I’ve played MMOs for as long as I’ve had a computer able to run them. Whenever I move to a new MMO though, there are always elements I have gotten used to that I really wish were in the new one. So, I want to talk about what I think would make the closest thing to a perfect MMO. Which, to me at least, is just an MMO in which you can be fully immersed in. Kind of like how Sword art Online is, just minus the harems and terrible plot lines.
An Alive and Open World
I want to be able to explore a world; get lost in it; and have it feel like it’s an actual world. In fact, it’s a huge part of why I believe The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would make an excellent experience as an MMORPG, which you can find my article on over here. It just doesn’t feel like a world if you can’t get stuck in the nooks and crannys.
However, it’s also much more than that to me. It’s not just about being able to go where ever I want, but more so being able to go where ever I want with somebody else. I remember in every MMO I’ve played seriously, such as in Aion or Final Fantasy XIV, whenever I would get very close with someone we would exchange areas that were special to us. While it may seem a bit cheesy, these areas held some kind of significance to us for one reason or not, and sharing them felt like we were welcoming each other into our hearts. Because of this I think it’s important to have some nice, small little areas in the middle of nowhere. They may not get the most use, but they will get some use.
Being able to travel where ever you want doesn’t exactly bring life to a world though - even if it is with someone you’re close to. Without events happening; weather changing; and people running about, the world won’t feel alive. Weather changes and events aren’t exactly hard to pull off, nor rare to find, but many MMOs tend to struggle with having people running about. New content comes out, old content gets boring, and people start to migrate out of the older areas to the new. In order to fix that, there’d have to be a reason to go back to these areas while also making sure that players don’t get bored.
I believe one way to go about this would be similar to how World of Warcraft handled their Cataclysm expansion - only maybe on a lesser scale, but also more often. If you’re unfamiliar with WoW or the expansion, an event in the story caused a cataclysm which destroyed many of the older areas. This gave new meaning to areas which players had already ventured through in the past, as well as a reason to journey back and see how they’ve changed. Now I’m not saying to have world changing catastrophes every few months. It wouldn’t have to be an incredibly resource intensive change, but rather something as simple as a shop being different after a few months. When you talk to the NPCs, they could maybe talk about how the previous shop went out of business or moved and how they got in there. This could also help with the markets, as now the items those shops sold may now be hard to come by. We do see this a little bit in Mor Dhona and Idyllshire in Final Fantasy XIV, but I’m talking more about affecting every area rather than just a couple small villages.
One thing that many MMOs just do not excel at is their story. I think many developers feel that stories aren’t that important, believing that players just want a fun and entertaining world to play together in. However, I feel that a good story is essential to making an MMO feel like another world as it gives attachment to the areas and the NPCs. I never used to pay much attention to the story when I first started playing MMOs, but through the years I’ve learned they can make or break one for many people - myself included.
I’ve only ever actually seen Secret World try to pull off a mystery themed story in an MMORPG. I didn’t stay around it due to many issues I had with the game, such as the aggro radius of enemies and the dull feeling of combat, but the game is pretty unique. The story quests are often puzzle based, and mystery driven in a way that encourages players to share clues with each other much more so than I’ve seen in any other MMOs. While playing it, I felt that all of the ideas in it were simply genius and that the only thing the game lacked was execution. I think a mysterious world helps keep players interested though, and would be great to have.
A Common Goal
One thing that is rare to find in an MMO is a common goal between the players. We see it sort of in some games, such as Aion with their fort sieges, but I want something even more grand scale than that. Rather than going to countless dungeons, and raids; doing countless quests; or just leveling everything to maximum, I think it would be great to have players interacting with each other and discussing clues in order to figure out what to do.
As you can see in this picture, Pokémon is clearly what to talk about during sieges.
This goes back to the mystery aspect, but I believe it would help keep things interesting. Rather than just spending hours on end bashing your head against your keyboard in the latest raid, you could be trying to find clues on how to further exploit a boss, or even figure out who the next boss is and how to initiate the battle with them.
What I think would be even better, is if this common goal could be used for conflicting purposes. If team a reaches the goal first, they can change the world in some way that is different than if team B reaches it first. Maybe you found out your favorite NPC has turned out to be the next big bad, and if the majority of players spare them at the end of defeating them, then the story changes for everyone when future patches are released compared to if the majority of players decided to kill them right then and there.
I discussed this a little more in detail when I imagined what Persona 5 would be like as an MMO, which you can find over here if you’re interested.
Taking More Risks
I feel like it’s getting more rare to find unique MMOs. One thing I’m always hearing about in the MMO community is how a game is a “WoW clone.” I think a lot of this is due to developers being scared to take a risk these days. There has been so much variety in the genre, and now it’s clear what keeps and attracts players and what doesn’t, and that it’s just too much of a risk to stray from that. I think if developers are a little more willing to take the risk to release their ideal game, then we’d have much better MMOs. Though, at the end of the day, it is still a business so it’s only natural to go for what you know will bring in the bucks.
Things like combat and mechanics can change and be used to complement different styles or atmosphere of an MMO, and I don’t think there’s any one particular style that’s better than all the rest. What I think could really make for an amazing MMO experience would be to see more single player elements thrown into them in a community driven way - such as a common goal or an immersive story, along with some risks thrown in. More than anything though, I believe it all boils down to having a world that feels very alive. One that is always changing, evolving, and being shaped by our actions.