Posts Tagged ‘mmorpg design’

How To Eradicate Gold Farming

Every so often the gold farming/selling/buying debate rears it’s ugly head and sparks off a series of blog articles throughout the Interweb. Recently Tobold and Gevlon got stuck into the topic again and even managed to necromance one of a series of articles I wrote last year about the subject (a self-confessed gold seller posted some interesting comments this morning about the actual legality of it all). So, when responding to Tobold’s buzz, I was visited by the Ghost of Inspiration and a cartoon light bulb went off over my head. Hear me now, for I’ve got the answer to completely eradicating gold farming from MMORPGs:

Remove all forms of tradable currency.

Done. Over. Finito. No more gold farmers. Simple eh?

Goblins are greedy. Fact.

Goblins are greedy. Fact.

Yes, I know, I can hear your outcry now about how currency in MMOs is an important factor to gameplay and crafting etc etc. But is it really? Maybe in sandbox games like EVE Online but what about in your classic, video game themepark fun such as World of Warcraft? I don’t believe it’s as necessary as some people think and, in fact, it’s probably just a hang up from the original MMORPG models back in the late 1990s.

Let’s look at WoW in more depth. Money is practically irrelevant and unnecessary in the game now and it’s only really used to purchase crafted items from other players and a few minor self-sustaining items. Mounts are exceedingly cheap, mechanics like the dungeon finder make it exceedingly easy to gear up characters, heirloom items mean twinking is a breeze and a huge percentage of the best items are bind-on-equip anyway and cannot be obtained through purchase. It’s so easy to get what we want, I can’t actually remember the last time I needed gold. How much of a stretch would it be to remove tradable currency from the game?

Obviously the biggest impact this would have would be on crafting. Even without tradable currency, I’m sure cunning gold sellers would just switch to selling crafted items for real cash instead of currency. I suppose mechanics could be put in place to try and reduce this but ultimately the only way to kill illegal RMT completely would be by making crafted items non-tradable. Yes, this would alienate a lot of diehard crafters and isn’t hugely desirable but would it have a huge impact on a game like WoW? Would a significant portion of its playerbase leave if tradeable crafting wasn’t an option? And even if they did, would it be a price worth paying if it meant completely eradicating gold farmers and gold sellers?

So, removing tradable currency… hair-brained idea or pure genius?


Horror MMORPGs

Admit it, you like being scared. The rush of adrenaline, the pumping of your heart, that exhilarating feeling; it’s why we watch horror films, go on roller coasters, partake in extreme sports, read Stephen King and watch the news on television at night. Horror is everywhere but as a genre for gaming though, it’s been pretty limited.

When face lifts go bad

When face lifts go bad

That’s not to say that there haven’t been a few great horror games though. A couple of my personal favourite have been Doom 3 (I played it on the hardest difficulty and could only stomach 30 minutes at a time) and more recently Dead Space (my wife used to giggle when I screamed whilst playing it). Horror games, and I’m not talking about the gratuitous mega violence ones here, can be exceptional when done right because they invoke strong emotions from the player.

So where on Earth are the horror MMORPGs? We’ve got enough fantasy ones to last a lifetime, a few sci-fi ones to wet our appetite with but absolutely nothing scary to speak off. And it’s a genre ripe for the taking with so much untapped potential.

I suppose I can understand the reluctance of developers wanting to take a risk with horror due to it’s adult nature and the resulting smaller target audience it will reach. Why make a Lovecraft-esque MMORPG when a happy, smiling, hugs all round Elves based fantasty one will appeal to so many more people? Like many things in life, it boils down to money.

Fortunately though, it seems like some developers are starting to recognise the potential of horror MMOs and with any luck we won’t have to too long until they appear. Funcom is working on The Secret World which is looks quite titillating and CCP have signed a deal to use the World of Darkness license in a MMO. Bloody great stuff (pun intended).

Still not convinced by the potential of a horror MMORPG? Well imagine that if running a dungeon in your usual fantasy MMORPG is fun, imagine how much funner it would be if you were scared witless doing it.


What Mass Effect 2 Could Teach MMORPGs

I’ve been a bit of a late starter with Mass Effect 2 as it’s been out for a few weeks already yet I only started playing it just over a week ago. I’ve been busier than a Japanese beaver so I haven’t completed it yet but I’m slowly working through it, soaking up every moment of it and loving it more than a fat boy loves cake.

Here’s a few things MMORPGs could learn from ME2:

Hansel Shepard, the very best there is. When you absolutely, positively, have to kill every single mothertrucker in the room; accept no substitute

Hansel Shepard, the very best there is. When you absolutely, positively, have to kill every single mothertrucker in the room, accept no substitute.

I’m A Good Guy/I’m A Bad Man
I adored the Paragon/Renegade morality system in the original Mass Effect and ME2 continues it’s implementation and adds the ability to intervene during certain cut scenes. Regular readers know I have a thing for being the “bad guy” in RPG games (probably because I’m secretly frustrated with being so nice in real life) and being able to actually roleplay a character and make immoral decisions that affect the game and the outcome helps build my immersion and connection.

Fast & Fun Combat
ME2 is a lot more action based than the original and streamlines much of the game to keep it more combat focused. Although I lament the loss of the the inventory system from the original, ME2 gives great combat pleasure. There’s no real reason why we need to stick with the traditional 1-2-3 combat system that most MMORPGs offer these days. This doesn’t mean going full hog twitched based but something a tad more heart-pumping would be nice.

Comrade Care
I care about the characters in ME2. I feel like they have their own personalities and characteristics and it draws me further into the game and makes deciding who’s going to be on my squad even harder. All of this is a refreshing change from not giving a flying toss about NPCs in MMOs. In ME2 they are my comrades, in MMORPGs they’re just pixel meat.

Tell Me a Story And Take Me Away
I feel immersed when I played ME2. I can’t quite explain exactly why but it’s a combination of atmosphere, background lore, setting and story. The universe in ME2 feels real and vibrant and when I play the game I forget all of my real life stresses and strains and for a brief few moments I am Hansel Shepard, Renegade Spectre out to save the galaxy. When I played World of Wacraft, I’m just a geek with a mic. Let’s learn from ME2, find the key to immersion and pile it on to MMORPGs in spades.


Worldplay Project

Yesterday I received a very nice email from a fellow called Aaron, an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University (Texas) asking for some help in promoting his research project. Being a former scholar (and easily susceptible to flattery) I, of course, agreed.

The project is called the Worldplay Research Initiative (WRI) and aims to explore the ‘issues associated with cross-cultural interactions in virtual worlds’, a topic that I actually wrote about back in July of this year in an article entitled (originally enough) ‘The Multicultural Aspects of MMORPGs’.  Aaron read the article and found me through it, assuming I had a similar interest in the subject. He was right.

Aaron has approximately 18 students on his course Games for the Web, all contributing to his project and undertaking research into virtual worlds and MMOs. As part of their course, they each play different characters in Dungeons & Dragons Online and observe and interact with foreign players. They’re aims are to explore the internationality provided by these worlds and games and investigate how transnational cooperation affects players and can be nurtured and extended by both developers and the community.

All-in-all I think it’s a very cool project. As a Scot who’s played on both US and heavily mixed European servers in a variety of different MMORPGs, it’s something I find incredibly fascinating and a subject I hold dear to my heart. It’s like living in a little microcosm, just watching how people from different cultures interact, how each society evolves and how differently events are seen and undertaken (e.g. Koreans and Americans have vastly differing views on PvP).

If you want to read more about the Worldplay Project, check out the Trinity University webpage here.

There’s also a short 10 question online survey which Aaron would be incredibly delighted if anyone who had 5 minutes to spare could fill in. Hopefully you will find it as fun and interesting as I did.

My final thought is simply how jealous I am that I wasn’t able to do any sort of course like this when I was at university. In a contest between exploring the multicultural aspects of MMORPGs and learning about TCP/IP protocols and network transport layers, I know which wins. Hint: it’s not the networking.

P.S. Aaron’s also a big fan of Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green (as am I) and expressed how awesome and informative his comments are. I couldn’t agree more.


Zombie MMORPG

Y’know what I’d love to see? A zombie MMORPG. Maybe MMORPG is the wrong acronym for it though, maybe it’s more of a virtual world and not a game. You see, in this MMO the object wouldn’t be raiding or roleplaying (well that might fit in at a player’s discretion), the object of the game would be survival. And there would be permadeath.

Imagine a large virtual world, perhaps only a single server ala EVE Online, that’s set in a fictional United States of America, modern time. It’s completely overrun with zombies (dozens of different types of them) and in a severe state of dilapidation and the players are the only inhabitants left on the planet, forming together into small groups or large gangs in order to stake claim to territories and eek out a semblance of normal life.

There would be no levels in this zombie MMO, instead players would earn experience simply by surviving. You’d be able to tell how much of a veteran someone is by how many days they’d survived. There would also be no classes, instead everything is skilled based and learnt from studying books, videos etc found in the world or passed on by another player. Players could learn medical skills to help heal others, mechanical skills to repair cars and electrical generators or combat skills like to marksmanship to make them better at killing those pesky zombies.

A zombie MMO would require a lot of freedom of action. Every vehicle should be driveable (so long as it’s in a state of good repair, has fuel and you have the appropriate skills), every house enterable, every animal, person or thing killable. There would be no auction house or global chat, instead players would need to rely on bartering or in-game phones or walkie-talkies. Oh yes, plus there would be permadeath.

There would need to be some way of letting you transfer some of your skills onto your “family members” (new characters) but ultimately everyone only has one life. There would be no resurrection spells or spawn points, instead if you die, you die. I think this is absolutely necessary in order to create a real feel of survival and fear. Being killed by a zombie has real impact. Being killed by another person maliciously, even more so.

The most interesting thing about this game would be seeing how events unfold. Would players unite together towards the common threat of zombies or would they bicker and fight between themselves in gangs over territory? Would they create states of laws and order or would they succumb to the anarchy? I’d love to known.

So what do you think? Could a game like this work? Would you play it ?


My Perfect MMORPG – Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what my perfect MMORPG would be. No idea how feasible it would be to create (although I’m sure it would be possible with enough cash), how popular it would be or actually if it would be any good. I’m not a games designer so I’m not actually sure what makes a game “good” or “fun”, I guess I’d just need to cross my fingers ad hope that it’s decent :)

I’ve broken this article down into two or three posts because I think it’s too big for one. Here’s my initial outline of what my perfect MMO would be and the overarching design concepts driving it.

Genre/Setting

Sci-Fi. Absolutely, Sci-Fi. Oddly enough I’m not actually a huge Sci-Fi fan and I tend to read mainly fantasy books mainly and, obviously, play mainly fantasy MMORPGs. Still, there’s something about a Sci-Fi setting that grabs me. Maybe it’s the lack of current science fiction MMOs or something about the vastness of the genre that appeals to me but my perfect MMO wouldn’t be fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, I still love fantasy MMOs but there’s something about them that’s becoming very tired and stilted lately and I’d want my MMORPG to have an air of freshness and originality about it.

It also wouldn’t involve any existing intellectual properties (IP) because, quite frankly, I can’t think of any that either haven’t been done already or are any good. Apart from Star Wars and Star Trek there isn’t much in the way of mainstream Sci-Fi that would translate well to a MMORPG except for maybe Mass Effect.

I haven’t though too much about the story of this Sci-Fi world but I think it would offer the classic approach of plenty of aliens, strange worlds, nano-implants and nano-technology driven abilities.

Concept & Approach

The approach for my perfect MMO would revolve around two fundamental game concepts: third person, over the shoulder, perspectives with no starships whatsoever (I don’t really like the idea of mixing characters and starships – I think that’s two separate games) and an open skill or attribute based system.

I don’t know if I would call the game ‘sandbox’ or not. I guess it’s quite an abstract term that’s hard to define. I definitely like the idea of avoiding standard levels and classes though and going for a more open-ended approach that lets players increase their attributes (strength, willpower etc) through experience or implants and learn skills which allow them to accomplish new things like use different types of weapons, armor or abilities. I’m tempted to avoid the idea of time-based training like in EVE and maybe go for a system that sees skills having attribute and other skill pre-requisites. The general idea behind it all being that you accrue attribute points by performing actions (fighting, completing missions, buying/selling, crafting etc) and use them to increase your stats, in turn giving you access to different skills. No idea if that would actually work but it sounds interesting.

All of the action would take place on different worlds and space stations, giving the player plenty of diverse environments to explore. I’d also want a healthy mix of playable races and starting areas to make sure there’s a ton of replayability and interesting stories behind each race.

In terms of goals, I’d love to be able to mix the direction of something like World of Warcraft with the vastness and freedom of something like EVE. No doubt this would be tough to balance. I really want to strive to create a virtual world though with its own economy and a meaningful crafting and marketing system plus plenty of opportunities for players to engage in PvP and territorial wars. All of this without sacrificing immersive quest lines and even end-game raiding. I don’t know if this mix of play styles is at all possible but I’d love to find out.

So, overall, no small undertaking! I’ll write more about the ideas being PvE, PvP and crafting etc in Part 2 and hopefully flesh my ideas out a bit and try to make sense of it all. Even writing this short article has certainly given a new-found respect for game designers. It’s bloody tough to try and balance grandiose concepts with mechanics that would actually work and be fun. I wonder how (or if) any game designer actually knows if their game is going to be decent before they play the final thing.

Anyone else got any concepts or ideas for their perfect MMO they’d like to share?


Blizzard vs MMORPGs

On several occasions whilst playing World of Warcraft I’ve made statements to guild members or group mates like “I used to play Everquest” and they’ve responded with “what’s that?”.  At first I was pretty shocked. I felt like an old man telling children listening to music about cassettes or LPs but then I soon came to realise something – WoW players aren’t MMORPG players, they are gamers.

Wolfshead posted a fabulous article today about his first 15 minutes of Everquest 2. It’s very insightful and will make you look at your first experience with MMOs in a completely different light. Something that it did highlight to me though, that I hadn’t considered before, was how the initial introduction to a game reveals it’s concept and ambition.

I’m by no means suggesting that the initial experience of a game represents how successful it will be – one only needs to compare the first 15 minutes of Age of Conan, which is like taking a bath in awesomeness, to the first 15 minutes of EVE Online, which is like daring one of your friends to kick you in the groin. Really hard. I absolutely believe that the longevity and overall success of a MMO depends on it’s quality and gameplay mechanics but the first introduction to one certainly shows you what the developers are intending (if Brad McQuaid was here, he might call it his ‘vision’).

To me, the fundamental difference between a game like Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft is that EQ2 assumes you know what a MMORPG is and how to play one. SOE obviously believed their main audience was Everquest players and MMO veterans and I’d bet my bottom dollar that they didn’t believe they could ever reach a target like 11 million subscribers. World of Warcraft, on the other hand, throws the MMORPG idea out of the window and presents itself as a video game. It doesn’t limit itself to a genre or require that players understand RPGs or MMOs before they dip their toe in the water. It’s a pure and unadultered gaming experience, first and foremost.

This is the real reason why WoW has millions of players. My boss plays WoW and he has doesn’t care about the “MMORPG industry” or what the genre has to offer as a whole. Out of all of the WoW players I’ve met in real life (and I know a few), almost none of them had prior MMORPG experience. Simply put, Blizzard took on the other MMORPGs and won by creating a video game that just happens to be a RPG and just happens to be online.