There’s an interesting article up over on Massive.com:
The assertion is that leveling content is more important than the endgame, both from a business perspective and from the player’s perspective. As a content nut, disgusted with subscription treadmills, I am sympathetic to this view.
Yet, what if your MMO design is all about the endgame sort of play? Specifically, what if you do not have leveling, and are counting on an interesting economy and a series of minigames to keep people playing? Something like a Puzzle Pirates, or the theoretical Harvest Moon Online? Why do MMOs have to be about the leveling content at all?
Single player RPGs tend to have better pacing and leveling systems. MMOs are about massive amounts of players interacting in interesting ways. Why maintain that bizarre tendency to make MMOs all about what is ultimately a solo experience? (Or, more pointedly, why make an MMO force people to group to do soloish content rather than incentivize sociality by making the whole game about the natural interactions with other people?)
Saylah and Capn’ John have written before about Harvest Moon Online, and their inclination to play such a game. I think such would be a great idea, but it would almost certainly be a very different animal. There would be no “leveling” in the classic sense. Trade skills might have levels, but the character wouldn’t need them to make progress in or contribute to the world. Combat wouldn’t be the dominant minigame, and may not even be present at all. What would be the draw in such a game?
Could what we currently call the “endgame” experience actually be the bedrock of a complete game design? Almost definitely not using the “raid/loot” mentality. A hypothetical HMO (an auspicious acronym) certainly wouldn’t be about the loot treadmill/slot machine. It would of necessity need a robust player-driven economy, modeled roughly along supply/demand lines. Atlantica Online has a great economy, Puzzle Pirates does as well, and EVE Online apparently has an economist on staff for their in-game opus of an economy. Minigames for crafting, harvesting and manufacturing would have to carry the weight that combat unceremoniously left at the door. Freestyle crafting would introduce a level of craftsmanship that WoW and its ilk are sorely lacking, even introducing “secret recipes” and brands established by players. Offline labor might be a great tool for keeping the economy chugging along in the offpeak hours or when players have to tend to “real life” concerns.
The sense of a “world” would have to be fostered, rather than a focus on the “game” mechanics of killing and looting. Guild dynamics would be interesting, and might even need to be much more flexible. We would have to incorporate geographical location, resource allocation, scarcity and abundance, sinks and fountains, supply routes, seasons, auction houses, and lots and lots of fluff. Cosmetic enhancements to the in-game avatars (and their property, like housing) would almost definitely be a major currency sink, and could sustain entire in-game industries. (See Puzzle Pirates again.)
After all, what do you do when you don’t have levels to grind, or raids to repeat? What of those players out there that don’t want to do either, but enjoy the worldcrafting, economies, art and lore of MMOs? Can this be a niche with enough money in it to support a game or three?
What would you like to see in a game that completely drops combat (or relegates it to a trade minigame, like security for supply lines and caravans), levels and gear treadmills? It’s certainly a game design that I’d love to suss out, but I’m still a relative neophyte to the MMO landscape. What about you with more playing experience than I? What do you want out of a non-DIKU MMO?