Every once in a while I’ll wake up with the urge to spend a lot of time on a video game. Not a normal video game. Not an everyday shooter. I mean I want lose myself in the kind of immersive experience that makes me regret the way I live my life.
So after finishing my last exam for my college career I cracked open the computer and installed WoW. That’s right. World of Warcraft. So many years have gone by since I first got addicted to WoW that it’s almost retro. Coming back is a weird, new experience. Everything is different now. Instances and pvp draft players across servers. The quest log and map tell you where pretty much everything is. All the zones are different and everything is bigger. So when a friend offered me a scroll of resurrection to jump in I was moderately excited.
Too bad it’s awful.
The game isn’t actually bad. In terms of graphics and mechanics, WoW has never been better, but it’s soooooo boring. Like super boring. You grind and then do a dungeon and then you grind some more. Maybe you do a little pvp and then it’s back to the grind. You don’t even have to know what the quest are about. And every zone that isn’t for level 85s (the current max level) is a ghost town. Basically World of Warcraft is a really impressive, impersonal calculator and the better its mechanics seem to get, the more lonely it is. So here are some things I want to see in a real “next gen”, “WoW-killer” style MMORPG.
Try Something New
There was a time, in the golden age of WoW between right before the release of Burning Crusade and, let’s say, Lich King where servers seemed like a community. As you leveled up, you would bump into the same people who were also trying to level. You would often fight the opposite faction in a battle ground and keep running into the same hooligans. Part of the charm of the game was how easy it was to meet other people and play with them.
Those days are gone now. Having instances and battle grounds load across servers means you will probably never see the people you group with again, unless you already have a group. You will probably spend the entire game to 85 playing alone.
More than that, WoW’s format is old; running a sexier version of the basic concept that launched in 2003. Like anything brilliant from 10 years ago (“I’m Rick James b****!” comes to mind), it’s cliche a decade later. That’s a big part of the reason new MMOs aren’t very successful. The Old Republic, Terra, Lord Of The Rings Online, Warhammer Online, and on and on and on are all running old hat models of the MMORPG. Most of them are already free to play or transitioning to free models. The reason WoW still has 10 million people is because so many of their players are entrenched in the friends and assets they have there.–friends and assets they developed when WoW was a smaller game.
We need something new, because there are so many MMORPGs we’ve probably reached market saturation.
Put The Multiplayer Back in MMORPG
Maybe it’s just me, but it feels a lot like WoW and other games like it are giant, fancy adding machines. The interaction with people when compared to in-depth RPGs is nonexistent, and I just don’t understand why. Why can’t I build a guild hall in WoW? Or found a village? Or become king of a city?
It’s not like the game isn’t big enough. WoW is so huge it is unfathomable, but most of that real estate is wasted on wandering mobs and nameless quests. Instead of an interactive environment where players are invested in each other on a political level, players are in the same space at the same time. And I understand that guilds can be a very rewarding end-game experience (if you like running the same dungeon over and over again), but the players are bringing all the meat to the sandwich.
And imagine a world where you could have your own private practice, corporation, or assassin’s guild that actually did commerce with other players for things. A world where you could found/conquer your own city? And we know it’s possible. Eve Online does this kind of thing. As a matter o fact, they have people regularly attempt to assassinate each other (which has big consequences) in tournaments. Speaking of which…
Players need to be invested in the risks and rewards of having assets. Back in my text based mudd days people used to actually kill each other and take everything they were carrying on them during their death. All their money, gear and magic items. That was REAL pvp. As if that’s not bad enough, the player would actually lose 1/3rd of the experience of their level. So if you got killed a couple times you would lose a level. And you could keep losing levels until you were back to level 1.
Now I’m not saying MMORPGs need to go this far, but there should be some real consequences for dying and killing. This would allow players to invest in things like security, banks and insurance, which would mean more business between players. Power dynamics like these would mean the most interesting quests would be offered by other players, not the game itself. Holy crap, just the thought of it is awesome.
Put The RPG Back in MMORPG
I don’t know if this was ever a thing, but it should be. Jesus I want to play a video game with the character depth of an actual tabletop RPG. It’s stupid ironic that the element that ruins that quality, which is found in abundance in single-player RPGs, is other people. Throw 5 guys into a room with some dice and they will ham it up until the Mountain Dew runs out. Throw 500 guys on the same server and everyone is gun shy.
It sounds stupid, but story and character depth are the key qualities that keeps any given RPG from being interchangeable with all the others. Players need to be engaged to the game in other ways than just how much damage they can do. It’s a bad thing that you don’t need to know the quest locations or names of the characters. Player investment on this level would create an amazing game environment. Unfortunately, you need the first two parts of my argument to make it happen–because the truth is people can’t be equal. Some players would have to have the power to crystallize this kind of interaction.
Unbelievable though it may be, if some code wizard figures out how to let us start national corporations in WoW that then allow us to bribe a city council (composed of players) or sway a murder verdict in a trial, you would see formalized authority structures being role-played the next day.
Every game CEO and code monkey who thinks better graphics or better combat is the key to killing WoW is wrong. The next generation MMO needs to stimulate how players interact with each other in a very real, very political way. It needs to invest players in the things they can build. Mark my words. The genius who makes this happen will earn billions.