I haven’t played on a regular an MMO for a long time now. The last one was Champions Online which I tried to check again recently. Unfortunately it seems that for Champions Online F2P means that if you want to play your level 22 character you used to play when it was a subscription game you have to subscribe again. Go figure. I guess they locked some of the powers my character was using under “gold” status. So basically Champions Online is not F2P to me because I refuse to go through the same set of quests once again (I created quickly a character to see if there was a new tutorial and the answer is no…).

I’ve seen this before

That’s a really stupid problem of MMOs. Create multiple characters and go through the same stuff you have before. Unless you’re rich enough like Blizzard or Bioware for their upcoming SWTOR it seems that all new characters have to go through the same (boring) content to get anywhere. Where is this anywhere? Well just to catch up to other people to have MMO fun you know …

Of course not all MMOs are stupids as Champions Online (this was a fine game with my old character I’d like to play again in a F2P setting but now I have to call it stupid… STUPID STUPID STUPID). When you are fed new content you can buy like DDO you can vary your experience a bit. That’s the same as what we used to do when we bought pre-made adventures to play D&D (didn’t happen a lot but there were times we were lazy). Of course that means that you must push fresh content on a regular basis. I have no idea if it’s a viable business model as content always takes a lot of time to create when you compare it to the time players will take to go through it. You can get a bit more from it by adding various difficulty levels and since DDO is doing it I guess it actually works.

We are spoiled

When games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect are offering us interactive voiced quests instead of wall of texts it’s getting a bit hard to ask to players to pay attention to the content you are offering if it’s anything less. The 10 minutes I tried once more Champions Online I just skipped everything I saw without paying attention. First I’ve seen it before and second I want to play. Not read some text that will end up telling me go get that or kill this.

I guess Bioware might have understood this with SWTOR. But then creating a fully voiced interactive MMO with multiple entry points is not something we can hope from many people anytime soon.

Sandbox to the rescue

Ah! Sandbox! There’s nothing to do but so much at the same time. It’s driven by players and not by isolating quests. For indie teams I think it’s the only type of MMO you can create.

Sandbox right now means a lot of things. It doesn’t necessarily mean “let player create all sort of things in your world”. It can just mean “let them choose what they do first and let them go where they want to”. The key is to make those options obvious. Golemizer is a sandbox world and so will Star Corsairs. Star Corsairs do it in a better way with the notion of missions. Missions are just open events for everyone to participate in on a more than regular basis. There’s always a mission and you just have to check how many people are participating in this mission to find other players. Nothing new but still a clever way to handle MMOs IMHO. Show people what you can do in your setting. That’s it. You don’t have to build them a 60 hours linear experience. They already have many RPGs for that anyway.

What is an MMO? A game? No. A setting. Give a nice setting to people and they will find fun in it. If you give them a linear path to follow then it’s just some co-op game in which you might see hundreds of people run around you. SWG was a pretty pathetic game when you were looking only at quests and XP given from those quests. Quests were just lame and there was no reasons to do them. Sure there was the grind as people couldn’t level up by doing quests but after some months it was really no trouble to grind a profession as there was so much guides online. It was however a vibrant community as people were not busy following their own little linear path. Considering that you could also set macros to level-up a character it meant that even people “busy” grinding a profession were available to play with you. I still remember the very long trips on Tatooine some players were organizing just do something in that setting we were all in love with. Sure it must be awful to market a game like that but it was working. There wasn’t anything good to do on your own so guess what! You were playing with other people and those players were the content. That was the only way to have fun in this game anyway and it was just fine this way. I was playing with other people instead of playing The Old Republic alone. I guess that’s why because there were so many roleplayers in SWG as there is no way you could actually pretend being a Star Wars character by only following the boring content that was set in the game.

Some are fixing MMOs

Here I’ll point to my friend Brian and Namaste. We badly need this kind of innovation if we want to avoid having all MMOs becoming just arcades with mini-games. Nothing wrong with those games but there’s a market for people expecting a bit more. And if I’m to ever play an MMO again it surely won’t be an arcade type. I have no problem interacting with NPCs instead of real people (if it’s not permanently) if you offer me something that seems to be alive. Players need to feel like they have an impact on the world they are playing in. In a single-player game it’s quite easy to achieve as there’s only 1 person that can make things move. In an MMO you need to be a bit more clever to create this result. Showing the same wall of text over and over is surely not the way to achieve this…

And for God’s sake don’t force me to subscribe to your game if it’s “F2P” just to play my old character because you can’t offer players a different path to reach the same level …