I was hoping for Star Wars: The Old Republic to be the next step in the evolution of MMOs. Imagine my disappointment after playing for a couple dozen hours to discover that it’s basically WoW reskinned. Sure, it’s got some things that are different and it’s cool to play as a Jedi, but at it’s core there’s nothing really new here. Certainly nothing that I’m going to pay every month for when there are tons of great games sitting on my shelves from the past two Christmases waiting to be played.
I keep asking myself why hasn’t a company taken the MMO genre to the next level? Are they afraid of the risk? That’s a good possibility. Publishers aren’t going to fund a game that deviates too far from what’s sold in the past. But anything with the Star Wars label slapped on it usually sells (how many people are going to waste their money watching 3Dified versions of the Star Wars movies? You’re not going to find me doing so). So why didn’t Bioware and Lucas Arts make it the game it should have been instead of just playing it safe? Would it have cost too much? Perhaps, but according to what info I could find it’s already sold over 2M copies so I think it’s safe to say that it’s going to be making a good bit of money despite what it cost to develop. Surely they could have taken a bit more time up front to make it WoW++.
Tech is at a point, both hardware and software, where it seems that truly dynamic worlds are possible. Why should gamers be satisfied with areas where mobs respawn every couple of minutes. Talk about immersion breaking! Why should gamers be satisfied with assembly-line quests? How is it realistic that I can deliver the same letter to someone that thousands of others players have already delivered or rescue an NPC that’s been rescued already? Why is grinding still necessary to keep players player a game and thus giving the publisher more money? (A side question is why do players keep finding grinding fun and are willing to spend money to do so?)
So what would it take to move MMOs to the next level? A couple things off the top of my head:
1) A total redesign of the quest system – no more Fed-Ex or “Kill [x] [mob type]”. The “Rescue [NPC]” quest might still be valid, but only for the first person to complete it. After that anyone else that’s on the quest would have it removed from their quest log and it would never be available again (unless the NPC wandered off and was captured again). What’s that you say? “That’s not fair?” Who said it had to be fair? Why does every player (or class of players depending on the MMO) have to have the same quests available to them? “Because that’s the way it’s always been!” < smack > Stop thinking like that. We’re talking new and improved here.
What’s that leave us with then? Some of it depends on the MMO and what kinds of things can be done in the game world. Which ties in to the next thing:
2) A world that’s as alive as can be made. This would require a lot of work. Any NPC should be able to be killed. Period. If it’s important that an NPC stay alive, that NPC should be sufficiently protected, just like you would expect. This means that serious penalties should exist for random killing of people, just like you would expect.
Factions and reputation exist in most MMOs to some degree, but this reputation has to extend to areas around where an act a player commits warrants that reputation change. If a player kills an NPC and is seen or it’s discovered that the player was responsible, authorities in the surrounding areas should be made aware and kill/attempt to capture the player on sight. The penalties for being captured would have to be seriously examined, again depending on the game world of the MMO. Death penalty, confiscation of assets, incarceration (not being able to play for a period of time – yes I said that!), etc. are all possibilities.
A more alive world would feed back into the quest system as things happened. Quests would be dynamically created for certain events. What kind of things? Let’s consider:
- An NPC puts out a hit on another NPC for some reason
- A player could offer a reward for rescuing their wife/husband/child that’s been kidnapped or captured by an enemy
- An NPC wants to put a competitor out of business by having the player rough him up or destroy his business establishment
- The Thieves Guild offers the player (who belongs to the Guild of course) an opportunity to steal something
- An NPC hires the player to build or make him something (necessitating a good crafting system of course)
- A king hires players as part of his army or a squad to wage war against a rival king.
The possibilities are virtually limitless, depending on the effort the devs want to put into making the world as alive as possible.
2a) Part of this more alive world would have to be a real economy system, which means the loot system has to be completely overhauled. I’ve never understood how I could loot a huge sword off a dead animal or even a giant insect. What were the devs thinking?!?
2b) Money would have to be earned mainly through quests or crafting if the player wants to buy better equipment or other things like a house/land, if that’s an option. For a game I’m thinking about, the former would be provided and I’m not sure if the latter makes sense.
2c) Politics and intrigue could make the game more interesting. We’ve seen MMOs with different races combating one another before, but this could still be taken a step further. Assassinations, kidnappings, rescue attempts, espionage, full-on wars, etc. could all involve the players and lead to rewards, notoriety and fame, or even elevate the player to a position of influence in the world.
3) Players wouldn’t be able to cart around tons of loot, unless they were carrying bags of holding. If said bags of holding were so commonplace that every character could buy on, there’s a problem however. For non-fantasy/comic book world settings, this wouldn’t be a possibility anyway. Useful loot from creatures would be relatively rare, unless the creature itself is rare or parts of it can be used somehow (potions, spell components, etc.).
4) This would mean killing things just to gain experience would be revamped as it wouldn’t be as necessary nor mean as much. Yes, a player’s skill with weapons might increase from killing things, but this would be limited and caps would have to be put on how far a character’s skill can increase through repetition of the same activity.
5) Magic, combat, and skills are all usually fairly well done in MMOs for my taste, but I’d like to see magic at least affect the world more. Spells that cause plagues or result in famine across the land, massive spells of construction or destruction, etc. would make things a lot more interesting if a player was able to cast them.
Of course, this would be at max level capabilities, which mean not a lot of players should be able to reach that level. It should be more difficult than it is to max out your level. Players shouldn’t be able to power-level for a couple hours and reach it, nor should they be able to chew through content quickly.
Obviously a lot of this is going to alienate a lot of players, but hopefully a company would think it’s more important to advance the genre than just produce another WoW clone and suck as many players as possibly from other MMOs. The question is, what company is going to step up to the plate and take a swing? Hopefully someone will make the attempt soon. The genre can’t keep going as it has, at least not if they want me to play.