Massively Overthinking: The more things change in MMOs, the more they stay the same

    
27
Massively Overthinking: The more things change in MMOs, the more they stay the same

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.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!

No posts to display

27
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

Rpg? Fantasy.
Shooter? Scifi.

Some of us would like the complexity of rpg in not yet amother fantasy setting.

Sure, I get why Westerns are difficult. How do you depict Native Americans? African Americans? Latin Americans? Asian Americans? Female Americans? #Awkward #SoAwkward

That said, given the majority of mmos are yet another fantasy adventure set in some pseudohistorical time, why not actually embrace full on alternate history? Where Europeans found the New World *not* devastated by a massive plague that wipe out most of rhe indigenous population? Where Africans were not captured as slaves? Where the Revolutionary War lead to actual equal rights for people of color and women? Maybe Louisiana is still a French colony and Texas a Mexican state and Canada is British colony.

Or a rift in space shift a continent to an unpopulated planet much like a certain HBO show (don’t spoil it for those who don’t know).

There are other settings than European (or Asian) medieval fantasy.

Still superhero is left to floundera by AAA titles despite dominating the rest of pop culture?

Reader
Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

I’ve thought about this a lot in terms of Star Citizen and how it’s the year 2950 and it’s still this, “Might Makes Right” and tribalism. There’s nothing in the mechanics of these games that gives tools to players for diplomacy. Nothing for politics outside of, “We’ll join up with you to kill them”.

All of that stuff is then what makes professions in MMOs OP, which then trickles down to PvE and affects players that don’t even care. The prison system in Star Citizen is supposed to be a deterrent from committing crimes but has turned the PvPers and gankers into the care bears. It’s also amusing that the pirates and criminals in Star Citizen have full access to brand spanking new military equipment!

Ashes of Creation has a chance to address this with their cities, but will they?

Nah. It’ll just be more of the same.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

An mmo that focuses on combat? Yep the original 2012 kickstarter for STAR CITIZEN focused on military life in SQUADRON 42. This single player game would, if there was enough financial support, be expanded to a multiplayer game (like WING COMMANDER, the Chris Roberts lead the development for in the 90s and most games in the 90s). Spoiler: Star Citizen did manage to raise enough finances.

And in the, going on 8 years this October, time since, they’ve worked on a lot of different types of gameplay. Space combat. Space fighters. Space bombers. Capital ships. Gunner ships. Intercepters ships. Anti-capital ships with one only big gun (ships with a single gun designed to cripple or kill [weakened] capital ships). Dropships. Missile launcher ships. EMP ships. Pirate ships. Bounty hunter ships. Law enforcement ships. Fist fighting. Melee fighting (with knives).

Also there’s air racing, cargo hauling (space truckers), land racing, cave exploring, harvesting, space mining, land mining, trading, healing, rescuring, exploring, train riding, foot races, drift racing on frozen lakes, eating, drinking, dancing, etc.

So, you’re right. There’s a heavy focus on combat, partly because they are working to release the combat-centric SQUADRON 42 (and possibly a THEATRES OF WAR pvp module). There’s also a lot of noncombat gameplay being included as well for those of us who more “PVP?! Kill it! Kill it with fire!” 🤣

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

Games change, trends come and go, but people, how they think, how they act and react typically do not and so we see the same activities over the same things time and again. Human nature, we are creatures of habit lol

‪‪‪
Reader
‪‪‪

I don’t think MMOs have changed much over the years, but more like they have devolved into more simpler iterations of older games. Now all the focus goes into graphics, effects, animations and voice acting and the rest of the game (any game) is just a shallow game with little to do that vertical grinding and power creep. In fact if you take all the graphics, effects and voice acting away and replace them with simplistic placeholder graphics on the level of EQ1, the games will be massively hated, because not only they will look outdated, but people will see a lot easier how dumbed-down and simplistic those games are.

If anything, a really changed MMORPG would be one where the leveling system is completely removed or completely irrelevant other than measuring overall progress of skills and whatnot. Where skills are increased by being used and and you can always go back to starting zones and still be able to complete tons of quests, work on professions and whatnot. The bad thing about most MMOs is once you’re finished with one zone, you have no reason to go back there and that hasn’t really changed since the first MMOs appeared. The only exceptions only prove this rule.

Reader
Sleepy

It’s actually a testament to Eve’s versatility that I played it for the best part of two years without ever receiving a single kill mail.

Or it might just have been that I was crap at combat :D

Reader
Anton Mochalin

Most examples are more about people than about gameplay features. Let me add one more: people criticizing your skill/gear/build relevance for some instanced content. That’s the reason I don’t quite like instanced content in MMOs even though my main game is Warframe which is all about instanced content.

And speaking of instanced content there’s a very unfortunate definition of “endgame” content being instanced content e.g. dungeons and raids. I’ve seen a YouTube video (quite well-produced) yesterday comparing “endgame” in GW2 and ESO and there was not a single word on lvl 80 open world content in GW2 even though it’s what most lvl 80 players spend their time on.

Karma_Mule
Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
Karma_Mule

It’s really frustrating to be told “Villain X is terrorizing the place, please help us.” You go kill Villain X, then even as you are leaving the area if you glance behind there is Villain X respawned and ready to go again. But, you go back, get thanked for making things better even tho Villain X is still there, and you move on.

ESO tried to tackle this in its early beta days, but it lead to so many problems with absent bosses, broken quests, etc., that they backed off. They still have some cases where areas can “advance” to different stages (mostly enemies that used to aggro but are now peaceful), but I wish this could be done more consistently and universally throughout this or any other game in the genre.

I’ve learned to turn a blind eye to this when in my fave MMOs, but the ability to truly and permanently affect the game world is one major reason I still devote a significant amount of time to single player games.

kjempff
Reader
kjempff

Part of this problem is story driven that puts every player at the center of their own story, like a single player rpg, and then try to fit it into a persistant world.

This problem is then magnified by the way content is designed, that instead of fewer quests (as the “old” definition something challenging), we have instead a million chores (kill 10 of these or a baddie, pick up poop, deliver a message to next quest/chore hub).
This chore design needs these very fast respawn, so all players can get their hero medal, save the village, be titled slayer of xxxx #5443000.

It is not that the problem goes away completely if chore-design and hero story driven is removed, but it can be reduced so much that the player don’t have it in their mind all the time. Eq did it that way, and it actually works. Eq don’t put the player as the center of the story, the world is the story and the player is part of the world.

Karma_Mule
Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
Karma_Mule

I also think responsive generation of quests might be a way to help this. Let’s face it, most quests are variations on the “chores” you mentioned, with repetitive structure and just varying decorative text.

If the game generated quests based on population, current player activity, etc., at least we wouldn’t see the thing we just did get undone moments later. The fact that they’re a bit “boilerplate” really isn’t any worse than what we have now in most situations.

I think you’re also right that making characters less “the one” and instead a more honest “one of many” you could lessen this feeling as well.

kjempff
Reader
kjempff

Yeah, generated quests is an interesting idea.
And/or maybe combined with some advanced state driven system.. somewhat inspired by gw2 “dynamic” events but more advanced.
And if you want to go full EqNext on it, base that makro quest system on a larger scale dynamic world system, so things can really change (not permanent, but on longer term), which again will open up for player2player quests (not pvp).

And yes those kind of systems are by design alone, preventing much of the putting the player in the center of a story, because those stories have to exist in an open world available for any player to interact with.
Removing story driven is not about removing story, it is about making the stories be part of the world instead of focused around each individual player (the hero, the narrative).

Reader
Darkedone02

Events happens when the community and the developers makes them, actual guild wars, a reason for a war (that must be a good grind spot to start a war, if there isn’t any more similar), and how the community reacts to it as well.

From an outside perspective, as I too have play my fair share of MMO’s, I never really did go though the whole 100% of everything that others might felt like they did. It seems that the bigger your guild could be, and the more social it becomes, the more things you can achieve when yall group together to do a verity of things, compaired to a small group of people who just formed a guild with less then 50 people, who barely even scratch the surface of the content that is in said game.

I never really participate much in any pvp because I can become an easily salty person when I continue to fail at whatever I am FORCED to do, and sometimes become dis-spirited enough to just give it up because I have the worst luck (I’m looking at you destiny 2). However, when I do have a fun time, it’s when playing though Guild Wars 2 WvWvW system, and non-mmo PvP games like Battlefield 3 and 4, where I am not forced to do specific things that i have issues with (I’m glaring at you destiny 2). So with nothing I am not forced to actually do, I have more of a fun time with PvP in general because it’s all just shits and giggles from here on out.

When it comes down to anything I enjoy in PvP, it’s more roles I can play as I can fall back to a class or a role that I enjoyed playing when I am not successful with another role. I enjoy bringing out the siege weapons and laying havoc on the walls and fortresses, while the good folks who are better at their roles defend my ass while I bring in the pain from afar, or if I am a healer, buff and res the hell out of my team mates.

The Weeb formerly known as Sray
Reader
The Weeb formerly known as Sray

For me, I guess the thing that hasn’t changed in 15+ years of playing MMOs are the guys who complain about genre stagnation, who then rush to the defense of the status quo whenever real change is proposed.

Reader
Minimalistway

It is such a lost that games focus on combat, killing mobs is fun for sure but it gets old after killing your 10k mob, and the player are getting better at it so the developer have to fill the zones with hostile mobs so you can’t sneeze at any direction without aggroing 10 mobs and these new ones keep knocking you around that you can’t do anything.

When i played Ragnarok Online i found that there is a Merchant class, they still do combat but they can carry more stuff, they can open a shop, they can change class into crafting class and still do combat, it is a different idea from an MMO released in 2002.

I can’t imagine MMOs today trying to make a non-combat class or content patches, that will never happen and i’ll be glad to be proven wrong.

Reader
Arktouros

I can’t imagine MMOs today trying to make a non-combat class or content patches, that will never happen and i’ll be glad to be proven wrong.

In BDO it’s entirely viable to play as a lifeskiller (crafter) with numerous professions robustly supporting a non combat way of playing. The only combat involved is typically killing things to gather from them (IE: Skinning, blood collecting, or butchering) and hunting (as in using a hunting musket to shoot at specific hunting targets and then gather from them). Hunting sounds an awful lot like combat, but it’s more things like a team of 5 people using muskets to shoot at Blue Whales or chase around flying Bat things to then skin them.

They’ve released numerous enhancements to the lifeskills systems and introduced entirely new ones. A few years ago they released the Lifeskill Mastery system that added an entire system for crafters to devote resources to improving their gear and improving results with higher mastery. They also fully introduced Bartering to the game which is essentially NPC ocean trading where you use a large merchant boat style ship to trade goods to NPCs and then those goods for other more valuable goods etc (No PvP to take your stuff either).

Reader
Darkedone02

It’s not just BDO that actually does this, if you enjoy space games, BDO is basically the fantasy version of EVE online. Your not forced to do combat only things there, you can become quite the miner in that game as well. I don’t know if you could do this in said game, but you could also try to build your own trade empire as well (In x4: Foundations (and other X games), you can do this, but I don’t know if you could do this in an mmo).

Themeparks games that kinda rely on just killing x, y and z for missions objectives, world quests, quests in general, events, fates, etc sadly don’t have much of a “life skiller” style of gameplay. However non-mmo themeparks actually do have these kinds of things you can actually pull off, expectually the ones that does allow perma-death or loss of entire inventory featured games like Mortal Online or Darkfall.