Not So Massively: Lessons MMORPGs could learn from Fortnite

    
19
DULL SURPRISE

Since taking up the mantle of the Not So Massively column here on MOP, I’ve felt the need to keep better abreast of major titles in the not-so-massively space. That includes battle royales, a genre I have not touched previously. But for the sake of improving my professional knowledge, I decided to delve into the biggest name in the field, which is of course Epic GamesFortnite.

Here’s something I didn’t expect: Fortnite Battle Royale has no tutorial. It just throws you in. If you want to learn the controls, you need to look them over in the options menu. Beyond that the only instruction you’re going to get is some extremely basic tips on the load screen.

Being thrown into the deep end like this, I expected to get massacred, and I was, but to far less an extent than I expected. My experience of every match was largely the same: I wandered aimlessly collecting loot, was one-shot the moment I encountered another player, and still somehow scored higher than most other people in the match.

In my third match, I placed fifth out of 97 players, and all I’d done the entire match was run toward the center of the map.
In my third match, I placed fifth out of 97 players, and all I’d done the entire match was run toward the center of the map.

Suffice it to say I don’t quite grasp the appeal of this game. Realistically, though, I was never the target audience. PvP has never really been my scene. That being said, while the appeal of Fortnite as a whole escapes me, there are some specific things about the game that I appreciate, and there are perhaps some lessons for MMOs therein.

Near as I can tell, the most unique thing about Fortnite — because of course it didn’t invent the battle royale formula — is the extent to which you can manipulate the battlefield by tearing down or erecting walls and other structures. I’m not in love with how that plays out in Fortnite; mostly it seems to just be a lot of people spamming walls around themselves mid-firefight to try to buy a few more seconds of life. But the idea is very neat.

One of my recurring complaints about most mainstream MMOs is how static their game worlds are. Most of the time you can’t even open doors. It would be lovely if we were able to have more of an impact on our environments in MMOs. Imagine if powerful spells left physical craters in the land. Imagine if mining involved not just chipping at rocks on the surface but actually delving into the earth to find hidden pockets of treasure. Imagine a mage being able to conjure a physical wall of ice to block off an enemy team in PvP.

You’d have to be careful about how it was implemented to prevent unintended consequences and forestall the inevitable Sea of Dongs issue. But with careful limits, the ability to manipulate terrain in real time could make for some really fun and inventive gameplay in an MMO.

This was something I was hoping to see from the late, lamented EverQuest Next, but of course that never came to pass. And I know there are MMORPGs in production still working out the kinks. Perhaps some other future title will pick up the torch too.

On a related note, a smaller thing I appreciated about Fortnite is how it makes gathering a more interactive process. When you start hitting something with your pickaxe, weak points will appear on the target. Aiming your cursor at one of those weak points will do additional “damage” and allow you to gather more efficiently.

More of this, please. Why can’t gathering be as interactive and engaging as combat? I’d love to see MMOs implement simple minigames like this to make gathering materials more than just mindless grinding. It doesn’t need to be too complicated, but gathering can definitely be more than just clicking and looting.

One last thing that I will praise about Fortnite — and what surprised me the most — is that it can be a surprisingly low stress game, all things considered. Going in I had assumed from the massive player counts that battle royale matches were long, protracted affairs, but even the matches where I survived almost to the end were over in about 10 to 15 minutes at most. If you die early and leave the match, you can be into your next match even more quickly.

The low time investment takes a lot of the sting out of dying, and beyond that there doesn’t seem to be much of a penalty for failure. Maybe if I became more invested in my rankings it might start to matter, but as is it doesn’t seem to matter that much if you play well or fail spectacularly.

I mean this as a compliment. I have never understood why MMOs feel the need to add penalties to failure beyond the failure itself. The less each loss stings, the easier it is to keep trying and keep improving your skills. More games should be this easy-going.

I am not going to say that I think Fortnite Battle Royale is a good game. To rate it as good or bad, I would have to understand what the appeal is in the first place, and I really, truly don’t. But there are things I like about it. I think there definitely some ideas here that MMOs can and should steal.

It does make me lament the potential of Fortnite‘s PvE mode, Save the World. Remember back when Fortnite‘s whole identity was about being a survival game focused on cooperation instead of competition? Oh, how times change. I was actually pretty hyped about Fortnite when PvE was its focus. I never played it because I try to avoid paying for early access titles, and I’ve only become more reticent as Save the World increasingly seems like abandonware, but based on my time in the battle royale section of the game, I definitely feel like Save the World could have been a game I’d enjoy.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.

19
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Ligeance
Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Ligeance

One of the very early alphas of Crowfall was actually the first time I’d ever seen the gathering “weak spot” mechanic used, before I’d ever stepped into Fortnite, so unless they’ve changed it since then, there’s at least one MMO using it.

I have to admit, I actually quite enjoy Fortnite, but probably not for the typical reasons others might. I love PvP, but only in small doses, and I can take-it-or-leave-it on the Pixar-ized graphics and structure-building aspects of the game – but what really continues to draw me to Fortnite are the weekly and seasonal “challenges” they offer. I love achievement hunting, it’s one of my favorite things to do in games like WoW, Guild Wars 2, DCUO, etc. Working to make all of those progress bars say “Completed” or “100%” is so fulfilling to me, especially when there are ingame rewards for doing them, so having something like that in a different type of game setting is enjoyable for me.

MilitiaMasterV
Reader
MilitiaMasterV

I have zero desire to play a BR, and have never played the game discussed, but people were commenting in here about LiF and Minecraft…and I played the game that was the precursor to both…(Wurm Online) for about 4-5 years…and while it’s true that destructability probably functions OK in a ‘PvP’ open world where the players can deal with the actions, in a PvE area like I played in, it was really just a great way to grief others…but the way to thwart that was that the game was a heavy grind and those actions took a LOT of time, so to grief someone you had to waste a lot of time/effort on your own part…or you basically had to break other rules…

(And they usually did…by running what essentially amounted to a multi-botter account…where they could have one person doing the same action numerous times with multiple characters controlled by one person…I had someone ‘move in’ beside my location in-game who ran one of these ‘one-person armies’ and watched the whole area across a bay from me go from a hilly natural look, to a giant plateau of dirt with a ‘port’ for a boat…and the ‘person’ who lived there didn’t even really speak to me/ever participate/need any help with anything because they could always ‘do it all themselves’…and they never even parked there…they would once in a great while be over there staring at my location like they wanted it/wanted to do something, but were mad that I wouldn’t leave…it made the hours and hours of work I’d put in feel like it was wasted…because it was literally just me doing it all on my single character…and I managed to tame a spot out of the side of a mountain/create a spot surrounded by water on 3 sides…with a marsh to the north so nobody would come and try and live by me.)

…there was also people who would purposely carve things into the terrain just because it would show up on a map…there was a person who carved a compass into the terrain, another who carved that ‘I’m just trolling’ meme face into the ground. Another few tried other things. So yeah, it has a lot of potential for childish abuse…but it certainly makes you feel like you ‘achieved something’…

Reader
NecrococoPlays

The thing with impacting environments is tough, because with enough of a population your “world” could wind up looking a mess. BDO skills impact the surrounding environment; for instance, if you swing your weapon in a field, the grass is cut. If you cast a spell, the ground is scorched. It’s temporary, but it’s there.

I’d be interested in a Fortnite PvE product – I just can’t get into BR content.

Reader
Dušan Frolkovič

On the idea of deformable terrain in MMO, pls no.
It works in Fortnite because the world exists for 20-30 minutes.

I always find, if you have an idea of how to make something amazing in an MMORPG, ask yourself, how can i abuse it. Because someone will.

And just with 30 seconds of thinking i can already imagine how all the spawn points will be surrounded by an endless chasm a few hours after the world launches.
Minecraft is combating griefing like this for years, and while you can prevent most of it with various mods/plugins, there is no 100%

oldandgrumpy
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
oldandgrumpy

Save the world has the introduction tutorials. You should give it a go as you might like it however it is a lot more fun with 3 friends.

I gave up on Save the World in the end as I got sick of the grind for parts to build the traps you need. I had opened up all of the maps/zones so I was fairly far into the game.

Reader
Utakata

“Here’s something I didn’t expect: Fortnite Battle Royale has no tutorial. It just throws you in. If you want to learn the controls, you need to look them over in the options menu. Beyond that the only instruction you’re going to get is some extremely basic tips on the load screen.”

If the game is set up to be reasonably intuitive, then there really isn’t the need for one. Then again, I would always have one in my game, since one can never guarantee no matter how intuitive the game is, there some out there that just wouldn’t get it otherwise. So yeah, dicey call. >.<

Reader
David Goodman

I like the graphics / aesthetics. i’d like to see more MMOs stop trying to push the envelope with “so realistic you can see the sweat pores!” graphics.

You can have color in a game with violence or other mature themes. It doesn’t even have to be as goofy as Fortnite, but you get the idea.

Reader
rok pantner

I would love to see a game with player changeable enviroment, but with consequences, like you destroy x thing without doing z you get a bounty on your head, cant go into a city(maybe you can with a thieves like guild). Of course on the notion you get caught. There could also be a renewal function, but limited like a city/nation could renew their area, but it would cost(city tax or something similiar).

Reader
Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

Destructible environments in MMOs are a con trick. In EQNext’s testbed, Landmark, you could indeed deform the world but it would heal itself later and return to its former state. If it hadn’t, the gameworld would swiftly have been rendered unusable. The idea of players effecting meaningful and lasting change is notional. Were it possible, it would be one of the most divisive mechanics ever introduced to the genre. One person’s improvement would be a thousand others’ desecration. I would loathe it and I believe so would most players, once they experienced the reality.

Mini-games are also extremely divisive. Some players love them but many do not. When it comes to gathering I want to hit a rock with a pick and see the animation and that’s all I want. I have played MMOS that use mini-games for gathering and all I can say is that I didn’t play them for long. MMORPGs aren’t, and shouldn’t be, about filling every second with human action. There are plenty of other genres that feed that need. The fewer tropes from other genres that infiltrate this one, the better.

laelgon
Reader
laelgon

Life is Feudal has the best implementation of terrain manipulation and destruction of any game I’ve seen, probably because (like all aspects of the game) it takes a long time to make meaningful changes, and there are certain rules. Dirt will spill over into adjacent spaces once it’s too high, or if you’re digging a hole dirt will pour in once it’s far enough lower than the surrounding. Tunnels will collapse if not reinforced and repaired regularly. Trees regrow over days/weeks and need to be replanted or else you will quickly deforest an area. So I think a permanent destructible environment can work, but the world needs to be massive and the time investment to make big changes equally large.

I’d agree if manipulating the world was as easy as in a game like Minecraft or Landmark that it definitely wouldn’t work. It would be too easy to troll or render the gameworld unplayable.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

Even when manipulating the game world is hard, in the long term it would lead to unusable terrain and a less enjoyable experience, which in turn would drive players away.

This happens because terrain manipulation, in particular when destroying parts of the terrain (such as trees) grants some resource or benefit to the players, falls into the “tragedy of the commons” issue; the best course of action to maximize short-term gains is to just destroy things with no regard for other players or the resulting destruction, and thus far too many players will engage in it.

laelgon
Reader
laelgon

That’s fair, though I think it’s worked well in LiF. Not saying the rest of the game doesn’t have problems, because it surely does. Competition for resources and having to act as a steward of your land is part of the game design, so that will definitely drive away players who aren’t into that, but the same could be said about any kind of gameplay focus that will alienate a group of players.

Personally, I want more games where everyone has the ability to make real changes to the world. Seeing a region that was once a forest, now turned into a village with farmland is something that makes me excited as a concept. It’s definitely not what everyone is looking for in an MMO, which is good because it requires a massive game world with a relatively small playerbase. If you dumped a few hundred thousand people into LiF, they would almost certainly wreck the world in short order.

Reader
Robert Mann

^. The thing with tragedy of the commons is that games have refused to make players be held accountable in any way. If there’s something where players are exiled from an entire nation, for example, because they just ignored the rules stating that you can’t just (for example) chop down all the trees right away.

LiF had a few other things going for it, with replenishing features for some of the resources. It wouldn’t run out of the trees, as they had auto-spawns for trees in the world. The ores and clay would likely be the big hit there.

I believe that a balance between them would work very well. For example, I can think of several ways of refreshing some resources, and in some cases also having fun with that as an in game event. The most critical part in any case is that players have to understand or be enforced into a situation where they cannot just gung-ho everything down, and there has to be backup plans for when things go wrong (as we all know some people will still do such things on purpose).

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

The thing with tragedy of the commons is that games have refused to make players be held accountable in any way.

This is tricky, because if the game doesn’t prevent players from being destructive towards the environment, then it’s likely because the devs want it to be possible for individual players to be destructive like that. It’s a similar situation to trying to balance the punishment for in-game crime when the devs actually want players to be able to be criminals in-game.

Being quite frank, I don’t think it can really work unless most of the server is organized in a small number of tightly knit social groups whose best interest lies in preserving the land they have dominion over, and there are tools to allow said groups to punish unaffiliated players hard enough to drive them away from the game. Making a game like that, though, means any player that doesn’t want to, or can’t, become part of one such group is unlikely to remain long.

Reader
Robert Mann

With how most work things currently, yes.

I think the key to shifting between the two is a combination of NPC groups (which would do enforcement and patrol beyond just towns, much like in any real area pre-police force times), and having areas that are more/less lawful (without pushing all the players there as that just irks the non-PvP or non-destroy-it-all focused people).

There’s obviously some work that has to be done to get it to work, but I believe that having NPC areas where a limited amount of work can be done, bordering areas that are relatively safe where people can do mostly what they want (except if somebody as a player owns the land if we want to go there) within reason, and then areas that are remote… would work well. Players would still in some cases start with “Grab everything!” even if they read the warnings.

The hard line isn’t really something that works, so I don’t generally use it in my thoughts. That is to say, that when the options presented are two extremes I usually say “There’s a lot more room between here, and that’s where things make sense.” This is where ‘crime groups’ sit in MMOs to me. They should have to work like crime groups, if players want to be the criminals. Hide, distract, evade detection, and play smart… or get crushed like stupid criminals get crushed.

Reader
Mush V. Peets

A con trick? That’s going a little far. Fully destructible terrain and environments with no regeneration ever don’t work, but you can absolutely have temporary craters from spells, or even (as mentioned in the article) just let players open the damn doors and create physical barriers with magic.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
Ashfyn Ninegold

I wonder if it’s a server-side performance thing. With 15 minutes at-most matches it’s easier to manipulate the world than if that world is persistent.

Age of Conan tried more interactive gathering. That is, you could be attacked, and were about 50% of the time, while you were gathering a node. And the higher the level of mats you were gathering, the higher level attacks and number of robbers. While this seems like an okay thing to begin with, as MOP discussed the other day, it interrupts the flow for no good reason. Gathering can get you into the zone just like anything else and the AoC mechanic interrupts that and makes gathering a chore rather than a relaxing thing to do when you’re tired of combat.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

The bottlenecks are typically the amount of data that needs to be used to describe the changes to the game world and any needed server-side simulation on the results.

Fortnite, AFAIK, escape both issues because players build structures using large-ish modules that snap together (and, thus, allow even very big structures to be described, and synced, with little data), and the servers do almost no simulation on them (structures left floating will self-destruct, but if there is any support, no matter how inadequate, the server won’t bother calculating it).

Reader
Robert Mann

Most engines aren’t really set up for it. For example, Laelgon mentioned LiF above. To do this they had to customize the living crud out of the game engine. That, and loading it all up took a lot of back and forth data, so other things had to be simple enough to allow that. The game is laggy in combat too, so it really shows that the limits they faced might be too tough for this on current tech. The ideas involved aren’t bad, in many cases they had stuff that could benefit a wide range of games where those ideas would fit. They might not always have been implemented the best (because of these issues in part, at least, they had a lot of terrain spikes). I just think that they really highlighted some interesting possibilities for technology in the genre going forward.

Combat remains the biggest downfall of MMOs around all these things. Because it is generally the only “Real content” and focus… everything else suffers. Sadly, AoC’s idea just doubled down on that.