The RPG Side of the MMO

Perhaps I have just been reading too much of Gamasutra’s recent multi-paged article on the Dragon Quest franchise, of which I am a huge fan, or maybe it’s because no matter which MMORPG I play I always find the game to be lacking in certain areas as compared to it’s single player brethren. In anycase, I bring to you a serious concern for the future of MMORPGs: where did all the RPG go?

Now, I know what RPG literally translates into; you take the role of a character in the game. That character is you, and you act through that character. I understand that, let me be 100% clear by what I meant earlier: an RPG videogame traditionally has a whole lot of story that goes along with your character. These storylines range from good to bad, awesome to FFX-2, but no matter how good or bad the story is the game and story evolves with your character. You have an impact on the world and as such the world has an impact on you. Storyline progression is a HUGE part of the RPG world, and yet, in the MMORPG world it is practically non-existant.

Before any of you interject with pleas of my insanity, I do understand that MMORPGs have storylines. World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, and, especially, LoTRO all have storylines. However, that said, is there really any storyline progression? No, none at all. Your character levels up, gets better gear, and obtains more money, but that’s it. After you kill said boss of area A1 is that boss gone forever? Nope, in fact in about 5 minutes a new one will spawn, or in the case of instanced zones you can literally leave the zone, push the reset button, and hop back in for another go at him. Killing him has no effect on you, other players, or the game world. Therein lies the problem of the MMO. . .

You see, MMORPGs are, right now, being developed primarily to addict you to the game. They draw you in with promises of an awesome world (which many of them are, in fact, awesome) full of treasure and then supplement you with addicting gameplay that feeds off of “rewards” for continual play. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I’m just saying that what if in stead of getting people to play based off addictive reward-based gameplay you get them to play based off a massive continual story-line progression where you, your character, can actually have an impact on the world and the players around. Doesn’t that sound more appealing? Would you seriously not at least try the game out?

If only we could get a company to take such a bold risky move in that direction. . .

Thought? Comments? Random acts of flamebaitery? You know where to leave em!


  1. I’d love a game like that, were actions of the player actually affected the game as a whole. However I believe creating a game like that would be very difficult. What happens if someone else completes a quest that you wanted to try? It would have to be a very innovative game.

  2. Eve Online behaves somewhat like that. The entire world is player driven with each corporation choosing to war against each other or cooperate for the good of both. You can create ships for others to buy. You can be a pirate and attack other players and loot their cargo hold. Heck, if you have the money and know-how you can crash the market of certain goods like ammunitions and/or ship parts. Depending on your skills and involvement, you can definitely impact a large amount of people.

  3. Yes, Eve works because it’s mainly a PvP oriented game. The gameplay is all about playing against and with other players rather than against computer controlled enemies.

    I agree with Mike though, that it would need to be a very innovative game to pull this off. However I truly honestly believe that it IS possible.

    I’ve been trying to come up with a strong idea for the next game I code. This post has got me thinking about some things…. :)

  4. Definitely agree. Dynamic and meaningful quest , NPC and monster generation would be needed.

    Or you can simply just throw players into an open-ended sandbox such as Wurm Online. The only problem there is that it will be a niche game since most players are expecting some sort of guidance as far as ‘What do I do next’?

  5. You’d need a dynamic world that uses real-time quest generating so as to not repeat or “respawn” what has already been there before. It’s sounds really hard, and very innovative because it is. I don’t think that this type of game will come with this next generation of titles, but, maybe the next ones? :)

    Maybe. . .

  6. I do not believe this advancement will come for several more generations of MMORPGs at least. The most expensive part of MMORPGs is content creation because it is labor-intensive. Even assuming that you use mostly existing models and don’t introduce new or unique graphics, the act of composing and releasing content is expensive.

    The only current way to do an end-run around this expense is to do player-generated content. There are two main problems with player-generated content: Quality control, and coherent continued story lines.

    The other issue you run into is that worlds where your actions make an impact means you risk losing touch with the game unless you are a compulsive player. What do respawns and instances allow for? They allow everyone, at one point or another, the opportunity to kill . . . let’s say The Lich King. But what happens when you eliminate or severely restrict respawns and instances for the sake of a cohesive storyline? Well, you have one of two options–either you have a boss so bad-ass that it takes nearly the entire player base to bring him/her/it down (problem: impersonal), or you restrict such awesome encounters to a small subset of your total player base. Neither will likely to be satisfying alternatives for a player base of more than a certain critical mass.

    There are compromises, of course, such as having a certain quest available for a certain amount of time, then retiring it for the sake of a new quest. But you then run back into the problem of manpower and expense–if you are constantly retiring quests for the sake of storyline, you have to more or less replace your entire unique content, what, once a year? How big of a player base could you realistically support with that approach?

    At the end of the day, I do not see this issue as being surmountable until there exists sufficient computing power and programming as to generate new content on the fly–a computer that can, literally, start with a new world and take it through a progression that eventually leads to its destruction. Something way beyond our current capabilities. And even that has a variety of problems, mainly regarding how many heroes a world can have.

    Short of that, I suggest considering games that might offer the more intimate experiences you are looking for. NWN allows for DM-led games and small persistent servers. The DM modifies and updates the content of the game world as the storyline progresses. It’s not ideal, and it’s not MMO, but it can be a more intimate role-playing setting that allows a DM to establish and implement impact on the game world. Or maybe you abandon the computer realm entirely and join a PnP DnD group. What I do believe is that what you are really looking for in an MMO is quite far off.

    Of course, maybe the evolution of the MMORPG is just to the MORPG. A more storyline driven, intimate experience with a certain number of players. Consider social networks–some people use them superficially for connecting with every person they possibly can, while others use certain features more extensively with a small subset of friends and/or family. Maybe the MMORPG will always be what it is, and some of us will find a game that more suits just the MORPG, because that is the only practical way we can have our storyline desire satisfied. That could be your evolution.

  7. I agree with Jim on this one. I feel that we are quite far off from a game that has constant quest and story creation, and one that can do that without severe repetition. I feel the only way to truly implement it, would be to have full time GM and Event staff for a game. SWG has a full time event group, but the events are only from time to time. Now add in the type of money that WoW makes and perhaps you could have large groups of full time staff, making changes to the game on the fly. This game would have to be written in such a way that the GMs could swap in and out content easily from their end.
    As Jim stated, it is also possible that it will never come to the MMORPG world.
    We can all hope though.

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