In every genre, there exists a few mechanics which are, for lack of better terms, absolute trash. MMOs are no exception. Whether holdovers from earlier, simpler times or new (poorly realized) concepts, dealing with most of the mechanics and ‘features’ on this list is a process not dissimilar to trudging through a tax return.
The MMO as a genre has a great deal of potential, yet it’s more often than not held back by outdated mechanics, greed, and laziness. That needs to change – as do the five items on this list. In order for the genre to move forward, these ‘features’ simply need to die off.
Finish Off Forced Grouping:
We’re going to start the list off with something very, very minor.
I get that MMOs are very much about interaction. Really, I do – part of the reason I spent five years playing World of Warcraft was because I had a fantastic, entertaining guild at my back. Without other people to share the experience with, a great many MMOs would almost feel mediocre – WoW included. Along that same vein, though…
PUGs, as a general rule, suck – and in many cases, unless you’re in an extremely active guild, that’s what you’re stuck with. Just gathering a group can be a chore, and once things are together, co-ordination often feels akin to trying to walk a group of hyperactive toddlers through advanced algebra. Worse, you seem almost guaranteed to get someone who probably eats paste for a living.
Given the rather…fickle nature of random groups, sometimes it’s just better to play solo. Unfortunately, some chains don’t really give you an option. In some cases, this is acceptable…but in the case of character and class-specific quest chains, those that begin with solo quests should end with solo quests. You shouldn’t ever be forced to group up just to finish a personal story-line or gain a class skill.
Get Rid of Cash-Grabbing Cash Shops
Recently, I started playing Neverwinter. All in all, I quite enjoyed it – the combat was designed in such a way that it never really felt stale or boring; my abilities actually had a real sense of power to them, complete with downright beautiful animations. The gear, too, didn’t look half bad, while the addition of a quest-creation system (the Foundry) appealed to me almost instantly. After playing it for a few months, though?
Honestly, I started to get a little bored.
Bugs aside, the primary reason Neverwinter stopped appealing to me was the slipshod, money-grubbing way Perfect World and Cryptic handled the in-game store (and the fact that this ties in with their decision to essentially neuter the capabilities of Foundry authors). In short, the game is pay-to-win in the worst way possible. Currency can be purchased with real-world money, ‘aesthetic’ items cost upwards of $30.00 to buy, and in some cases (professions in particular) it’s extremely difficult to make any meaningful progress without passing through a paywall.
Worse, they tend to do this with all their games. Take Star Trek Online, which allows you to spend real-world currency to purchase starships which are, to put it bluntly, simply better than anything non-paying customers can gain access to. It’s a terrible business practice, and the sole reason Free to Play is getting a bad rap.
There are many reasons Neverwinter is failing; the in-game cash shop certainly isn’t helping matters.
Step Away From Random-Number-Generator Combat:
This one may be more a matter of taste…but I find the traditional MMORPG combat system tends to become horrendously boring in short order.
Since I just spent several minutes bashing on Neverwinter, I feel that I should talk a bit more about the one thing I positively love about the game – the combat. The developers have actually done a fantastic job of making it feel exciting and visceral. Contrast this against the traditional system of combat still used by many MMOs: you and your opponent stand opposite one another like training dummies and simply have at ‘er.
In most MMO titles, combat is just a means to an end – it’s the reward that makes things exciting. And while you’ve the occasional creatively-designed boss, class, or skill-set to mix things up (here’s looking at you, World of Warcraft), combat is, as a whole, just something you do. It feels too…passive.
For me, at least, that needs to change. Developers shouldn’t be afraid to mix things up a bit
Do Away With The WoW Clones:
Though it may have seen better days recently, World of Warcraft is still an amazing game. It’s not king of the genre for nothing, after all – I’d even go so far as to say it’s been a major element in gaming’s shift towards mainstream culture. All this success comes with a very unfortunate side effect, however:
As with any creative endeavor that gains so much success, people are going to start imitating it. On some level, I can understand why they’re doing it: they want to appeal to the people who play WoW, people who may, perhaps, be looking for an MMO fix after getting bored with Blizzard’s title. They want something easily recognizable for WoW players.
I suspect this is the reason that so many of these MMOs fail- they try to challenge WoW on its own turf, with its own mechanics. The problem there is clear: I’d imagine most people who leave World of Warcraft aren’t looking to play a game which simply apes WoW’s interface and mechanics.
Aside from leaving a trail of battered, broken, and bloodied contenders, the apparent perception that a game has to be “like WoW” to pull people in is also serving to stifle creativity and severely slow the evolution of the genre. If things are to move forward, people have to stop trying to be like Blizzard, and start trying to be something entirely new and different.
Get The Grind Right:
This one’s a bit of a tough entry, since grinding for levels, experience, cash, and items is an essential part of the experience in an MMORPG. As a wise man once said, a sweet drink tastes all the sweeter when you brewed it through your own hard work and determination. The trick, I think, is establishing something of a balance between the two.
Rewards shouldn’t be given out like candy. You shouldn’t receive a level, reward, or pat on the back for every step you take. In that same vein, however, players shouldn’t be expected to spend weeks upon weeks of their lives engaged in a single boring, repetitious pursuit. To me, that doesn’t really feel like gaming, it feels like I’m vomiting my hours into a meaningless time-sink.
Got anything to add to this list? Think I’m just talking out my ass? Let me know in the comments!