The MMOs of today are dead. Long live the MMOs of tomorrow… whenever they get here.

This looks like a damn inflammatory statement for a first post.
WoW has millions of players, EQ2 and other games are boasting strong subscription rates. And yet, people are still never satisfied with the current cycle of games, be they WoW clones, cheap knockoffs of WoW and the more popular MMO’s, Korean imports, MMO wannabes, or new IP’s such as Pirates of the Burning Sea which are trying to push in a new direction.  Every MMO runs into the same problem: Players play, level up, hit max level, and then are funneled into content that only benefits those who have the time and effort to invest in countless hours learning raid zones. Occasionally, the non-casual player gets thrown a bone (a la Dire Maul in WoW), but 99.9% of the time, it’s all about the epics, the large raids, and the exclusion of the majority of those who play and are PAYING to keep the game afloat. Most players leave the game in frustration, only to move on to a new MMO, saying to themselves ‘Maybe this time will be different’, only to end up
disappointed time after time. Talk about a rip-off!
“Oh, but Adam, the casual players are happy with the way the game is, otherwise they’d all leave!”…. Like hell they are. I can’t believe I’m the only one out there that thinks: “I have a wife, a full time job, and limited time to play MMO’s. Do I want to level to max level, only to not have the time to raid and be strictly limited to a few options, night after night?” (PVP, Small 5 man instances, resource grinding to make cash/crafting)? I think not. Not to mention all the amazing, kickass content that is there is reserved for a small percentage of the playerbase.
The first time I saw Ragnaros in Molten Core, I said to myself, “Now THIS is why I started playing WoW… this is AMAZING!” It was totally immersive, it had voice acting, it was eye popping, it was something to behold. And yet, how many people in WoW have seen it, even once? 10%? 20%? I’m going to go out on a limb and say with fair certainty that less than 25% of all WoW players have seen Ragnaros or MC. That leaves 75% of the players never experiencing this content. SEVENTY-FIVE percent of your paying customers haven’t seen some of the content that you created over TWO years ago. This isn’t just poor management; this is horrible game design.
How do we fix this glaring error? Change the game, change the dimensions, change the direction. And there’s a few simple ways to do this that would take some getting used to, but be better for the community in the end.
1) Don’t make large chunks of content targeted to a small group of people. MMO’s say “Massive” for a reason.
Sounds simple, but I know this can be a challenge for game developers, because creating content isn’t easy. I know, I’m in the middle of doing it right now. It takes time, it takes a lot of effort, and it takes some creativity. There’s only so many ways you can make kill ten rats, FedEx and globetrotter style quests interesting before the playerbase says “Jesus, another kill ten wolf quest? I did this not 5 levels ago!?!?!” (LOTRO, anyone???)

Answer: Hire more creative writers and outside the box thinkers to make your content. Writing quests is not hard; it’s time consuming. Get some people with creative writing or English majors and watch what they can do. 38 Studios is on the right track; they have frickin’ R.A. Salvatore on staff for lore and content development. Say what you want about the man’s writing style; he can scare the skin off a potato just by talking about mashed potatoes. You think that doesn’t matter on quality of content? Think again.
2) Remove levels.

(Puts on the Asbestos suit, ready for the flames that will soon follow.)
Does a level really matter? If you’re enjoying the game, if the content is immersive, if you feel as if you’re making a difference in the game world who gives a flip if you’re level 10, or level 60? All levels do is create online epeen waving and sentiments of “OMG ur level 5 ur such a n00b!!!1!”
Am I referring to everyone? Of course not. But for those of us who’ve read general chat recently, it shows up often enough to make you go “hrm…”. So you get rid of levels, and guess what? Everyone freaks out. “OMG, I don’t know if I’m uber or not because there’s no number before my name!” Now it’s based on skill; and, there is no “end game”. The world is wide open to those who wish to progress in the game as they choose, without a “level” acting as a stigma wherever they go. To pull this off, you’re going to need fantastic content, and lots of it. But given how creative we as game developers can be, that should not that difficult… should it?
3) End game? My Game’s Content doesn’t need a steenking end game!
If you want to make some of your game’s content require a higher level of skill, precision, and knowledge of the game, fine. Knock yourselves out. But don’t funnel/force everyone to that end. Create a system where the concept of an “end-game” is nonexistent. That’s not to say that there are no ultimate goals for players to try to achieve. By all means have those goals, just don’t make them the only goals the players can attain. If someone wants to make their fortune by becoming a producer of weapons in a game, allow them to make something that is not inherently pointless, because something a mob drops is instantly more useful than something a player can craft. Embrace this idea.  Run with it. Build an economy that is actually exciting to be a part of, and not just an auction house where players go to screw other players and lag out your main cities. Make a game’s economy where goods and services are valuable items. Now all of a sudden, capitalism becomes a viable profession. Hell, create a true market. Let players who are successful create a virtual stock market/economy. If “TeamUberGuild” suddenly finds out it needs 10 million credits to fund its activities/events for the next 6 months, why not allow that guild to issues shares of stock, or bonds? I think it’d be pretty sweet if I owned 100 shares of UberGuild, Inc common stock that paid me a dividend of say, 5% of all the gold the guild acquired that week/month/cycle. Let the players control their world; don’t force them to do what YOU want them to do all the time.

In closing, it is up to us, the players and funders of these ventures to drive the future of our gaming experiences. If we want to continue the cycle of pulling up to the trough and simply taking what is being force fed to us, well, there are plenty of MMO companies out there who don’t mind continuing this cycle if it means they stay profitable. Less work for them if they know we’ll keep playing whatever’s put in front of us. However, if we make them feel the pain where it hurts most (the balance sheet), soon they’re going to see that we’re not sheep – we’re people. People who are tired of the same old same old, and ready for the new.
Viva la revolucion!

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~ by trollonfire on October 6, 2007.

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