The Problem with Crime MMOs

With the somewhat recent mega-popularity of games like Grand Theft Auto, and Saint’s Row it seems like it was only an inevitability that somebody who begin to make an MMO based on these types of games. So it really came as no surprise when I found out that Crackdown developer, Realtime Worlds, was making their own GTA styled MMO called: All Point’s Bulletin. In addition to APB, however, Vogster Entertainment has come out and announced their own crime MMO called CrimeCraft. Both are promising to have fun, interactive GTA styled gameplay with thousands of friends, but there are inherent problems within that equation.

What are your top five favorite things about games like GTA or Saint’s Row? Well, if you are anything like me it pretty much goes in this order:

  1. Blow stuff up
  2. Cause some havoc
  3. Drive around to find some neat stunts to pull off
  4. Complete some heavily story driven gangster missions
  5. Explore the city

Fun stuff right? Well, unfortunately, most of these things will either be near-impossible in an MMO form, or completely dumbed down to the brink of impossibility.

As of today there is no MMO out there that will allow you to destroy things with explosives, and certainly they won’t allow you to clutter up world with useless junk. In any GTA/Crackdown type of game when you go on a rampage you get to see your destruction litter the streets. It’s almost a monument to your greatness. In an MMO this type of gameplay would be near impossible for two reasons: first, everything has to run through the server so the server will want to automatically delete these things as soon as they are destroyed to free up the cache. Just like how corpses don’t stick around for too long in WoW, a smoldering car won’t stick around for too long in either of these games. Second, the developers won’t want players blocking off large sections of the city for their own personal needs. Because of this they will have measures stopping people from this type of gameplay. You can’t have one player blocking off an entire street for his/her own enjoyment. Other players will get angry and the game will lose it’s popularity.

Today’s MMOs aren’t heavily story driven, for good reason too. An MMO can’t really have a heavy story because players don’t particularly care for that style of gameplay within a world. Enemies respawn, and generally no matter how many times you kill X monster, or Y gang leader they will always come back, unlike in a single player game where if you kill something it stays dead. No matter how you look at it, GTA and Saint’s Row were both heavily story driven games. As you rise from anonymity to becoming the gang leader you have to take on a number of heavily story driven missions. Because MMOs can’t really do this, it doesn’t look like any crime MMO will feature the same type of story driven mechanics.

Finally, let me ask you this: how fast is your current MMO of choice? If you play WoW, PotBS, or even EVE Online you’ll probably note that the game is actually fairly slow. In generaly, most MMOs are very slow games. Auto Assault may have been the difference but look where it is at now. A crime MMO like GTA will have to be a very fast paced game, and I just can’t see an MMO living up to that expectation from it’s players. If the game turns out to be too slow gamers will drop it in favor of returning to their old single player GTA sandbox games.

None of these problems are impossible to take on, but they represent huge problems in the face of an emerging MMO genre. Can Realtime Worlds, or Vogster Entertainment take them on? After seeing some videos of APB in action, I can rest a little easier that they are at least on the right direction. However, those same videos also showed just how much farther they have to go. Making a crime MMORPG could just be the hardest idea to manifest into an actual game today…

Thanks for reading.


  1. What exactly is so impossible about a story driven crime MMORPG? The thing you are looking for is called quests and quest chains! Additionally look up up the term reputation grind.

    Section off parts of the city? What for? There are things called instances.

    You can build a greatly complex and satisfying crime MMORPG:

    You start as newby criminal mind with no criminal skills to speak of, but you have a ‘civil’ profession – stunt driver, mechanic, ex-military, karate instructor, hacker, medic, chemist, … You lso had some hobbies in your childhood: amareur rocketeering, model cars, swimming, scuba diving, running, … All of this determines you starting skill set : what items you cna use, how fast and far can you run, how accurate you can shoot, can you drive a truck, …

    When you decide to start you criminal life you can start with petty crime or go to seek work at established crime gangs (NPCs). You can form a social hang out club (guild) with other members of your gang. You can form up into teams for crimes.

    You gang will have a lot of work for you – a typical assortment of quests: fedex, fedex under fire, escort, assasination, slaughter, terror, … Depending on circumstance other gangs, bystanders and cops could get involved in the quest, so a simple drive-by shooting could end with an all-out car chase after you. Like in NFS: Most Wanted. I would imagine other criminals might want to lay low a bit while the police is chasing you, but sometimes they might get away with stuff that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise, because the police force attention is on you and away from them.

    The missions could also be set in instances so not to disturb other players with explosions and such. Compare Deadmines assault and the Onyxia quest chain in Stormwind.

    Yes – the world will reset and people will respawn in a minute, but that is normal in MMORPG. The player moves on by then and next one can do the quest. That is not a problem – again, see WoW for a lot of great examples how to do stuff. The fights are rapid and action is fast, but there is a significant time spent in preparation and in travel between points. And that is all a MMO needs.

  2. AoC is NOT a slow MMO by any stretch of the imagination.

    In addition, I might add, what resources would be saved by removing debris from a scene? Isn’t that debris (if we focus on the larger items) already there?

    What difference would it make to an MMO’s servers if they has to calculate 10,000 parked cars on the city streets, or 9,900 parked cars and 100 burned out car bodies? Sure, the doors and tires and such might be an issue, but make those CLIENT SIDE items, their presence makes no matter to the world, they arent obsticles, merely their general trajectories and final resting place, the rest can be client based. The car remains the only large item the server needs to track, and in this case, replac e with a burned-out-car model/skin.

    Look to City of Villians for an example of this. One class can produce various debris and throw it at a target. When playing with others, the item itself is different on all clients! The location is the same, but one might see a sink, another a 55-gallon drum.

    I also disagree to the storyline point.

    Several MMOs, AoC, SWG, and WoW included, have character storylines you can play out.

    What they fail to do, generally, is have your actions result in the removal of someone/thing from the world, or change it.

    While its simply a matter of having each toon hear different words (with the same general impact) or see a different skin on an NPC in the same locaiton/role, they rarely do the same things.

    Burning out a building in an MMO would be just as easily delt with as opening up a new building on a “nearly finished” construction site elsewhere.

    Hell, EVE has had player interaction change the very nature of the safety of zones, why can’t a crime MMO?

    While I *can* find ways to refute much of this, the core of my argument remains solidly set in the amount of effort any Crime MMO team puts in, and how much they are willing to pragmatically learn from the landscape of the industry arround them. Games like AoC for it’s “twitch”, EVE for it’s security/threat response and openness, and WoW for its global appeal are currently standing out as shining examples of what does (and doesn’t) work.

    But I’ve yet to see a development team able to take that step to look at these things and apply them.

  3. Most of these arguments are against something the article did not say. It was never said it would be impossible, nor that any of these things have never been done. Only that the combination of those things he listed had not been done together before, and that getting these things right will be the hard part of the development.

1 Trackback / Pingback


Comments are closed.