Massacring MMOs

(Or: Born in the M.M.O.)

I think my major problem with any MMO comes from the size of the population, and how that serves to reduce the flexibility of online worlds. With thousands playing on a server, one can’t reasonably expect unique quests or items, available only to one person. The other thousands of players would feel cheated because the odds are horribly against _them_ getting the item or triggering a rare event. Maybe Neverwinter Rights modders have it right, and it’s not reasonable to run small-server MMOs and make a profit. Maybe that will forever remain the realm of hobbyists… But damn it, there’s only one Excalibur, and that should be the rule on every server. And getting that sword should be something special for the player, and the server. A player getting an item like that isn’t a problem if I know him, or one of his friends (I’m jealous, but happy for him.) It becomes a problem when I, the player, begins to believe I’ll never be able to achieve something on a world-scale. In most MMOs there are just too many people for anyone to have an influence, so, we need a massive multiplayer massacre. I’m no psychoanalyst, but I’m going to toss the number “less than three hundred” out there as the number of players I want on a server. I had a few additional paragraphs explaining why (crazy talk, including the Monkey Sphere and Kevin Bacon,) and how it would cost more (hence the Visa joke at the top,) but it’s best summed up as “because this is my blog and I say so.”

But I want fewer players, because I want a more flexible world. A world can’t be all things to all people, so I want it to be ‘more’ to ‘fewer’. When playing WoW I can’t get the feeling that I’m special because I’m always just one of dozens of heroes running around trying to kill the same dungeon boss. And I have no interest in the rat race of getting the latest and greatest gear; but I want gear that “I” have, and not everyone else. I need to be able to do something that only “I” did. If I kill an ogre, then he should be dead. But if you have thousands of players, then the ogre dies and most people never even _hear_ about it. So what’s needed is a larger variety of weapon appearances, that have the same effect, and fewer players to have repeat weapons/armor.

Obviously even with smaller populations you’ll have some players that become ‘dungeon runners’/’treasure hunters’ that grab all the same stuff and try to bleed the resources dry, so you’ll need a way to account for those guys. That’s fine, we can fit in some mechanic to cripple grinding like other MMOs have. Make higher players have a smaller chance of getting amazing gear if they plunder every day. If they wait a few days, then their chances rise. Besides, most caves have nothing but nests of bad guys that slowly repopulate in reasonable numbers only if left undisturbed… None of that instant repop stuff. The point is to encourage the player to focus on other things. In fact, here’s a good time to point out MMOs need other things. Not to diminish the importance of raiding, but to refocus the onus so that it’s not squarely on all raiding all the time. Build other games systems with worthy rewards. Aside from encouraging PVP and revenge (a later post,) there’s player pit fighting, player races, gambling, gambling on fighting/races/other-games, resource gathering, running businesses, fishing, smithing, farming/planting, building, and even the arts, that can all be built into pivotal roles of a fantasy MMO easily (contextually speaking.) Hell, smithing, fishing, farming and the likes can all be done into simple mini-games that can determine the outcome. Players don’t need skill levels when the game requires an actual skill. (I tried to find a post Jeff Freeman made about sex in MMOs, but couldn’t find it. You out there, Not-Me Freeman?)

What’s needed is a world that can fuction interestingly without players at all. (When playing Oblivion, despite the conversation trees not being deep, I easily saw NPCs as ‘the world’ and myself as ‘something outside of it, affecting it’.) In WoW, there is no affecting the world. No matter how big you are, players are the only worthwhile fish (no matter how big/little) in an ocean. Sure, a lot of that was poor writing, but there’s also the fact that even NPCs don’t function in the gameworld. They only exist to cater to players. I need a world where, after killing an NPC (enemy or comrade,) they die (players too, but that’s also another post.) Point being that dead people should stay dead (unless a player is able to revive them.)

Through player action (the killing (or not,) of major NPCs/players, item capture/retrieval/use, and other such single-player RPG mainstays,) the MMO-world’s character-driven narrative should progress to an eventual end of the given story arc within a matter of months, no longer than a year. The idea of regularly running through instances to kill an enemy every week bores me to no end. Playing WoW, if you charge the enemy and kill their king, he should die. The next in line should ascend. Players who are bad guys wipe out a town of NPCs? Tough. There should be no instant-repopulation an hour later. Maybe have a boat of immigrants arriving on the continent once a week and have those people replace the dead NPCs (or every time a new player signs up, they get off the boat and bring NPCs with them.) If a player kills a giant and drags its helmet into the town square and tosses it on a statue, it should stay there until someone destroys it or knocks it down. I want enterprising players to be able to buy printing presses, and make in-game newspapers, using them to slander other guilds and competing businesses. I want them to buy stores, existing homes, and on rare occassion, build where they want. Hell, have public offices where the player-elected mayor decides if players can legally draw weapons in city-limits. If a player wants to open a bakery, and occasionally toss a poison pie in amongst the rest, detectable to only the well-trained nose, because they think everyone should have such skills? Rock on, you kooky CSI addict. And if a group of players wants to help bring an end to the world, doing the bidding of the bad guy in the game… It’s up to everyone else to stop them.

That’s all I want. A smaller world, a smaller population, with narrative events that are affected by players. Is that too much to ask? Eh, probably.

FYI, this is part of a series of posts. You’ll be able to read more lame opinions on MMOs here.