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Talanithus

The Future of MMOGs... what's next?

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Last month the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was held in Los Angeles, California. As an avid gamer and fansite reporter in the MMOG industry, I made my way there to check out the next generation of MMOGs for myself... and I must admit, I was pretty disappointed. Now that is not to say that the new MMOGs aren''t beautiful, the advancements in graphic and online bandwidth have allowed Developers to create richer and more beautiful worlds with a striking level of detail... but there was something most definitely lacking. I couldn''t quite place my finger on it until Joshua Rowan (of UO Stratics) said something along lines of "there are lots of evolutionary things here, but nothing really revolutionary." Bam. Nailed on the head. Basically, it seems that MMOGs are simply treading water with the current "mindset" behind MMOG development. Sure, some have bells and whistles that others do not, but there has been nothing that has truly pushed the envelope of what a MMOG is for some time. So I sat down and began to think, what IS the future of MMOGs? Once we have reached the level where unique character customization and development has hit as close to perfect as the industry can achieve (which I believe is very close) where will we go from there? People play MMOGs in particular for one main reason... to interact with other people. Of course, the guiding motivations of these players is quite diverse, ranging from competitive sport, socialization, a feeling of belonging, and even malicious intent behind an anonymous mask! Yet the one unique bond that encompasses all players, be they PvPers or RPers, Socializers or Explorers, is the fact that they have chosen to do so in a world where dynamic content is created via the very foundation of the players themselves. Therefore, once players have achieved the ability to customize their characters to their heart''s content, does it not hold that they will seek to then personalize the world around them? We see this, to a degree, in current MMOGs. Quests, scenarios, plotlines... all attempts by the developer houses to involve the players in the interactions that define those worlds. Yet they are curtailed by their need to retain consistency within their world''s history, fiction, development, and background, ultimately resulting in interactions that always leave the players thirsting for more. So where is the answer to this dilemma? Let''s take a look at some of the existing gaming genres that offer the ability for players to modify the very worlds they interact in: = FPS Mods = In the First Person Shooter genre, player crafted mods are a valuable asset. They allow players with the skill, motivation, and creativity to expand the boundaries of what players can interact with. In many games, player expansions have been so successful that they have spawned their own mini-games within the greater rule-set. Even though the underlying structure of the game remains consistent, the actual graphics, items, characters and even game-play can vary drastically. This depth of creative customization has given the genre the ability to grow beyond the industry''s budget-based barriers, with the players themselves pushing the envelope on drafting new ways to play, and new ideas that are implemented along their own schedule, without the restraints of a development house''s priorities and schedules. = CRPG Mods = Computer based Role Playing Games have jumped on the mod wagon as well, with titles such as Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege, and Morrowind all allowing players to build the world around them, and share it with others. In many ways, this is a foretelling of what I believe the future of MMOGs holds. The basic principle upon which these games are built relies on players to craft new content to keep them interesting and dynamic. In fact, one of the NWN developers even stated in a recent press release that they fully expect the players to build better adventures then the ones they have included within the game''s original content. This genre, with the unique ability to not only create new superficial content, but actual stories, holds the most promise for what MMOGs could grow to achieve. = RTS Mods = Some Real Time Strategy games also allow the ability for players to craft their own modules, thus providing new experiences for them to conquer and dominate in. New units, geographical landmasses, fortifications... they all add to help create a more compelling world that changes at the needs and potential of the players who invest in them. All of these genres began as static as the MMOG world is currently. They crafted games with frozen content, and to expand their worlds a new title was released. Yet there was no true continuity, a hallmark of the MMOG genre, allowing players to grow and expand WITH those new modules by retaining their existing characters/armies/etc. I remember the old TSR/SSI boxed set of AD&D CRPGs, which was one of the first games that allowed players to move their characters from game to game... growing as the storyline progressed through multiple titles. It was only logical that this step would lead to the creation of tools where players could not only keep their characters alive, but create the worlds in which they adventure. I believe the next step of MMOGs follows this same pattern, by allowing players to build and create pieces of the worlds around them, and SHARE them with others within the Massive Multiplayer environment. Of course, this path does have its pitfalls. As I mentioned previously, MMOGs do have a vested interest in keeping control of the fiction their world creates. If players decide to warp and influence the world, say by creating a "Star Wars Rebellion Facility" within a Fantasy genre game world, then of course it will dilute the effective influence of that world fiction. Yet these are not insurmountable goals... they simply require the forethought to create these "World Building Tools" with these issues in mind. The easiest path to this goal, in my opinion, is to keep each player created world-set local only to the communities that build them. Let me give an example of how I see the interface being used, in generic terms that should apply to any game. = Scenario Example = A guild in a MMOG decides they wish to host a quest/event. Their guild leader activates a feature on whatever his guild interface is to "buy" a scenario section for 10 days. Now "buy" is a loose term, and could be either for real cash (with the cost added to his account subscription for that month) or in game assets, as a permanent gold sink. Once he has purchased the account, he sets who has the ability to influence this scenario setting, choosing from his existing guild-mates. The Editors accounts/characters are then flagged and are allowed to enter and modify the scenario setting via their guild interface (be it a guild stone, command, or whatever.) The scenario setting is located on a separate server from the normal game, and is inaccessible by normal means. All players flagged as Editors enter the setting area (via guild menu or command) in Edit mode, with functions equal to what the Dungeon Siege and NWN: Aurora editor tools offer for customizing the area and creating specialized items/NPCs. The main key here is to allow a huge selection of options, but to keep them limited to the genre upon which the game is based. The full capabilities of each scenario setting are dependent on what "level" of service was originally purchased by the leader of the guild, thus allowing communities to create everything from specialized one evening encounters to month long quests. Once there, they "build" the world, or choose from pre-existing sets, placing monsters and NPCs for their community to interact with, as well as setting out items and unique points of interest throughout the scenario setting. After building the setting and populating it, the Editors activate a feature allowing them to set "portals" into the world. Then they re-enter into the normal game world and place the opposite side of those portals in various areas throughout the world. These portals are clearly visible to everyone in their community/guild, but completely invisible and undetectable by anyone else. From the point when these items are placed, they can be toggled on or off by any Editor, allowing passage for regular (non-Editors) within their community to participate within the worlds that they have created. When the term purchased by the guild leader expires, an option to save or extend the setting will be displayed the next time they log in... again, with additional fees attached. This model allows the creation of new content within a local setting, but even more importantly, it is a self-policing model. Giving players the ability to create monsters could very easily lead into a situation where a player with less then honorable intentions creates death traps. However, by making these features limited to only the communities that build them, you prevent that abuse from becoming an issue. A guild that had a player who built such death traps would quickly either lose its members, or get rid of the offending player. Thus, the potential for exploit is removed by making each community responsible to themselves for the content they have built. Even more importantly, it shares the responsibility of keeping players entertained with the players, not just the developers, thus providing a more satisfying experience simply by the selfish nature of the players involved. If they want the content, they can build it... or they can join a guild that builds it for them. This does somewhat limit the ability for new players to get involved in community based quests/adventures/hunts, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Promotion and encouragement of group related activity via this sort of method is prime example of how MMOGs can stimulate community interactions and promote additional methods for their expansion. I would fully expect numerous meta-communities to develop specifically for special event creation. This is, of course, just one example of how such a setting could be created, yet with it one of the most daunting limitations of MMOGs are surpassed, and the creative freedom of its players are set loose to truly build. By limiting their influence to local communities they not only prevent mass dilution of the game world''s fictional content, but they also reinforce the draw of creative communities to attract and keep player members interested and excited in their game... and thus, the subscriptions that keep a MMOG running. The specifics on how this is integrated into a game system are really immaterial, as long as it retains culpability via local community development. Ideally, I would love to see the ability for cross community alliances to even allow guilds/communities to "share" quests with each other. Particularly exceptional player modules could even be submitted to the game developers and incorporated into the Editor tools as one of the options, thus allowing players to help in the growth of the game world, as well as have an influence that could truly make their efforts immortal. The possibilities are truly endless. Of course, there are other revolutions that are on the crest for tomorrow''s MMOGs as well. Everquest Legends broke one of the first barriers in creating a personalized "character" web site for each of their members, with customizable content allowing them to show their equipment, stats, and locations. But I believe the next generation of MMOGs will take this one step further, by allowing communities to create "fill in the blank" web sites for their guilds and towns, with integrated news syndicates run by the developers themselves to make certain that new information regarding the game is published universally. Furthermore, a locally integrated communications network could very easily allow the creation of meta-communities for all the guilds on one server, categorizing them together with common resources and contact methods, and thus enforcing the community wide network not only via local communities, but on a more universal level. Basically, it all boils down to community. The current MMOG industry stresses individualized creativity in their gaming worlds, but has not yet seen the greater light of enhanced community interaction, and even more importantly, community world development. Players do not only wish to just "live the life" of their characters, they want to be the heroes of the lands. They want to tell their stories, and see the visible affect those stories have on the world around them. The 4th generation of MMOGs, if they truly wish to be the revolutionary advance that Joshua and I were speaking of, will embrace this concept and bring it to life. And I, for one, will be there creating away. But that is just my idea of the Future of MMOGs. What do you think? Talanithus Tarant

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Even if I knew I wouldn''t tell you. Ideas that renew an industry are diamonds in the rough and allow a creative game developer to realize his dream (usually). =P

Honestly I don''t know. I have spent a good deal of time on this and I''m still not even sure what makes the games *I* like fun! Heck, Total Annhilation is still my favorite RTS game of all time and I can''t be sure why.

If you do create an idea that you can''t associate to anything else, ask a friend you can trust and see if he can associate it. If you end up with a new idea, treasure it and create the game that so many of the users on this site wish to make. =]

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Something that I would really like to see in an MMORPG is a more story driven experience. In all the MMORPGs I have played, it has just been about adventuring and fighting just for the sake of doing it.

There is a new MMORPG coming out called Shadowbane that caught my eye, since when a player joins the game, he/she is added to a guild, and the story is basically the war between the guilds for land. It''s very dynamic and has the ability to expand depending on situations. There was another game I played that was along this line, though, and I found that it was too loose. I would login, and my team would have nearly the whole land owned. I would logoff, then on again in a couple hours and the other team would own nearly all the land. I think that changes that a player helps make should have a little sense of permanence, if only for even a day.

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Dak,

Just a question, not a criticism at all, but I''m wondering what it is about your game concept that you would consider it "revolutionary", or an idea that would revitalize the industry? At a glance, it''s another game with a High Fantasy concept.

Your thoughts?

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Don''t ever judge a game from just a single glance.

From what I known, the following hasn''t been done yet outside of MUD.
From Age of Athiria''s FAQ:
"What types of government are offered?

The current design contains Democracy, Republic, Socialist, and Monarchy as its primary government forms. Variations from these base types will be possible giving a wealth of city management options available to the players."

and then there''s this...

"Can I create spells?

Yes, player characters will be able to create spells and name them.

Can I attack spells?

Yes, players will be able to directly affect hostile spells that are cast against them. Revealing much more about this would force us to talk about the complete magic system, which for competitive purposes is being kept secret."

Which I''m for sure you won''t find it on any games that''s currently out. If Age of Athiria''s manage to implement this feature into a game and effectively balance it. That, in itself is already an huge accomplishement.

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Tal,

While I fully agree with the concept of mod tools available for player use within a MMORPG, I''m not so convinced that "private pocket servers", with portals from the main server, is the path to take.

Taking it at the broadest level: as a game world designer, you''ve crafted a world culture, races, cities and natural terrain with specific intent in mind. You''re saying "This is the world, now go have fun within it." I''m not convinced that you''d want players to essentially chuck what you''ve built into the discard pile and say "We''re going to play on our own pocket server, thanks."

But then again, I''m also in favor of strongly encouraging grouping and community within the game environment; this seems detrimental to that ideal.

I could, however, see terrain-changing devices - within the context of the game - that would set up similar scenarios as you''ve envisioned. Player built cities, hard-built onto the actual game world, would be a place anyone could visit (assuming they can reach it). Allowing for individual government choices, such as Athiria, helps keep these cities diverse. Terraforming devices such as logging equipment, diggers, and such would come at a high cost - but would change the face of the world, and draw these changes into the flow of the ongoing storyline.

I had been looking forward to the defunct Dark Zion for a while; the idea of being able to domesticate and raise creatures, which could then be bio-engineered for specific tasks (construction, defense, mounts, food, weapons, armor, etc.) opened up a wide variety of player-driven options.

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quote:
Original post by EricTrickster
While I fully agree with the concept of mod tools available for player use within a MMORPG, I''m not so convinced that "private pocket servers", with portals from the main server, is the path to take.

Taking it at the broadest level: as a game world designer, you''ve crafted a world culture, races, cities and natural terrain with specific intent in mind. You''re saying "This is the world, now go have fun within it." I''m not convinced that you''d want players to essentially chuck what you''ve built into the discard pile and say "We''re going to play on our own pocket server, thanks."
Well, my concept was more for telling individual stories on a community level, not really as replacement for adventuring in the normal game world. From a developer perspective, you could place many "costs" in running one of these private pockets that would encourage players to use them only for specific purposes. For example:

  • Items used as loot within a player world must be aquired through normal game play. This prevent the abuse of spawning certain monster types and using your player world as a resource factory.
  • No experience/fame/karma/reputation gain in player worlds. This prevents them from being used as a replacement for "leveling up" in the normal game world.
  • There is a fairly high "cost" associated with maintaining a world. Maintenance of one on perpetual basis should be very expensive indeed.
    quote:
    I could, however, see terrain-changing devices - within the context of the game - that would set up similar scenarios as you''ve envisioned. Player built cities, hard-built onto the actual game world, would be a place anyone could visit (assuming they can reach it). Allowing for individual government choices, such as Athiria, helps keep these cities diverse. Terraforming devices such as logging equipment, diggers, and such would come at a high cost - but would change the face of the world, and draw these changes into the flow of the ongoing storyline.
    I firmly believe that MMORPGs should allow player communities to leave their mark upon the world, be it via guild halls, towns, etc. However, allowing players to have the ability to spawn monsters or affect the general locale could prove very problematic in mainting control and the integrity of the storylines that they would create. It would be, by far, the most ideal situation to allow player''s to physically control aspects of the world around them, but it brings up a host of other issues. By keeping the player''s changes confined to areas that only members of the community can visit or be affected by, it limits the potential for abuse.

    I wish we could trust players to be more responsible, but I think it is the duty of the developers to build such tools with a clear concept of the abuse they have the potential for, and segregation from the general world is an obvious step to prevent that. But perhaps you have a better idea? I would love to hear it, if you do!



    Talanithus Tarant

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    quote:
    Original post by Taiyou
    Something that I would really like to see in an MMORPG is a more story driven experience. In all the MMORPGs I have played, it has just been about adventuring and fighting just for the sake of doing it.

    There is a new MMORPG coming out called Shadowbane that caught my eye, since when a player joins the game, he/she is added to a guild, and the story is basically the war between the guilds for land. It's very dynamic and has the ability to expand depending on situations. There was another game I played that was along this line, though, and I found that it was too loose. I would login, and my team would have nearly the whole land owned. I would logoff, then on again in a couple hours and the other team would own nearly all the land. I think that changes that a player helps make should have a little sense of permanence, if only for even a day.
    My article was all about the story. hehe... As cool as ShadowBane looks, it does not do much for the community that isn't interested in PvP or RvR. I'll probably be there to check it out, but I know for sure that running storylines like I run would be next to impossible with that sort of clientelle.



    Talanithus Tarant

    [edited by - Talanithus on June 14, 2002 3:46:05 PM]

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    quote:
    Original post by Talanithus
    Well, my concept was more for telling individual stories on a community level, not really as replacement for adventuring in the normal game world.

    I firmly believe that MMORPGs should allow player communities to leave their mark upon the world, be it via guild halls, towns, etc. However, allowing players to have the ability to spawn monsters or affect the general locale could prove very problematic in mainting control and the integrity of the storylines that they would create. It would be, by far, the most ideal situation to allow player''s to physically control aspects of the world around them, but it brings up a host of other issues. By keeping the player''s changes confined to areas that only members of the community can visit or be affected by, it limits the potential for abuse.


    I guess my personal interest would be to see these individual stories become a part of the dynamic world storyline, rather than a separate and distinct area. I have this vision of a "velvet rope pocket server", where someone comes up with very unique ideas within the game world but limits the gaming experience of these ideas to his friends.

    A large part of policing player-driven changes would be through GMs and writing staff. By example: a player has hoarded enough resources to build his own little hamlet. This expands into a minor city, and all of the PCs involved become loyal to the character.

    A GM staff should take note of this and put this into the storyline. Local earls/lords, recogizing this rise to power, may set out quests, tasks and missions to keep the character''s strength from growing. NPC bandits, recogizing a new area of wealth, may flock to the area. Wildlife will become sparse, as the npc creatures begin to recognize the influx of people. Vendors in nearby cities may lower prices, to convince people not to purchase items in the player-city.

    A simple set-up such as having a flock of deer wander through the area, get killed and have the player-character accused of "killing the king''s deer" could be enough to start a player-driven war. Resources are tasked, npcs may flee, loyalties will change. The player has affected the game world, for better or for worse.

    Another scenario, re: spawning npcs. A PC mage learns the ability to create monsters by merging different types of creaturs magically. They''d need certain charm spells, to lure the monster to their lairs (which require resources), and to bind them in "cages" (again, a high resource cost), then the transformation spells to create them. At lower levels, a high percentage of these transformations fail and the creature dies - an expensive pursuit!

    On success, the creature may be controlled with simple commands: follow, patrol, guard; a "flag" is created that centers the NPC to a specific spot, but depending on the control flag they may either stand in one spot (guard) or patrol an area.

    Set the NPC to need food, requiring a certain degree of maintence by the mage - or the PC may find the monster breaks his control, and is now loose inside his tower looking for something (or someone) to eat.

    It might be hard to implement, but I do think such controls are very possible within a MMORPG, allowing a greater degree of player-driven changes onto the game world itself while still limiting the alterations to a specific region.

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    Bah, some people need to use the KISS (Keep it simple stupid) method here. MMOGs are big and hard enough to develope without worrying about developing the kind of things you propose. Pocket worlds definately are not the way. Instead of trying to make a whole game based around your idea, you should think of how to implement your idea into a game in an easy way. I would say the easiest way to include your idea is to allow players to purchase the ability to make a server event themselves. They would have to create an alternative character, make a story that fits in with the game world, and designate a time when they want to do the event. Then, the player would have to get his idea approved. Im sure players would pay money to do this sort of thing, and it would be alot of fun for everyone. Players who pay to do this sort of thing might be granted the ability to act in the larger story driven parts of the game for free. Obviously, there are not enough GMs in any MMOG to create enough events to move the story along, so why not give the power to the players? For a price of coarse... bwahahaha.

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