MMORPGs Make the Baby Jeebus Cry

Having chortled a bit on some off-color commentary about the recent expansion toWorld of Warcraft,in which kung-fu pandas proliferate through Azeroth, it occurred to me that I’m not playing any games … because all the games seem to suck.

  • I don’t play WoW anymore because the game stopped being fun when Blizzard started dumbing it down. I miss vanilla WoW, from the days when we still had combat ranks and warlocks actually expended soul shards. Every subsequent change has done two things — dumbed down gameplay, and made the game increasingly inaccessible for solo players.
  • I haven’t seen anything fun lately. I dabbled with Everquest II, Tabula Rasa, Star Trek OnlineStar Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World, but none really caught my fancy enough to keep me playing … mostly because the mechanics weren’t quite right.
  • Eve Online might be fun, but the barrier to entry is so high as to be prohibitive.

Were I to counsel an MMORPG designer, I’d say stuff like this:

  1. Don’t penalize players for playing solo. One of my biggest gripes about WoW is that you only get good gear from being in a raiding guild. If you journey alone, you’re stuck with whatever crap you grab on a drop or at the Auction House. Not fair for those of us who lack the time or the desire to group frequently.
  2. Give us a world to explore and reasons to explore it.  Put stuff somewhere, even the items have no real purpose. Paint large maps — like Azeroth — and stick Easter eggs or stunning vistas or hidden treasures or something to reward players for looking beyond the beaten path.
  3. Enough, already, with FedEx and grind missions.  I will kill monsters; I don’t need to be tasked to kill 100 monsters just to advance to the next quest. Nor do I need a quest to go from Point A to Point B; if the quests need to prompt this, then there’s something wrong with the game design.
  4. Write quest lines take a choose-your-own-adventure path. Don’t just chain quests together blindly, or just make them available when you hit a level. The choices you make in what quests you choose, and how you choose to complete them, should make a noticeable difference. SWTOR came closest to making this work; you could end a quest by making a Light or Dark choice, but it didn’t really affect quest lines. The mid-game gameplay shouldn’t be exactly the same for every character at the same level.
  5. Don’t skimp on the UI. The most vexing thing about The Secret World? It had lovely cut scenes, but no voice talent for your character. Lame.
  6. Don’t skimp on the backstory. Create a lush narrative universe and put us in the middle of it. Give us a reason to invest emotionally in our character.
  7. De-emphasize levels. Perhaps Ultima Online got it right: Don’t treat Player A as more powerful than Player B just because Player B out-leveled him. Instead, focus on skill levels. And don’t make these level so rigid that you get locked into only one “optimal” build — because then you’re just grinding for points without any sense of adventure. I’d rather be able to allocate points across stats and skills in free-form style than being tied to a tree you already know. And give me points for earning them instead of when I grind to fill a progress bar — maybe for finishing a quest, or killing a difficult monster, or earning an in-game achievement. Leveling up because the spider you killed tipped your progress bar is just lame.
  8. Don’t be afraid to be risqué. One of the fun things about SWTOR was the flirting and even the possibility of same-sex romance with your companions. Many, many game players are adults. Give us adult content from time to time.
  9. Expand the customizability of players. Don’t bore me with a handful of default character builds; let me customize everything, exactly how I want. Heck, I’d spend hours in the character-design part of the game just to get my persona just right. And I’d invest more into him or her, too.
  10. For the love of all that’s holy, vary up gameplay for the earliest levels. I’m a tweaker; I roll a whole bunch of characters for the newbie zone to see what I like. If I have to play the exact same content the exact same way a dozen times … forget it.