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MMO Burnout: it’s cyclical

September 2, 2011

A while back I had posted thoughts about Rift, and how I figured I’d end up cancelling my account and getting back into WoW. The funny thing is, it hasn’t happened yet. I began to wonder why this is – since this has been my “cycle of MMOs” for the past 6 years.

I decided to check out WoW Insider and I came across this article about low DPS raiders. It was a quick and startling reminder as why I don’t enjoy getting /that/ deep into MMOs. A few quotes from the article:

“A perfect player could have spent no talent points and perform better than a fully specced player who only makes a few mistakes.”

“frankly we’ve reached a point where it doesn’t matter what you want anymore”

“raid leaders have to understand that they can’t always worry about the feelings of a single player”

Wow. You know, that’s exactly the mentality I walked away from, every time I left the game. This isn’t even taking into account the inter-personal drama and guild drama, which was the other big half of why I left. I’m glad I read that article, it’s helped me figure out at least part of the reason why I haven’t returned to Azeroth. It’s a second job, and getting the most out of the game involves a lot of /personal sacrifice/. Isn’t that against the spirit of a _game_?

I don’t know if there’s much else I want to, or can say about that.

On a different, but very related topic is my decline in Rift playtime. My second (or third?) subscription just got charged on my credit card, yet I don’t know if I play the game enough to warrant the monthly fee. I played the shit out of it when I first got it, because of how novel it is, and to catch up to my friend Jeremy (who was fairly high level), who _never ended up playing the game again_. Huh. Well, I raced my way to the mid 40s before I started to get a bit burnt out. So, here I am with plenty of time to spare, and I still find myself playing Rift only every other day at most, and usually only for an hour or less. Why is that? Is it because I’m already burnt out with the MMO formula? Or is it something particular about Rift?

Given that I tend to drop MMOs within one month of first playing them (I’m looking at you WARSTO, CO, CoX, EQII, GW, LOTRO, and DDO), Rift is barely out of the ordinary for this cycle of MMO burnout. And the thing is, some of those MMOs that I spent only a month with had some very unique features and played very differently from WoW. Yet, I must say that I encountered the same issues with ALL of those MMOs (except Guild Wars, it had it’s own issues): it takes too much effort and time to get anything going with a group, and solo play is boring as hell. That is the sole reason why I have left each of those other MMOs. GWs main issue is how slow and boring the PvE gameplay is, along with how FOTM and spammy the PvP is. Plus, I just didn’t dig the quasi-Anime style to the game. It played more like a very fast-paced card game than an action game – and I definitely have a preference for action in my MMOs.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, really – I guess I’m just rambling about MMOs in general.

My ideal MMO would have the following:

– INSTANT-ish groups (Dungeon Finder style). That is to say, the MMO should facilitate and /encourage/ groups. Content should be mostly tailored to groups of various sizes and there should be an in-game method of quickly and easily forming groups.  Either a one-button method (like WoW’s Dungeon Finder) or an easy to use LFG system like the old WoW Call To Arms UI mod, where you can list specifically what your group is doing and what you are looking for.

Most MMO releases just follow the EverQuest 1 and early WoW formula: basically a shallow, SLOW open-world RPG that has other players in it, but you don’t really play with them – and forming groups is such a pain in the ass that most people don’t bother. I think this philosophy is ASS backwards. MMOS ARE _MULTIPLAYER_ GAMES, by name! MMOs should always be designed to readily facilitate MULTIPLAYER, rather than streamlining singleplayer. By streamlining singleplayer, Blizzard made multiplayer in the open world almost useless – so they had to throw in Dungeon Finder to compensate. While I understand that many players have reasons for wanting some solo content, I do NOT believe that it should ever be easier or better to play an MMO solo, than to play it multiplayer. This is strictly in the hands of the game designer however – because players are inherently lazy (or efficient, depending on how you look at it): they will never go out of their way for anything, including finding a group. Designers MUST make multiplayer in MMOs much more accessible and rewarding than it is. Most MMOs absolutely lack this kind of feature.  Blizzard finally figured it out, but it’s still far from perfect. I always point to the FPS model: a simple UI menu that lists servers and number of players, you double click the server and you are “in a group” and playing. That easy.

Optional but preferable: the LFG tool should warp you to the group content, and you should be able to continue to play the open-world game without restrictions while queued.

– “Mentoring / Sidekick / Champion” system: where two players at different levels can have their levels made the same (temporarily) in order to play together. Along the lines of making multiplayer in a /multiplayer game/ more accessible, differences in levels and gear has restricted players from being able to enjoy the game together. While a level-equalizing system is somewhat common in Cryptic games, and I haven’t seen in ANY other game developer use this kind of system so far, which is ridiculous. This method is probably the only real way to keep friends playing together.

I already know the inherent problems with this: loot that drops would not (ordinarily) be level proportionate to one of the players, and games with any kind of open-world PvP wouldn’t be able to use this, due to being able to pump an army of level 1s up to level cap instantly. My solution to the first problem: level proportionate gear should drop separately for each player, as long as the content is challenging. Period. If a level 10 bumps to 85 to play with a friend, he should still get level 10 items; and if the 85 drops to 10, he should still get level 85 gear. If the content is not challenging, then neither player in either case should get “good loot” – but that is almost always true in MMOs anyway. My solution to the second problem, the PvP issue: get rid of open-world PvP (open world PvP is almost always total /shit/ and unsporting anyway), or relegate it to areas where player levels are /automatically/ set to some default level as soon as they enter the zone. Those are legit, workable solutions that would allow level equalization, and would allow friends to play the game together even if there is a level gap between their toons.

– Flexible class system like Rift or GW. Players should be able to change roles as the group needs, or as the player wants.  I want at LEAST 4 “classes” with notably different styles of gameplay, but each should be able to fulfill a number of roles, but in a different way than the other classes. I don’t really need a /plethora/ of classes, but I need at least a handful, and they should feel different. While I believe in the “bring the player, not the class” philosophy, I still believe that each class should have a unique feel and style.

– More variety of instanced content. Bliz keeps changing how they do instances, but right now their formula (which has been copy-pasted by every other developer) is 30 – 120 minute, 4 to 6 player “instances” with 2 to 4 bosses. There is nothing that changes, there are no random encounters, so it is basically a content conveyor belt. Yuck. While plowing through a Wrath-style EZ-mode instance can be cathartic, I think there should be more variety. I’d LOVE to see more randomized, Diablo-style dungeons. I would also really like to see EQ2 expansion style instances that change difficulty and rewards based on the number of players, so that duos and trios can enjoy instanced content. Pulling together a friend or two for an instance would be a LOT easier than five or six. I would also like to see the return of sprawling, 3 – 5 hour instances (like BRD) with multiple paths and lots of bosses. Massive, winding instances can be a great way to enjoy an evening with friends… and they feel a lot more like table-top gaming. Sadly however, those instances have gone extinct, and been replaced by the conveyor-belt McDungeons.

– ACTION based gameplay, kind of like DDO or CoX. Brutal, visceral melee combat (including Age of Conan-style finishers) would be a big plus… If nothing else, I just don’t want the “stand there and click buttons” Guild Wars style of gameplay. Guild Wars is a GREAT game in most ways, except the absolute lack of action. Combat should at least /look/ like there is action going on. Character animations and sounds should show that combat is tough and brutal. Swings should be wide and powerful, flinch animations should make me wince. The sounds of metal hitting flesh, armor clanking, arrows sinking through wooden shields, war cries, and death yelps should all make combat feel /alive/. Rather than the repetitive, yawn-worthy style found in many MMOs, in particular Guild Wars.

– Flexible group composition. GET RID OF THE GOD FORSAKEN WOW FORMULA! PLEASE! I’m so, SO sick of “tank/heal/dps/dps/dps”. That crap NEEDS to be retired, yesterday. Granted, it is the /most efficient/ group composition, but that doesn’t mean it should be required to play the game. I think that a game should reward _variety_ in group composition (e.g. passive group buffs that each class get in EQ2 – which stack, encouraging variety in group composition). I’m sure there are a number of creative solutions to this issue, but the end result would have to support variety in group composition (not just classes, but gameplay styles) without removing the challenge of encounters.

– Level 1 PvP. Warhammer and Guild Wars are the only two MMOs that I have played that let you queue up for PvP as soon as the game is installed. I don’t know which system I liked more, GW’s or WAR’s, but they were both great. GW lets you create a level-cap toon just for PvP, and you are given /decent/ gear to start out with. Noice. You totally lack any decent skills, but you can at least play. WAR on the other hand let you queue as level 1 with your level 1 skills, but your health and other stats would be bolstered so you were competitive. Brilliant.

– Balanced, accessible PvP with wide map and gameplay variety. I would pay $30 / mo for a MMO that combined the instant access to top-tier PvP of Guild Wars with the action combat and PvP variety of WoW. You cannot deny the variety found in WoW’s PvP – be it the traditional 2Fort rip-off of Warsong Gulch, or the zany vehicle combat of Isle of Conquest, or the zerg rush play of Strand of the Ancients… Just imagine, a 40 v 40 balanced match of Wintergrasp. <gasp> Basically fantasy-themed Battlefield 1942. I’d probably pay $50 / month for that. Critical to this component is an MMO where skill > gear, unlike the usual formula which puts gear WAY ahead of skill.

– Deeper visual character customization and animations. Maybe this is the old RPer in me, but I think it adds a LOT to an MMO if characters can look distinct. One of the reasons I don’t play the awesome Vindictus game is because of how bland and samey all of the player characters are. MMO developers are starting to come around, finally – with Bliz implementing a “make your armor look different” feature coming in 4.3, and Rift’s already implemented system that gives players two armor slots – one for stats and another for appearance. Most MMOs have a striking dearth of player customization options. If nothing else, armor / clothing needs more variety, because it has (by far and away) the strongest impact on the overall appearance of a character.

Ideally I would want my MMO to let players choose which of any of the armors they have collected before appears on their character, and they should be able to change the color of it. I also want more accessory options than just tabbards. Accessories and clothing that goes over (or under?) armor would be great, as well as stuff like little “trinkets” that can be attached to the armor and belt, like those in Warhammer, or sashes worn over armor like in Ultima Online.

Visually distinct classes is a big plus. I like to tell at a glance what class another player is. In WoW this was accomplished by the type of armor and weapon a character had, or the presence of a pet. TF2 developers stove to design their character classes to have very distinct visual appearances and silhouettes. While I don’t know how well this would work with the ability to customize your visual appearance, I feel that for gameplay reasons (especially in PvP), classes should have some element that allows easy class identification at a glance.

– Multiple races that are visually distinct. Playing Rift at the moment, I can RARELY tell which faction a player belongs to, because I can’t tell what their race is. Four of the six races are almost identical, especially from further away than ten feet. That’s /stupid/. This goes hand-in-hand with the player customization bit, I guess. WoW pretty much did it right, with the classic fantasy races. EQ2 is a close runner up – taking second only because the character models are all /ugly/, and the races all have the same animations – that’s just lazy. My ideal MMO would have at least a few, visually unique races to choose from.

– No more 2-faction BS. This formula is become a staple of MMOs and is in _every single_ top-shelf MMO at the moment. It’s really, really tired and derivative. First of all, only a fraction of servers are “PvP” servers, so using that as a reason to have two major, warring factions is just stupid. Secondly, it cuts deeply into the available pool of players for groups, which increases wait times – this is especially true on servers with a population imbalance. Speaking of pop imbalance: that’s another major reason why two factions is just stupid – especially on PvP servers… if one side grossly outnumbers the other, then leveling is a serious chore if you on the underpopulated side, as you get ganked repeatedly… That’s not “real” PvP in my opinion, and I really want nothing to do with it. If a game MUST have factions, then let players CHOOSE what faction they belong to. I think EQ2 got it right, where you start out as one of two (and a half?) factions: evil or good (or neutral) – and you can CHANGE your faction status later. You can still GROUP with people from the opposing faction, you just can’t enter their cities or take their faction quests. Entirely PvP-based MMOs have generally failed to reach economic success so far, so trying to half-way implement a global PvP system is a terrible compromise, and that includes the boring, stale 2-faction WoW system.

Just so you know, I understand why developers insist on throwing in the 2-faction system into the game. It forces players together and encourages a sense of community within one faction, because they have a default “enemy”. People get f-ing insane about faction conflict, and this is what the developers want – it adds a sense of identity for players. Players often “are” Alliance or Horde, they “are” Chaos or Order. Anyway – my take on faction conflict is that it’s forced, it’s archaic, and it takes away from the game in several ways; moreover, if you want open-world PvP, there are already PLENTY of games that have already copy-pasted this formula. Let’s try something new, k developers?

That is the list of features that my ideal MMO would have. You know, it doesn’t even seem unreasonable to ask for that stuff. <shrug> Anyway. Yeah, most MMOs right now are just a shade or two off of WoW, and I’m bored with the formula, I guess. Time to go play some GTA4.

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