The MMORPG industry is a strange beast, isn’t it? I mean, can anyone really make any sense out of it? Everywhere I go on the Internet – forums, blogs, etc – I see discussions about the genre which typically feature the same kinds of comments, over and over again:
* People hate endless quest grinding to an arbitrary level cap which, in truth, could be 20 levels higher, or lower, and it seemingly wouldn’t make any difference.
* People hate the quests themselves, which still revolve around, “Kill 10 of this monster” or “Deliver this letter to someone a really long way away (so you’ll waste the next two hours of your life)”.
* People hate that “the best” content in games is usually reserved for the endgame, which not only takes time to level to, it’s often, weirdly, also the most under-developed in many ways.
So, tell me, besides the obvious question of why any of us bother with MMORPGs if there’s so much to hate in the way they’re designed in the first place, why aren’t these games being designed different? Designed smarter? Designed to be more fun? It’s crazy!
I’ve long held the belief that MMORPGs are increasingly heading in the wrong direction. They are trying to be single-player games with lots of people logged in at the same time. This is such an absurd way to design a MMO game world. Why? Because the nature of the world offers itself to being an environment where people can actually exist – Second Life, style – and should be able to do what they please.
This might mean opening a bar and crafting a dozen flavours of beer to sell to people, or it might mean venturing into a nearby forest and seeing what adventure can be found. MMORPGs should be real, breathing, living worlds where you can do what you please… not be placed on a conveyer belt that takes you from one quest to the next, until you are an arbitrary “level” that doesn’t really mean anything, when you stop to think about it, beyond the rather mindless, “I have played the game long enough to be this level”. Yawn-a-rama.
I think Star Wars Galaxies was honestly on the right track in its original incarnation. You could make a character be whatever you wanted to be. And by repeated actions, you “levelled up” your skills, rather than your character. So you could, conceivably, pick up a rifle and go and be a farmer on the frontier of some planet, processing materials and making money. Or you could opt to be some kind of super swordsman; a mercenary for hire. Or you could collect parts for a spaceship and fly up into space. Whatever you wanted to do… whatever you wanted to be… Star Wars Galaxies gave you a good shot at doing it. And doing it in the Star Wars universe, to boot!
Was it perfect? No, because no game can be. Ever. And, especially in the case of something new like Galaxies, it was always going to take refinement. Of course, let the record show that such “refinement”, when it finally came along, actually took the game in the opposite direction to where it was intended to go in the first place and it will go down in history as one of the most botched game revamps in history. But that’s maybe another rant for another time.
The original Star Wars Galaxies – and the passion with which “true” MMORPG gamers still show for it – is proof that an MMORPG game world can be so much more than a map with a conveyer belt of quests stuck on top of it. Game worlds can be alive and real and vital… the perfect recipe for repeat customers wanting to log in month after month to continue their “life” in the game. Right now, however, developers only seem to see “x” number of quests @ “x” length of time to complete = six months guaranteed revenue. The problem with that, however, is that people’s attention spans are rapidly decreasing with this method of MMORPG design.
A developer needs to get out there and take a stand by making a truly sandbox style of MMORPG, to show that it can be done, and that there is a market for it. Now, will such a game confuse the hell out of “the WoW kids” who will be bewildered by the lack of levels? Undoubtedly. Will those same kids be confused with the concept of characters being classless, hence it’s not as easy to plan a fight without the archetypes of tank, healer and DPS? Yep… and it thrills me to think of that, actually. You see, MMORPGS have been dumbed down to the max and someone, somewhere, needs to show that this need not be the case for people who want something more from their gaming than being pushed from quest to quest, zone to zone, doing EXACTLY the same thing everyone else is doing, ad infinitum.