What Is Your Idea of The Perfect MMOG?

Posted Mon, Feb 24, 2014 by Lewis B

Something I've been thinking about since my colleagues and I chatted about the failures of Pantheon and how it didn't quite resonate with the paying public, is what is my idea of the perfect MMOG?

It might sound an obvious question, but pinning down what it is that really makes an MMOG special is surprisingly difficult. Even games that have held my interest for thousands of hours, such as Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcraft, are not mine. Without question they have some great ideas and offer a fun romp through a luxurious theme park. What's missing for me in all of these modern MMOGs is the feeling of confinement: an ability to step off rails and pursue ones own endeavors, without further rails.

The two massively multiplayer games that have struck a chord with me are Neocron and Eve Online. To discuss the latter first and I should clarify, Eve Online is a game I adore but one I choose not to play. I adore it not only because of its SciFi setting but because its rules are few and human behavior is encouraged rather than squashed: treachery, deceit, trade, player versus player, looting and democracy. 

These might sound possible within most of the MMOGs we all play and they absolutely are, but it is the depth to which they can be undertaken that is the key difference. Eves economy is without rival, its PvP almost old school in your ability to kill and grieve others and the emphasis on trade and democracy a cornerstone of what makes it great. Why I don’t play Eve is another, lengthier matter (primarily due to its mouse click movement and stilted combat) but I support everything it stands for.

When it comes to Neocron and as a game I discuss fondly and regularly, there was something about its lawlessness and small player base that made it an intimate and competitive game. Many of its principals were the same as Eve Onlines, by giving players freedom to do as they wished. While its economy was no match for Eves, it was however player lead and with no auction house or trading post, trading became one of real life bartering and back-street dealings. 

Neocron World Map

For the most part, Neocron lacked any kind of infrastructure to support anything other than Player versus Player. It’s content wasn’t instanced and AI controlled enemies out in the game world were very sparse. It left you with limited locations to level that were often hot spots for combat against other clans. Considering you and your clan could also control the entire world map and earn considerable money from doing so, it was the greatest endgame incentive for anyone: level up, join a clan and take part in clan wars to earn territory. 

It didn’t need gimmicks or content updates because what was already in existence provided more entertainment than anything else. The player driven rivalry and grasps for power were daily occurrences and never petered out as long as I played the game. Neocron always gave me the impression that its developers worked backwards, by designing the endgame first (Outpost Wars) and simply filled in the gaps to allow players to quickly level up. Unfortunately I all too often think the reverse in the modern MMOG’s I play. 

Back onto the subject of “What is my idea of a perfect MMOG?” it would honestly have to be a remastered Neocron. The key differences however would be scale and polish. Outpost Wars still to this day remain one of the most comprehensive end game creations I’ve ever had the privilege of playing. What often let them down was the fact the game was buggy at times and lacked weight. That wasn’t to say combat wasn’t punchy (it absolutely was) but it was much lighter than modern variants. Further to this, rather than the world broken down into square zones you loaded through it should be seamless similarly to World of Warcraft or WildStar to prevent players jumping over borders to avoid being killed or chased. 

Eve Online

If I was to pinch anything from other MMOG’s to bolster any form of sequel, it would undoubtedly be Eve’s guild,  trade and craft systems. Alongside this I’d like to expand on the limited action sets of WildStar and in Neocron where you only really had a couple of skills (shoot, a shield and a heal) there’s potential to expand this quite significantly. Lastly and from a PvE and leveling perspective I’d probably drop it all together and simply have a few NPC’s dotted around the map that can be looted for rare objects. Seldom seeing enemies makes them a much more rewarding experience, as opposed to the typical cannon fodder. Leveling up could simply be achieved by participating in crafting, PvP or trade. 

Would that be enough to warrant a significant player base? I think so. Considering the demand for highly skilled, competitive PvP this would fill the niche perfectly. Playable in 1st or 3rd person and with aiming reliant on both your own aim and the items you wear, it’s a perfect blend of skill and itemisation. Considering the fact the original Neocron was almost made on a shoestring budget, I’m sure this could all be achieved with a small development team and small (by modern standards) amount of money. 

Most importantly of all, what would be your idea of the perfect MMOG? 

I think describing your perfect mmorpg is a bit like trying to describe your perfect partner. Its easy to describe idealistically, but there's no predicting the specifics of creativity and design behind a great product. What I mean to say is that much as I might describe my perfect partner/mmorpggame, you cant predict originality and those ways that original gameplay really hooks you. If we could, it wouldn't be original or that hook worthy.

But, in for a penny in for a pound, here's my attempt to describe my perfect game, future lightning strikes notwithstanding.

It must have a theme that hooks me. Fantasy is a creative cop out now for me. I grew up with Dungeons & Dragons, but tastes matured, and I moved on to Cyberpunk 2020 and World of Darkness and others. The world and premise alone must be worthy of engagement and draw you in.

It must have "builds" and the room for theorycrafting them. It must be possible to break away from cookie cutter class and character templates. City of Heroes did this admirably. So many combinations of powers, and so many combinations of enhancements to alter so many attributes of those powers. Builds were really worth being proud of in that game, and not easy to copy.

It must have character appearance customisation. So many mmorp's allow you to customise your physique and face, but then you slot generic armour and clothing which makes you look EXACTLY like everyone else. What's the point? Again, City of Heroes made making characters or alts an actual joy to invest in. Aion boasted more facial customisation tech, but ended up with generic 101 character lookalikes. What is the point of customisation options, if you always end up looking the same?

It must have the freeform sandboxiness of pen and paper role-play that I grew up with. Some players think of mmorpg's as a slightly more complex fps game, or as an extension of a single player rpg. To me, mmorpg's are the logical extension of pen and paper rpg's in todays world of desktop computers and server/client technology. I want an mmorpg that I can explore with my computer, with the same sense of freedom that pen and paper rpg gave me.

Housing. Let me have a customisable, functional abode that can be invested in, built up and act as an extension of my character and its place in the game-world.

Combat. Combat should be impactful with tasteful animations. Keep animations interesting, that does not means Quake like explosions of light and sound, nor does it mean they have to be minimalist and austere. Sometimes less is more, but too far in that direction is simply too little. If an ability is going to be spammed, give it a cycle of animations, not one endlessly repeating. I know i'm playing a game using a keyboard and mouse. I don't need to be reminded of that by my characters actions.

Politics. Careful with this one. I'm a recent convert to the idea that not all games should allow 100+ strong guilds. Fantasy type games lend themselves very well to large guilds, but if they are large enough the politics is not game wide but simply guild wide. The politics gamewise is actually between the few guild leaders. World of Darkness for instance is an IP where politics is inherent to the world. Small guilds keep the population fluid and politically sensitive. The WoD doesn't actually have an equivalent of a guild, unless its the circle of players who run a city.
So shoe-horning guild mechanics "just because", "its MMORPG, must have Gildz innit?" is simply another way of making your unique IP another vanilla mmorpg 101. Dont.

Use systems that enhance the gameworlds uniqueness. Dont recycle game mechanic 101, unless you want to make another game using the same templates as those we already have... And THAT's such a winning formula right?

Och... I tried to explain the DO's, and stumbled yet again into the DONT's. Sowwy :)

I agree this is a bit like describing the perfect partner in a relationship but there goes.

1. The sandbox: We talk about sandboxes all the time, but what is often missing is an AI that uses the sandbox too. AI enemies should be building outposts, making raids, and if ignored long enough, engaging in full assaults on faction keep, cities, space stations, or whatever. These enemies should be messing up faction-based PVP to keep it fresh and offering PVE encounters that can change from day to day.

2. External loyalties: The notion that all of a species/race/etc are always on the same side is employed too often in game stories and mechanics. There are always dissidents and they don't always want to join the other side. Coupled with the AI behavior above can be fractured loyalties brought by random generation in the AI or following embarrassing defeats. New leaders can emerge and change the politics of a non-player faction, increasing or decreasing hostilities. They may even get to a point of neutrality... but that may also mean they let their guard down on key resources that someone wants to plunder.

3. Internal loyalties: Conflict almost always leads to rebellions, so let's have some. They can be randomly generated by the AI, or even player instigated, leading to civil wars possibly. The more powerful a faction becomes, the more likely that someone in that faction feels like they are getting the shaft. Some may defect to another faction, some may try to form their own separate faction.

4. Guilds, or whatever: In a world with the above, player generated organizations can have interesting effects. You could support a faction, cause dissent within your own, specialize in various conflicts, or fill other niches capable of existing in any tumultuous sandbox. Give players the tools to support not only causes the developers write into the story, but generate causes of their own. If someone wants to setup a group to defend a valley, let them do it.

5. Bad guys don't always announce themselves: Too often in games we have some villain we are supposed to go after because he's been doing (X) but we never see it happen or experience it. From raids to banditry and more, let the threats develop from the AI. That town near the war front with tons of refugees should see an increase in tensions and crime, leading to situations that the players can engage in. All these stories exist in the games we play, but they are mired in the mediocrity of being a totally predictable experience. I don't want to know when the riot is going to break out. I want to be able to talk to NPCs and feel it building before it does, and maybe even prevent it. How I do so shouldn't just be by one method. If I'm a rogue maybe I assassinate someone. If I'm a priest maybe I talk to people and spend some time healing the wounded to make them realize they are going to receive care. If I'm a mage maybe I open a portal into an enemy city and relocate the contents of the latrines. Options, interaction, that's what it's about.

... All of these things really just fit into one concept. I want a world to work inside of and help shape. Not an FPS with a single player RPG UI and a list of chores to do every day. I want to log into a world and see what craziness has been going on, and figure out how I want to participate in it. Give me massive empires colliding over resources! Give me corrupt politicians and rebels with causes! Give me the option of engaging them as I see fit, or more importantly, as me and my friends see fit.

You guys are describing shadowbane :(

we need to bring that back.

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