I’m tired of murdering murlocks, slaying slimes, and attempting genocide in my gaming. Perhaps it’s ennui, perhaps it’s moral, perhaps it’s just rebellion against “more of the same”… but as fun as it can be to stick the pointy end of weapons in the squishy things that scream and bleed, it’s getting old. It’s not coincidental, then, that the games I’ve spent the most time with the last few weeks are Puzzle Quest Galactrix, World of Goo and AudioSurf. (Though I’ll admit to a mild itch to pick up Burnout: Revenge here and there. The primitive hunter/gatherer in me wants to rack up a few more satisfying crashes.)
Since I write about MMOs a fair bit around here, though, there’s a problem. Most MMOs are built almost completely on the combat minigame. (Most RPGs and action games are, too, so it’s not something that we only see in MMOs.) If I want to play a pacifist character in WoW, for example, well… there are limitations. For those who try to bend the game to their will, it’s an uphill climb. All is well and fine as long as you play on the rails, but try something different and, well… good luck with that.
That’s just not satisfying in what I want out of MMOs. I want living, breathing dynamic worlds, not murder on rails. To be sure, some players do want that, so I don’t disagree with including the combat minigame, I’m just pointing out that it’s not a satisfying world that only offers new and unique ways to kill stuff and raid corpses. There are so many more things that could be done to make an interesting world.
Ysharros spoke about it a bit here:
and Wiqd dove in here:
Crafting is perhaps the easiest direction to expand into, since it has natural hooks into the economy and non-combat players. I don’t think it’s the only direction, and indeed, Wiqd also writes briefly about scholars who explore the world and derive new knowledge from perusing ruins and extinguished battlegrounds. Gevlon the Greedy Goblin writes fairly extensively about playing the MMO market, which is a sort of “secondary minigame”. He can do that because the Auction House in WoW is half decent, but that could really be fleshed out even further for those market wonks. There could be political minigames, toying with NPCs and even players, not unlike EVE’s shenanigans. (Though griefing could be an issue, of course.)
Bottom line, these MMO things, to my mind, should be alternate realities where players of any stripe can find interesting, fun niches to play in, and ways to feel like they are making personal progress as well as affecting the world around them. Channeling everyone through one “golden path” of gameplay (the combat minigame) does work, for many people, but it’s just so… shallow (and ultimately static), compared to what this genre could really offer. In other terms, it’s just one (highly burnished) facet in the gem that a spectacular MMO could be. Without polishing the other facets of the gem, it’s only going to look spectacular from a few angles, and even those angles will suffer for the low-luster background.
MMO players have a wide variety of motivations, but the gameplay support for varying motivations often falls by the wayside because of a focus on combat. It’s easy to design and implement, and players love the monster pinatas and ever-increasing gear numbers… but MMOs really could be more than they are.
That’s the heart of many of my articles; MMOs have a fair dose of fun in them as they are, but they could be more than what they have become. Wasted potential always makes me a bit sad. (And, just so it’s not a moral soapbox, it also means that I don’t spend money on games that provide the same old killing machine. There’s a very real monetary impetus for expanding horizons, especially in MMOs, of all games.)