Reporting In From 'MMOG' Land

by Mark Crump on Aug. 15, 2004 @ 1:30 p.m. PDT

I have a confession to make to my loyal readers – most likely all two of you: I am burnt out on MMOG’s. I have a hard time logging into my favorite online games, much less keeping track of the ones I have a professional interest in. The reason for that, is every damn one of them is a horse of a different color, but a gelding nonetheless.

Fighting the MMOG Burnout

The things that drive me nuts in EverQuest have a slightly different variant in DAoC that also drive me nuts. It’s not just fantasy-based games that near this symptom since they are present in Star Wars Galaxies. Every MMOG, be it EverQuest, DAoC, World of WarCraft, Star Wars Galaxies, etc. follow the same basic advancement model: stand in one spot, fight the same thing over again, and maybe over the course of several weeks maybe hear that gratifying “ding” noise that tells you have a new level. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll find a group to help keep you company while you stand in one spot.

That’s not to say companies haven’t tried to move you along. Dark Age of Camelot gives out less xp the longer you camp the same spot – although why they based most of the advancement in Trials of Atlantis around standing in one spot is beyond me. EverQuest introduced the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion, which was designed to move you through an instanced dungeon to completion. Those ideas are admirable, but they are based off the fact that current tried and true advancement model of MMOGs completely and totally sucks, and it’s sapping my enthusiasm for the genre.

I got all hot an excited over the fact that I could advance through most of a level in World of WarCraft via quests until I realized that most of the quests required me to stand in one spot killing the same mobs, hoping I eventually got 10 bandanas – competing with the other 100 bandana-hunting people to boot – and then moving on to another camp when I ended up running out of quests I could do at my level and not being high enough to do the next one.

I am finding that single-player games are just offering more reward for my time investment these days, and the story lines to them are simply better as well. When I play NeverWinter Nights I play a hero that saves the world, in Morrowind I become their version of a Messiah. In Star Wars Galaxies I play a chef – where’s the sense of epic game-play in that?

So, what changes can be made so I can fall back in love with my genre of choice?

Firstly, give me a decent back-story. Something along the lines of an epic, class related quest that spans my entire leveling experience similar to what I see in a single-player RPG. Throw in enough random elements so I don’t just print it out from a spoiler page or follow someone who has also done the quest before. Make me feel like an epic warrior, not the guy who carries the knight’s gear.

Secondly, make my level advancement tied into the aforementioned story line. I don’t sit in one spot camping monsters in a single-player game, why do I need to do it in an MMOG? Granted, human nature will dictate that we take the shortest route to our destinations, but give me some incentive to move, or simply make the game mechanisms more fun. There are too many game components in MMOGS (leveling and tradeskills being great examples) that make me feel like Pavlov’s dog; hit a button “x” number of times and get a reward, oh boy!

Thirdly, don’t make me kill rats, snakes and baby spiders for my first 10 levels either – they pose no real threat to me in real life, why do they kick my ass online? At least City of Heroes has the right idea, where the low levels monsters you fight are simply inexperienced street gangs or robots – now those could give me a run for my money.

Oddly enough, the game that comes the closest to solving some of these things is City of Heroes – a game often maligned for its lack of depth. In CoH I can get a mission from my contact that moves me through a dungeon, or yes, forces me to kill 10 hellions, but the missions over time at least give me the impression I’m uncovering some clue about what’s going on. That fun lasts until my current contact runs out of missions to give me and the next contact tells me I’m too low a level; after that it’s back to grinding out gang-bangers until I hit the next level. World of WarCraft stands some chance at doing this, as there are Right of Passage quests that are class specific and have hints of the story elements you see in single-player games.

The next round of MMOG’s just aren’t lighting my mouse on fire. I want to get excited about EverQuest2, but there’s a part of me going, “don’t look into the light, you’ll just be killing rats and spiders waiting to hear DING!” I’m more excited about Knights of the Old Republic 2 and NeverWinter Nights 2 (even though NWN2 won’t see the light of day until 2006) because I know those games will give me a rich, rewarding game experience for the time I’ve spent playing it. MMOGs have got to introduce more rewarding game-play than dings and skill increases and move the genre forward or they will simply stagnate and fail to either steal players from other games, or worse, fail to become mainstream games and attract players new to the genre. Right now, the MMOG market feels like the RTS market; every game is just a clone of the formula that publishers view as successful – EverQuest -

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