Monday, June 13, 2011

Are MMORPGs going the way of PnP?

I've been looking to replace the MMORPG I've been playing for the last four years or so. Typical reasons, the game is moving away from the play style it started with. The people in charge move on, new goals appear and core concepts change. It's the way of things, when it happens in Pen and Paper you just don't buy the new edition and keep playing. But that isn't possible with an MMORPG, so you find a new game.

MMORPG game design (and PnP too for that matter) has effectively been stagnant for years now. Modified D&D style combat with rare (and rather unsuccessful) exception. And that looks to continue. The online world never experienced the explosion of different approaches that was attempted in the 80s. And given the costs of development and marketing for even a small attempt- likely never will.

But while the core game play remains very familar, they are playing with stuff around the edges.

I've been watching three games in development with an eye towards one of them being my next waste of time: Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2, and The Secret World. All these talk about radical changes in game play- they lie. The new stuff from that point of view is little but minor changes or additions.

What is new is the focus on Story. The first two promise individual and personal storylines. Frankly, I think that's a lie too. It's really just a choice between whatever handful of character arcs *they* allow us. In the case of the Old Republic, it's even worst than that- as your storyline choices may not even be yours when in a group, but instead is owned by a random member of your party.

But still, this is quite new for the MMORPG scene. The Secret World doesn't promise an individual storyline, but does promise mysteries and investigation arcs into the storyline of the world and your place in it. Not individual, but still a major feature of the setting.

After more than a decade of playing D&D, it seems the MMORPG world is now ready to try World of Darkness. Let's hope they do a better job than White Wolf did.


Joshua said...

Wouldn't touch StarWars with a the proverbial D&D ten-foot pole, but GuildWars 2 looks kind of interesting. I'm still playing City of Heroes regularly, and that's it for my MMOs.

Helmsman said...

I've yet to see any "story" line in an MMO be anymore than a block of text to skip through as fast as my mouse can click. It could be written by the best writers in the universe and it would still hold as much significance to me as the user agreement for my latest itunes update. You know why? Because I don't give a flying FUCK about what's supposidly happening to MY character while the same exact thing is happening to the same half-dozen characters huddled around me that I don't know. The only common ground we share is that we're all clicking through the text as fast as we can so we can go back to fetching the item and killing the spawned critters on the way.

MMO's are about creating a unique and individual character and contributing that individual to a group. Throwing out stupid story lines that everyone goes through undermines that. It would be cooler to have everyone line up and be yelled at as a group by a drill-Sargent-esque NPC. At least that would stimulate a feeling of community rather than a bunch of individuals undergoing the same thing.

Personally I think Minecraft offers the features every MMO should incorporate. If they incorporated the Random Terrain generation with the tear apart the world and use the resources framework to create the land in-between the canon world, then that would give the PC's space to create their own story. Minecraft is brilliant that way. You build something your very own, and the trials and tribulations and the creepers coming to blow your shit up makes for a real story that is uniquely tailored to every individual, but is strikingly similar, no matter who tells it.

Joshua said...

I don't really have any trouble imagining the story is happening to my particular character in City of Heroes, since almost everything is instanced, but it was a big immersion killer in Champions Online that if you were fighting a villain you were one of a whole bunch of people who had been waiting for him to spawn so you could get a piece of him to complete the quest.

Rob Lang said...

Do you include Eve in this assessment?

Gleichman said...

@Rob Lang: Interesting question.

It's been a while since I played EVE. It's a very PvP focused game, so much so that avoiding PvP completely is impossible no matter where you're at (unless it's docked or logged off, i.e. not playing).

That makes story lines very difficult and until recently EVE didn't try. It was the closest thing to a pure sandbox if sandboxes were full of sociopaths.

Sure they had background fluff, and it's importance was roughly on par with 40K's- i.e. it had nothing to do with the actual game.

It does appear however that they are making at least some changes given the latest updates that I've gotten in my mailbox. From where I set, they look to be on par with more traditional MMORPGs (invasion of a NPC pirate hoard) however the rather this newer trend towards more detailed backgrounds and individual story lines.

Bradford C. Walker said...

The creeping Story lameness isn't that surprising once you check the development team rosters. A lot of people who got their start in tabletop RPGs are worming their way into MMORPG and console game work now, so they take their preferences and ideologies with them. Guild Wars 2 is one of the more prominent examples: Ree Soesbee (L5R) is one of the prominent developers on that team.