The Playground Model

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To date, my favourite MMO solution to this problem is the one in the original City of Heroes. At any point you could join a high level party as a sidekick. You would get XP as if you were at the more powerful hero's level, your abilities would level up to that point as well and you would get more HP and receive less damage. You could actually play the entire game like this, skipping through the early content and warping straight to the last bits. Not only did this allow newcomers to instantly play with their veteran friends, it also offered an interesting tradeoff: the ability to solo versus the early access to high level stuff. You could go anywhere as long as you were socially accepted enough to find a mentor.

As everything else in CoH, this system got destroyed by listening too much to the people complaining that all the "fun" was getting in the way of the "depth", so more or less at the same time crafting, base raids and all the other boring MMO stuff got patched in, they changed it so that high level heroes could downgrade themselves and play low level stuff. So, form a system encouraging cooperation and free access to content it became a system encouraging replaying early, boring areas. On the brigth side, it felt more like WoW.

I hear that worked well for them.

I'd have to say Darkfall is the only MMO close to what you described. You can pretty much do anything from the get go, like physically kill anyone and loot them (not saying you will, but it is possible), ride any mount including ships, warhulks (fantasy tanks) and stuff, collect any resource, use any weapon or armour (you may suck at it though). There is a grind, however, and that's where it lets us down.

Shamus Young:
I don't know if a playground style MMOG would be a success, but I know I'd be there on launch day.

Ah, but the question is, would you still be there on the first anniversary or launch day? I don't like MMOs for precisely the 'problems' that your suggestion would solve. BUT without the annoying parts to make the good parts look good and the player to feel like he deserved them, I don't see how players wouldn't get bored very quickly and go play something else. Basically, do you think that your suggestion would decrease the sense of achievement in levelling/getting new areas etc, and if that isn't the main draw that keeps people coming back to MMOs, what is?

Interesting article by the way, good work. :)

I've always wanted to try Raiding, but I've never been able to play World of Warcraft (the only MMO I've ever tried, which I have tried about three times) past the trial, because I don't like to pay monthly fees (no particular reason why, it just makes me feel like I'm just "renting" the game and I don't really "own" it).

I tried grouping in one of my trials, but one of my friends was really into it, and it felt like a career.

During my most recent trial, I tried soloing, and it was okay, but I couldn't stick with it. I guess the reason I don't like billing by the month is that you feel like you "have" to play to get your money's worth. I play games because I want to.

I stopped playing MMO's in general four and a half months ago, but I had always liked the cooperative element of raiding. There was something special about getting 20-some-odd people to work together as a well-oiled machine, as well as the euphoria from downing a boss we had always avoided (I'm looking at you, Ignis.)

That having been said, it stopped being fun when the game became work with chewy nuggets of fun mixed in on occasion.

To be fair, I played far too much, and for a while fighting over minerals and mobs seemed more interesting than taking out the trash and paying the bills. The kicker for me was spending so much time gathering the resources necessary to make sure I was ready to tackle the events I actually wanted to do. I was doing the virtual analogue of exactly those things I was avoiding in real life.

WoW's not my only MMO, just the last one I played. (I didn't find GW attractive post-searing, I never made it past lvl 28 in Aion, and I'd hardly call D2:LoD an MMO.)

Edit: Point I can't believe I forgot.

Recall reading your EULA?

Remembering that everything I'd made and earned over the last two and a half years wasn't even mine is, to this day, the most earth-shattering moment I've ever experienced regarding a game.

I play MMOs for the challenge, mainly in the form of pvp.
Two lines from No More Heros would better surmise how I feel.

"This is what it's all about, fighting your own kind."
"Don't die on me to quickly, son, I want to gorge on the sense of fulfillment till I vomit."

I played WoW avidly until not to long ago and I PvPed for hours on end. It was about the thrill of a kill, that no matter how hard my enemy struggled I would not be the first to fall. I never played for myself though, I killed when it suited the match's progression. Taking out a druid-flag tanker or running a diversion at LM or Mine. Heck, I've had to hold Mine on my own several times. I'll admit though, I was a rouge. When your able to take out 3 enemys simultanously, all of which who outrank you in gear and level, it ceases being an issue of 'overpowered', its the skill. I took pride in my skill and I enjoyed every moment of every confrontation.

Guess I've went off on a tangent though. Never really considered gaining another 10 levels a bad thing. The instances were fun, and I was on a low-population server so that's got to mean something. I was also one of those guys who read the quest text. A lot of it was pretty droll but usually had some grand finale which made it well worth the wait.

-Spoiler- the first one that comes to mind is the one where you fight one of the Lich kings generals with mutated 'hulk-like' trolls after an amusing betryal.-/spoiler-

I could probably go back to WoW and finally get around to starting the raid content but if that don't work out I still got the PvP. Still want to try out that new BG they announced not to long ago...

HATE WITH A VENGENCE the hell levels. aka mid to late lvls roughly 3/4 of the way to max. it takes a month to get to 3/4 but then takes 3 months to max out! WTF! >.<

and forced group quests at the end of a chain of solo.

it be a hoot if the last quest in a chain actually give u an option, to do the Group quest or Continue as a Solo quest. The reward being a Unique/Epic item for Group and Rare/Exceptional item for Solo. Item with the same name but colored different with one having either an extra stat or doing/having more DmG/Armor. I mean is that really so impossible to do? oO

This is why free realms is the best "mmo" ever. Exploring, collecting, "pvp" card game, gathering "professions" are all easy minigames. There wasn't any racing "quests" when I played but it was a really fun couple of months.

I don't like rpg's because they are boring. Seriously, I've had more fun tinkering with Microsoft Excel than playing Fable 2. I did play WoW for three months though. It was a slow boil for me until I reached level 10. Then it was all about PvP. I guess I'm competitive because there was nothing more exhilarating than killing other players as my Undead rogue. Eventually, I realized that I could never be good at PvP, no matter how skilled I was because the best items could only be gotten through raiding and I just don't have the time or the inclination for that. So I quit WoW. Ironically, I do enjoy a good Warcraft III match. I thought strategy was dry and boring at first but it's a lot more like PvP than anything else. That game is merciless, I still can't beat the computer at custom games on normal.

Such a great description. It's every reason that I hate MMOGs.

That said, I think their "the game starts at 80 model" does work for them, because it forces everybody to play through all of the content. You might think, "Why would people play a game that isn't fun just so they could get to the good stuff?" If people were rational, that would make sense, but we aren't always rational. Many of us will think, "The end game must be really good if all of these people played for weeks to get there and still play it," so they force themselves through it. They may hit the end and decide it wasn't worth it, or they may actually like it and stick with it, but either way they have played for a long time and spent a decent amount of cash.

Now, what if it really was a sandbox and everybody could play what they wanted? Assuming each group likes a small subset of the game, they would go off and play that subset, experiencing only the content they liked. It would take them a fraction of the time to do this, at which point (like everybody else who gets to the end), they would eventually get bored and demand more content. Now Blizzard has to make x-times as much content in order to keep each group busy.

It's the difference between Ikea and Walmart. In Walmart, you can walk it, get what you like, and walk out within minutes (if you know what you want). In Ikea, you have to walk through a serpentine maze for 30 minutes or more, forcing you to experience everything. We still do it, because there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but we still wish we could just get what we want. But Ikea does this because it forces us to see everything, rave about the selection, and possibly pick up something on an impulse. It's all about extending the shopping opportunity. For Blizzard, it's just a matter of extending the subscription period -- hopefully until the next expansion is ready.

All that said, I would give MMOGs another shot if they gave me a chance to do the fun things without grinding for weeks.

Im quite surprised that no one else has said this (or Im too lazy to find it :P) but Shamus has pretty much just described EVE online. They even use the whole 'playground' analogy for themselves. (Linky: http://wiki.eveonline.com/en/wiki/About_EVE_Online)

Progressing (or leveling) in EVE is all done in real time, so it may come across as a barrier at some early stages it actually ensures that you are ALWAYS progressing - rather than being based on how quickly you can grind quests etc.

Obviously its not the only thing needed to progress - money is the lifeblood of Eve. I won't bore you with the different ways but there are lots - which is supposed to keep it interesting. Bored playing on the swings all day? Play on something else? In something like WoW if you DON'T raid you can't progress (because you wont get the best loot) but in Eve you always progress regardless and its a choice on how you spend your time rather than feeling like your being pushed into a single activitiy.

Personally I see the main problem is MMO's is that they either try to satisfy too many or too few people / play types. If its done too thinly (ie, SWG) then you end up with alot of different game mechanics which are as deep as a tea spoon. Something like WoW is designed for the 'killer' playtype - everything else is an accessary to killing. Crafting gives you more money so you can buy stuff to kill easier - questing provides XP so you can kill stuff easier etc etc. This means that although the game machanics for killing and grouping are quite excellent, without much variation it gets boring very quickly. It also means that very little attention is paid to the players or lore / RP because most are completely focused on getting the 'lewt' and everyone else in the party is an expendable assest to help them get what they want.

I don't think that any MMO will be perfect and alot of the time its down to the players. If you give people a playground some will love creating new games to play with the equipment with friends and have alot of fun. Others will see just the bland equipment that will be used to destruction and cast out once the fun has exhausted and expect something new and different because they can't create the fun themselves with the tools provided.

I don't play MMOGs, but I know a lot of people said that Borderlands was a grind fest, while I think endlessly killing stuff in the midst of completing fetch quests is tons of fun. Especially when playing system linked at my friends house and we're drinking loads of scrumpy between missions.

the problem with the playground idea is that leveling doesnt allow this. while leveling may be allowing, its one of the reasons why RPGs are addicting: Instant Gratification. Instead of slowly improving over time... BAM you level and you get an instant improvement of stats and/or skills, people love this because you can't get it in real life. maybe on the horizon there's a playground utopia with no leveling, and the players can just run free and play, the problem is filling that playground. And actually it kinda sounds like PlayStation HOME... meep

I was shocked that you said spring riders were the least popular - my order of preferance was definately; spring riders, swings, roundabout... then if i really had to, boring climbing things.

It sounds like what youre suggesting is to offer players all the things they might or might not want to do - like a playground, and offer it simultaneously. What this means is removing any "pre-activity" to get to where you actually want to be, i.e. if you want to do it just jump in.

The huge problem with this is that suddenly you've removed a massive element of progression from your game. Suddenly, the 50 plus days you've spent in the MMO have much less to show for them than the 20 or so that someone else may have put in. In WoW however, the people with 50 days will be the ones with most to show for it (in game terms), because they've followed the progression "road" for much longer.

Also look at the kind of activity that you would have to engage in to be truly have an activity that was "jump into" - one with very little depth, which is probably designed to cater to a maximum of an hour's play. Whilst i like the playground analogy, can you imagine what it would be like if designers wanted their playground to attract people, and keep them there all day, nay, all year? Imo, that would be an MMO playground for sure.

I play for the exploration and the solo adventure. I enjoy a group, but only if it is not a dreaded Pick Up Group. And only if the group of potential friends enjoys exploring the actual dungeon, not just running through to get to the boss.

I personally love WoW, but there are of course some niggling issues I have with it and agree these are put in place as an attempt to force players to "play the game" in a certain way. Tho Blizzard is honestly better than many designers at giving the players what they want (despite the cries of the gamers saying otherwise on the WoW forums).

I have to agree tho, giving the players what they WANT would be better than forcing them to do what they MUST in order to find the "fun" they are seeking out of the game in question.

Dunno if it's been mentioned in this thread, but Guild Wars also acknowledges exploration.

I'm more of a singleplayer guy, so I made my "brief" instance of WOW playing a single player endeavour... which sucked when you got to lvl 30-40 or such because everything forced you to team work after a while. then I quit.

MMORPGs are just to slow-paced for me. i'm not patient enough to play until the game actually becomes rewarding to me

I was usually a loner in MMOGs until I got to a very high level. I usually don't like talking to people unless we need to use teamwork to achieve a goal.

I played a lot of MMO's. How much? Well, I played Warhammer Online, WoW, Champions Online, Eve Online, Guild Wars, Ragnarok Online, Fallen Earth, Everquest II and lots of others that I simply cannot remember. Most games couldn't simply make me playing them longer than 3 months, because in every game something important was missing: the feeling that every activity is as rewarding as the others in terms of fun and reward.

Let's look at WoW. Raiding is the ONLY way to get good PVE-equipment. But what about crafting? Why do I have to look like thousands of other players? Why is the reglementation for raiding so harsh? And why can't I use that stupid armor in PVP? Oh, yes, because it has the wrong stats. That was the point where I left the game. PVP, PVE, crafting ... they're like own worlds for themselves.

Another example: Eve Online. I loved mining and crafting stuff, but sometimes I simply wanted to kick some pirates' asses. I could not simply change my roles. Not even making a second character helps, because you could only level-up one of them. I was stuck at mining. My attacks against other players made them laugh and I needed 3 months real-time (!!!) to even dream of competing with them.

The most time, I love to craft things and explore territory to find stuff to even craft more. I love variety in character classes (that's why I liked Everquest II) and skills that I can work with in my own way (that's why I still like Guild Wars)

Conclusion: playable(!) variety is gold in MMOS. Crafting, PVE, PVP, ... you should reach your goal with all of them and all of them should be accessible everytime without harsh limiting of the other facets of the game. People should not be reduced to the skill set of a class and its armor or to a separated activity

EDIT: Damn, I left out the most important part! Story ... it's nice to bash enemies to get good equip, but there should be a meaning attached to it. And this meaning should be of more importance than the stuff you get. The mission system of Guild Wars was a good example for that.

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