Inspiration and Incentives in MMORPGs

Let’s face it, the day-to-day grind of any MMORPG is pretty dull. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing quests or crafting, the hint’s in the name, it’s a grind. What interests us in MMOs, however, is the bigger picture. Rewards, status, social occasions, large scale events, they are all inspiration and incentives for us. We don’t necessary enjoy the act of the build-up but we certainly enjoy the achievement.

I guess it boils down to the old adage “no gain without pain”. I doubt anyone really enjoys the act of putting foot in front of another to trudge up a snowy mountain but I’d bet they very much enjoy the feeling when they get to the top. However, in order to accomplish these goals, we need to put in the effort. It’s not about being lazy, no, we just need to be inspired and incentivized in order to be motivated. Most MMOs do this through itemisation, titles, and opportunities (such as accessing new areas, dungeons, raids etc) although some use more abstract incentives as part of their bigger picture.

Lord British assassinated

Lord British assassinated

Back in 1998, I was incentivised to play Everquest all because of a single article I read in a magazine about Ultima Online. It was a story about how Lord British had been killed by a player even though he was deemed to be immortal and the act impossible. The way the article was written made it sound like the most exciting thing ever and I remember imagining rampaging anarchy across a virtual world after its leader had been slain. I desperately wanted to be part of an online fantasy world like that.

Again, a couple of years later, whilst actively playing EQ, I was inspired to push my character forward and hit level 50 after reading about the acts of one particular guild – The Imperial Guard. I remember being told a story about how some player had died in the depths of a dungeon and couldn’t retrieve his corpse so he called forth The Imperial Guard to lay waste to the entire zone and reunite him with his body. Awesome stuff.

I hadn’t really felt inspired by tales like this in a few years until I started playing EVE Online and I read about The Great War. For those of you are unfamilar with EVE, this is an infamous period in which two of the largest corporations and their allies faced each other in an epic struggle to control the entire galaxy.

The balance between pain and gain has undeniably shifted in the last five years and we very rarely hear stories like these any more which I think is a shame. Part of the attraction of MMOs to me, other than the socialising , is the “big picture” and being part of something grand and epic. I mean, isn’t that we all want?

If you’ve got any inspiring stories about MMORPGs, please let me know, I’d love to read them.

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  1. There were the large scale wars in EVE, like you mentioned. Those always felt epic. But the only other thing I can think of was back in vanilla WoW. When the horde and alliance on my server would organize massive city raids. They would get so large that they would usually crash the continent server before we ever got to kill anything. Those were my first times being in a vent with 200+ people. Epic, but mostly crazy.

  2. Beej says:

    I think that’s my main problem with finding an MMO right now. There’s nothing new that makes me want to stick around. LOTRO is fun, but it’s one of those games that feels like WoW still. EVE was TOO different from what I want, but I can see how it can be great.

    I think Champions Online is going to be my thing because it combines the single online persistent world (no separate servers) with a decent PvP system, while letting me directly control my avatar and run around in the world. It also doesn’t look to subscribe to the “holy trinity” model, which none of my absolute favorite games have…UO, SWG. I might have played WoW longer than I did either of those, but I still rank it third in terms of enjoyment and nostalgia/memories.

    I want to impact the world; I want people to know my name. Even if it’s in a limited circle. “The big picture” is lost in a lot of games these days because of artificial limits placed on the game world by developers in order to keep “griefers” controlled, and I am tired of living in a carebear MMO where the biggest impact I can have in the world is how well-known I am in Trade Chat. Le sigh.

    • Gordon says:

      I’m looking forward to CO too but for different reasons. I view it more like a classic game MMO than a sandbox world. IMO it’s a lot harder to have epic stories in non-sandbox games because they are so much more restrictive. Still, there are plenty of good ones :)

  3. Longasc says:

    See, we all make decisions and mistakes in our life. Yours is a quite funny one: You saw UO, and decided… to play EQ!

    I just got killed by a giant grashopper in my LOTRO trial. Then I went to toilet, rather disappointed. Then read you want to hear our MMO stories. This is my story.

    But do not worry, I have a better one! I once killed another player with the help of a friend to cash in the bounty. We organized a wrestling & bandaging sparring fight for training with the victim. Without armor, of course. So we met near in the woods near the town of Vesper, close to the sea. The idea was to give him little routes of escape. Meliadus the Black Fool and I had battle axes and heavy crossbows with us. We trained for a few minutes. It was a good training, after all. Then there was a good opportunity for assassination, he was almost dead and wanted to bandage, I suddenly whacked him with the battle axe. He ran away and Meliadus who was watching the fight shot him in the back, finishing him. He also shot his horse, which was kinda unncessary.

    I took the victim’s head (use knife on corpse – creates a mess, but no other way to get the head) and we ran away. The guy was seriously upset and vowed ME eternal revenge. I want to point out, Meliadus was helping me, but nobody blamed him.

    Then we wanted to cash in the head. It turned out that I misread the date of the bounty. It was already outdated and they did not want to pay us. German and English dates are written differently. I thought 06/08 was the 6th of August, but actually they meant the 8th of June.

    The other guild was so upset about this that they killed my guildmates on sight. They never got me, till some demanded that I should finally die so that they stop harrassing our newbies.

    Enjoy. :)

  4. Daniel says:

    “Part of the attraction of MMOs to me, other than the socialising , is the “big picture” and being part of something grand and epic. I mean, isn’t that we all want?”


    I guess a more honest answer is “sort of”. I don’t mind being part of the bigger picture but I think I’m content for the bigger picture to be in the background. Watching people conquer the world doesn’t inspire me; I’m quite comfortable in my little Hobbit hole.

  5. Marchosias says:

    Best times for me were back in “old school” DAoC (Pre-Atlantis). I remember my first forays out in RvR, so excited and nervous that my palms were sweating profusely. Running with guild members out to retake keeps for the first time. Camping the “Mile Gates” and my first Relic Raid – totally freaking awesome. Hundreds of players, Albs, Mids and Hibs all taking part in the slaughter on the battlefield. It was simply amazing.

    Then the opening of “Darkness Falls” for your realm and clearing if of the opposing realm – total fun and excitement. I miss those days! I still think they had the best PvP ruleset ever or since. EVE is a close second, but the “cost of entry” in terms of learning curve were so much lower in DAoC that far more people could experience first hand the excitement and fun associated with large scale PvP battles.

    Damn… I’ve almost convinced myself to re-subscribe to play on the classic servers… yikes.

  6. Drekkin says:

    As a SWG forum lurker (DarthVenkman), often reading posts (see ‘whining’) there between phone calls at work, I’ve become familiar with player expectations and the realities of what a game presents to them. Due to it’s past, the game serves as one of the most prominent exemplars of what happens in that terrain between what players want to do and what they can do – and how that can all change in a heartbeat. In trying to navigate that space, SOE drastically altered their product and, at least in my mind, brought a great deal of focus on how much the mechanics of MMOs and their development, both as commercial products and systematic ‘realities’, will increasingly limit the potential for what you’re talking about.

    Though those examples you gave are fascinating in that they develop in the gaps and grow into something huge. But I’d agree, if MMOs remain linear and formulaic, they won’t inspire or incite – it’s the unique elements that do that, not the marketable KPIs or ‘must haves’ that are becoming part and parcel of the gameplay.

    Epic and differential play might make memories and give us something to talk about around the watercooler, but increasingly, it seems to be the money that talks most.
    At least, that’s the way it looks right now, which leads to that shift in the “pain or gain” you’re talking about.

    The MMO market was a relatively new space that held greater potential a few years back. When SWG first came out, for example, it was a game with scope. Too much scope, it was felt, and apparently too much “pain”. So they added directions. Pathways. Simple elements like animals found spawning regularly in the same area. Streamlined and “dumbed down” character development. Less organic and multi-faceted play.

    The response from the playerbase, clearly, was that there was now less “gain”.

    It became something that could be compared to other games, easily understood by any player of any age, and, presumably, easier to get the behind the scenes talent to maintain (since it was translatable). It changed to ‘fit’, and to survive in a market that was suddenly being filled with competitors.

    And it sucked.

    Though SWG has made something of a comeback since, it’s still largely systematized and “translatable”, but is giving more tools for diversity and individualization. This will culminate soon – I’m hanging for the Chronicles system, which is soon to be implemented, and will give some potential for things to grow in the gaps. Unique things will start to generate.

    My most inspiring moment in game was a send-off for my player city when, thanks to the above changes and the appeal of a newly released EQ2, alot of my fellow guildies left.
    It wasn’t so much the help we got from ‘Pex’ in placing spawns to fight amongst the streets that made it, it was the random spawning of the natural wildlife – kimogila – that decided to get involved and took everything to the next level. And it was the roleplay it generated, both during the event and for years after. It’s become part of the PA’s lore – the battle, and the fact that we shared the area with kimogila, who had also chosen the surrounds for a breeding ground.

    An individual story.

    Epic doesn’t involve encounters with ‘iconic’ elements, as the focus can often be in an MMO based on an existing story. Using the “epic” furniture of a core story already told is like taking something else that was epic and brushing up against it.

    Depth. Complexity. Immersion. A sense of something unique and personal. These are things that will make something truly epic.

    These are the ingredients that make MMOs great – taking the tools provided and having the space to make your own reality.

    After a narrowing of options, the fact that SWG’s heading back in that direction means I’m chuffed.

  7. Longasc says:

    Drekkin, it seems the other Star Wars game from Bioware, SW:TOR, is heading into the other direction. Very cinematic, it is up to speculation how much interaction is possible or matters.

    I also think player interaction lost in modern MMOs. In LOTRO people often do not recognize players talking to them even if they are speaking directly in front of them. OK, probably more a problem of the chat system. But does it not show that we have become ! quest guided objects in a beautiful colored wallpaper world?

    DikuMUDs also seem to come with “wallpaper worlds” that allow almost zero interaction with the environment. besides some glowing resource harvesting nodes.

    Take a look at how mining and lumberjacking worked in Ultima Online, how housing was done. There was nothing like a “zone” concept, and the artificial “unholy trinity” did not dumb down player minds. It should never have escaped from pen and paper to computers.

  8. Stabs says:

    For me the biggest impact game was SW:G. With all these things though it’s half about what the game permits and half about whether you have the gumption to just go for it and do drastic things. Other players are your content and rules only exist to hamstring your enemies.

    In SW:G I was out and about one day and another player was rather needlessly rude to me. I tried to contact his guild leader and got told to bugger off.

    They were at the time the top pvp guild on the server. I was leader of a small guild of 9 people. I declared war.

    The guild war mechanic unlike Eve is consensual. We could only have a war if they flipped the switch at their end. They didn’t.

    So I started a forum campaign of harassment and defamation, mocking their cowardice. They flipped the switch, murdered us, then foolishly left the switch on and went to bed.

    Next day their leaders came back online to find that random people in their guild had been murdered and corpse camped continually for the last 20 hours. They turned off guild war so I took to the forums again to provoke them there.

    Eventually we managed to destroy the Imperial bases in their home town. Biggest Imperial guild on the server, 100+ people massacred by 9 of us. Tactics were continually unexpected and underhanded, including manipulating a coalition of Rebel guilds into attacking them while we pushed our private Imp v Imp guild war.

    I noticed recently that people are still talking about it, 5 years on.

    Good times.

    I’ve recently reviewed Eve at my blog with some analysis of the social complexity (mostly stuff you’ve already seen privately Gordon but it may be of interest to some of your readers).

    I have yet to do anything dramatic in Eve but there is a truly evil plan in the pipeline. Unfortunately if it succeeds I won’t be able to blog about it until after I’ve finished milking the suckers. Mwa ha ha!

  9. Tesh says:

    Actually, I *do* want every step up the mountain to be fun. Achievements mean little to me, and socializing even less. I want any game I pay for to be fun to *play*, not fun to talk about or fun to say “I beat it, uphill both ways”.

    It’s no coincidence that I’m sitting out MMOs for the most part.

  10. Kaylee Lopez says:

    i used to play Sim City when i was still in high school and this is simply one of the best games of all times.*~-

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