Vague Patch Notes: Distractions are what define the MMO
I’m going to put up a theory in the Vague Patch Notes column today. It’s possibly an odd theory, and as sometimes happens, it’s not a theory that I’ve thoroughly worked on, or even a theory that I’m fully convinced is correct. But it’s an interesting theory to consider, and I think it deserves a bit of chewing on it.
First off, at the core of the vast majority of MMOs is some form of combat system. This is not inherently surprising or even all that strange. If we are to basically simulate MMOs as heroic novels (often in the fantasy genre), then most of these stories, in no small part, are about people with sharp pieces of metal going off to meet lots of interesting people and kill some of them with the sharp bits of metal mentioned above. And many MMOs stop there.
But what makes an MMO good are all the things that have little to nothing to do with that narrative. A good combat system is good, but if you don’t combine a good combat system with good writing And good group content, your MMO will not rise above a niche title.
“Well that’s obviously not true,” you say to your monitor for some reason. “There are many games that are very shallow in different ways, such as Elyon And Star Wars The Old Republicand these games have or had crafting and stuff, so side content obviously wasn’t enough for them!”
And you are right! These games have other side activities. But I want you to think a little bit about these games and since it took me five minutes to remember what Elyons Even the name was and I’ve never played it that much, I’ll pick at something SWTOR Here. This game me Do know, and if you do, I want you to tell me: How do you play your way through a planet in this game?
The answer is pretty simple. You land on a planet and get a cutscene. You will then be directed to either a central hub or the first area to explore. There you will get an overview of the main story of this planet and what your particular class is trying to achieve. You go to an area and kill everything you need, sometimes you go to the next area where you have to choose between exactly three options (“be stupid nice”, “be harmless generic”, “be a rampant jerk without Reason”) ) and watch the cutscene. Keep going until you reach the end of the hallway where you go to the next one. Repeat this until you have saved/ruined the planet. Now back to the ship.
They also used to include a bunch of side quests with no real story or overall impact. Nowadays you don’t even have to worry about that because the designers realized these side quests were boring and just made them optional. Probably the right choice, but still.
When you’re done with a planet, you’re really done with it. You don’t even have to return to an old area to farm materials; You can just send extra companions to get old materials if you haven’t found enough to craft. This is how crafting works. Everything is set up so that you have to do as little pointless side content as possible yourself, resulting in you just following a pretty line and then finding out that oh great, my companion has brought back some rare material that I’m learning something new from can do is fun.
Heck, you can’t even really easy explore freely these zones. Taris is a series of small squares scooped out of a larger map. Even if you wanted to go exploring, really tip. Sure, you have side activities, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to avoid feeling like those side activities only exist because it would feel weird in-game not have these side jobs. Why is there crafting? Well, MMOs need crafting. What is the emotional investment in the craft? Who cares.
In contrast, city of heroes started without crafting. Heck, it started out with nothing but missions about going somewhere and beating up criminals. Often the best way to level up was to turn on a random mission generator and take on random missions. And yet the game did Stick to your ribs because, well…every single zone had its own enemies, its own feel, and its own stories to explore. Across wide ranges of levels, you can do them in any order.
And if it did When you start crafting you have a real sense that the craft was created with the aim of making an interesting and interesting one deep Crafting system where your actions matter. They wanted to farm certain enemy groups to get the materials they needed. It added the ability for players to create their own missions.
In other words, if you feel like your progression at a certain level is bespoke, that everything is a distraction, then your experience feels richer.
I’ve thought about it a lot when I look back at games that have successfully stuck on the ribs. The original Guild Wars had a single strict narrative to follow, yes… but there was a whole world to explore, other quests that were vital for abilities, and perhaps most importantly, it made leveling that way superficial that it was easy not to even notice while you’re doing it. “Oh look at this, I’m already level 20. Time to focus on my physique and pick up new skills.” She didn’t have a straight line had to follow or a straight line with a few optional detours that you would never take because the straight line was more efficient anyway. You didn’t even have to play the relatively linear storylines in order!
And then I think of games that have slow eroded their distractions. I’m thinking about how World of Warcraft was on the verge of morphing into a game that didn’t really care how you earned gear through a variety of means, the currency for tier sets, crafted upgrades and items that people wanted and that were useful and various getting daily minigames… slowly leveling all of that out to steer players down the narrow path that the vanilla game always had but hadn’t successfully established.
I’m thinking about gaming as I write this Final Fantasy XIV I’m sitting in a zone dedicated entirely to minigames because I want to earn the currency for a mount, not because it’s the only way to get a mount (I have about 50 mounts), but because I want to The one, and my entire gaming session today isn’t really about killing anything. No dungeons, no raids, just jump and dodge and play a rail shooter and play a card game to make money.
Then I have to think for five minutes to remember what Elyon was even called. I’m sure the players enjoyed it, and I’m sure it was someone’s favorite game, but at the same time, I didn’t remember it at all – because there were no distractions. There was no reason for me to just do what I wanted. It was always a pretty line from start to finish.
These things feel like linked clauses when you interpret it that way.
https://massivelyop.com/2023/02/09/vague-patch-notes-diversions-are-what-makes-the-mmo/ Vague Patch Notes: Distractions are what define the MMO