Saturday, January 8, 2011

Let's talk about MMO's

I'll be breaking off from gruedorf tradition in that I probably won't even be talking about Actual Game Progress. Probably. I'm here again because I want to talk. I've decided to set out upon the greatest of foolish hobbyist ideas: an mmorpg.

Fortunately I'll be bored of it in a month and we can all forget about what a bad idea it was.

So I'm here to talk about the genre and why I feel like wasting my time working on an entry for it that won't be completed. Mostly it's a way for me to sort my thoughts on how to design this thing.

I find the current manifestations of the genre to be truly terrifying. By and large companies have homed in on isolating ways to short circuit the human mind's desire for progress in order to be paid money on a regular basis. This is clearly a pretty good business model. But I'm not much of a business man, and I don't find it very interesting.

Let's look at the social aspects of MMOs for a moment. I think we can divide current examples of the genre into two pools: Social and gamey. Social mmos like, say, Second Life mostly focus on sharing crap with other users and talking about stuff.

Gamey mmos I would compare to the pvp and raid/instance content of World of Warcraft (and basically every "gamer" mmo out there). Here you get to enjoy users talking primarily about the game itself, whether that be strategies or bitching about altered mechanics (in addition to general random talk).

Then there's stuff like world of warcraft's world content which essentially may as well be a single player game where a bunch of other random people pass by occasionally or you can drag in your friends so you can do the same thing individually but faster. The only other time other players have any meaningful interactions here are with sporadic pvp or if it's new content, long waiting lines. So essentially the social aspect in this type of game is basically nothing.

Let me contrast this with a little story. Some years ago there was a player-run Ultima Online server that was focused on roleplaying. Part of what they used to enforce this is that there were no NPC stores whatsoever. There also wasn't an auction house for automating player interactions. Crafting classes were also essentially separate from combat. What this meant is if you wanted better equipment you had to set out and talk to another player and ask for it. Sometimes you'd need to pay, sometimes you'd need to fetch the materials, sometimes they were busy. Sometimes you'd talk about something else while you were at it. I think that's interesting. Somewhat casual player interaction about the game without being about the mechanics and how to exploit them in minute numerical detail.

Obviously this is somewhat contrived in that roleplaying was enforced (you had a write a short background biography to get on in the first place, so literacy was a requirement) and the scale of the community was small. Still, it's interesting. It's something I'd like to shoot for: encouraging social interactions that are about the game.

Next time I'll talk about balance in mmos (which is to say something that cannot be achieved and is the reason why there are no worldwide consequences in any current mmo).