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The List

June 27, 2012

Dear Reader,

Recently, in discussing Syl’s topic of how WoW changed us, I looked at other MMOs as well and compiled a set of features that I’d like in my “perfect” MMO.  I think it would be an interesting exercise to extrapolate on that list and analyze it a little bit more in depth.   My hope is that some of you may do the same, and from that list we can begin to see the shape of our own desires for comparison with what’s actually being produced.

For referential ease, I’ve broken the list down by the supposed “4 Pillars” of role playing games.

Character Progression

More customization of characters both in game play and appearance

I feel like this is a given at this point.  Classes are great for players new to the genre, as they make clear what packages work well together and what different roles one can play.  Still, I think by this point many of us are much more interested in experimenting beyond classes.  Consider the popular soul system in Rift.  It allowed almost all of the four “classes” to perform almost any function within the game with few exceptions.  I hope that The Secret World’s character design system is popular as well, and that we see more of what Rift and TSW have proposed in the future.

An intelligent crafting and skill system that uses a multitude of parts that can all be collected from the game world

I’m tired of crafting trainers.  That’s not to say there’s no role for them, but consider Fallout 3’s crafting system, or Fallen Earth’s, or Star Wars Galaxy’s.  I want a crafting system that allows one to craft virtually everything in the game world, and I want plenty of different ways to collect the materials, and plenty of different materials.  Why am I unable to learn to pick herbs just because I happened to want to mine?  It makes no sense.  I’d much prefer a system similar to Eve’s or Glitch’s where players can eventually have every skill, but every skill learned increases the difficulty for the next skill.  I’m not a total fan of just time-based skill acquisition, either; I think practicing a skill should reward you, so that you either reduce the time it takes to learn the skill or simply increase your skill ranks directly through practice or spending time learning them.  Additionally, the act of crafting should persist while you’re offline if you park yourself at a crafting location, as in Fallen Earth.  Your character doesn’t just blip out of existence (I mean, it does, but it shouldn’t be so obvious about it) when you’re offline; let that time be valuable.

A mission system for followers that’s superior to Star Wars’s and more like Star Trek’s

I like Star Trek’s crew mission system.  As you progress in power, you gain more and more followers, and you’re able to send followers out to do menial tasks for you for minimal rewards.  Your followers have things they’re good or bad at, too, so you don’t send the stubborn engineer to do delicate diplomatic relations nor the passive diplomat to deliver medical supplies into a war zone.  You play intelligently and make smart decisions, and occasionally you get lucky and receive a big reward.  I didn’t like Star Wars’s system because many of the missions were simply the same thing over and over, and some made no sense, like when my republic character would send his followers to gain light side points by distributing pro-imperial materials.  Yes, it’s probably just a bug, but still.  This could be utilized for reputation gains, crafting material acquisition, uncovering new places to explore (even “secret” (randomly generated) bonus dungeons), or crafting itself.  This feature could fit into almost any genre, and is endless fun that works in the background.

Exploration

Make exploration relevant

This one’s pretty simple.  I’m tired of just getting achievements from flying around above the geography filling in maps for no real reason.  I want exploration to be relevant, the way it is in Skyrim (or most other Bethesda games).  We already have randomly spawning nodes of crafting materials, why not have randomly spawning nodes of special territory benefits?  Why not let people claim territory through exploration using a randomly spawning node system?  The territory can then be used to make a little money via a skill or open up special quests for a few hours?  Exploration has been vastly underprivileged in the Bartle archetypes.  Sure, people who like to explore can just go do it on their own, by why not reward them for what they do?  Why not have Mount Stubborn for a few hours until the node spawns and someone else gets it?  Why not reward a player whose exploring a great barren waste (think Tatooine without all those “you’re not allowed to go there and die” dead zones.  So lazy.) find a randomly spawning oasis that offers sustenance and a few gold for a few hours while the player “sells supplies to travelers.”  This seems like a perfect fit with the follower system, as you could plunk down a “savvy merchant” and increase that gold by 15% or something.

Quests can work the same way.  Hubs are more and more outdated.  Spread the quests out.  Let exploring reveal some permanent quests and discover some randomly spawning quests.  Consider even the patrolling caravan in Desolace; they rewarded exploring even if you had to look up the fact that they existed.  You still had to find them and walk with them.  More of that kind of thing would be great.

Smooth and intelligent grouping that facilitates playing with other instead of penalizes it

I put this here because I’m not sure where else to put this.  It affects every aspect of the game, but I placed it here because it seems to be about puttering around, exploring zones and bumping in to people and helping them.  This was one of Star Wars’s greatest failings and one of Rifts greatest successes.  If you played with 3 people in a party in SW, things got significantly harder.  You were penalized for having 2 friends instead of 1 or 3.  It was utter nonsense.  I’d like a game that intelligently groups – or is smart enough not to even need groups – to reward players for working together.  Additionally, if you bump into someone who’s doing a quest that you’re not on and you give them a hand, why not simply reward you by giving you the quest?  I don’t mean that the other person has to join your group and share it, but you can imagine two heroes discussing why they’re at the murloc village and one saying, “Yeah, this bloke in Goldshire wanted me to collect some murloc heads for a bounty.  I’m sure you could get a piece of that,” and BAM – you’ve got the quest, too.  No grouping, no hassle, no reliance on the other fellow being decent and sharing the quest.

Story

Better story telling with more valid repercussions and consequences

I’ve heard all the excuses as to why we can’t have this, and my only response is: design better.  Find a way to make it work.  Blizzard cut the beginnings of this with phasing, and they did it in a very rough fashion, and we all complained, but that’s not a reason to stop trying; it’s a reason to try harder.  I want player decisions to have a repercussion in game worlds.  I want finishing a quest to matter – or failing it.  I want big decisions to eventually hinge on the player – not at level 1 when you by all rights should be scrubbing the horse feces out of stables, but when you’re 30, or 40, or near whatever cap the game has, then you’ve proven yourself as a hero (or villain) and are sought out for decisions that could have a huge, lasting impact.  Story should matter; it shouldn’t be a background cloak for getting rid of quest text.  Let’s move beyond that.  Let planets be destroyed.  Let keeps be lost.  Let escorts who you failed to protect be dead.  The game world doesn’t have to be identical for everyone, and those small differences can really bring your personal character to life.

Does it mean that some people will have access to places or persons that others don’t?  Sure it does, but that’s okay.  Total and complete fairness isn’t really fairness at all, because it rewards people equally for different decisions and levels of success.  I’m not suggesting we prevent people from enjoying major parts of the game, but small things – a daily here or there, a vendor here or there, even something like a mailbox or bank access – can make a big difference.  Saved the local merchant from a gang?  He sells you things at a 10% discount.  Worked with the local gang to kill him?  Well, you don’t have access to the merchant, but the gang members in the area are now friendly.  Small changes, but changes that matter.

Combat

Action combat designed smartly that’s fast paced and skill-oriented

I want to be rewarded for learning my class, not learning every tiny aspect of every single different raid encounter.  Gevlon’s gone over this a lot before he started playing Eve, but “the dance” is getting quite old, and it’s cemented mediocre players as “good” raiders because they simply know the dance steps.  I want a game that rewards learning your class.  That realistically could mean a hotbar system or an action combat system, but right now, and I emphasize that it’s only right now, I’m in the mood for action combat.  Hotbar combat is vastly over-represented in the genre (so much so that Tera thinks it can claim to be “the first and only” action combat game), so let’s go in the other direction.  Let’s make mouse clicking useful for more than targeting.  Hell, let’s eliminate targeting and throw physics back in the mix.  Let a tank’s job be to actually shield those behind him from attacks rather than to use some magical force called “hate” or “threat” to keep the boss focused on him.  I’m sorry, but any halfway intelligent creature knows that the mage slinging fireballs his way is FAR more dangerous than some smacktalking warrior who happens to be right in front of him.  Let’s make the game more tactical, shall we?

And while we’re at it, and since I’m fantasizing anyway, why not incorporate something like League of Legend’s Tribunal system into the mix, so that the players with the most experience can hold some council over poorly-behaving jerks.  If you look at the repeat offenders rate, you can see how successful this system has been.  There’s really no reason not to incorporate it from the start and let the early adopters earn earlier access to this form of community management.

At any rate, dear reader, that’s what I’ve got to start with.  I’m sure I’ll think of 5 or 6 more things, and perhaps we’ll do a follow-up post on Friday if you come in with suggestions of your own.  I’d be very interested to hear them, so have at: what’s your list of the best features of other MMOs that you’d like to see become standard?

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and delineating)

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2012 11:53 am

    Firstly: hi 😀

    Secondly, I don’t know if you’ve had any beta access in WoW, but certainly when it comes to exploration, there are more rewards in place for Pandaria. I’m also hearing in GW2 that storytelling is far more consequence based… but of course, nobody seems to have the perfect formula. When they do, undoubtedly that’s going to become the #1 MMO overnight :p

    • Tiggi permalink
      June 27, 2012 2:30 pm

      I was going to say on the exploration front have you seen the achievement for visiting 1000 different waterfalls or the visit each shrine in pandria stuff. Looks neat and I think gets to what you are saying about the flying over things filling in maps.

    • June 27, 2012 3:58 pm

      Yes, but once again, it’s just a one-time achievement. Once a guide goes up, anyone who wants it can just follow the map and get it. There’s no real benefit to being an explorer, then. What if the waterfalls had some buff tied to them, swimming over a series of them from top to bottom gave you some small buff for the next hour? It’d be fun to “whitewater raft” down a river as well as rewarding. I’m just greedy, to be honest. I always want more and better of everything, and while I do feel we’re moving in that direction, I guess I’m impatient, too, or at least feel like no one’s learning from their mistakes. We’ll see with MoP, I suppose.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • June 27, 2012 3:56 pm

      I haven’t. After doing a little SW:toR Beta and one TSW beta weekend, I decided I wanted to steer clear of betas as a whole. I like to get to play early and so forth, but I think playing early also lessens the impact of playing the game “for the first time” with all my social circle. I am hopeful about MoP, but I’m also worried. Blizz can say (and has said) a lot of things about rethinking their game design, but at this point in the relationship, I need to see Blizz do it to believe it.

      Thanks for the comment, and welcome!

  2. Krel permalink
    June 27, 2012 1:56 pm

    I think there needs to be a fifth pillar, Community. It’s important enough that it deserves its own section. Guild tools, game-email, BBS support, external tools, etc. I think most all of this belongs here. Additionally, the bit about self-policing needs to be here.

    • June 27, 2012 3:54 pm

      I think you’re right, actually, and I considered suggesting that myself for two of the items on the list. Still, I didn’t want to try to validate a new pillar while also working to define what I wanted (especially since I was nearing 2k words, twice the suggested allotment). Still, I think you’re dead on. I overlooked a lot of the basic things that are already considered pretty standard, but a game without them would be nearly unplayable by today’s standards. Excellent points all round.

  3. Krel permalink
    June 27, 2012 4:42 pm

    heh… and speaking of pillars, this came through my RSS feed just now. Their list is specific to their game, but notice their fourth pillar… 🙂

    “These four MWO pillars are mech (the build of your battle machine), information (battlefield awareness), role (taking on a specialty role in combat), and community warfare (engaging in the conflict outside of the game).”

    http://massively.joystiq.com/2012/06/27/mechwarrior-online-video-dev-diary-on-the-four-pillars-of-warfar/

    • June 28, 2012 10:15 am

      Well, WoW’s sure got community warfare locked up; go take a look at the forums for all the evidence you need (;

  4. Kishmet permalink
    June 28, 2012 3:05 am

    One thing I’d also like to see is that crafting on a high “endgame level” becomes a third path how to play the endgame. As of now we mostly get to choose between PVE and PVP, crafting is like this optional tool youo can do if you like. I’ve thought about this quite a lot actually but I won’t go too mcuh into detail on it as it would take ages.
    In general sense if you make crafting as Stubborn pointed out very creative and so that you can craft anythign in the game without exception it gets more fleshed out. Couple this with some exploration and you’ve got quite a good system for those that don’t want to do PVP or PVE but still want to be part of the community.
    How you couold couple this with exploration is that you could either use a skill or proffession that lets you access areas other, who are not as dedicated cannot. I got a bit inspired by AoC climbing skill for this one. And also making the farming of materials at least at high level have some form of tougher mob encounters or what do I know makes it also a bit more appealling then just picking flowers and mining veins.
    Don’t know if anyone is intrested in the complete information here is my email as I’m not sure if it is shown here:
    walther_g@hotmail.com

    Thanks for an awesome post Stubbonr you really mademy morning after reading alot of the WoW forum for a change. Keep up the good work!

    • Keidot permalink
      June 28, 2012 5:19 am

      I find it hard to make my mind up on how crafting as a third option for endgame would work.
      If the materials needed are (more or less) easily gathered, the third column is a crafting/gathering combo. If its too easy less people will do PvE.
      If you have special mobs guarding special ingredients, you actually have a PvE endgame mixed with crafting. Same goes if those ingredients are rewards for PvP victories.
      If the materials can be bought, either from a vendor or a AH equivalent, the endgame becomes a combo of crafting/money making.

      Crafting will probably be always a niche beside. Being able to craft high end top gear sounds awesome, but where do the materials come from if not from within a PvE/PvP environment?

    • Kishmet permalink
      June 28, 2012 5:35 am

      Well looking at it like that then you can say everything in MMOs is a mix of PVE and X because hey most MMOs have some form of leveling thats PVE if you want to make money which you need its either quests grinding or selling stuff to other players which also includes PVE.
      What I meant as a third path was not to separate it from the PVE content but to make it so challenging, that if I want to raid or PVP seriously you wont be able to make the High-lvl craftables.
      Making crafting completely separate from any PVE (as in I kill monsters from time to time) would in my opinion be a rather boring alternative because let’s face it a big part of any MMO is you killing stuff.
      So yes you could say materials come from withing a PVE envirement I even thought about what if you put them in PVP hotspot zones as well. But it is its own endgame column by virtue of being too time consuming/ difficult to master at high levels while focusing on either raiding or PVP. At least thats the thought. I am by no means an expert I’m spawning ideas :).

    • June 28, 2012 10:31 am

      Time, location, and availability are what make resources scarce in the real world. There’s no reason those same three limitations can’t be included in an MMO. Consider a material that’s as rare a spawn as the Time Lost Proto-drake, but it requires super-high crafting/gathering skill (higher than a non-elite crafter would get) and is BoP, so it’s not a market item. Consider crafting things that require 24 hours parked at a crafting bench to craft. It can be done in stages “overnight” when the players are logged off, so they can still play, but the crafting itself requires so much time that the item is valuable. Or having to get to particular locations, like crafting guilds. All of these can be pretty easily implemented.

    • June 28, 2012 10:28 am

      I wrote about this a long time ago, an endgame that rewarded people in a variety of ways, more than just for PvE and PvP. Rewards for successful guild management, elite crafting, or extreme exploration are long overdue. My hope is that developers find a way to reward these different styles of play without involving direct PvE or PvP environments (though there’s no reason there can’t be some PvE or PvP materials, too, so that everyone’s represented).

  5. June 28, 2012 10:50 am

    I’ll tell ya Stubborn, that’s a helluva list! Honestly in the video game industry and especially in the MMO world, it’s a tough sell. I hate saying it, but it goes back to what I said in earlier posts. Investors are the bane to a fully realized MMO. The dream is what you have thought out as a solid system. Reality, is that investors do not want dynamic, they want a game pumped out assembly line style that will sell fast. They actually spurn creativity or dynamic game advancement. A lot of people blame the game devs on AoC because of lack of pvp content or old systems that are broken. The problem really lies with investors who are willing to put the effort into something worth keeping. Look at the drek of Aion and several other MMO titles that have come out in the last 4 years. Most are pure crap. It would take millions of dollars to create a persistent world with awesome game play and graphics to boot not to mention the thousands of hours in coding and creation to make such a project. It’s what everyone wants, but it isn’t a fast sell. If it isn’t a fast sell, investors won’t put the cash flow into it. They really don’t care about the community. They want their fast profit and then on to another mmo.

    The closest I have ever seen to a fully realized MMO was oddly enough NWN. Why? Because you could create and modify your game world. The graphics blew, but over all the potential for player consequences by a dedicated Server DM was exponential. Down side, you really needed to know a lot about programming to make it happen. After awhile because it was free, Server owners had to stop their creations. They had real life objectives to handle and their worlds died. Companies won’t bother with this, it looses money through the efforts. Realistically, it would take a subscriber base that was consistent and willing to pay about twice as much as most sub based games do now.

    I love the dream, but there has yet to be a company that can handle it. Now, while I havent done it in decades, PnP games are about as close as one will get to having world consequences. On that token, you loose some of the immersion of all the things we love about the MMO persistent worlds. Its a rough business. That being said, I do my best to enjoy the gaming I do see. For myself, I have yet to see a game better than my current one (AoC) out there. It took them 4 years, but they at least got the PvE aspect down pretty decent. The character customization is really solid. It lacks PvP elements though. Part of it is due to a lack of dynamic creativity by the devs, the other part is social attitudes that drive casual pvpers away from the “hardcore” (read asshat).

    Anyways, I do hope someday a gaming company has the guts to take it to the level you describe on the mmo side.

    • June 29, 2012 11:16 am

      I completely agree. I’ve said that new MMOs seem to only be allowed to have 1 “risky” (innovative) feature. Beyond that, investors aren’t going to tolerate the potential failure of the innovation. As a result, we get games that are nearly the same as every other game, with one or two new ideas, and the public gets bored with the same styrofoam (wordpress doesn’t recognize that word) peanut shells of games. Since MMOs are so expensive, an independently developed one seems unlikely (especially after 38 studios’s death).

      I agree with what you write about NWN. I remember playing in persistent worlds with other players with unique rule systems. It was a blast, and some of the populations were pretty heavy (I remember a LotR server that had a lot of people on all the time). This was before MMOs really meant anything, though, before WoW at any rate.

      Thanks for the comment!

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