Editor’s note: I’ve never been a fan of MMOs. I’ve dabbled in a few, but most of them are, well, boring compared to the single-player role-playing games that I love. Brian has 10 tips to help MMOs attract players like me. If MMOs followed Brian’s advice, would you give one a try? -Jason
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games have become enormously successful in recent years. The genre started with titles like Ultima Online and EverQuest, but games like World of WarCraft and, to a lesser degree, Final Fantasy 11 led MMOs into a bright new age.
With more than 11 million subscribers, you could argue that there’s no need for a company like Activision-Blizzard to change. That may be true. But smaller developers should consider every piece of advice they can find to tackle this juggernaut.
If any developers have a chance of dethroning Activision-Blizzard, it’d be Square Enix or BioWare. With BioWare’s recent track record, I’d say they have the greatest chance of pulling an upset, but Square Enix could also be a formidable foe if they play their cards right.
As an avid Final Fantasy fan (at least the games preceding FF11), I always wanted to like Square’s first MMO. I even went as far as creating a clan for the game three years in advance. Once it was released, however, I felt like a discarded bastard child. It may have included the classic Final Fantasy Job System, but its unoriginal take on the EverQuest formula just didn’t do it for me.
After being disappointed by FF1, I moved on to WOW, but that couldn’t keep my interest for more than a few days, either. See, despite being an RPG fan, I never enjoyed “the grind.” Grinding’s bad enough in single-player games, but I especially don’t want to be doing it when playing with friends. I’d rather hack at a giant Redwood with a hatchet for days on end than slay imps for 24 hours in search of loot.
Clearly, MMORPGs haven’t won me over, so I made a list of 10 suggestions for improvement.
Endless grinding needs to go the way of the dodo
While I’m not an advocate for poachers and those who exterminate species of animals, I do care about the hours of my life that pointless grinding sucks up. If I wanted to waste my time fighting the same monsters all day, I’d have to give up my duty of shoveling Farmer John’s barn full of manure. And honestly, I just couldn’t do it.
Stop lifting fetch quests from N64 games
I have fond memories of collecting all sorts of widgets while playing Banjo Kazooie. Actually, I can barely even remember what I collected, since I was having much more fun flipping higher than a gymnast in Mario 64. If I didn’t like fetch quests then, why would I enjoy them now online? If I wanted to collect a bird’s tail feathers, I’d simply go to a zoo and harass a peacock.
Add ‘Massively Multiplayer’ to my PVP
From what I’ve seen, most MMO’s Player-versus-Player modes consist of simple duels. If I wanted a duel, I’d go out into the street and have a sword fight — or I’d play Diablo 2. I want some new ideas here. Let’s have some airship battles! Allow us to build castles with our guilds and seize enemy territories. And for the love of god, allow evildoers like me to rule the land, or at least let us make an attempt at it.
Sure, it’d be difficult to balance this type of gameplay, but it might even draw in the Halo crowd. But if you do attract the Halo crowd, don’t forget a mute button.
Where’s the story?
One of the reasons I played the WarCraft 3 and StarCraft single-player campaigns was for the story. When I found out that World of WarCraft barely expanded upon the world of WarCraft 3, I lost interest. Also, FF11 failed to captivate me by taking the Final Fantasy out of the title. Sure, Square Enix included the handyman Cid, but without a story, there’s no deal.
Give us some variety
Would a pack of Starbursts be worth purchasing if it only had lemon candies? Do you only play Grand Theft Auto to run over prostitutes? I’m sure a few of you said yes, but most people like those two things because of the options they provide.
Likewise, I don’t want all MMO missions to be the same. I shouldn’t have to be an errand boy for 90 percent of the game’s missions. Allow me to escort royalty, let me strangle a traitor with my bare hands, or let me lose a horde of dragons pursuing my airship. See, MMOs don’t have to be mundane.
Allow players to influence the game world
One thing that makes MMOs special is that so many players can congregate together and travel wherever they want. Why not take that a step further? If a player wants to be a benevolent individual, why not allow her to build new structures within a city? Or perhaps she would like to engage in trade with other nations. If a player isn’t feeling so nice, maybe he would like to commit atrocities. Perhaps he could burn down villages, enslave others, or even become a pirate.
Just remember — everyone likes to have some control over their destiny.
Screw voice acting — give a us a soundtrack
Players like to be able to converse with inhabitants of villages quickly. Players often skim text, and they typically like to avoid lengthy monologues. It’s OK to give prominent characters a voice, but regular villagers would benefit from merely receiving text.
Instead, a developer should focus on providing a soundtrack that will immerse players in their world. Even bad games have occasionally drawn me in with their soundtracks, so why not glue your subscribers to their keyboards with a soundtrack that’d be worth purchasing on its own?
Let us say what we want
Servers should accommodate the different types of players they’re home to. If players like incessant swearing and saying “Yo’ Momma” jokes every 5 seconds, they should have a place to go with like-minded individuals. On the other hand, players who don’t want to put up with immature behavior should have a place where they can feel comfortable. These are only a few examples of the many types of servers that should exist.
Joining clans should be as easy as clapping
Sometimes, players are uncomfortable seeking out new individuals, so why not give them an easy way to play with other people? If they want a clan, simply allow them to click on another player, and there should be an option to instantly let them join a clan if there’s one available. To find people to play with, players shouldn’t have to go through 10 menus, so just make it simple.
Expand the size of parties
Some players may find parties of 24 hard enough to manage, but why not allow players to roll with a 100-adventurer entourage? Forget traditional online marriages — imagine how awesome it’d be to have 300 bodyguards protecting you against wedding crashers.
Even Owen Wilson wouldn’t stand a chance.
I’m no programmer, so I’m not sure how feasible all these ideas are. But I hope that they were helpful suggestions. I’ve discussed some of these issues with other gamers before, and many feel that MMOs could attract more players if they added some of these features.
Sure, it’d take a lot of effort, but in order to combat a behemoth like Activision-Blizzard, implementing new ideas such as these might be necessary. After all, we don’t want one company to have a monopoly over the MMO genre, right?