Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Play Solo?

MMO games are designed so that people can get together and socialize in an online environment. There has never been a hard and fast rule that people actually had to PLAY together, just that the environment is designed for people to BE together. The first MMO games made it mandatory for people to group together in order to enjoy most aspects of the game. Because this was the standard design for several years, many players developed a mindset that this forced group dynamic was the only way MMO games could, or should, function.

It turns out that most people simply don't WANT to be forced to group with a bunch of strangers in order to enjoy the game they bought. They DO, however, want to be a part of an immersive world where living players add a random and chaotic dynamic to the environment. They like to follow conversations that appear in the chat boxes. Some players even enjoy the presence of a guild, but still rather play solo.

I once considered the Elder Scrolls games to be the best in RPG gaming due to the massive and open worlds in each game. But there was something very lonely about playing those games. There was no one to show off too. No one to chat with. The NPCs were devoid of life beyond some scripted code. If a player came across a difficult mob and beat it, who do you tell? What if you find a rare item that has some awesome features, who does the player show it off to?

When I began playing my first MMO, I was first caught up with how lively it was. There was a sense that the world was populated, alive. The group content was a nice option but I didn't have to do it. My first guild was full of socializers, it was great.

This is why some of us choose to play solo in an MMO. Because we like a populated and living environment, but we don't want to be forced to attend the social gatherings.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Smaller MMOs?

I posted a comment on Tobold's blog for his Open Sunday extravaganza about smaller MMOs and decided to epand on that idea.

The current crop of MMO failures don't seem to be failing from their core ideas, but rather the implementation of too many features. They seem to suffer from a "grand scheme" syndrome. They came onto the market claiming to be able to please as World of Warcraft pleases, but would not be clones of the behemouth. Yet, inevitably they were just that.

The problem isn't so much that they looked like World of Warcraft, or even played like it. The problem is that they tried to put as much stuff on the table as World of Warcraft did. World of Warcraft is HUGE. After 2.5 years of playing World of Warcraft, I still have yet to explore every zone and am still encountering new aspects of the game for the first time. When Blizzard set out to make World of Warcraft, they obviously set out to also fill their online world with everything they could conceive of. Yet, even World of Warcraft was technically never finished even after all of this time. There are areas on the world map that are closed off, instance portals with no instance, battlegrounds with no battles, instances with no entry... World of Warcraft succeeded in spite of this because they had so much content that was complete and polished.

The recent crop of failures failed to take into account some important key details. The worlds they are creating need to be filled with appealing content that is polished and functional. If the world map is as large as vanilla WoW, but the content is rushed in to fill that world then you will end up with sparse, buggy features.

If the preliminary design meetings consist of grand ideas of gargantuan worlds packed with revolutionary features, it's already time to shut the game down. It doesn't matter if this game is as far from Blizzard's fantasy game as you can get, you are still trying to follow the World of Warcraft model of HUGE and PACKED WITH FEATURES.

Maybe Hellgate: London would have lasted if the game had be designed a little smaller with fewer features intended for launch. Then they would not have had to spend six months of more trying to patch fixes rather than concentrate on some of the other features they had planned.

The same goes for Tabula Rasa. And also Age of Conan.

These games are simply too big for their planned launches. They need to trimmed down very early on in the process. Smaller worlds with fewer features should be the design theory. Developers can add anything they want to their games after launch, but if they are forced to spend their first six months fixing the entire game then they can't get to the "new" features in a timely manner.

Sure, game launches will likely always have hiccups, but the biggest problems should be server oriented (which can be fixed within days) rather than due to buggy game code that takes months to work out.