MMORPG characters require attention to micro—you have to tell your character what to attack and with what abilities all the time, even if the task is trivial. This constant interaction keeps people in touch with their characters at a basic level. If these trivial small actions were streamlined away or automated, the player loses his sense of identity with his character. The player feels like she is the character because of all these small routine actions—if the player didn’t have to do these actions, that direct attachment to the character disappears; the player will feel like a detached watcher or manager of their characters instead. This could potentially be devastating to a game that focuses on the player identifying with her character over a long span of time, as themepark MMOs do through their one-character focus and permalife mechanics.
Many players find the macromanagement in MMOs to be appealing: setting up a guild and coordinating reward gathering procedures. They do mundane tasks in service to higher goals—the ends here justify the means to these players. Grinding isn’t a problem in this context. The grind glues the fun macro-elements of the game together.
MMORPGs fail when the macro doesn’t sufficiently glue together the micro. On the other side of the spectrum, shooters focus solely on micro and often have no macro-level functionality. One match is a self-contained unit of play in most shooters. Only recently have we seen MMORPG mechanics like vertical advancement and unlockables build meaningful macromanagement into the shooter space.
Themepark MMORPGs that can’t have interesting combat (and most of them can’t) should focus on making the macro fun. Give players plenty of social options, a great guild interface, customizable characters both in look and capability. The micro-level can safely be dedicated to keeping player-character attachment strong, while the macro-level houses the broader “fun”—social interaction and higher-level activities give meaning to the themepark MMORPG.
One example of this macro/micro split is permadeath in themepark MMORPGs. Permadeath is implicitly built into themeparks at the macro-level. Guilds and groups organically form and disband. Social organizations and practical gaming organizations live and die—and we can easily tell that it’s happening.
In the sense that a character is an notional society of cells (though it’s not modeled, that’s how we understand organic beings), MMORPG micro and macro are self-similar and seem to be fractal in nature. Though the game doesn’t model the ongoing fight against entropy in the living organisms of the world, natural processes of organization and disintegration act on in-game societies to produce the macro-level effect without the micro-level effect being necessary. Players bring this to the game through merely playing it.
Themepark MMORPG design can improve by designers being conscious of of the micro/macro distinction and how important it is to the life of the game.