During the last entry in my quest for the Perfect MMO I talked about developers focusing on the core gameplay itself and streamlining systems (specifically leaving out so many of the "fluff" features that MMO players have come to expect). Part of my philosophy there is in simplifying the entire experience, not for the sake of intuitive learning, but for more open-ended play.
If players were given the opportunity to pick up a character in a very compelling world that actually encouraged or even required them to make context-based decisions, immersion would be guaranteed. The problem with typical MMOs today is that the majority of player's actions require no context at all. Players have tunnel vision as they grind towards a specific item, achievement, or other arbitrary goal. Nobody is really paying attention to these impressive game-worlds around them that have been painstakingly constructed.
It's not their fault either. Developers aren't requiring players to think about their actions anymore. A perfect MMO must require immersion on some level, especially if it is an MMORPG - a term that is all but meaningless these days.
Without a significant overhaul of the entire world, narrative delivery, and progression process - no game will escape this critical lack of immersion for players in their worlds. Fortunately some games are already exploring what a game could look like if it was able to shed the genre's preconceptions. EverQuest Next wants to do that, and so does Revival (among other games). Those two specifically intrigue me, especially Revival.
That upcoming Lovecraftian-themed MMO has even go so far as to excommunicate itself from the MMORPG genre. According to the developers, Revival is meant to be a "Multiplayer Evolving Online World" which has entirely different gameplay goals than what you might be suspecting from the last decade of MMORPG titles.
For Revival (and other MEOWs of the future), the primary directive is to provide a simulated (but deeply themed) real world experience - so to speak. The developers of Revival are working hard to create a believable world that has its own agenda and is populated with both players and NPCs that have goals, desires, and real agency.
A Truly Living World
Unlike the typical meta-plot of other MMORPGs, Revival doesn't plan to script and plant a plethora of static content that tells their story. Instead, they are counting on their players (and participating NPCs) to actually tell their own individual stories and enrich the lore of a greater world narrative. That concept promises an ever-changing, evolving experience where the world simply cannot remain static.
It's a dynamic goal, that obviously comes with its own set of serious challenges. As I mentioned in the last chapter, granting players significant agency and the ability to affect one another's experience can be extremely dangerous. Only time will tell whether the developers are able to deliver a game that can thwart (and effectively prevent) griefing, but all of the many new doors that risky endeavor opens are ripe with potential.
I sincerely hope they succeed.
However, Revival and EQNext aside, MMOs today (specifically MMORPGs) have to make a drastic leap forward to disrupt the static nature of their games. Making surface level changes just simply isn't good enough. The transformation must go deep.
The Next Evolution of MMOs
The primary difference between a typical static MMORPG of today and the proposed MEOWs of Revival (and potentially EverQuest Next) is philosophical and demands up-front commitment and effort. The developers on both of those titles are putting in a serious amount of early wrench time as they try to build a world that can actually manipulate itself and react to player choices on the fly. Mark my words, we are finally witnessing the next major evolution of MMO game design, and it isn't all that far away.
It is important to keep in mind that both of these games are not creating a completely driverless experience. From EQNext Rallying Calls, to Revival's Live Storytelling DMs - both of these games understand the need to nudge, push, and completely reprogram elements in the world to maintain a healthy balance of conflict and ensure renewable content that remains fun. (Some of the horizontal progression elements we discussed last time will also aid in that.)
All in all, this concept of an evolving world or "real world emulation" should provide just the type of unpredictable and ever-changing experience that would make for an exceptional massively multiplayer gaming environment.
I've always felt as though MMOs have a special potential when compared to other genres. They alone can provide a complex landscape of relationships that most closely emulate our own reality and provide unique social experiences that just can't be found in any other high-profile genre. With a properly built and balanced ecosystem, players should finally be capable of assuming unique roles within a game's society whether that involves combat and crafting or even trade and diplomacy.In a such an elaborate simulation these professions should finally feel impactful and not the overly-hollow, far-removed distractions that have little to no impact on the core experience of a particular game (which is what we see plague so many MMORPGs right now).
In the typical MMO of today, meaningful gameplay revolves almost exclusively around combat. That emphasis on combat has actually become a problem in multiple ways: the other elements of the game feel un-impactful - and even worse, the combat itself becomes an obnoxious chore that must be attended to in order to do what you want to do.
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