enough to compete with my backlog.

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Rottenrotny

This is a bit of a wish list, but some combination of several of these would likely keep me interested and logging in daily.

*Biiiiiig and dangerous open world, I want to feel lost and to be scared to goto certain places without fellow players to help. I want the world to be so vast that I will likely not see all of it unless I specifically go way out of my way and spend all my time doing that.
*Uninstanced open-world housing. Bonus points if I can’t craft my buildings from scratch and not from some pre-made templates.
*Traditional RPG mechanics like class, level, HPs and for the love of god NO FORCED LEVEL SCALING.
*Did I mention NO FORCED LEVEL SCALING
*No loading screens going from zone to zone.
*No pathing, corridory zones.
*Open world (optional) PVP.
*Deep and essential crafting.
*Little hand holding. If I’m on a quest don’t just mark it on my map and give me an arrow of what direction to go.

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Loopy

Loading screens is huge imo. Such a turn-off.

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Melissa McDonald

Not drown me in cutscenes immediately. I’d like to play, not watch.

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Tobasco da Gama

Looking at you, FFXIV. Although with the Final Fantasy name you at least know what you’re getting into.

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Schmidt.Capela

Not a MMO, but this reminds me of the producer of Dragon Quest VII being damn proud that it took two hours of playing through the backstory before you got to the first combat in that game.

Nephele
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Nephele

Here’s my stab at the question:

1) Be technically sound. Minor bugs can and will exist, but I should be able to have an enjoyable experience from a technical perspective right off the bat.
2) Present and draw me into an immersive world. I don’t need a central storyline (in fact, I’d prefer that there multiple, interconnected stories, rather than one big one). I don’t need to be the Promised Hero. But I do need to feel like the world is… actually a world. It needs to feel alive. It can’t simply feel like a backdrop for a monster killing simulator.
3) There need to be meaningful choices. I don’t care if a game has 6 classes or 16, but they better all feel distinct and unique. I want to be able to forge MY identity in this game, rather than being the same as everyone else. That extends to every facet of the game – race, class, ability selection and use, itemization and equipment
4) Don’t let me move too fast. If I’m going to buy/subscribe to an MMO, I want to know that it’s going to be something I can play for years and not run out of things to do. If I’m advancing super-fast and barreling through content in early gaming sessions, it’s simply not going to last long enough.
5) Don’t make the endgame the focus. Journey > destination
6) Convince me of the potential of the world. It’s ok to not ship with everything and the kitchen sink in place. But have a plan for adding that stuff that makes sense. And that includes adding to the things that are already in the game as well.

Vaeris
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Vaeris

All the things listed here plus ice cream.

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Castagere Shaikura

Avoid everything modern MMO’s do. Zero main story quest to follow. Instead, focus on the factions and what they mean and also give players a choice to join a faction or not if they want to be neutral. This gives the player more freedom. I want to be able to go my own way instead of having to follow some story. My favorite MMO path was how Anarchy Online was. Once you got out of the newbie backyards you were on your own with a huge world to explore. Back then MMO players didn’t need a main story to follow.

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Fervor Bliss

PvE: Story. An art style I like.
PvP there are only 3 I stayed with, one that does not count really.

Black Desert Online. This one does not really count. Me and my friends just ignore the PvP and have a nice low-level life.

Starcraft: Completely Fair. No P2W No Veteran rewards. You are equals right from the start.

League of Legends: No P2W No Veteran rewards. Fair. (At least seemed to be)

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Witches

Launch the game with a modding kit.

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Loopy

Show me that you’re different from all other generic MMOs being pumped out. Show me that you have an engaging story underneath the questing system. Start me off slow and introduce me to the core of my class. Show me that i will not get bored of the combat system after 10 hours.

Show me personality.