Paradigm, more positively

If the underlying decisions and assumptions made by designers and developers for MMOs (and maybe for single player games too? I don’t play enough to know) were to change, what would we suggest?

How should quests change? Should there be quests at all? Should we have levels? How else would we measure progress? Should there be crafting? How would it work? Should online games reward twitch-ability despite that not being a “level” playing field (not everyone twitches well)? Should online game reward reasoning and puzzling abilities despite that not being as level playing field either? Should we be able to use real life money to pay for things in games — from the trivial (items, titles) to the less trivial (levels, or whatever else is being measured)? Should we be able to use automated scripts? For what? Should we pay subscriptions, pay as we go, or not pay at all (if some other form of revenue can be devised)?

How far away from our current paradigm-comfort zone are we willing to go for the next generation of MMOs?

I have loads of things I’d usually suggest but, since I’m putting myself on the spot, my mind has blanked. Hopefully yours won’t. 😉

EDIT — ok here’s one. At a very basic level, I miss games like Asheron’s Call where I could allocate points to skills. It was a fairly simple system, and there were lots of no-brainer paths, but I still liked the illusion of customisation. If I wanted a HUGE run skill, I could have that. I miss that, and “mastery paths” or whatever they end up calling them in games are’nt really what I’d call customisation, at least not to that extent.

15 thoughts on “Paradigm, more positively

  1. I’m apparently part of the lunatic fringe, because I have no burning desire for paradigm shifts. I’m pretty content with MMOs the way they are today. I want evolutionary, not revolutionary, changes.

    The multi-box issue got me thinking. I had 2 accounts in DAoC, but y’know why? Because there was no way to swap items between accounts. So one account was basically a “mule” account (though iirc, I crafted with it a bit).

    And there used to be HUGE forum battles about whether or not the next new game should allow mailing items to alts. And these days, that feature is more or less a standard.

    I suppose to some extend it depends on what you consider a paradigm. Are WAR’s Open Groups an evolutionary step, or a paradigm shift? Because those I liked.

    To be a better sport, I’d say pay structure could use some changes. I treat LOTRO much differently than any other MMO because of my Lifetime sub. It has more ‘value’ to me than a Free2Play game, since I did spend $200 (I think?) for it. But I *only* play it because I really want to play it, vs monthly-sub games where I do find myself logging in because I “should” since I’m paying for it.

    I’m curious about Wizard 101’s option of paying either a monthly sub, or buying access to content as you move forward. That, too, feels like it holds promise but I haven’t experienced it enough to know for sure.

    Sorry, I’m apparently chatty this morning.

  2. I like being able to choose skills too — Asheron’s Call and Eve Online are my favorite games as far as character customization. Eve doesn’t have levels at all — all character progressions is in skill points. That works in Eve — your ability to complete content or participate in PVP is based on your skill set. In most games, levels are used not only as measures of progression, but pointers as to where in the world you can (or should) be playing.

  3. Difficult Pete says: But Ultima Online, arguably the first large scale graphical MMO, had skill points rather than levels, so is that a paradigm shift or is it retro? (Either way I do like being able to customize my character too, particularly when you increase skills by using them.)

    Cooperative Pete says: I thought of one! Weather. Sure, some games have weather effects, but they generally have no bearing on gameplay. I’m a crazy old fart who RPs all the time, so I fret about running through muddy areas because I know I’ll be cleaning my boots later. I’d love to see weather have a real in-game inpact. Cold weather gear vs warm weather gear, more missed attacks in the driving rain, that sort of thing.

  4. I guess SWG was the last that really had that kind of skill system. There was a reason NGE happened…. it wasn’t working as well as the powers that be wanted.

    Balancing around that system is very difficult, especially now that it is not uncommon for games to have hundreds of thousands of players.

    That being said, I’d like to see it back too.

  5. Designing systems based on players being able to allocate skill points are a nightmare. Linear leveling and tight alternative advancement paths are much easier to control and balance for everyone. Most designers try to design for hardcore and casual players. To level the playing field, linear design works well because it’s easy to control. Is this right or wrong? I’m not arguing that. It’s a design choice as the concept of a game progresses. It’s easier for designers to design levels and advancement for a game where they know what the players are capable of at any level. Putting in too many variables ultimately leads to an unbalanced game. And we know how players HATE imbalance. LOL

  6. That’s part of the current paradigm — the idea of a level playing field. Should it stay that way? Would I hate a game that let me use my smarts but smacked me for not being very twitchy or dextrous (because I’m not)?

    I’m not saying we necessarily *need* a radical shift in game design, tough I lean toward thinking we need some fairly major changes in the underlying assumptions about how we play.

    MMOs are currently pretty much based on tabletop fantasy games, however the various systems may be implemented. That means levels, questing, loot, etc. I’m just wondering if there are other ways to play that we don’t easily think of because we’re in this RPG box (I know I am).

  7. Something seems to be wrong with comments at the moment. ATITD instituted levels in the previous telling (2006), which disappointed me. However, it does try to break the MMO mould in many other ways, though there are things about how it’s run that bother me that are too long to get into right now.

  8. My Evolution:
    http://www.gaxonline.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1511077%3ABlogPost%3A91577

    My Revolution:
    http://soagcure.blogspot.com/2008/07/jabberwocky-streets.html

    To add even more:
    Conversations with variable answers. It’s a minor detail to the player, and huge deal to the writing staff, but it’s something that would make all the difference to me. SWG actually has this in a few areas, but by an large it’s very utilitarian.

    Twitch is fine, if at first it needs to be used in heavy instancing for server stability, okay. On the other side, we can also move away from big metal waders to more tactical and strategic thinking. Both have made appearances in less popular mmos before, and I think there is another mmofps on the horizon.

  9. You could also, conceivably, take a page from Molyneux’s book, and make mounts more like the dog from Fable 2. Rather than constantly switching mounts in and out, you would give it it’s basic design at character creation. Then over time it would change to reflect your level, or perhaps have gear of it’s own, and so forth. Likewise it could despawn only on disconnect, meaning it may help you in battle and you would need to deal with tying it up in town.

  10. Ysh: That’s part of the current paradigm — the idea of a level playing field. Should it stay that way? Would I hate a game that let me use my smarts but smacked me for not being very twitchy or dextrous (because I’m not)?

    Mak: But you would want the abilty to use your smarts to yield similar results as someone who was more skilled at being twitchy. And vice versa. You would also want the opportunity to have an equal amount of fun.

    Ysh: I’m not saying we necessarily *need* a radical shift in game design, tough I lean toward thinking we need some fairly major changes in the underlying assumptions about how we play.

    Mak: Game design is moving more away from assumptions as there has been hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on market and player studies over the years. I don’t think we need changes in the assumptions…we need changes in the way players play. Unfortunately, that is never going to happen. A lot of game design today is done with the griefers and the cheaters in mind. And that’s another reason I think the mold isn’t being broken in new MMOs.

    Ysh: MMOs are currently pretty much based on tabletop fantasy games, however the various systems may be implemented. That means levels, questing, loot, etc. I’m just wondering if there are other ways to play that we don’t easily think of because we’re in this RPG box (I know I am).

    Definitely. I totally agree. I think you’re going to see these changes come more out of the indy game industry than the mass market MMO companies. There will be and has been more innovation that comes when there is less at stake.

    We also have to keep in mind the difference between game and virtual world.

    The definition of a game is a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators. WAR, WoW, EQ2 are all examples of MMOs as games.

    A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. The original SWG was a virtual world, not a game. When that virtual world lost its luster, they tried to revive it as a game with the NGE.

    I think the MMOs that strike a good balance between game and vitual world will take us to that next gen experience.

  11. I think leveling and quests need to go. Find other carrots to motivate us. But levels and quests separate us. If there’s 2000 people on the server, I want to have the potential of grouping up with any of those 2000 people. With levels and quests I have to find someone a) in my level range, b) on the same quest as me, and c) that needs my current class or whatever.

    So for carrots to replace Levels: more emphasis on Achievements/Titles/Deeds (whatever you want to call it).

    For carrots to replace Quests: I’d like to see less reliance on quest journals and static, unchanging quest arcs. I like the Mission system that City of Heroes has, where I could easily group and it didn’t matter what stage of the quest the other party members were on, I was still rewarded.

    Though I’d like to see more dynamic systems. For example, instead of relying on artificial systems like “Tradeskill Quests” (such as Writs in EQ2) to level up a crafter, allow “buy orders” in game and give XP and faction to crafters who fulfill orders for PCs. Use the same system to create buy orders for NPCs to remove items from the game world and ensure there’s demand for crafter services.

    An example of a dynamic system: if crafters don’t build enough weapons for the NPC guards, maybe the bandits get closer to town making it harder for adventurers to travel. Or whatever. The idea is I want a game that still feels like a world with its own virtual ecology.

  12. “Both have made appearances in less popular mmos before, and I think there is another mmofps on the horizon.”

    You might be thinking of Huxley?

    “You could also, conceivably, take a page from Molyneux’s book, and make mounts more like the dog from Fable 2. ”

    I loved that dog.

    Couple tidbits. The EQ2 expansion comes with a bear cub that is a ‘house pet’ that grows as you level and eventually becomes ridable. Not the same thing but (IMO) kind of neat so I thought I’d mention it.

    When I played a Hunter in WoW I had a much stronger connection to my pet because I’d had to tame it rather than just ‘buying it’. And I had to feed/maintain it. Same thing going all the way back to UO, where there were wild horses and someone with a high enough animal-taming skill would have to tame a wild horse, then either keep it or sell it to another player. And once you had a horse (or any pet) you had to feed it and keep it happy or it would run away.

    In so many ways, UO still looks ‘advanced’ compared to current-day games, but the audience wanted simpler/easier and the developers offered that.

    Until a few million of the 11 million WoW subscribers get burned out on that game, I doubt we’ll see many radical changes.

  13. Game designers and players alike need to unlearn what they have learned over the past four to five years about MMO’s.

    Nothing good has become of them and the genre has turned into nothing more than leveling grindfests where achievement has become king at the expense of what these games used to be about — the journey.

    Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive)

  14. I played helbreath, where at the start of the game you chose “knight or wizard”. Basically, that just determined where the game put your 5 spare points. It did nothing else. You gained no new spells, no better weapons etc etc.

    You could also place them wherever you so chose.

    If you wanted a character that moved so fast with such lightening reflexes that he could not be bothered with more than a small buckler and thin rapier, so be it. If you wanted a plate-wearing healer with a two-handed flamberge, so be it.

    If you wanted a pure caster with the whole-nine-yards in spells… Go for it!!

    The game was literally completley customizable. Armor, weapons, spells etc all required certain stats depending on their type, and with 150 levels when I played you could literally make your character into whatever your heart desired.

    Oh, the good ol days, and the heavily experienced MMOers who dwell on them 😉

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