Thought for the day.

An MMO should not require its players to undertake an organisational challenge on a par with that of an air traffic controller at a major international airport in order to form a group from a random set of friends with characters of varying levels.

If the requirements for being able to form a group –from that set of friends who are currently online– creates a decision Venn diagram which starts to look like the one to the right, consider again the nature of ‘multiplayer’ in the context of your game.

City of Heroes, EverQuest II: they both demonstrate that it’s perfectly possible to implement a mentoring system in an MMO which does not break the nature of the game, so why do so many MMOs still present a ridiculous number of barriers to friends playing together?

It is a slightly surreal situation when we consider that the primary outcome of RPG features these days is to act as a block to the MM in MMORPGs. For every feature that you add to an MMO, if the first question should be ‘Is this going to be fun?’, the second question should be a most vehement ‘Will this prevent a person from playing in a meaningful way with anyone of their choosing?’.

Only when these have been considered and answered satisfactorily should you move onto the usual third and fourth questions of ‘Oh, am I not meant to be in this design review?’ and ‘In that case, before I get down from the table, did anyone see where I threw my underpants?’.

9 thoughts on “Thought for the day.

  1. Melmoth Post author

    “Instance Control. Champion Heavy Six Zero. Requesting permission to dungeon run.”

    “Roger Champion Heavy Six Zero. Please change your character level to six five and then proceed on instance two three.”

    “Level six five, and instance two three. Thank you. Champion Heavy Six Zero”

    “Champion Heavy Six Zero, be advised you have a Guardian and Minstrel ahead of you at a level of six five, please maintain separation and do not attempt to join their formation.”

    “Roger. We have them in sight, will maintain separation. Champion Heavy Six Zero.”

    “Instance Control. Hunter Medium Four Five. Requesting permission to join formation.”

    “Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha Hunter Medium Four Five. Ah ha ha.”

  2. Tesh

    “It is a slightly surreal situation when we consider that the primary outcome of RPG features these days is to act as a block to the MM in MMORPGs.”

    But, but… people love progression mechanics! More than other people, apparently. Seems like a wetware issue.

  3. Jim

    This post and the handy diagram need to be pinned to the foreheads of Everybody working on mmog’s.

    Heh, I tried to go to a restaurant with my wife last night but sadly she had gone the other restaurant down the street yet…So she went there to get attuned and I stood around holding a LFDC sign alone for two hours before hitting a drive through for a greasy burger and arriving home to find my wife with her new dinner “friend”.

    Maybe that’s a bad example.

  4. Melmoth Post author

    @Tesh: I think more than a few of us enjoy progression. But to the detriment of being able to play with others? I’m not so sure. As the old argument goes: I can do that by playing single player RPGs, no need to waste all those resources on networking code.

    @Jim: It’s a tricky situation, because if the new friend has a dapper hat, it’s that much harder to vote-kick them from the relationship. Whatever you do, though, don’t give them access to the guild bank.

  5. Tesh

    Oh, I’m all for a level-less gearless MMO, focusing on playing with others rather than the grind that a single player game could provide… I just don’t think it would do well in the market. It’s not like WURM Online is rocking the sales charts.

    I think player action has spoken pretty clearly; the loot/level paradigm is nicely addictive and profitable. It’s very unfortunate that it comes with a reduced ability to play with others, and more devs should do things like sidekicking, so I’m pretty firmly agreed with you. It’s just… I don’t see market forces as being all that interested in fixing things.

  6. Derrick

    I’ve long hated that it’s so difficult for me to play MMO’s with my friends. As a result, I’ve usually spent the majority of my online time solo – not because I’m some “solo hero” who “ought to be playing a single player game!” but just because it’s so ridiculously difficult to manage grouped play.

    As your astoundingly astute Venn diagram shows, it’s not enough to Have Friends Who Play in order to get fun grouped play, but they need to fit all manner of ridiculously tight restrictions to make for good grouped play.

    Looking at Warcraft, for example, the combat mechanics are so horrendously biased by level that a 3 level difference (in an 85 level game) virtually breaks grouped play – if you’re 3 levels behind, you contribute virtually nothing; if you’re 3 levels ahead, you’re either crushing your opposition or doing all the work and essentially solo anyways.

    My wife likes to play MMO’s, but very casually. As a result, I basically have to make a character specifically to play with her, and I can never play that character on my own lest I out-level her (and it’s SO easy to do that now) … and she’s uninterested in playing solo to catch up. It’s just plain frustrating, as I’m much less casual :)

    The problem exists at the endgame as well, if not as badly (it’s easier to “gear up” new arrivals, if there’s not many) but during levelling? It’s virtually insurmountable.

  7. Stabs

    “did anyone see where I threw my underpants?’.”

    They landed high up in a tree. The giraffes are now refusing to give them back because you didn’t give them any red intersect in their circle. They are likely to hold a grudge for some considerable time.

  8. scrusi

    I find it outrageous that you deny me attunement to the instance as well as gear because of my dapper hat. That is just wrong!

    Seriousness aside, if you want to drop progression mechanics from your MMOs, why don’t you just play, say, MAG? That has to be better than the husk of awful gameplay that is left over if you strip all progression from current MMORPGs.(Gear, gone. Levels, gone. Story, gone. Persistence, you say? What is it you want to persist [that actually exists in games these days]?) If you drop gear, levels, and story from an RPG you are left with nothing at all except for a (usually dull) combat system.

  9. Zoso

    On Melmoth’s behalf, as he’s on holiday at the moment, I don’t believe he suggesting *dropping* progression at all, just making sure it’s not a constant roadblock to grouping, the mentor/sidekick example of EQ2/CoH being a prime case in point.

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