Vague Patch Notes: The verbs of MMOs

    
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Welcome to funky town.

Even if you don’t like crafting, you should care if your MMO of choice has meaningful crafting. And you should especially care if it has housing because one tends to lead to the other for connected reasons. Even if you don’t care about housing, you have a richer experience in a game by housing being there.

The reason comes entirely down to verbs.

I’m deliberately using archaic terminology here, of course. There are a lot of reasons why these things are good beyond just verbs (which I promise I’ll explain in a moment), not the least of which being that robust crafting means a robust economy, which attracts a different set of players and thus helps bolster the overall playerbase. But I’d argue that whether or not it’s discussed, even that comes down to an issue of verbs, and it was something that the industry got right as early as Ultima Online, even if later titles have sometimes eschewed this to their detriment.

So what is a verb? It’s a way of interacting with the game world. The term comes from the earliest computer games, wherein you often literally had verb-noun combinations as your means of commanding the action. “LOOK DOOR,” or “USE SWORD,” or “BUY BOOK,” or “IMMOLATE BAD GUY.”

It should be immediately obvious that the more verbs a game could handle, the more different sort of actions you could perform on the game world. If all you could do is USE, then any given object only has that as an option. But if your options are USE, LOOK, OPEN, and BREAK, you have more options. More verbs mean more options, and even if you won’t use UNLOCK SWORD or EAT DOOR, it gives the developers a wider world to play with.

In broad strokes, you can look at verbs for more or less every video game. Super Mario Bros. has basically three verbs: JUMP, TOUCH, and SHOOT. Every part of the game moves out from those verbs. But it also means that you cannot build a house, or craft new things, or talk with anyone… the game has a very linear and limited flow by design.

So what are the verbs in your MMO of choice?

Fish.

I give World of Warcraft some amount of guff for its limitations, but I’m hardly the first one, and the reason comes down to what sort of interactions you can have in the world. The game lacks any housing. Crafting is generally meaningless, and the current attempt to make it meaningful in Shadowlands comes down to making it mandatory for endgame gearing. The verbs you have and will be using come down to killing things. If something moves, you either get a quest from it or you kill it. That is how you interact with the world.

By contrast, look at Black Desert. You’re definitely killing things in that game. But you can also be working on a house or building trade routes and so on. There are more verbs to interact with the world. The Elder Scrolls Online has its elaborate crafting system for both appearances and functional improvements, not to mention an explorer-centric antiquities-hunting system. Final Fantasy XIV has an entire game system just for racing chocobos, complete with breeding and stat grinding.

You may not care about that. You may have never cared about that. It’s entirely possible that you have not once taken part in the chocobo racing and it is functionally irrelevant to you. But it is present in the game, and there’s an entire bespoke interface and gameplay system to explore there. You always know it is there. If you want, at any time you could start grinding it out and discover the depths to that system.

The key is that the option is there, even if you never use it. RACE GIANT BIRDS is a verb in the game that you can take advantage of any time the urge strikes you. FIGHT WITH MINIONS is there. CRAFT FURNITURE is there. There are options, and that leads to a richness of the game that offers a greater variety of options than just killing or talking to everything that you meet.

But that extends beyond the obvious. Sure, it’s good to know you have the option if you want to indulge in it. But having these bespoke interactions also means that the game stretches out as a result.

Waifu

For example, WoW also has a minion fighting game. That means that minions that drop have an extra dimension beyond looks; you also might want one of them because it’s rare and useful in fighting other minions. Games with more elaborate and relevant crafting mean that more items that show up in the world have a use beyond being vendor trash; you’ll need them for crafting. (FFXIV, for example, has almost no vendor trash for exactly this reason.)

Housing means that you need furniture, money to buy that furniture, different parts of the map dedicated to housing, and an entirely different incentive set to consider. Even if you don’t give a fig about having a virtual house, you benefit from being able to potentially loot a chair (or the components to make a chair) and sell them to someone else. Relevant crafting like the sort found in City of Heroes means that you materially care about what enemies drop – and potentially can sell certain recipes for big money, only to buy the results for even more money.

And let’s not forget that crafting was added to that game after launch. It was an expansion of the game because it launched with very limited verbs but players wanted more. The net result was a better overall game.

For some players, these different verbs are really the core of their play experiences. Some folks are mostly about crafting or housing or roleplaying, or whatever. Other players look at the various verbs available and want to experience all of them at some level. If you have two dozen options, than those players will at least sample all of them even if they wind up focusing primarily on a smaller number of them.

But the key is understanding the difference between options and breadth. Most games don’t expect you to interact with everything equally. It’s perfectly fine and even expected that, say, some players have zero interest in crafting or housing or entertaining or any one of the other verbs you wind up in some game. The fact that these options are there is to provide a greater overall experience, a breadth of options that result in a richer overall game even if you never interact with some of them.

I never cared a lot about crafting in CoH. I didn’t make missions in Mission Architect, and I didn’t have reliable groups to make a functional base. But I benefitted just the same from having a game that offered that breadth of option. Even if the verbs I tended to use were TALK TO OTHER PLAYER and KILL SKUL, the game was richer by having other options available – and attracting the players who did love them.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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