There have been a few very interesting opinion pieces out there for a couple of days. I’d like to- somewhat- chime in and express my own opinion on that matter. First, let’s take a look at what we’ve got.
I think it began with Ravious’ “Modicum of Interaction”, where he described his experience with starting on a pvp server in World of Warcraft and came to the conclusion that what he really wants in an MMO is persistence and interaction.
A day later, Bhagpuss described the “pinball machine in an arcade” analogy as being fitting to his own feelings- that you’d want to play in a world where other people play, as well, because it feels alive. He also states that MMORPGs have changed- they’re not new anymore- not in the way they used to be. It wasn’t about features, graphics or somesuch- it was all about the wow-effect of other players from all over the world connecting to the same shared online world. That was the feature that sold MMORPGs. It doesn’t, anymore, and Bhagpuss is ok with that.
The same goes for Syl and her entry of “MMO heartbreak”. She agrees that the MMO experience has changed but that there are still “rainbows to find”, that there’s still interaction- it changed somewhat, but it’s still there.
All these posts are worth a read and i encourage you to go and read them if you haven’t- in my opinion, all of these put the finger on the wound many of us feel while being positive in their base tone.
Another post that’s going to be related to this one is Belghasts “Chase for a PvE MOBA”, as well as the Massively Overthinking column on Massively Overpowered concerning the popularity of MMORPGs.
New MMO games
I think we need to further break up the MMORPG genre. You know the opinion that’s always going to pop up as soon as content becomes soloable? If you don’t like to group up in MMORPGs, play singleplayer games, they’re better for story. This “argument”, if we call it that, leaves the pinball-in-the-arcade and the reading-in-a-cafe out of the equation. I’d like to turn it around and state that if you like small-group-instanced-content, there should be a genre for you.
The lobby dungeon experience
Interestingly, there isn’t. I think Forced did something to that end, but i’m still left wondering why we don’t have a game yet that’s based solely on dungeon experiences. The “world” and the “quest” part of MMORPG development are the money sinks in developing an MMO, so i wonder why nobody has thought of getting rid of that part and instead offer something akin to, say, Left for Dead or Payday in the MMORPG realm. This should be possible, right?
You would have to be honest about it, though- if you’d call this kind of game an MMORPG, it would get a similar treatment to Skyforge, which is being criticized for lack of an Open World while on the other hand- and that’s a very early impression- being quite ok for what it does. Even i went into an adventure by way of the group finder. It was a nice enough experience, although i’d have to say that my SWTOR companions are more talkative than the other players i grouped up with.
There could be a few ways to do a game like this- maybe go for the isometric view and create a co-op Diablo/co-op MOBA or go the 3D route and create and distill the dungeon experience from MMORPGs into a new game. You can even keep many of the MMO tropes- maybe a bit of grind, levels, content gating, gear, the trinity- and get rid of the more costly and fluffy parts- loads of text quests, maybe crafting and, of course, the world. Just cut it off. I would also leave out the single-player option entirely, although that could become a problem when the game matures.
The strange part? Even when i prefer open world MMORPGs, i think i’d like to see some kind of game like that emerge. They could do dungeons in different sizes for different session lengths and even go “hardcore” with raids or dungeons that last multiple hours.
I don’t know if this comes close to how Belghast expressed a PvE MOBA would be, but i think it would be a great addition to the genre. Right now, i wonder if there aren’t games like that out already- couldn’t you play Diablo 3 or Marvel Heroes this way?
The persistent and interactive singleplayer experience
Another way to evolve would be to go the route of Elite: Dangerous and further down the line Shroud of the Avatar– give players the option to experience an online world by themselves and have persistency and interaction become indirect, possibly through an ingame-economy. In Elite, i can fly around solo, but actions of all players influence the universe i’m living in- by trade prizes, faction balance and so on. I can play alone and it’s not exactly the “pinball machine in the arcade” experience, but there’s more interaction and interdependency in Elite than in many themepark MMORPG’s questing game.
The MMORPG: cut off rides and provide systems
I think- and in a way we already see this with games like Crowfall, Camelot Unchained and the Repopulation in development- that distilling MMO experiences in new subgenres would free the “real MMORPGs” to get back to a design that focuses more on giving players systems instead of themepark rides. MMORPGs could become more world-like- and cheaper in development, in the end, if they stopped trying to give players a linear experience and went on to being “everything-boxes”.
The funny thing is that i think a good MMORPG would cater to many different play-styles while on the other hand, the current themepark MMORPGs are making the mistake of trying to cater to too many play-styles. In the end, i think it’s the way content works in these games right now that is a hindrance- it’s designed content- designed for soloer’s, casuals, hardcore players, for crafters, traders, dungeon-delvers, raiders and so on. Everything is “handcrafted”, which makes content development slow and expensive. If you’d have systems that could provide the same; a good ingame-economy, open world bosses, dynamic events done right, maybe mob settlements that grow from being a single-player experience to being a raid experience, you wouldn’t have the need to handcraft all these experiences.