Why I’m not a big fan of MMO’s

Years ago I discovered Morrowind – my first sandbox RPG game. Possibly the best game I have ever played. I was blown away by its expansive world inhabited by hundreds of named NPC’s, dozens of factions (each with its own quest chain) and the open ended game play. I immediately burned a copy for my brother and we sat there, in the same room, both absolutely enthralled by the same game. We compared notes, gave each other tips and yelled out things like “Holly crap, did you visit the Ghost Gate yet? It’s awesome!”. During that time we actually mused how awesome would it be if Morrowind could be played in a co-op mode. We could team up, exchange items, share quests and etc… This was long before any of us actually played an MMO of any sort – we just thought that the idea of exploring an open-ended sandbox world alongside other human players was awesome. We didn’t realize that making Morrowind into a multi-player game would kill all the things that made it so awesome in the first place.

You see, Morrowind is one of the finest sandbox RPG ever made because of the unprecedented freedom if offers to the players. The game allows you to do absolutely anything you want. Every door in the game can be opened and every NPC can be killed. Every single one. Shop keepers, quest givers, trainers, faction leaders, rulers and demi-gods. You are free to break the game and make it un-winnable if you wish. You will be warned that you just broke something, but you can continue playing. Hell, if you want you can make it your mission to slaughter every living NPC in the whole world and the game will go with it. And there is no Karma/Reputation meter – no one judges your actions. You do what you want to do. They don’t make games like that anymore – it’s a pity.

When you are playing an MMO, or even a co-op multiplayer game such freedom is impossible. Why? Because people are assholes. You can’t just allow players to break the game on a whim because one bored asshole will ruin things for other players. Hell, you can’t even allow players to have long lasting impact on the game world either. For example, if you kill the evil necromancer terrorizing the local village, he and all of his minions will respawn in few minutes and resume their evil doing. Why? Because other players want to kill that guy too. In fact, there is always a line in front of his lair.

The problem with MMO’s is that they are not immersive. When I play a game, I want to lose myself in the fantasy. I want to be a fierce warrior, a skillful thief, a star-ship captain. Now, in theory you would think that there would be nothing more immersive than playing with other people. After all computer controlled NPC’s usually have a very limited set of behaviors and responses. Humans on the other hand are inventive and adaptive by nature. They could easily role-play any situation. In theory an MMO should be like a tabletop RPG, but with many, many people and over the internet. But that’s not how it works.

Your average MMO is all about meta-gaming. If you listen to in-game conversations most of them revolve around game mechanics. Players talk about DPS, about best kiting strategies for this or that raid, about epic gear and etc. They don’t actually talk about game-world based current-events because there are usually none to talk about (save for some seasonal stuff or promotional events). In most cases their universe remains completely static. Nothing ever changes. Same enemies, same quests, same raids. You just get a little bit more powerful and get a little bit better gear.

Even if you want to role-play things and immerse yourself in the game world, you really can’t. The only people you can usually talk to are quest givers and they usually all want the same thing from you. They want you to go out and kill X of Y. No matter how the writers try to dress the quest up, it is always the same old thing. You don’t even need to read the text. Just accept the quest and go hunting.

Of course there are always exceptions to this rule. For example, Guild Wars had a very interesting idea of splicing the game world into separate areas. The newbie leveling area was it’s own self-contained instance. Once you did all the introductory quests you would then progress to the main game world and you were treated to a cut scene in which you could observe the newbie area being burned into the ground and destroyed. It was almost as if your actions had some permanent impact on the game world. Sure it was merely an illusion, but it was a good one. From that point on however it was business as usual. Kill X of Y, and then listen to some angry 12 year old scolding you for not having the right build for tanking.

This is not what I want in my video games! I don’t want to do the same thing over and over. I want epic adventures. I want to be a great hero, or a despicable villain. I want the bad guys stay dead when I kill them, and I want the NPC’s to react to my actions in believable ways. I want to immerse myself in the imaginary world, live in it and help altering it for better or for worse. I actually do not want meta-gaming talk within my game. If I want to talk gear and strategies I will visit the forums, or write a blog entry. But when I play a game I want to have make-believe adventures.

Now, I’m not saying MMO’s are bad in general. Doing a raid with a good team of players can be fun. But when you raid you are not really playing an RPG. You are playing a co-op, tactical combat based game. Raiding is not very much unlike playing a round of Team Fortress or Left 4 Dead – just more involved. Instead of relying on twitch-based reflexes you instead babysit coodown timers, watch your aggro, dps, heal your allies and etc.. The basic idea is the same though: you team up with a group of people and you work together to achieve certain clearly defined objective. It works because that kind of multi-player gameplay has always worked. I don’t have a problem with this aspect of the game. I have a problem with everything else: the static game world, the boring quests, the griefers, the people who constantly ask “wheres mariks waif?” and etc…

I seriously don’t think it’s actually possible for someone to build an MMO game that would capture my attention and imagination the way games like Morrowind, Oblivion, Mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins did. They just don’t work that way.

This entry was posted in video games. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Why I’m not a big fan of MMO’s

  1. bishop GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    amen to that, had the same thoughts, came to the same conclusions.

    The only possible improvement is to implement an AI that is as innovative as a human but cannot break out of its role as an NPC. It doesn’t have to make you believe it is human, but it has to be able to make you believe it truly is Vivec, head of the AlmSiVi

    Reply  |  Quote
  2. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Could not have said it better. I have been back in Oblivion for the last couple of months, and it is still better than any MMORPG (which are poorly named because there is really zero role involved). I am even discussing modding it to fit the Legend of the 5 Rings setting.

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    The only time in an MMO that I felt immersed in the game was at the beginning of the Death Knight chain in WoW. You start off in an area that changes as you progress. If you are in a different stage than someone else you grouped up with, you could see their marker on the world map, but you could be standing right on them and not see them in the game. As you progressed through the quests, and thus the stages, the area around you changed. Things you killed or help killed were gone. I thought it was sweet – but they never applied this across the board, unfortunately.

    Reply  |  Quote
  4. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    It makes sense that an MMORPG has to have a static world. You can’t reasonably expect everyone of your 500,000 subscribers to have completely unique paths. And story and immersion isn’t the main focus of an MMORPG (which is why I’m interested to see how the new Star Wars MMORPG will pull it off). The only persistent part of an MMORPG is your character.

    I think MMORPGs are usually about character progression only. It’s always taking your character to that next level, that next tier. The game world only exists as a means, not an end. Some people love the grind, others can’t stand it. And to make it a time sink, in order to rake in subscription money, the MMORPG creator has to create “quests” that will take up time to do, provide the player with some tiny bit of character progression and fit into the static world. Hence, the “kill x rats” and “collect x boar tusks” type of quests.

    The other aspect is about being social. You did mention that you would love to be able to play Morrowind with your brother. I treat WoW the same way. My brother’s a huge WoW player. My character’s much suckier than his, of course. But it’s fun playing together, doing instances meant for 5 just the 2 of us, trading items and gold (more like him giving me stuff really), crafting stuff for each other, try some stupid tricks on the AH, etc. I stopped some time back as I had other commitments and could not justify playing an hour or 2 a week for $15/mth.

    I think that just like any other multiplayer game, tabletop or otherwise, an MMORPG could be fun if you have enough real-life friends to play with, esp if you’re sitting together. I don’t really like playing games online with random strangers, which is probably why I have yet to play L4D2 multiplayer. I don’t have any friends (let alone 3) who bought that game.

    Reply  |  Quote
  5. Adrian BELGIUM Google Chrome Windows says:

    Luke, have you tried EVE Online yet? The border worlds in EVE are a microcosm in themselves. Players rule there, literally.

    You could kill anything in unregulated space there, which is also what all the playerfactions are trying to do. But to be able to do it, you need to participate or lead a massive faction.
    Check this link for some major battles.

    I think it there might be a possibility to move EVE’s principles to TES or Fallout or whatever. It will be very hard to do and will probably fail, but still..

    Reply  |  Quote
  6. Sameer NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Although the concept of MMO’s have great appeal I think it’s simply impossible to execute in satisfactory way (for me at least). Your post described exactly why immersion breaks and I agree wholeheartedly. Gaming is a way to let go of things and in Morrowind I can find total immersion. It doesn’t need to go online; I can live with the relatively static environment. Regarding that, who knows where Morrowind modding will take us in the coming years? Modders are advancing the game beyond anything it was 8 years ago and NPC/world behavior has already been tweaked and improved.

    I have played SOF2 online though and I sometimes race (GT Legends).
    I try to stick to the small gentleman-communities who value fun and gameplay above winning at all costs. The only MMO I’ve played is Conquer for a very short while since a friend of mine was playing. I find the little subcultures that come into existence interesting though. My friend would tell me about the latest exploits, the economy developing, guild wars etc. Bottom line: when I asked what they do all day he said: “I have 10 different characters. 3-4 of them sit in the market all day to sell items. Another 4 will spend the entire day training/gathering loot dropped by monsters. Nobody hardly ever goes out on quests unless the rewards are REALLY worth it”. ‘Nuff said eh?

    Reply  |  Quote
  7. Eris damn it! Why do you allways have to be so right about everything?

    BTW: for me Fallout 1/2 was way better then Morrowind, but this flipped by far with Oblivion/Fallout 3.

    Allthough i allready owned every part of the german production “Das Schwarze Auge” (translates to “The Black Eye”, i dont know if it has been released in non-german regions), still Fallout was the first game that meant really Fun to me instead of just walking around and not really knowing what to do.

    Reply  |  Quote
  8. Karthik UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux says:

    Ditto, on all fronts.
    Like I would have said it, but much more articulate.

    Reply  |  Quote
  9. Sapientidiot UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    Have you ever played vendetta online? They have a great system for training noobs, where you go and find another player and they agree to train you in things, Its probably the only MMO that didnt get stale for me after an hour or so.

    Reply  |  Quote
  10. Mats Rauhala FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    You should try some role-playing oriented MUDs. They usually take role-playing to the extreme, as far as allowing some players play some NPCs and banning people who bring nothing to the game RP-wise. Some also advance their history through player actions

    Reply  |  Quote
  11. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    MMORPGS need to get rid of all NPCS. Whether it be quest givers, shop keepers or monsters. Give all power to the players. Then the players would have their own motives for their actions.

    Reply  |  Quote
  12. Alex Ion BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I will have to agree with Adrian – Eve Online is a different beast from most MMOs.
    The first thing that makes a difference is the fact that there’s only one server and everyone is in the same universe.
    Second is that the universe is persistent – anything the players do affects the world.
    Third – there’s something for everyone: you can be a peaceful miner, a greedy industrialist, run missions for the empire agents or just resort to piracy. If you can imagine it, you probably can do it in Eve.
    And, then, there’s the null-sec space where there are no rules and the players own everything. Corporations, alliances, huge ships, guerrilla hits or all out battles – everything happens there.

    Also, character development is different – you buy skill books and train the skills in real-time, one by one. There’s no grinding for experience points. And the only thing your attributes (Int, Mem, Per, Wil, Cha) affect is the learning speed for different skills – they do not affect what you can or cannot do with your character.

    So, give it a try, you might like it.

    Reply  |  Quote
  13. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Btw, if you like RPGs featuring open ended gameplay (go anywhere, kill anyone to your detriment), check out Eschalon series. Eschalon Book 2 just got released.

    Reply  |  Quote
  14. rzlq CZECH REPUBLIC Opera Windows says:

    @ Liudvikas: that’s a bold idea. to a very small extent, it can be seen “demoed” in, say, WoW, where top level players contract lowbies to gather materials for them. would be interesting to see if this could be extended, elevated to a concept…

    as for the original post – there’s an obvious implication of what you’re saying, though i’m not sure it’s been mentioned here: so why aren’t there any LMORPGs? lightly multiplayer online rpgs ;). see, dragon age for you and your bro, or you and your drinking buddies…
    years ago, me and my friend had this habit of playing games together, often on a single computer. like Mechwarrior, what with me at the controls and him doing the comm & shooting. we really did get immersed and what’s more – our coop was vastly advantageous. or we used to play UFO, where each had two characters and we just passed the mouse during the turn-based missions. saving my friend from a reaper by throwing him a meager spare laser gun from a window (as he ran out of ammo)… priceless game moments ;).

    Reply  |  Quote
  15. MrPete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The one problem with good RPGs is that they need much more time to develop than the go-here-kill-that-restart-resets-all.
    And on one point time is getting the mayor factor in your development payroll since programmers just can’t work for free (they have to pay their MMO’s, you know?).
    So if there’s no big corp making a truly immersive game as a by-product that’s designed to pay after several years of development there’s no real chance of seeing one in the next time.

    The main drawback any MMO had for me so far wasn’t gameplay or payment but the time needed. Sure, Eve (thanks for mentioning the one I stuck with the longest time) allows you pretty much freedom, you can play whenever you feel like – as long as you don’t make the mistake to join a corporation or guild…
    But most of these games more or less stick you in a schedule and that’s not what I want. I want a game that I can fire up for 30min when I got nothing else to do or for 4h straight when I feel like…

    Reply  |  Quote
  16. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @ rzlq:
    Well the only MMORPG I’m playing right now EVE online, got something like this. Almost everything is manufactured and sold by players. There’s no training. Though there’s still grinding if you want to earn money. Though I barely do that. Once in a while together with membership I buy some extra ingame currency, that funds my PVP fun.

    The point about LMORPGS is a fine idea. But it wouldn’t work. I play Diablo 2 sometimes with a friend, but I still have not enough friends that would be interested in that sort of thing. So unless there’s whole community of players you would be stuck alone or with a limited supply of players.

    @ MrPete:
    The schedule is the point of MMORPG’S. There’s community and you are supposed to be part of it and constantly participating in events. If you don’t like this, then MMORPG’s are not for you.

    Reply  |  Quote
  17. rzlq CZECH REPUBLIC Opera Windows says:

    @ Liudvikas:

    but I still have not enough friends that would be interested in that sort of thing.

    maybe it’s just because there are no such games at the moment. think of pen and paper rpg’s. true, it’s rather niche these days, but it still can get people together. yet in lmorpgs they wouldn’t necessarily have to be in the same place.

    Reply  |  Quote
  18. Pingback: MMO Crafting Economies « Terminally Incoherent WordPress

  19. Pingback: MMO Crafting EconomiesTerminally Incoherent | Autoblog UNITED KINGDOM WordPress

  20. rzlq CZECH REPUBLIC Opera Windows says:

    as for the notion of “lightly multiplayer online rpgs”:

    Neverwinter: a five-man co-op RPG from Atari and Cryptic

    http://www.[–spam-url-removed–].com/celebrity-fitness-and-health-in-ch arleston/cryptic-studios-announces-neverwinter-for-2011

    Reply  |  Quote
  21. @ rzlq:
    whoa.. nice way to spam. didn’t see that comming o0 (look at url, ignore last part because the server will too)

    Reply  |  Quote
  22. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    Wow… Good catch. I totally just approved this without even thinking since it seemed so on-topic. Color me impressed.

    I’m gonna leave it up but just mangle the URL. :)

    Reply  |  Quote
  23. rzlq CZECH REPUBLIC Opera Windows says:

    huh, got zero idea how that happened (tho yea – i just pasted the url in a hurry from reddit or someplace).

    hmm, if you search google for cryptic-studios-announces-neverwinter-for-2011, you get this very examiner.com page as the first result… don’t ask me why anyone would bother to spam/gbomb through such a niche topic…

    anyways, ontopic substitute link: http://www.pcgamer.com/2010/08/23/neverwinter-a-co-op-rpg-from-atari-a nd-cryptic/

    Reply  |  Quote
  24. Ken Lydell Safari Windows says:

    I enjoyed playing WoW for years until I had pretty much explored everything explorable and killed most everything killable a few times over. When I ran out of new and interesting things to do I stopped playing the game. As there was no story I was never immersed in the game although I was addicted for quite some time.

    My most memorable emotional game experiences are those I had in games like the Baldur’s Gate series, Fallout, Half Life 2, the Total War and Neverwinter Nights series.

    Reply  |  Quote

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *