Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What it would take

A long time ago I fell into WOW and it took me years to extract myself.  Even then I end up recaptured by it every couple of years when a new expansion launches and the old crew reassembles to smash monsters and explore new vistas.  My recent experience with Wildstar taught me that even a reasonably made MMO with a theme I enjoy can't keep my attention for more than a half hour and that got me to wondering if there was anything at all that could bring me back to playing MMOs in a big way.  What would a new game have to do to bring me back in?

I don't represent all players in this of course and much of this will be personal.  However, I know there are a lot of people out there who are former WOW addicts who will feel similarly to me on many accounts.  I am not one of the bittervets who complains about everything after vanilla being a downgrade - lots of things were great, some sucked, and I just don't want to play like I did in years gone past for both reasons that are internal to the game and reasons that have nothing to do with it.  The draw required to get me to resub to a new game is going to be higher than it was back in 2004 for sure.

There seem to be two things I care about.  One is that I want all my friends to be playing.  I want to log in and see all kinds of familiar names, I want to use ImaginaryMMO as my social platform, and I want to be surrounded by all those people I remember from days gone by like those who somehow turned from teenagers into real people while I wasn't looking.  So yeah, make something so awesome that everybody I know loves it.  Good luck with that and sorry for the useless advice, since if you can get everybody I know playing you are probably already taking a dive into a pool of money.

The second thing I want is a world rather than a story.  I distinctly recall the first while of playing WOW and the thing was that the world had all kinds of interesting corners to poke about.  There was this place called Scarlet Monastery that was super far away and mysterious and our quest to clear all of the enemies out of it was a bloody adventure.  The story was mine to write, and it could include a trip to Scarlet Monastery to destroy those dastardly fanatics... or not.  Clearly there were all kinds of terrible problems with the world and quest design back at launch but it is possible to fix those without making the world into a single hallway along which the characters run.

That isn't to say that I glorify the inconvenience of the old days.  Walking forever to get to a dungeon is frustrating and things like summoning stones and dungeon finder teleports eliminated a lot of tedium.  The trick is that I really like it when a game is complicated and hard and optimizing it is actually a real thing.  I want to find the perfect path through the quests to do them at maximum possible speed.  It feels good to figure out the routine, to find the points where the game can be made to bend to my will.

I don't want a novel.  I want a choose your own adventure.  I don't want to watch, I want to play.  I kind of doubt that any game will recapture me in this way though - they all seem to be novels these days.  I suspect until there is a major revolution in the design of MMOs they will not be able to suck me back in.


  1. Waiting at a dock for a boat sounds really boring. It feels like removing that sort of wait from a game has to be good... But finding something to do while waiting for the boat made it seem like an actual world. Endless gryphon rides on stupidly positioned quests feel really stupid, but it gave time to think about what to do next, or to get a drink, or whatever.

    I have to take my flying mount to go places because it's a little faster and I need to go faster, but it's less fun than getting on a gryphon and then reading my quest log.

  2. Yeah, that is true. I mean, there were things like Aqual Quintessence that drove me crazy at the time and which I think needed some kind of shortcut... but they sure made me believe in the world. Finding the perfect spot is hard but I know that the games that are coming out now really haven't hit it for me.

  3. Yeah, the trick is that in the early days there were things that took a long time but you wanted to play the game enough to put that time in. When you start thinking that you don't want to waste your players' time moving from one part of the world to another, you've tacitly conceded that the world isn't worth experiencing as a world, that it is just a box that holds "content".