In my quest to come up with ideas that work well together for the next generation of MMO (revolutionary instead of evolutionary), I’ve hit upon a stumbling block. It turns out that having your character always be in the 3d world of the game causes a lot of developer and artist time to go into trivial elements of world-building, as well as causing players to waste a lot of their time.
I know this is hard to swallow considering it’s one of the base tenets of the MMORPG genre, but perhaps we don’t need to keep characters in the same 3d world all the time.
The 3d world is responsible for a lot of boredom. Think of how many hours you’ve spent travelling around the world uneventfully, yet you could not be AFK because you had to guide your character through various simple obstacles. Sure, there are times when travel is exciting, like when you’re trying to sneak through a higher level zone to get to some city, but most of the times it’s either boring or annoying. You might as well queue up your travel operation and have it take slightly longer than it would if done manually (in order to dodge enemies and such), but allow you to be AFK. In a 100% persistent 3D world, you would not be able to pull this off, but if you give up the ghost, suddenly players aren’t complaining about travel times.
If you eliminated most of the useless expanses of nothing and purely cosmetic terrain and structures that constitute the majority of the space in MMORPGs, you eliminate the need for a lot of graphics to be loaded on the client-side. You also reduce the amount of graphics the artists for the game need to make. And, even better, the graphics that you do see can have more time and effort spent on their perfection. Imagine if just the cities and major towns in MMORPGs were replaced by a good interface for their services—so much lag would be eliminated and so many entirely cosmetic pieces of art would not need to be loaded into your client or made by the artists. And you would save time, too, because you wouldn’t be stomping around the place looking for the goddamned reagent vendor who is hiding underneath a rock along some obscure road down which you have no other reason to travel.
I suggest we take a close look at what we actually get out of forcing characters to be in a 3D world for their entire game experience. Perhaps we can make better games if we give up this ghost, and perhaps we can do it in less time.