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Tecknowolf

What is the top factor for MMO engines limiting world size?

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I have been watching MMO game world design since EverQuest 1.  With the current technology of hi-speed internet, computers with terabyte hard drives, server technology that has come a long way, and over 17 years of learning from all the MMO's that have come and gone and are still coming out.  What are the bottlenecks of larger streaming worlds?

 

It just feels like the MMO genre has stalled and stagnated like Richard Garriott has stated several times.

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If the game world was huge you could travel for hours before encountering another player, and all the players would congregate in cities leaving the rest of the game world a boring empty ghost town.


You've just described Elite: Dangerous! :)

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I've just thought of another reason the worlds aren't getting larger.

It's about the money too. To fill a large world with relevant content costs money, and the bigger the world the more content you need.

At best guess, if you double the width and breadth of the world you multiply the content needed by four (models, areas, quests, npcs etc). That's a four fold budget increase.

As mmo games are already the most expensive type of game to maintain I can't imagine this growth is sustainable in the long term without significantly increasing subscription costs to the point of driving away players.

What do you think to this?

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There have been write-ups of world sizes.

 

WoW is currently on the order of 60 square miles of actual content. Most of the older areas are vacant ghost-towns, content that is no longer played even though they have millions of people.

 

Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition are both on the order of 20 square miles of actual content.

 

GTA 5 covered about 100 square miles, but the vast majority of it was fake/duplicate buildings. It was probably around 2-3 square miles of actual modeled stuff plus about 10 miles of modeled roadway segments.

 

Filling virtual worlds with compelling content is hard.  Filling them up with generic formulaic terrain isn't that difficult and has been done many times, but typically doesn't make for good RPG material.

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There have been write-ups of world sizes.

 

WoW is currently on the order of 60 square miles of actual content. Most of the older areas are vacant ghost-towns, content that is no longer played even though they have millions of people.

 

WoW's problems aren't world size.  Its that they made it a theme park MMO, you go from one area to the next as you progress. There is no reason to return once you are a higher level.  Ultima Online doesn't suffer from this. 

 

Yes, current MMO games couldn't deal with a larger world.  I am not thinking of current game worlds but what will come next.  Go play a game called Wurm Online, it is a huge world compared to most MMO's, and the game works just fine.  The game you play and seem to think of are cookie cutter games, no imagination or creativity.  They are designed with a treadmill mentality so you will play the game as long as possible.  You level up, need more gear so you do quests for gear.  On and on and on, insanity.

 

The reason i was asking about world size, is that if you combine multiple gameplay features, throw out End Game, and give players a reason to take part in the game world, not just walk through it.  Have a capital city where players start, multiple large and small towns spread through out the game, allowing players to build around current towns, setting up shop, homes, business's, and exploring the vast unexplored area's for hidden temples, resources to be claimed and refined.  Then you pay merchants and/or caravans to spread the word of your supply and charge to delivery.  

 

So you only  have to develop a number of area's and let the players create as they go, similar to an RTS like Stronghold, play it like an RPG like Skyrim, have an economy like The Guild II: Renaissance.

 

Yikes, sorry for all this. 

I am working on a research project how MMO's have a shortened lifespan, what the cause is, and how to fix it in future games.  I have studied game design and MMO's specifically, since UO to Black Desert Online.    So I apologize. 

 

Yes a large "theme park" MMO would be expensive,  and a large "sandbox" MMO would be boring.  But combine them somewhat, add RPG and RTS features and it would work.

 

Thanks for the information.

Edited by Tecknowolf

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>> Yes a large "theme park" MMO would be expensive,  and a large "sandbox" MMO would be boring.  But combine them somewhat, add RPG and RTS features and it would work.

 

if my understanding of the definition of "theme park MMO" is correct - IE you progress though various areas of content until you complete all areas - then there's still a serious design flaw when it comes to replayability and using up content. its would seem to me that an MMO, with the ability to add players and content over time, would be ideal for building "living worlds" as opposed to just "big levels" or "a series of big areas".

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I am skeptical of how a sandbox MMO could be fun when scaled to MMO populations. Sure, running a store or a business in-game might appeal to some people, but what about when there are hundreds of other people selling the exact same stuff? And how could there possibly be unexplored areas and temples within the game? To produce this much content would be impossible as the players would surely explore all areas faster than it could be created by orders of magnitude. You could procedurally generate it, but how then would you keep it interesting? And further than that, the technical challenges to dynamically generating and persisting that much content upon request for that many users would be daunting if not impossible. Also I believe people enjoy replaying content. When I played WoW I frequently replayed instances with friends and even went back to play low-level instances solo. There was satisfaction in learning the strategies to beat the bosses, learning the nooks and crannies, and being able to share that information with other players.

I'm not saying that WoW is the pinnacle of MMO gaming or anything like that, but it gives the players what they want. It may not be infinitely repayable, but there is no shortage of content. People have been playing for ten years now and it's still going strong. That says something about "theme park" MMOs.

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So MMO, around 200,000 to 500,000 players. The difficulty there remains one of content. The world-limiting size is still the limits of creating compelling content.

You stick 500,000 active players inside a 10 square mile area and your population is so dense you can hardly move. A density of 50,000 per square mile, or about 20,000 per square kilomter, gets you at about the top 30 most dense places in the world in real life.  It would be so crowded you could hardly move.

You stick 500,000 active players inside a 20 square mile area, and on the same list it drops you to a population density similar to New York City.  Dense enough there is always interesting stuff going on, but still a little crowded for a video game.
 
The same 500,000 active players inside a 30 square mile area, now you're looking at a population density similar to most comfortably livable larger cities around the world. About 15K per square mile, or about 6000 per square kilometer. 
 
Few MMOs hit a half million active players at once.  And they don't do it by offering completely novel areas for every player.  
 
Even in the large games you replay the same quests each with slight variations to them, in the same areas you have walked time and again. Often the areas are blocked off; this quest uses zones 1,2,3,6,7, that quest uses zones 2,3,5,7,9, the other quest uses zones 1,2,4,5,8, but still heavy on the reuse.
 
When people start talking about Earth-sized worlds, 200 million square miles, and are talking of a few thousand concurrent players in the world, that's on the order of one person per 200,000 miles.  You might potentially interact with another human at some point in the game, but it is not enough for teams and cities and guilds and such.
 
If you've only got a few thousand concurrent players (four digits) then you need to focus on a small amount of quality content. 1000 people is not enough even for a small real-world town. If you create a bigger world, a world size of 20 square miles for those 1000 people, about 50 per square mile or 20 per square kilometer, and you barely have enough people that they can greet each other in towns, let alone naturally form groups to run quests and guilds and adventures together.

 

 

 

Bringing it back, it is really hard to have worlds that are bigger than that.  You can procedurally generate them but it is hard to fill them with interesting stuff. Even if you manage it, you need an enormous number of players to keep the cities vibrant. Without the players, the cities are empty ghost towns full of idle content, as much of WoW is today.

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