Monday, April 16, 2007

Careful what we wish for...

Before I get started, I want to emphasize something about my last post. No, that post was not an "I told you so" sort of thing. This site really isn't really a news site, it's more of a random thought/editorial kind of gig....but regardless, I still have a measure of responsibility to the public discourse within the MMO community. I don't have a very large voice, but I do have one that people hear. As such, I tend to refrain myself from pressing panic buttons very often. What I read last week, regarding SOE's decision to hire David Christiansen, where obvious knee jerk reactions that had nothing to do with the hiring or it's business implications and everything to do with pre-existing hate-ons for SOE. Still sitting back and watching this one though... and I hope that we can muster a better analysis of something like this next time it comes around.

Moving on....

Innovation...Innovation...Innovation. If I hear or read that word in the context of MMOs one more time(besides this article...heh), I'll scream. the current state of MMO's being stale is duly noted...thank you very much. So, what are some of the features that some are asking for:
  • Get rid of the dice rolls....make it more skill based. OK, so this is going to be done in Conan I believe, so the jury is still out how this feature will play out. I have to agree with this point to some extent. When all is said and done, there is still a measure of chance to the current MMOs. You sit there, press buttons on your action bar and the game tells you if you hit or not. What I fear about "skill" based MMOs is that the game becomes all about movement and nothing at all about skill. I can't get rid of this image of a bunch of bunny hoping players jumping over each other in order to get behind their opponent. /shiver
  • Make it more like a FPS. I'm not not convinced that this is really an innovation. It more sounds like borrowing from another genre to tell me why this is an innovation again? If you make an MMO more like an FPS, then it's only a matter of time before FPSs get stats and become more like MMOs. Are we really asking for a merger of the two genres here? If all we really want is a persistent world FPS, then why are we buggin the MMO guys and not the FPS guys to do this?
  • Get rid of stats. OK, thats a possibility. I'm assuming since stats don't matter, neither does level or equipment then, because they're all closely tied together in order to measure the progress of your character. So, how would a character grow within the world. I know we want the world to change...but how would the character change with it? Would we get a more Eve-like system?, because that would not be innovation, would's been done already. If there is no character growth, why should I play an MMO?
  • Give players complete freedom within the world. Sure...we can do that, to an extent. There must be boundaries in place because they define the game you're playing. A game with no rules is not a game. This is a truth that applies to every game from poker to billiards, so there is no different for MMOs...time to deal with that fact.
There are other types of "innovations" that we want that I haven't included and I'm sure everyone reading has their own list. For the most part, we're going to see some of these in 2007. New crafting paradigm in PoTBS, skill based combat in Conan, player "freedom" in Warhammer. I have no idea why we're not being patient to see how 2007 is for "innovation" and then analyzing the results for 2008. Last year, we bitched about there being no MMOs. Now we're bitching about all MMOs being "like WoW"...even before they're released it seems. Are we really that hard to please?

I don't know, maybe our expectations are a bit too high on what these MMOs can give us. Like I said, every MMO that is coming out this year is doing something a little different...offering it's own little twist. Heh, the MMO community in general right now kinda reminds me of a typical Ottawa Senators fan..every time they loose the playoffs, these "fans" ask for everyone to be fired and for the team to be rebuilt from top to bottom. In this yearly ritual we go through, they always seem to forget how much fun the regular season was.

D out.


Talyn said...

Perhaps I'm in my own little world here, but when I read "skill based" I think in terms of character skill, not player skill. I think it's a safe assumption to say a majority of typical (read: casual) MMO gamers don't have the "leet" shooter skills. But why give our character all these skills and make us level them up if they have zero bearing on anything whatsoever. WoW and other games are gear-based; he who has the best gear wins, period. I think when we ask for skill based games we mean to let us define our characters strengths and weaknesses by how we set his or her skill points, and make those points count, not gear stats and random die rolls.

darrenl said...

Hey Talyn,

Thanks for your comment.

No, you're not out in left field on this one. I have no idea what people really mean when they use the term "skill based". It could very well mean one or the other or even both.

This may be a good blog topic come to think of it.


Talyn said...

Perhaps it will be one of the debates with no answer, such as "What exactly is hardcore and casual?"

When asked about skill based games at GDC, the devs replied 'because players don't have the skill' which is why I wonder if I'm the only one thinking when we ask for skill based games, we mean the skills our characters have. Perhaps 'skills-based' would be a better term, since traditionally 'skill-based' does indeed refer to the skill of the players.

Anonymous said...


I'd love to see your thoughts (and maybe those of Brent, Cuppy, and others) on the topic of "Everyone Wants to be a Hero".

To me that's one of the biggest challenges MMOs face. In single player games, you ARE the hero. You feel special, you are driving the story, it's all about you. You get all the "stuff". Most adventure/action/fantasy novels and movies have a hero, or maybe a small band at most. But in an MMO, everyone wants to be a hero - powerful, cool stuff, and slaying the dragon at the end.

Just thinking about things like removing gear, stats, attributes, etc. That's the hard part - how then do you define a character? How do you know you're the hero in the MMO and the guy who just logged into today for the first time is the village peasant by comparison? Is that even important?

I'm not sure a world can be created where only a few rise to a true hero status while the rest of us take up occupations like the town smith, a merchant, a scholar or a mercenary. But in books and movies that's typically how it is. Would we, as a community, be o.k. with playing a game where we have fun, we contribute, we have a place in the society of the MMO, but are not the uber hero in the uber gear? I guess SWG initially took a stab at that kind of concept by making it realy hard to become a Jedi.

O.k. enough on that. But another topic you should tackle is something to do with numbers and MMOs. Are they inexorably linked? Is it possible to ever get away from that system? If not, then people will always deconstruct the game down into statistics, formulas and numbers. It will always boil down to numbers, and now fighting that dragon becomes less about an epic battle as it is making darn sure your math and formulas are correct. Love to hear more of your thoughts on both these subjects.


Talyn said...

Just by the "massively multiplayer" aspect, it's almost impossible for anyone to be a hero in a fully persistent world. Back in the early days of EQ, and even the first few weeks or months of WoW, the high levels were treated with some respect, a little "awe factor" kicked in. But soon, everyone was high level, or level cap, and all the "heroic adventurers" turned out to be pretty average indeed.

Guild Wars is the only game to date to give both a fully multiplayer aspect in both PvE (instanced zones, unfortunately) and PvP while going into the missions you had the in-game cut scenes starring your team, very much like the single player games. In those missions, you WERE the heroes, and it was a great feeling.

Guild Wars is also the only fully 'skills-based' game out there that I'm aware of. I think it confuses people who don't know what GW is about. They reach the level cap of 20 and think "that's it? 20? I'm done already?" since they're used to normal level-based games. In fact, the only thing 20 above your head means is it tells everyone else you probably have enough skills to create a useful build to help in the group, and high/max armor to survive the end-game content (which is the majority of the campaigns).

I'd love to see innovation in terms of how we create, develop and progress the characters we put so much time and effort into. I don't go to work and say "hi, I'm Scott, I'm a level 45 pilot." The whole levels thing worked fine for the old PnP games, but has become a crutch for games in the video generation.