A while back, in the wake of our Desert Oasis column on Black Desert’s guild system, Carlo and I were discussing guild wars – actual wars between guilds, not Guild Wars. He was recounting how his BDO guild had refused to give up a grindspot in the game, causing a rival – and much more powerful – guild to declare war. The other guild was winning, so of course, that meant his guild needed an alliance, and a kill-on-sight list, and all the other trappings.
In the course of the discussion, I started laughing because I realized that this was no different at all from how guild wars worked in Ultima Online two decades ago. It’s exactly the same. Change the guild names and it could be any MMORPG with slightly to very open PvP. I even went digging for the ancient screenshot up above of my UO guild, waiting atop our bank in Trinsic for a wave of enemies from whatever guild war we had going at the time over whatever perceived slight felt so important to our pack of clueless kids way back when. The more things change, the more the stay the same!
That’s what I’d like to talk about in Massively Overthinking this week – the stuff that hasn’t changed. What has stayed roughly the same in our genre over the course of the last two decades? What seems to be so consistent and timeless that nobody can – or even is trying – to break it up?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Let me address the big one: grinding. It’s innate not only to our genre but our lives, doing an action again and again to get rewards. I don’t think that’s ever going away. Grinding levels (and to a lesser extent, skills) in particular, though, is one I think all major MMOs have. I cannot think of any MMOs off the top of my head that give you a character that can do all things as long as you have the required items and real-life abilities to carry it out. The best I can think of is PlanetSide 2, in that your shooter skills and driving skills from other games largely play a role in how successful you are, and you grind for better gear, although from what I remember, there are straight-up powerups to unlock too. But it would be nice if something like this were more broadly applicable, like to music, writing, crafting, solving puzzles… things that maaaybe only get added into other MMOs with one or two features.
I understand lacking this on most consoles and even smartphones makes sense because the lack of reliable, finely tuned input methods (sorry touch screens and Joy-Cons, you still bug out way too much for my liking), but the PC keyboard and mouse often wins in controller battles for a reason. It’s a shame it hasn’t been taken advantage of better. I think it’d be more fun not just for MMO vets but for all players if the skills we have from other games directly translated into a new game.
Oh, and a lack of support for RPers. Most MMOs are mostly about mechanics first despite our roots, and that’s still a damn shame.
Andy McAdams: We’ve talked about this around the MassivelyOP water cooler quite a bit, but I think that an over reliance on combat as the primary means of interaction in games hasn’t changed much, and no one is even willing to try to shake it up. Most of the way that we are interact with the world around us in MMOs is by slapping other things with the pointy end of a stick. While that is fun, it’s also incredibly limited in terms of interactions. There are a few games that deviate from this a little bit; EVE and ArcheAge have robust trading systems, and BDO has some arcane lifeskill system that I’m pretty sure you need a steady supply of animals available for haruspicy to understand. But in the grand scheme, we live up to our murderhobo-ness.
Now before we have someone go-off about how “no one would play an MMO with no combat” (which is not actually true), let me be clear I’m not saying we shouldn’t have combat in MMOs; rather, I would love to have MMOs with more things to do. I think it could be fun to also have the option to be a legitimate trader or a delivery postal service. How interesting could it be to be able to hire a player to deliver a letter sooner than you could using non-player methods? Or pulling from SWG, with its entertainers who really just hang out in cantinas and buff people. Or the interdependent buff systems of Anarchy Online or holy crap what about just a bloody crafting system that wasn’t just bolted onto the game after the fact or that you need to drop mountains of real money on?
We have gotten into such a rut with gaming-equals-killing-shit in MMOs that we are leaving so much else just… on the table because … well, I’m not sure why. Lack of vision?
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I already told my tale about how PvP drama hasn’t really changed, so let me take a different angle here: roleplaying hasn’t really changed at all either. Whenever I dip into the roleplaying community in whatever MMO I’m in, I see all the same archetypes of players, from the super mature folks just trying to tell epic stories to the super immature types who can barely handle their own lives, let alone the lives of their pretend toons. I usually see the same character types too (and nope, it doesn’t matter what the game’s setting is). And I guess it makes sense that wouldn’t change. Every tabletop game, LARP, and drama club has the whole spectrum of these folks, so there’s no reason to expect the passage of time or graphical fidelity to have an impact either. Humans are humans and drama makes the world go ’round.
Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): The players’s desire for competition has never changed. Give people the freedom and a living narrative between the chaotic evil players and lawful good ones will play out in any game. That human element is just something that won’t go away. And that includes all the good and bad that comes with it. For every player who wants to PK you for some reason, there’s a player (or a guild of players) willing to prevent that from happening.
Some games simply don’t let players do things, and even without that, the desire to compete will still be there. The easiest example is open PvP. In Black Desert, if people are going to start trash talking on the world chat, players will go out of their way to find you and make you eat your words. Obviously, while that may attract a group of hotheads, the verbal altercations blowing up into full scale wars is both fun to watch and even more enjoyable when you’re somehow involved. You’re not going to see that in Final Fantasy XIV, where most of the gameplay feels to me like a curated, rote experience. So competition is more along the lines of getting world first, having better gear, or dishing out the highest DPS in the server. The competition is much more subtle. I don’t really enjoy it; it leads to people being more passive aggressive towards other players, and I’ll argue that’s more toxic.