Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stagnant MMOs

This is a response for a discussion in the comments on Spinks' post Bring on the clones.

I find that both the ways in which players interact and the game systems (not necessarily just Combat) of the MMO space have been mostly stagnant for the last 8 years. There have been minor attempts to mix it up (e.g. AoC's melee combat, Aion's jet packs, Public Quests, Dungeon Finder), but the developers still copy "the same black and white, two-faction faux war with safe and 'contested' zones; the same action combat with the same pace, hotbars, and skills; the same solo quest grind with the occasional dungeon run; the same poo-pooed crafting system that has little consequence to players; the same 'hyrbid' classes which really aren't hybrids at all, but rather 3 min-maxed role specializations that are the Holy Trinity through and through" (link).

I play very few games. I find one that has enough complexity and depth (often requires multiplayer in order to uncover that depth) such that I stick with it for years until I've exhausted its playability. I love First-Person Shooters, but I only really love 3 of them: Goldeneye/Perfect Dark, Counter-Strike, and Team Fortress 2. These are all vastly different games. They all play differently; they have distinct strategies, resources, tactical considerations, objectives, moods, etc. To highlight a variation, Counter-Strike is about concealment and weapon accuracy/bullet spread; TF2 is about evasion, keeping or closing distance, and reloading. Never mind that a shotgun in both games is the same; the situations and tactics for using it are very different (and must be learned).

I've played very few MMOs as well: FFXI, WoW, and now Eve. I have purchased or trialed many others (EQ2, LotRO, WAR, Guild Wars, AoC, Chronicles of Spellborn, Tabula Rasa, Global Agenda, Champions Online, Ryzom, Aion, Rift, Vanguard, Dawntide, Darkfall, FF14, and The Secret World). FFXI, WoW, and Eve have drastically dissimilar game systems.
  • FFXI is about cooperation: working with players to level up, complete challenging quests, or make money. Crafting was a motivator for me to expand my character's available classes and gain more levels. It has an extremely friendly community and many group activities: slower-paced, group-oriented combat, XP groups, epically long quests, arena-style fights to earn money, raids, PvP, and group crafting.
  • Eve is deceit and information warfare. It is a struggle between knowing that you need friends to move up in the world and not knowing whom to trust. Its community has an outward appearance of borderline psychotic, but within Corporations, players are friendly to each other and willing to do activities together. Eve is a sandbox and has the most content of any MMORPG ever, and thus newer players have a monstrous time just getting their barrings. Nothing in Eve is simple, and there are many ways to enjoy the game.
  • WoW offers convenience and satisfying gameplay. It has extremely snappy and fast-paced combat, and very little in terms of a virtual world. It is about using people as briefly as possible to acquire the next achievement. WoW is two distinct games: the leveling game, and the game at level cap. Hop in for a few minutes, do a quest or two by yourself, and log out without interacting with anyone. Or if you're at level cap, you do chores by yourself, queue up for a dungeon without speaking, or maybe you have a scheduled raid where you recite a dance that has no transferable knowledge or skills (to another raid).

Most of the games I listed in parentheses above are very similar to WoW. While the classes might look different, or the spells be named something unfamiliar, or the setting be changed, they all follow the same template.
  1. A solo leveling game with a dungeon/raid-heavy "end" game produces the same community as I experienced in WoW. 
  2. Since everyone must be capable of soloing mobs, the combat abilities can't vary too wildly between classes. 
  3. If combat is fast-paced, players have enough time to launch two, maybe three attacks before moving on to the next mob; this necessitates that combat be wholly uninteresting since you only need to use 3 abilities. 
  4. Typically the mobs are not varied enough to require players to consider a different set of 3 skills, because that would be too disruptive and slow down the pace of leveling.

When developers describe a system akin to Public Quests, they are talking about an exception. I can read between the lines: combat is normally performed by yourself, but then the game has these exceptions scattered about where you work with other players. The sad part is that very little coordination is required during the PQ, and people rarely converse. Playing alone together at its finest.

If I can look at a list of game features, and envision my entire career with the game (solo quest grind, occasional dungeon, switch class, solo to max, chase after gear and reputation), then I've already played it in another form, and thus I'm not interested in playing it again.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if you've played the beta but wonder where you'd put GW2 on that continuum. (To me it still falls solidly in the WoW sort of box.)

motstandet said...

I have a very strong hunch that GW2 is very similar to WoW. I must admit that while it has piqued my interest, I have not spent a great deal of time researching it because I am invested in Eve and not considering another MMO at the moment.

It seems to have the Solo+PQ leveling game, and then the "end" game which is some crazy DAoC-inspired Alterac Valley PvP thing, yeah? Combat is very state focused, where you knock mobs down or pop them into the air and such? As long as combat doesn't settle into a simple rotation that dominates all things, then I could see it being fresh and interesting.

Anonymous said...

"because that would be too disruptive and slow down the pace of leveling"

I'd wager that many great new experiences could be designed if the focus wasn't exclusively on a level or gear treadmill.

Have you not played any level-less sandboxes? I find the concept offers a lot more design freedom of what players are supposed to focus on.

I actually haven't played any myself, so if you know of one...

motstandet said...

I am actively playing Eve (if you would like a Buddy invite, let me know) and dipped my toe in Darkfall. Eve blog:

Even though FFXI is a level-centric Goal-oriented game / diku-style MMORPG / EQ clone, it has a lot of content that is not focused on leveling and gear. Acquire new spells, jobs, or travel shortcuts. Make money (when was the last time you had to spend a session or more dedicated to earning money in WoW?). Help other people do the quests they need for their gear and classes without getting a direct yourself. That concept is almost laughable in today's MMO.

And FFXI's class and combat systems are varied enough that different styles of XP parties fight different things in different locations:

Anonymous said...

The DayZ mod for the ArmA 2 + Operation Arrowhead expansion is fascinating.

Zombies has been added as relatively dangerous ncp's near every building on a giant forested map with towns of various sizes, and then every player risk being shot at by any other player on the map anywhere at any time.

Great stuff! Currently known as an alpha and a standalone version of this mod has been announced, and its alpha is probably before the end of the year.

The latest dayz patch seem to have messed up how the tents work, but there are ways around that issue.

The game features ingame voice comms, that broadcasts in the near proximity of the player, allowing for players to talk to eachother.