An MMO Evolution: Connecting Players to the Story

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The importance of story in an MMOG is different for every gamer. Some like feeling as though tales within a game have been custom crafted for them, while others are content with an overall story encompassing a race, nation, or world. There are even some gamers out there that couldn't possibly care any less about a story of any kind as long as there are plenty of monsters to kill and loot to be had.

For me, the story of a game, and how it relates to me personally is very important. While I still consider BioWare to be the unchallenged rulers of this domain in the single player world, there are some games that have made impressive strides towards making a personalized story within an MMOG a viable achievement. It's interesting how companies can strive for the same goal and attain it in completely different ways.

Age of Conan took a unique approach in their efforts to bring an individualized story to their players. By talking with an innkeeper, players are able to follow the game's main story line in their own instanced world. Rather than being a small instance such as those seen instanced areas of other games, this turns the entire area around the player into a single player game. Here, players are able to progress through a class-specific story line by themselves. The full story arc remains the same for everyone, but the path and missions you'll complete are different depending on which class you complete them with. This is both an effective and efficient method to bring the player further into a company's world.

City of Heroes/Villains took a different, but no less effective method in their efforts. During the course of your career as a superhero or super villain, you'll read a number of newspaper stories about your character. To be sure, they're definitely generic, but getting a note saying Villain X is getting uppity in the underworld and needs to be beaten down a few notches certainly has its allure. Given enough time, civilians around the city will begin to recognize and react to you as well. Don't be surprised when some enemy decides you've become enough of a pain and drops in on you while you're out just roaming around. From the outside, situations like this don't seem difficult to implement, but they really go a long way towards drawing a player deeper into the rabbit hole.

Since Cryptic Studios were the initial creators of the CoX titles, it's no surprise that the team has gone even further with their latest comic-inspired endeavor, Champions Online. Rather than just being jumped by some anonymous villain that has a problem with you, you now get to create your own personal nemesis from scratch. Design their costume, power build, etc. It's just one more way to further the player's involvement with their own enjoyment, which companies hope then translate into longer sustained subscriptions.

Not to be outdone by anyone, those masters of storytelling I made reference to earlier, BioWare, are set to bring the role of story within an MMOG to new heights of glory with the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic. They stated on numerous occasions that each class will have its own individual storyline that will keep the player engrossed throughout their journey. How they plan to accomplish this ambitious task remains to be seen in full, but if anyone can pull such a feat off, BioWare is that company.

Despite my personal preference, game companies don't need to cater a storyline to individual players. There are plenty of success stories that confirm this, with World of Warcraft being chief among them. Rather than focusing on storylines that revolve around individual players, the majority of story within the game is centered upon the various races and nations. Blizzard has taken more of a lore-centric approach to their story telling and who can argue with almost 12 million subscribers?

The story telling in EverQuest II takes yet a different route in that it attempts to combine the best of both worlds. Most of the lore and story within the game involves the various capital cities, races, and the gods of Norrath. The team at SOE has gone one step further though by making the NPCs of various cities react to your presence in different ways. This was highlighted best by an incident shortly after the game went live.

My guild had been concentrating on completing tasks for the Freeport Militia. At first, the guards would mock you at worst, or completely ignore you at best. I'll never forget the first time I came tearing up the ramp with my necromancer, ready to grab another task for them, and the guards all snapped to attention as I went by. I had to stop and turn back around to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Like the CoX newspaper stories, it's a small thing, but it made a profound impact on my relation with the game.

For me, story plays a very intricate role in my enjoyment or distaste for a game. As technology advances, more companies are making an effort to make you feel as though you really are important to the world and have a distinct role to play. At the same time, there are plenty of successful games that have felt no need to follow this trend. I want to know where you fall on the scale. Does a personalized storyline matter to you and if so, how much? If you think I'm just off my rocker, feel free to let me know that too!

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