A perfect MMORPG, it is not

Looking at the games covered on my little blog yet recently worried me.

Two out of two are MMORPGs, which initially felt totally wrong since it doesn`t seem to reflect myself as a gamer. I`d rather see myself as a console player, being into action games, racing, action adventures, and so on.

Rethinking the issue I fortunately found MMORPGs being perfectly fitting in here since the blog`s title is “a perfect game, it is not”, and I can hardly think of a genre being farther away from perfection.

Now, should the tone of of my two MMO-impressions posted yet be on the positive side, that`s mostly because I am incredibly pleased by every improvement I find, -which is something both of them may rightfully claim to offer.

However, despite my opinion of MMORPGs being anything but perfect, I still love the genre for it`s promise, for the potential to grow. I guess it`s save to predict shooters in five years will -more or less- be what they already are, but MMORPGs?

So, what`s my prob with today`s MMOs, the games millions of players love and sometimes almost dedicate their lifes to?

Well, first of all, and admittedly on an overly critical view, I wouldn`t consider MMORPGs  being games at all.

A mate of mine likes it to devaluate “Eve Online” as being nothing but a huge Excel-file with a shiney layer of graphics above it covering the math. Unfortunately he is right, but even worse…continuing the thought it applies to almost all current MMORPGs.

In the end they all boil down to throw math against math, damagevalues against resistancevalues. The influence players take on all of this is hardly more than the time they are willing to spend in order to push up their math. Yes, position and approach to an encounter have a small impact, but honestly, usually the outcome of a fight is pretty much predefined before you even start it. And the tactical approach quickly turns into a pattern to be repeated over and over again.

Anyone up to argue about all games being built up on math, on a close look? Let`s just say there`s a difference between math being used as a framework for a game (eg. physics for a racer) as opposed to math being the game itself.

Let`s move on to the goodies, the reasons why so many people -including me myself- love the genre.

As I see it, reasons can be boiled down to two (later edit…three) major points.

The first of which being quite obvious, social interaction. It doesn`t matter if one prefers playing in a group or tends to solo as much as possible. You see and you are seen. You seek PvP or you try to avoid it. You measure your characterlevel against others. You take a brief look at the chats going on. Social interaction is a constant factor, and every MMO player appreciates it to a certain degree.

The second reason which keeps us playing is easily as strong: Achievement.

Next level, better armour, new skill, MOUNT…and so on. Achievement is a great motivation, and certainly a core element of most gamegenres. Plus, combined with the social aspect it makes for bragging rights, something that seems to be quite desirable for many people, but that`s just a sidenote.

Let me get back to my cheeky statement about MMORPGs not being games. Here is my point: Games are entertainment, not achievement. Achievement, as stated above, can be a big part of a game, but it`s not a game in itself. On most MMORPGs it unfortunately seems to be the one and only known principle.

It`s not about what I do that gives me satisfaction on a MMORPG (eg. taking the perfect line on a turn, to stick with the racing example), it`s almost only what I achieve. I know I may be exaggerating a little here, but it helps making the point. So here we have it, what I miss is anything worth to be considered as gameplay. Decent puzzles, playerskill-based fights, maybe jump&run, something entirely new and unique to MMOs…just anything.

Oh well, my mistake, I missed something most MMORPGS indeed offer, exploration. Make it three core reasons to play MMOs then.

Anyway, it`s obvious that one reason for missing gameplay innovations within the genre is to be found in technical restrictions, or what most developers still seem to see as such. Games like Spellborn show that issues like slow connection speeds / transfer rates not being capable of realtime events can be solved though. It`s a pitty it takes a relatively small team with a mediocre budget to bring up the first innovations in ages,especially considering how many “big ones” tried and failed there. Anyway, shows us there`s a glimpse of hope.

But it`s by far not only the industry to be blamed for stagnation. Players themselves are hindering progression by being unwilling to honor improvements, they are rather sticking to the small universe they know already, even if it`s outdated, digging their own graves of boredom.

This seems to happen everytime a genre receives an incredibly well selling, mass-appealing game. Eg. Counterstrike had a very similar impact on the shooter genre. And yet, though slowly, shooters evolved quite well, so again, there`s hope.

Anyway, i decided to write my own  personal “perfect” MMORPG. I`ve silently set sail, left the harbour unnoticed, and -pitty- thus will get lost on sea unnoticed as well.

To give you a final laugh, first thing I did was removing one of the core systems of every MMORPG, characterleveling;) May sound weird, but I think it`s a curse that needs to be removed. More on that later maybe.