One of my favorite game genres to play is the Massive Multiplayer Online preferably RPG or Role Playing Game. There is something about being able to run about in a huge (aka massive) world as a three dimensional character effecting the outcome of the story. (And flinging about magic, I won’t deny it.) It’s probably the same reason why my other favorite genre is the platformer. Games like Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter and I-Ninja put the main character as the focus of the game. Their hero journey is as important as the game’s overall story.
And apparently so do a lot of other people, as games such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 and Wizards 101 have large player populations all over the world. There is something about completing quests, learning new skills and defeating bad guys that is extremely satisfying to many people. There is a science behind this and to an extent that science is why so many people get addicted to these types of games.
So, what keeps the players of these games playing (beyond the scientific feelings of validation as tasks are completed and numbers go up?) What makes up a good MMOrpg? The following reasons are my own opinion. Others opinions may vary, but these are the opinions that keep paying for and playing a game.
The most important thing to a game in my humble opinion is the story. Maybe this is because I’m a bookworm, or maybe it’s that I’m a writer. The story is Queen. The story is what keeps the players coming back. In fact, if the game is built right, the story will keep the players coming back to play bits of it over and over and over again.
The story should feel complete. Either the entire story should be done. Or the game should be a big ‘chapter’ that has a definite beginning and end. In this era of franchise building, whether or not the MMO gets a sequel or a huge expansion depending on the company, there has to be some indication that the story is either completed or that you’ve hit the landing point in the stairs to rest for a bit. And hope that there is more coming. By more, I mean a sequel or an expansion. Not bits to the main game.
More importantly, the player should be the hero of the story. As the hero of the story, the player needs to be in control all of the time. If there is a huge climax or simply something to be done that’s important enough to impact the outcome of the story, then the player should be doing it. The game shouldn’t wrest control of the player’s character away from them, or heaven forbid, make them a supporting character doing very little at the main climax of the story (or at all really.) The last thing a player of any game wants to do is sit there and watch a game play for five minutes with their hands in their lap.
The player should feel that there are enough conflicts that the story and journey isn’t easy, but enough qualified successes that they feel satisfied that they’re making progress. A good story has a player flush with success enough to say “yes! Success! That was difficult but fun!” and then go “what’s next?”
An MMO tends to use a simple elevator structure of storytelling. You get in the story and each bit of story keeps you hanging enough that you want to continue the story to see what happens next. This is the method of Dan Brown and EL James. The player keeps going just to see how it all ends.
The main reason why I feel that the story should be complete before releasing a game, or at least have a good chapter of the story complete if it’s a major epic type story like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars, is that in an elevator type story there needs to be that emotional connection. The emotional connection to the events playing out in a story is crucial to keeping the player invested in the game. It’s bad enough if you’re in a middle of a book or a middle of a quest line and you’ve got to put it down and go to bed and pick it up the next day. Now, imagine you’re playing a game and your mentor/friend has been kidnapped and you don’t get the next bit of the story to rescue him for roughly a year or more. So by the time you get to it, you don’t remember what happened before, why it’s important and the story falls flat. The longer (I feel) that a game waits to release story if they are doing short updates, the more epic that story has to be. Expectations rise because, hey, if it isn’t going to be complicated, dangerous and cool, then why make us wait, right?
Don’t release your story bits in the game over time. Have it done at time of release. Side quests can be released over time to keep people happy. Holidays can be released over time to keep people happy. Your main story needs to be finished. Complete. Done.
There’s a reason why when you buy a novel at a store that it’s a complete book and not a couple chapters of a book. (A couple chapters of a book is a teaser.) If you’re releasing your story chapter by chapter, you’re either writing fan fiction or are an amateur on Wattpad.
- World building
Honestly, as the creators of the story build their story world building should be done right along with it. I know that isn’t always the case here. Some people like to build their worlds before their story. Or they build their worlds after they come up with the plot. Or the worlds sort of unfold to them as the story progresses over a huge long series. It happens! But in this massive (therefore epic) game where I’m running around slinging magic at monsters, rescuing handsome princes and dudes in distress and saving the world, I’d love a nicely rich, detailed background that makes sense. (That includes the environment.) And this world building should be built into the story!
That is, don’t tease me with world building. Don’t tell me “it’s time for you to learn something about this important god figure that you’re supposed to be serving their purposes and oh, interruption!” No. This is frustrating. My God, don’t tease me! Get on with it already and tell me. I don’t care who the interruption is, they can wait for you to finally give me some answers. Or else, I’m not going to want to play the game.
Some games are better at working in their world building than others. It’s nice to have beautiful buildings and big statues to made up gods and all, but I’d still like to know why these gods are important through story in the game. Same goes for characters. Sure, there are going to be characters that are simply there to hand out quests and send the player on. But if the character interacts with them regularly, then I personally want to know more about them in the game. Any world building materials such as comics, novels, webisodes should be pretty extras that don’t impact the plot of the story. (And if they do impact the plot, then put it in the dang game.)
- Customization, Customization, Customization
One of the huge reasons that I play an MMO over say a lot of JRPGs is the customization aspect. I like to have control. I like to collect things. I like to go “oh pretty!” The options that I have to customize things in the game, the happier I’m going to be. I want to be able to change my hair style and color, have different eye colors and at the very least be able to change the color of my clothes. (I don’t care if there are half a dozen different armor sets, just let me change the dang colors.) But if the game gives me more options, then I’m even happier.
Customization options that make the player unique and gives them the ability to have a house and pets and things to ride and stuff in a game are good ways to make players happy. Even better is if the game allows the player to “build” their character by choosing a profession, a faction and being able to customize their own statistics. This gives ownership of that character to the player. No one else might have a character exactly like theirs. (Though the amount of in game twins I’ve seen running around different games, some on purpose, is hysterical.) Oh, and those statistics given to a character and the equipment and all better have meaning, same with levels.
Now some players are going to choose a look for their character and never deviate. Others may change their look every week, the point being that they have the option! So to me, crafting, dyeing, mining and so on are big parts of the MMO experience that you can’t or don’t get with other RPGs. And if it’s not there, then there is this huge experience missing, especially for certain player types.
- A Keep it Simple (Stupid) User Interface
The user interface should be legible, easy to use, and have enough hotkeys that the player can do things quickly but not enough that they need to have a literal keyboard key around their keyboard. (Yes, WoW, I’m looking at you.) Seriously, the arrow keys, the number keys and the different keys to open different log functions and the space bar should be enough. (Or using zero on the number pad.) If you’re using a mouse, both buttons should have different functions, one possibly to control the camera and then the scroll wheel can do something. Just, keep it simple. Don’t confuse people. Set the gaming bar low because MMOs attract all sorts of people who may not play other games and don’t have that threshold where every button of the keyboard has a different function and if you hit shift+number you get an entirely different set of spells and so on. A player should be able to master the controls in the first five minutes and through quick tutorials. Period.
Legible means that all bars are out of the way, clearly explained or labelled and if there is something like mood or status effects, that what these do are explained somewhere either in a tutorial or in a hover menus. Again, the user interface needs to have a low knowledge threshold because everyone that might play your game hasn’t played a hundred others like it and “just knows” the system!
If I see the user interface is either cluttered or is too complicated, I get overwhelmed and don’t want to play the game.
These are four of the pretty big deal breakers to me as a woman who enjoys MMOs. Some of the games I’ve played do better at them than others. And that’s okay, lots of different MMOs means that there is stuff out there for everyone! Next blog post, I’ll talk about four more priorities I have as a female gamer that aren’t as important as the ones above, but do make the list.
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