Going Where no Elf has Gone Before

Exploration in a Virtual World

By: Savanja


Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and my little dark elf wandered into a newly revamped
Commonlands. Probably not exactly the same thing, but it gives the same feeling of delving into
the unknown, and the excitement of stumbling onto something completely unexpected, and this is part of what makes MMO gaming, great.

Exploration is a very provacative part of MMO gaming. There are quite a few players that
get their charge soley from exploring new virtual lands. It's unfortunate that this is such a
limited feeling, after all, only so many expansions come out in a year, so only so many new
zones are added. But just as raid content, group content, and solo content is all important, exploration is just as important.

So today's question is, how much should developers cater to those that desire a constant
stream of explorable content?


Is Bigger Really Better?

I have this theory on a couple of subjects, bigger is NOT always better, but for hardcore
explorers (Yes, there is such a thing), size does matter at least a little. The problem
to this is, bigger worlds tend to feel smaller to players that aren't happy to wander around
aimlessly all by their lonesome. How is this?

You take a virtual world like Norrath, and you start out with a couple basic zones for each
tier level, and this gives players a limited choice of where to play. For example, at level
15, your choices are pretty much Antonica and the Commonlands. This means, everyone that enters
the game will be in these zones at these levels. Obviously bad for exploration, since you can
your map rather fast, but very good for finding groups and making friends, which is arguably the
most important aspects of the game. If you give 4 major
zones for players at level 15 to choose from, while this might tickle the explorers, this spreads
out the player base and makes finding groups a little frustrating, and it doesn't give us the
feeling of
being part of a busy world, but ends up making us feel like we are in a really complex single player game, particularly if
you are already on a low population server. Being in a zone where it feels like you are the
only one there is very sad and discouraging, and blows the whole point of MMO gaming.


Born to be Free

Having content to explore, lands that appeal to the nomad in us all, is an important aspect
of gaming as well. Looking at the same landscape day after day gets old rather fast. If I had
to play in the same zone all of the time, I probably wouldn't play at all. I like having
choices, and I love being able to step into new areas that I haven't previously been in, and I enjoy
the feeling of not knowing what is around the next corner. In addition to this, I like the idea
of small hidden areas in larger zones that hold secrets, and interesting little tidbits. You
wouldn't believe how long it was before I discovered The Hidden Vale in Antonica, and I nearly
leapt with joy, yelling "OMG! I had no idea this was here!!!". Yeah, so I'm a noob, but it was
still fun for me, and gaming is supposed to be fun!

So how is this need for new and
fresh content and landscape balanced with the desire to keep an appropriate population spread
amongst the zones?

Think of our virtual gaming world as a you would real life for a moment. You might go to
the same grocery
store every week, and the general scenery might be the same, but things change. You don't see
the same people, the same cars, or the same situations every week, it's constantly changing.
Now apply this line of thought to an MMO world. The Commonlands and Nektulos Forest are a very good examples
of this, the basic background stayed the same, but they managed to mix it up enough, that it
was still somewhat new and interesting. I love this idea for several reasons. First of all, it's far easier
for developers to change an existing zone than build a whole new one. Second, you aren't adding
new space, spreading out the current population causing issues of bare, unused lands. And third, we
still get the feeling of being
somewhere new and being part of an evolving world.

Beyond the logistics of revamping old zones, (which to me, makes perfect sense) there comes
the idea that we are part of an
evolving world. Lore and storylines are played out before our very eyes, quests, NPCs, and mobs
change to
include us in this evolution. Whether roleplaying happens to be part of your playstyle or not,
this is a very cool element of MMOs. This keeps players passionate about the world they play in,
and lets us all feel a part of something real, or virtually real.


The Future of Exploration

With a new expansion soon to arrive, I have a very certian feeling that for a great while, the
older zones will be dead, particularly since "Echoes of Faydwer" includes all levels of playable
content and a new race. Anyone that was around during the releasing of the frogloks knows that
nearly EVERYONE made a froglok. The same thing will happen with the fae, I'm sure.
This gives me such mixed feelings. I hate to see lands that I adore, grow stale and
ignored, but then, the explorer in me cannot wait to sink my teeth into each of these new zones
make the best of being somewhere new.

Will new lands make the older ones obsolete? Will players cease to play in the familiar zones
such as Lavastorm and The Enchanted Lands in favor of the new zones?

It mght happen. I hope that the developers do all that they can to keep the older lands
fresh and interesting, and do not make the mistake of leaving them forgotten. It could be
devestating for an already waning population when new players come aboard and see nothing but an
empty wasteland.


Comments? Questions? My virtual door is always open! Contact me via e-mail.

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016