Tuesday, January 3, 2012

MMO tropes that need to go Part 1

When in doubt...
I've played many massively multiplayer online (MMO) games in my lifetime.  Some of them were free to play, others required subscriptions.  While I routinely say no game is without its flaws, there are some "tropes" that have developed in the genre that are legitimately hurting it.  Here's a look at what game developers did right, and what others didn't do so well.

Since there's a wealth of information to cover, I'm going to turn this into a two part series.  Part two will go live next week, so stay tuned!

When it comes to MMO games, there's always a "grind" aspect to it.  Players will spend hours on end, killing the same monsters, just so they can reach the next character level.  Hopefully, if they complete the quest and kill enough monsters, they won't have to deal with another quest in the same area.  Sadly, some games take the grind to extremes.  One such example is Silk Road Online.

I was a beta tester for SRO back in 2006.  The game was fun, don't get me wrong.  There was something nifty about the way that they portrayed China and Tibet.  The "trade runs" between Chang'An and Dun'Hwang were some of the most fun I'd ever had in an online game.  The early community was pretty awesome, too.  Then the 20's grind set in.  There was a quest in an area called the Hyungno Homeland.  The quest giver, a guard in Dun'Hwang, wanted you to slay Hyungno Ghosts to get flags.  Basically, he wanted you to do his dirty work so he could win a bet.  But the real crux is how many of the suckers you had to collect.  He wanted two hundred flags. This is coming from a mob that drops them, oh, maybe one every four or one every five if you're lucky?  And the amount of experience points you get from it is not enough to level up.  And to this, I ask: WHEN WAS THAT EVER A GOOD IDEA? Don't you find that a wee bit ridiculous?  And that wasn't even an endgame quest!

My Face When...
To be fair, not all games fall to this trap.  World of Warcraft, the behemoth that it is, actually handles this aspect very well.  Quests don't have you killing the same mob for months on end, and levelling is quite feasible just through quests.  My main is a level 69 Protection Warrior, and the quests he goes on still don't have you gather much more than 20 of a given item.  For the quests that do, like the crocolisk teeth south of Durotar (250), each mob will give you 15 of that item or more.  Getting through the grind and levelling up becomes more fun than chore.  That's what MMO games need to be doing.

Now, it hasn't always been this way, I know.  I only started playing WoW back in May.  However, I do have several friends who played back in the days of classic WoW, and they've told me all about the grind in the mid-40's.  I can totally understand where they're coming from with this.  Back in vanilla, it made sense.  Nowadays, when you can't start raiding until level 60 at the earliest, not many players would like to have long grind style quests at level 40, knowing there's 45 more levels waiting for them.

With Some MMOs, the Game Masters (GMs) tend to go on power trips in all the wrong ways.  I've seen many game servers lose gamers, simply because one GM is a jerk.  I think of Uncle Ben's advice to Peter Parker: "with great power, comes great responsibility."  Power can go to people's heads way too easily.  I would know.  I'm an administrator for a reasonably large forum.  The temptation to use the "ban-hammer" is all too appealing, especially when someone mouths off at me.  It takes far greater restraint to not use it on anyone who crosses me.

There's one particular story, however, that really takes the cake for me.  Back in 2000, one of the guides (moderators) for Everquest started killing players for no apparent reason. Over on the Terris Thule server, this guy summoned players on lethal terrain, then bound them so they couldn't escape.  Then, in an attempt to pour lemon juice on the wound, he resurrected them, only to bind them and watch them die again!  To every moderator, GM, and administrator who reads this rant, don't do this.  All it takes is one d**k move to alienate a userbase and kill a game.

That said, when you have GMs who are active on the server and actually "hang out" with the players, it goes a long way towards building a mutual sense of trust.  A great example is the Shin Megami Tensei MMO.  The GMs do dungeon runs with the players as a weekly event.
Back when I was active in Megaten, I did an Ichi Silver run with GMJoLt, one of the, er, "wackier" GMs.  We go in, and he immediately goes afk (away from keyboard).  He told us, at least, that he was going away.  He ran out of snacks.  When you're gaming, that's a legitimate concern.  Anyways, he comes back about five minutes later, chips in hand.  after thanking us for waiting, he drops fifteen dollars worth of experience and stat buffs on the entire group before starting the raid.  That was just plain awesome.  After our run was done, my group stuck around and did some more runs together without JoLt, just so we could take advantage of the buffs he gave us.

Other games have had similarly awesome GMs, too.  Back when I played Holic Online, there were a couple of GMs that would only hang out in the general server chat, and talk with the players who wanted to chat with them.  It was awesome.  If you were bored with your grind, and just wanted someone to shoot the breeze with, they were there.  Of course, they were there because they needed to be accessible in the event of dealing with someone causing trouble.

An acquaintance of mine was a guide for Everquest back in the early 2000's.  Over Easter weekend,  he made his own game.  He spawned a bunch of bunnies in one of the major hub cities, turned his character into an identical bunny, and shouted to players to find him and open a trade.  When they did, he gave them items.  Several people thanked him for the fun little "game," and his antics caught notice of the admins.  He got a little bit of flak for turning into a bunny, but the staff on the server thought it was an awesome idea.

I'm going to stop this rant here, and I'll post the second half next week.  Stay tuned, dear readers! I've got more in store for you!

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