There’s a bizarre mentality in the upper echelons of MMO design that suggests that the rank and file player needs “hardcore, high end” players to look up to and special loot to covet in order to motivate their own play.
MMOs don’t need more high profile superstars preening about their Thoridal, MMOs need more reasons for everyone to play.
“Keeping up with the Joneses” and loot lust will carry some people, sure, but it only lasts for so long, and it can be very frustrating to those not blessed by the random loot probability goblins. Once a player achieves their own loot to preen about, their heroes are irrelevant. On the other hand, if they don’t climb to the same pedestal, they will be perpetually frustrated. The loot lust paradigm is all about making players just covetous enough to keep going, without frustrating them enough to drive them away.
To me, that’s a poor method for keeping players in your game. They should be having fun just playing, not chasing a carrot. Tobold has an article up about rewards and how they fit into MMOs, especially WoW. To me, there should be a wide range of rewards, including the sheer joy of playing the game itself.
That’s part of why I play Atlantica Online and Wizard 101; their combat systems are unique and lots of fun, their worlds are well crafted and a pleasure to explore, and their monetization is palatable. Puzzle Pirates has a full suite of minigames that offer a wide variety of skills to master, and plenty of progress rewards and measures of success. Achievements and collectables scratch that itch somewhat, but even those are about relentless acquisition, just horizontal rather than vertical. There need to be reasons to play other than the pack rat mentality.
I know, not everyone will play like me, but that’s the point; games that only offer the loot/level paradigm are pandering to a pretty Pavlovian mechanic, but they are in an untenable long term position. Once the content is consumed, and the raids looted (or would that be loot raided?), there really isn’t much reason for players to stick around. Non-normalized gear-dependant PvP is a joke, complete with abuse and imbalances. The world takes a back seat to the relentless aquisition of more and better *stuff*. All in all, it’s a very shallow experience, and the only way to stay ahead of it to keep people playing is to keep shifting the goalposts. ProgressQuest is a sharp parody, but it’s dead on in skewering the mindless rat race of chasing the “Sword of N+1″ forever.
We don’t need heroes to keep us focused on the carrot on the treadmill. We need reasons to go out and explore the world. We need reasons to interact with people for more diverse reasons than forming raiding parties. We need rewarding activities that have nothing to do with public preening or treadmills. We need player driven economies and social constructs, and the ability to affect the game world. We need adventurers who wander the game world, content and even enthusiastic about just spending some time in the game, regardless of what they are doing.
We need devs to provide ways for anyone to become those adventurers. Any suggestions? I have a few, but I would like to hear from some of my fellow adventurers.