Category Archives: Blaugust

Monolithic Servers: One Size Fits All MMOs

We’re here. The last day of Blaugust 2016. My goal was a new MMOBro post for every weekday of August and with this special edition topic, that goal will be reached.

At the beginning of Blaugust, Brian “Psychochild” Green and I began discussing a collaborative project. We went back and forth on a number of topics, occasionally getting sidetracked by various design theories. Eventually we settled two opposing views for MMO servers. He’ll be taking the angle that multiple servers are best. I’ll be taking the stance that a single, monolithic server is best. Technically, monolithic servers are actually multiple server machines clustered together. So by monolithic vs. multiple servers, I mean in how it appears to the player. For multiple servers, think World of Warcraft. Each named server (like Illidan) is a completely separate copy of the game world, with it’s own unique characters, that cannot interact with another server’s (like Blackhand) set of unique characters.

Monolithic Servers in MMORPGs

monolithic server eve online

Eve Online show the potential of a monolithic server.

MMORPGs with a single, monolithic server come in two forms: smaller population MMOs and Eve Online. Not many developers are as ambitious as CCP, the developers of Eve Online. For over a decade now, they’ve dedicated resources to creating a stable play experience for all of their players in a single server. Monolithic server MMORPGs with small population exhibit some of the same qualities as Eve Online, but they often go unnoticed by the general MMO community. Maybe developers are just missing some of the awesome benefits that single servers offer?

Never Miss Your Friends

Multiple servers tend to get real annoying when real life acquaintances get thrown into the mix. I used the following example in advocating for more instanced channels, but I’m not above using it again. Let’s say you and Joe start playing an MMORPG independently of one another. You’ve both maxed out your characters and are integrated into your communities. One day, you learn that you both play the same game and discuss playing together over the weekend. Only there’s a giant hiccup: you’re on different servers. Guess you can throw that idea out the window.

The problem with multiple servers is that playing the same game doesn’t have the same meaning as other multiplayer games. MMORPGs with multiple servers exist as unique pockets in the virtual world. That you can’t interact with everyone playing the same titled game as you is a travesty.

wow multiple servers

This is how many servers start with M in WoW. Easy to get separated, isn’t it?

Always Welcome

Multiple servers might be nice because of uniform communities, but that disregards those communities still existing in monolithic servers. Everyone has their place in a single server virtual world, just like everyone has their place in the real world. It’s not always apparent which server community will make for the best fit at character creation. Further, a player’s approach to his or her favorite MMORPG will change over time. That may mean a change in one’s friend circle, a simple task in a single server setup, is potentially impossible with a multi server setup.

Additionally, there are times when a player really does like dabbling in varying crowds. With a multiple server setup, this is more difficult without creating alts. Alts are good and well, but there’s a sizable number of people who prefer to put their limited time into a single character. The monolithic server lets such players join as many cliques as their heart desires.

Brian does point out that language barriers can segregate communities unfairly. Large communities of Chinese, Brazilians, and Russians speaking their native language might find themselves at odds with English speakers. In the case of a monolithic server, this could be overwhelming. I can see how the player experience for these groups would be improved with multi servers. It allows them to mark a server as their unofficial “home base”. Still, I think that exposure to people of different backgrounds is valuable, which brings me to my next point.

Diversity

The diversity that’s originates from large, monolithic servers clearly outclasses that of smaller, multi servers. Raiders, crafters, explorers, PvPers, lore lovers, and roleplayers each come to the table with unique outlooks. Getting to partake in each of those thoughts and ideals leads to a more fulfilling game experience. Scientific American wrote an article on diversity with several supporting statistics, leading to the conclusion that diversity makes us more creative, more diligent, and harder-working. That doesn’t directly translate to “more fun”, but it’s almost certainly means the experience is more rewarding.

server diversity world of warcraft

Diversity brings people together

Exposure to new people and new ideas opens paths for players they may not have considered otherwise. The dynamic environment presented by a monolithic server fosters this type of exposure. People may not initially want some of these experiences, but it’s hard to argue that more interaction is bad for an MMORPG. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, as the saying goes.

Epic Stories Affect Everyone

If I asked an MMORPG veteran which MMORPG generates the most epic stories, the answer I’d expect most often is “Eve Online”. From heists to wars to espionage to corporate greed, Eve Online generates intriguing content for subscribers and non-players alike. A large number of these epic stories are made possible by Eve Online’s foundation as a sandbox MMO. That Eve Online also houses all of its players under a single roof plays an understated role. It’s not like Eve Online is the only sandbox MMO in existence.

Whether it’s big or small, every event affects every player in the game. Players will at least know someone who knows someone involved. Market prices adjust based on a new supply/demand. The stakes increase with more people involved, which only creates a stronger cascade when the dominoes start to fall. News spreads fast when its spread by hundreds of thousands instead of tens of thousands. In a monolithic server, everyone plays the same game. If someone accomplishes something notable, it means it was possible for anyone. That makes these stories more real, more relatable. Epic and monolithic go together like hand in glove. Even the word ‘monolithic’ sounds pretty epic!

Technology

One of the concerns I see most frequently about monolithic servers is that the game world will be too crowded and/or the lag unbearable. Even with all its expansions, virtual Azeroth would make Hong Kong look spacious if we plopped everyone down on the same server all willy nilly. Realistically, we have two options to combat that. One is using instanced channels, which use multiple “copies” of the same zones (such as Wharf 1, Wharf 2, etc.) where players can travel freely between. The second is to procedurally generate swathes of land masses such as those found in No Man’s Sky.

procedural generation in no mans sky

Procedural generation can be a wonderful thing.

Instanced channels are a better fit for the more static themepark MMORPGs but could also play well in the sandbox. MapleStory is a great example of a game that uses heavy zone instancing. As more players fill up a zone, new instanced zones are created. This keeps the number of players in an area at a healthy amount at all times.

Procedurally generated land would only realistically work in a sandbox MMO where players are given the tools to create content. In fact, an MMORPG with procedurally generated land could make the explorers’ ultimate dream a reality. It might be less fun without enough others to share the new lands, a problem monolithic servers can remedy. The technology is there so why not use it? I’m genuinely surprised with all of the rage that is procedural generation that an existing MMORPG hasn’t tried creating an ever expanding world.

The Debate Continues

Now that you’ve finished reading my side of the argument, head over to Psychochild and read the opposing view. As a veteran MMO designer, Brian’s insights are well founded and thought provoking.

 


5 Worst Things WoW Did for MMORPGs

5 worst things wow did mmorpgs

World of Warcraft is the beast that can’t be beaten. Well over a decade after launch, World of Warcraft has just released their sixth paid expansion pack. People like to point to declining numbers as the game’s demise, but populations naturally ebb and flow. The venerable MMORPG still boasts millions of monthly subscribers, a claim no other game can make. From all accounts, Legion will be the addictive experience people hoped for from Warlords of Draenor.

This massive success has been great for Blizzard but hasn’t been all rosy for the MMORPG landscape. Due to World of Warcraft’s success, certain design elements and player expectations have negatively impacted the genre as a whole. I’ve enjoyed my previous stints in virtual Azeroth, but when I look to new experiences, all I can see is World of Warcraft’s dark tendrils corrupting them. Fantasy MMOs in particular seem the most infected.

It’s as understandable as it is unfortunate.

Gear Treadmills

World of Warcraft made it extremely easy to hit max level. Progress flowed naturally as players moved from one zone to the next. Quests would reward players with higher level gear and monsters would drop loot to fill the gaps. Everything felt really good, but the entire tone of the game changed at max level. This led to some extreme “alt-itis”, but not everyone wanted to create new characters. For them, progress could only be found in endgame dungeons. Thus, the gear treadmill was born.

Up until World of Warcraft, hitting max level took a lot of dedication. There were some nice pieces of loot to be found in high level encounters of games like EverQuest, but it never felt like the focus. MMORPGs need progression though, so reaching max level fast could only lead to one of two things: alternative progression or canceled subscriptions. Obviously going with the former, WoW chose alternative progression in the form of gear. The problem with this progression is how stiff and repetitive it feels compared to the organic nature of quest progression. Improvements have been made to Warcraft since launch and their dungeon design is top notch. I just can’t help but feel MMO progression innovation has been seriously stifled by the gear treadmill.

Reputation Grinds

burning crusade reputation quests

Our article last week on “why reputation grinds suck and how to fix them” partially inspired this post. Reputation has been part of World of Warcraft for a while, though many may not remember it. Top tier raiders needed to grind reputation in vanilla for high end gear, but for most people reputation was just a number you could level up for the hell of it. These folks were already setting themselves to grind dungeons for gear so it wasn’t a big deal yet. When Burning Crusade launched, reputation became a universal form of progression. A very bad, very boring form of progression.

In order to play dungeons on the highest difficulty, keys were required. Keys could be acquired by running the dungeon on normal difficulty over and over to increase reputation. Additionally, many new dailies and reputation grinds opened up to players. High levels of reputation led to rewards like great gear and unique mounts. Reputation for WoW and MMORPGs has changed over the years, but they generally exhibit the same principles: repeat content to progress. One of the things that made World of Warcraft so enjoyable in the first place was trashing repetitive mob grinding. But here we are with them instilling lazily designed, repetitive progression into MMORPGs across the world.

Two Faction PvP

Alliance! Horde! Alliance! Horde!

Coming right off of Dark Age of Camelot and Shadowbane for World of Warcraft’s launch, I was a little skeptical of the two faction system. How could two factions compete against three or an open system? On the other hand, the immersion that Alliance vs. Horde offered obliterated previous competition. I loved Warcraft as a kid, and I was not alone. Maybe it would work out well after all?

It didn’t. Well, at least not for the genre.

Despite it’s name, World of Warcraft is not a serious PvP game. It’s a casual PvP game with accessible arenas and battlegrounds. Even on the PvP servers, PvP was little more than a diversion. Sure, it was fun training back and forth between Tarren Mill and Southshore. Sneaking into high level enemy towns had its moments. But there just wasn’t any weight to it. I think Blizzard realized the difficulty in balancing such a system so they turned to instanced PvP. And yet, MMORPGs such as Aion, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Allods Online, Warhammer Online, and a slew of less popular titles decided to run with the two faction system for their open world.

Two faction PvP does not work. It’s inherently unbalanced. One side will always outnumber the other side. The lack of dynamic alliances create repetitive scenarios. Blizzard saw the issues early on, but other publishers just saw the two faction system working.

Killing Groups

World of Warcraft changed how we leveled in MMORPGs in a huge fashion. At first, I welcomed this change. No longer was I dependent on finding a group to level. No longer did I need to dedicate several hours in an evening to sense accomplishment. World of Warcraft’s quest system let players progress at their own pace and accomplish something on every login. While adventuring through Azeroth, I never considered this an issue. It wasn’t until much later that I saw the ramifications.

just some typical wow quest grinding

Allowing almost all content to be defeated individually destroys the need for a group. The only people I knew playing WoW were people I knew before I started playing. Outside of friends of friends who joined our guild, I didn’t really meet anyone. The game wasn’t structured for that. Then max level comes along (with that damnable gear treadmill) and now all of the sudden a big guild was needed to keep advancing. The game went from lighthearted individualistic leveling experience to hardcore group based content at the flip of a switch. I can imagine how frustrating it was for those getting along just fine by themselves.

This set the standard for MMORPGs who wanted to be the “next WoW” (Hint: no one will ever be the next WoW). Level up via solo quests, then funnel people into group based dungeon activities at level cap. People in World of Warcraft (and other MMORPGs) now feel less like people and more like tools. Dedicated grouping has been on life support in the genre for a while, and WoW is largely to blame.

Expectations

Perhaps the worst thing World of Warcraft did to MMORPGs is set the expectation levels too high. WoW didn’t have the greatest launch, but Blizzard quickly turned the game into a powerhouse. In true Blizzard fashion, they didn’t revolutionize so much as evolve. They took what made EverQuest great (the largest Western MMO at the time), polished it to the nth degree, and made it widely accessible. And say what you want about the company, but polish is something near synonymous with Blizzard now. The game is intuitive and well designed with few ambiguities. It never gets in it’s own way, something many other MMORPGs are guilty of.

Obviously, that polish is a good thing for World of Warcraft. However, it also set the expectations unrealistically high for first time MMOers. In the MMORPGs that followed, almost all of them were multiple tier levels lower in presentation quality. Some great ideas and concepts were passed over by the masses because of rougher designs. I think in many ways, WoW just set expectations too high with that classic Blizzard polish.

Double Edged Sword

World of Warcraft is a fantastic MMORPG. It does what it does very well. I’m not arguing that. Unfortunately, success breeds copycats. In the MMORPG genre, that’s not really good for anyone.


Best PvP Systems for MMORPGs

PvE (Player vs. Environment) systems in MMORPGs are systematically all very similar. Obviously some games deliver more enjoyable challenges from artificial intelligence than others. Yet the core gameplay boils down to the same objective: kill bad guys and take their loot. On the other hand, PvP (Player vs. Player) in MMORPGs vary widely by objective, scope, and type. Which PvP system is the best for MMORPGs? To some extent, this depends on the game. Arena combat is a better fit for World of Warcraft than Eve Online. That doesn’t mean arena combat is better than Eve Online’s free-for-all PvP combat. People seeking a PvP MMO typically come to the table with a vision in mind. To me, the best PvP systems for MMORPGs coincide with the experiences people see in those visions.

In the spirit of competition that draws many to a seek an MMORPG with a good player vs player system, I’ll be eliminating one system at a time. By the end of this post, there will be only one. Highlander style is the best style, after all. This we learn at a young age.

baby knows only one pvp system can win

5. Duels

First on the chopping block is duels. It’s a fun time waster challenging friends to fight mano a mano, but that’s all it’s really good for. MMORPGs where duels are the highest form of player fighting are typically placed there as an afterthought. Blade and Soul is the only MMORPG where high end PvP is built around dueling. While it’s an improvement over dueling random folks in town, matches still tend to get repetitive. The problem with duels is that there’s not enough dynamic play for a strong PvP system. Strategies change depending on the class but not dramatically so. The player skill element arises from playing one’s class well, assuming gear is even and class balance on point. There’s not as much to react to compared to stronger 1v1 venues such as RTS games and CCGs.

4. Battlegrounds

Next has to be PvP battlegrounds. This PvP type caters to players looking for a quick, instanced PvP experience. Usually fighting in battlegrounds is incentivized with unique gear rewards. The problem is that battlegrounds are inherently casual experiences. People hop in by themselves or with small groups and just run around like headless chickens. There’s no sense of community here because the battlegrounds’ instanced nature changes who plays from match to match. There’s nothing really on the line and the lack of any pressure from a loss diminishes the PvP experience. The mentality going into battlegrounds then becomes grouping with the few people that care about teamwork and hoping for the best. There’s just too random many people in a battlegrounds fight to communicate effectively. Big PvP battles require coordination to get the most out of them, and that’s not something battlegrounds handle very well.

3. Arenas

Battlegrounds and duels are weak PvP experiences so cutting them felt good. Arena PvP though can be pretty awesome, and it’s next on the list. In 3v3 and 5v5 matches (or even larger like the original Guild Wars), class dynamics really start to matter. Even 2v2 displays expertise greater than the sum of its parts. Teamwork is huge in the arena and World of Warcraft’s arena competition has shown how important player skill and class knowledge are on the big stage. What makes arena combat great is also what keeps it from rising to the heights of greatest PvP system.

wow's pvp arena system

WoW’s PvP arena as an e-sport

The small group on small group battles requires everyone to be on their ‘A’ game to succeed. Not only can that be overly stressful at times, but it also significantly limits the audience that can participate. The people that play an MMORPG and can enjoy arena combat day in and day out are relatively few. Arena players instead typically gravitate towards MOBAs or arena shooters. So while arena type combat is enjoyable, it doesn’t mesh with the virtual worlds that are MMORPGs.

2. Open PvP

Open PvP systems allow players to kill each other with little to no restrictions. It creates a dangerous world, which fits in well with the games built around that concept. Open PvP can be full of lame griefing, but it can also create a unique atmosphere. To ensure that players can still enjoy the game, good developers will incentivize and discourage particular activities. This may include huge penalties for indiscriminate killing or major bonuses to joining a guild that necessitate ‘choosing a side’. What’s enjoyable about open PvP systems is simply the freedom that the game gives to the players. This creates wild stories, such as the ones that Eve Online is known for. The price of admission isn’t always worth it though, and that’s why it’s hard to rate as the best player fighting system.

I considered creating another heading for guild wars or territory wars but felt those played equal parts to the highest ranking forms of player vs. player combat. In a good open PvP system, players are encouraged to band together to survive and/or thrive. This isn’t just because there is safety in numbers, but because resources and territories can be controlled by large groups. Open systems without these type of objectives to fight over might even be a worse experience than only offering duels.

One other note: open PvP is generally exclusionary to other PvP types. You’ll notice that World of Warcraft, for example, uses all PvP systems on this list except for the open variety. That doesn’t necessarily mean WoW does all of these well. As noted earlier, Blade and Soul is built around duels. World of Warcraft includes dueling because it’s simple to do so, but it doesn’t add anything to the game. More on this in the next section.

1. Faction Wars

What separates faction wars from the rest of the bunch is its perfect mix of approachability, coordination, teamwork, scale, and variety. Faction wars can cater to both big guilds and individuals, admittedly with different levels of success. Still, there’s a lot to be said about an involved faction war system. The best example of how to integrate this system into an MMORPG is Dark Age of Camelot. The Realm vs. Realm play in that game is legendary, bringing together thousands of players to assault other realms while defending their own.

DAoC Pvp system rewards

This castle could be yours!

The greatness of a factional PvP war system is that it essentially combines the best components of all of the above systems without any of the flaws. Like duels, individual skill matters, but there’s no shortage of variance. Unlike casual battlegrounds, faction players will see the same people assisting the realm. This camaraderie leads to trust which leads to coordination. Arena combat might be great for small groups, but it’s really only for the best of the best. On the flip side, any competent human can contribute positively to their faction. And finally, against open PvP, faction warfare still gives the thrill of big battles and potent enemies but with a safe zone to protect against uneven ganking/griefing. In factional PvP systems, help is almost always just around the corner.

As I alluded to in the open PvP section, listing factions and war as bullet point descriptions doesn’t make a true faction war MMORPG. Games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic might meet the technical definition of a factional MMORPG. Yet, I would in no way consider these faction war MMOs. A proper faction PvP system is more than just telling players to pick a side and fight the other side when seen. Proper rewards and incentives must be given, which can be as simple as the World vs. World server ladder in Guild Wars 2 or as complex as the aforementioned Camelot. So don’t be fooled by fancy terms when seeking a new MMORPG. Look into the details of what that MMORPG experience offers to see if it truly is what it says it is.

If you’re not sure which of these suit you best, try looking at individual MMORPGs. This list of PvP MMOs should help out.


What Top Korean MMOs Say About The West

lineage 2: a top korean mmo

American and Korean made MMORPGs dominate the market, as demonstrated by an earlier infographic on Which Country Makes the Best MMOs. Yet their paths to prominence have led to unique deviations. It’s easy for nationalists to say one is better than the other, but that’s largely subjective. It’s clear though that developers from these countries exhibit very different design decisions.

What appeals to one audience may not appeal to another. In the context of two countries on opposite sides of the world, most of that appeal has to do with the culture itself. This Google translated page of top Korean MMOs tells a different story than does our list of top MMOs or MMORPG.com‘s ratings. Americans and Europeans seem to share similar opinions so I’ll be lumping the transatlantic partners into one “Western” group. The differences between Westerners and Koreans create talking points that can lead to some interesting conclusions.

The five Korean MMOs where we see the largest disparity are Lineage, Lineage II, Dungeon Fighter Online, Mabinogi, and Hero Online. Some of these aren’t even available in the West. It’s not that publishers haven’t tried porting them. They just haven’t succeeded. So what do these titles share in common? Not a lot, at least first glance. Lineage is a war-centric PvP MMO. Mabinogi is a free form, cooperative, life skills heavy MMORPG. Dungeon Fighter Online is a side scroller and Hero Online a fairly generic post World of Warcraft MMORPG. That’s not to say there aren’t commonalities though.

The easiest similarity to point out is that all of these Korean MMOs involve significant amounts of grinding. In the West, we typically think of grinding as killing creatures over and over to level up. While that’s one type of grinding, it’s not the only kind. Lineage is heavy with the creature grinding, but for Dungeon Fighter it’s running the same missions. Characters advance in Hero Online via kill quests and Mabinogi via using skills. Maxing out characters in all of these titles takes a long time (especially when counting rebirths). For Koreans that’s more gameplay. For Americans and Europeans, that’s more bland repetition. There’s more to these games than just advancement though.

mabinogi, one of korea's top mmos

Pets are everywhere in Korea’s top MMOs. This has made it’s way over to the West but largely as more of a cosmetic addition. In Korea, pets are heavily integrated into the gameplay itself. Hell, in Lineage II you can ride a freaking wyvern into battle! Graphics obviously aren’t a big deal either. Most of these Korean MMORPGs didn’t look advanced on release so by today’s standards, ugly may be too generous. Mabinogi is the only visually impressive title with its artistic cel-shading. Conversely, Western audiences show difficulty not praising (or criticizing) a game’s appearance.

Where we see the most prominent differences between the two audiences though is in monetization. Mainly, Koreans seem unfazed by pay to win cash shops. Westerns froth at the mouth at the very mention. I would guess this stems from most of Korean gaming occurring in gaming cafes with an hourly rate. From that perspective, it makes a lot of sense. If every hour costs money, why not spend some extra cash to speed up advancement? It’s probably more cost efficient to pay the publisher than pay the gaming center. By contrast, Western play time is typically free so non p2w MMOs find more mainstream success.

Perhaps though, what is missing from this list of Korean MMOs is more telling than what can be found. Inspired questing is a huge component of successful MMORPGs in the West. World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Elder Scrolls Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, and Final Fantasy XIV are all successful MMORPGs. They’re also quest heavy games, but other titles have gained support with a sandbox approach. Eve Online, RuneScape, and ArcheAge are successful sandbox MMORPGs without a huge quest emphasis, so it’s not a prerequisite for success in the US. Interestingly, almost all of the best quest-driven MMORPGs come from well recognized IPs in the West. That leads me to two takeaways. One, themepark MMORPGs are better served by an existing IP. Two, sandbox MMORPGs might be the path to success for Korean MMOs.

That’s a number of differences between MMOs popular in the West vs. Korea. But what does it mean?


it means that us Westerns dislike grinding, or at least need to have it obfuscated. We’re more interested in the destination vs. the journey. Lengthy leveling hasn’t been in vogue here for over a decade. Reaching endgame seems to be all that anyone talks about. Meanwhile, lengthy leveling is still going strong in Korea. An affinity for pets in Korean MMOs speaks of a greater attachment to their avatars. A willingness to spend money to “win” or advance that avatar reinforces the idea.

Westerners also appear to be more brand loyal. The most well known MMORPGs here almost all result from some popular, preexisting IP. Branding plays its part in Korea too but is in a completely different league. It’s unclear whether Americans and Europeans love questing or if questing centric gameplay is the easiest path to delivering existing IPs to customers. My guess is that it’s a little bit of both.

It’s fun to see how different cultures view their virtual worlds when their physical worlds are separated by more than just miles.


The Evolution of Recruit-A-Friend Programs

You just started playing a new MMO or other online multiplayer game. You’re really excited and get to thinking how cool it would be to play with your friends. So what do you do to sell them on this newfound addiction? Do you tell them how awesome your rewards will be for recruiting them? Or do shower them with details about the game’s most attractive features? Unless you have a weird friend group, it’s probably more of the latter.

recruit a friend program in tera

Until recently, MMOs and MOBAs only incentivized the recruiter and not the recruitee for participating in recruit a friend programs. It made little sense because the recruiter was already incentivized by wanting to play with their friends. MMOs already had that group of recruiters buying into pitching their game. What MMOs lacked was a reason for the recruitee to choose that friend’s game over another one. This is mirrored everyday in non-MMO products too via word of mouth. Word of mouth is a powerful tool in promotion and it results from passionate fans, not extrinsic rewards. Humans generally want to spread the word of products and services with which they’ve had good experiences. Yet online games, especially free to play MMOs, have long seemed to consider extrinsic rewards for friend recruiters the best vehicle to fuel growth.

Analyzing Recruit-A-Friend Programs

League of Legends took this self centered style to the max level with their old referral program. Recruiters could earn a ton of Riot Points (the game’s premium currency), rare skins, and even content items named after them. Of course, no ordinary person could possibly earn the top tier rewards and instead was dominated by online personalities such as TotalBiscuit. It’s unclear how this referral program impacted League of Legends’ status as a gaming powerhouse, but it has since been discontinued. That they’ve dropped incentivizing recruiting friends is indicative that Riot no longer believes it’s a strong growth driver.

Other MMORPGs have chosen to evolve their programs instead of trashing them. World of Warcraft tries to promote friends playing together via EXP boosts and friend summoning. Leveling and travel is pretty easy in WoW though so I’d question the efficacy of such a program. Final Fantasy XIV gives more tangible benefits to both friends and recruiters after a subscription is purchased. These rewards encourage low level play and partying together like an EXP boost below level 25. That rewards are capped at five recruits is odd but does suggest Square Enix is more interested in small friend groups over referrals from online recruiter warriors.

Star Wars: The Old Republic shows greater signs of adapting to the times. First, previous subscribers who have been unsubscribed for 90+ dates can be “recruited”. Most recruit a friend programs disallow old subscribers for some bizarre reason. Hoping old players return makes a lot less sense than actively trying to draw them back in. Recruitees receive unfettered access to content through level 50. New players also get a Jumpstart Bundle to make leveling easier. Recruiters receive Cartel Coins (premium currency) for each friend actively subscribed.

Among the top MMO games, the greatest disparity in recruit a friend programs lie between RuneScape and TERA. RuneScape runs an older model which heavily rewards recruiters while giving recruited friends a measly 10% EXP bump for seven days. No one’s buying into that. On the other hand, TERA is the gift that keeps on giving. TERA’s BuddyUp System lets veteran players (over level 40) mentor/recruit anyone who hasn’t played in 30 days. Mentors earn rewards while recruits level and guess what? Recruits also earn level specific rewards for leveling under their friend’s tutelage. Additionally, playing together increases a quantifiable friendship level that offers benefits such as the ability to teleport to one another.

‘Spawning’ Recruits

It's a spawning pool. Get it??

It’s a spawning pool. Get it??

One idea I have not seen adapted to subscription or buy to play MMORPGs is the concept of spawning. For those unaware, spawning allows someone who does not own the game to play it, as long as they group with someone who does. It’s used in StarCraft 2 and older Diablo games. The hope for the developer is that the new player will get hooked enough to want to play without their friend. The only way to do that is, of course, to purchase the game. As cool as virtual item rewards are, playing a paid game for free is far more encouraging. Strong rewards for recruiters would also be justified with ‘spawning referrals’ because of the larger time investment. Spawning in MMORPGs could be exploited but simple restrictions could be put into place to avoid such situations.

Honestly, recruit a friend programs have always seemed like an afterthought. Times are a-changing though. Developers are clearly showing promising signs of adaptation in recent years. However, that evolution is far from complete. Proper recruit a friend programs can drive tons of new players and are worth investing in. Word of mouth is an exceptional marketing vehicle that MMOs will need to get creative with to properly utilize. With the ability to hand out infinite virtual goods for free, it’s just a matter of finding the right mix. MMOs want to get players hooked, and get them hooked early. And nothing is more captivating than a friend to play alongside.

 

 


Frankensteining My Perfect MMORPG

“The perfect MMORPG”. A concept as elusive as the holy grail. We rush from MMORPG release to MMORPG release hoping to be enveloped by the warm embrace of perfection. The truth is that the perfect MMORPG is highly dependent on the user. Perhaps some have already witnessed a virtual nirvana. But most of us can only dream of the possibility. And dreaming is exactly what I intend to do today.

perfect mmorpg is not perfect world

Sadly, the Perfect World doesn’t contribute to my Frankensteined perfect MMORPG.

As a fun exercise, I’ll combine the best features from every MMORPG into one perfect MMORPG. In my opinion, this will capture the best of what every virtual world has to offer.

Character Creation

It all starts with character creation and nothing beats Champions Online. The freeform character development is exceptionally fun. Pretty much every type of superhero one can imagine can be created. The superhero MMORPG also offers pre-defined archetypes, but that’s so…blasé. In addition to a wealth of character powers, there’s also about twenty different options for character appearance. All of this combines into the best character creation out there.

Questing

What will we do once in game? It wouldn’t be a modern MMORPG without a quest or two. I can’t really think of a better MMORPG questing system to steal than the The Secret World’s. Whereas quest givers in every other MMORPG are overly obsessed with my rat killing count, TSW challenges my self proclaimed heroic title. Missions in this game utilize puzzles, voice acted cutscenes, lore heavy items, stealth, and an impressive tie-in to The Secret World’s immersive environment at every turn. In a lot of ways, TSW handles missions even better than many single player RPGs. I’m more of a sandbox guy at heart, but I’ll jump on a fitting themepark with quests this good.

Combat

Blade and Soul's combat is a fit for perfect MMORPG

Where The Secret World falters is combat. Luckily, our perfect MMORPG can ignore that completely. Blade & Soul offers an amazing combat system that does away with hotbar button bloat. Instead, the player builds and releases powerful abilities based on combo attacks reminiscent of Street Fighter. Reaction time is relevant but so is strategically reading one’s opponents. Additionally, the game does away with traditional class based roles that widens grouping possibilities.

Economy

Despite a great combat system, Blade and Soul does feel a bit restrictive. Part of that is the game’s economy. Instead of putting the power in the the collective players’ hands, advancement is pretty much self sufficient. In my perfect MMORPG, I want to see a truly interactive player economy. For that, none is better than Eve Online. Every module, ship, weapon, and implant can be freely sold and traded between players in Eve Online. Regional markets replace global auction houses from most MMORPGs. This gives traders a chance to take advantage of changing market conditions. Where some see price gouging arbitrage, Eve Online players see opportunity. It mimics the real world so accurately that even economists study it’s ecosystem.

PvP

While everyone wants to get their piece of the pie, some prefer more direct confrontation. It’s been around for a long time, but Dark Age of Camelot’s PvP has yet to be surpassed. Strangely, most developers still insist on World of Warcraft’s inherently unbalanced two faction system. DAoC realized early on that three factions would self regulate. The game makes proper use of PvP and allows players to level up purely through it. Castle sieges and relic conquests keep content from growing stale. Some might say a free for all system would be better, but instant camaraderie via factional warfare is a better choice for a universal, perfect MMORPG.

Dungeons

The dungeons in WildStar are the best

PvP isn’t all there is to the endgame though. Great dungeons and raids can bring both casual and hardcore guilds together in unique ways. WildStar clearly excels in this like none other. In fact, the challenges that WildStar’s dungeons present have been toned down since launch. They were just too hard. The method to success in a WildStar dungeon is rarely ever obvious. What’s really great about the instanced dungeons in WildStar is that the fun begins early on. Even the first instances in the game limit trash mobs in favor of inspired boss mechanics. The dungeons in WildStar respect me as a player. They may ask too much of my PUGs at times, but it comes with the territory.

Etc, etc.

All in all, I couldn’t ask for a more perfect MMORPG than what I created above. There are a few traditional pain points I avoided. Visuals and bells and whistles aren’t as big of a deal because a many games handle this well. If the art design is coherent and well put together, I’ll be happy. The World of Warcraft style is just as appealing as the Elder Scrolls Online. And I suppose if I cared more about story, I’d double dip into The Secret World. To me, the best stories come from the players though. Events like killing the sleeper in EverQuest, World of Warcraft’s Corrupted Blood plague, and Eve Online’s trillion ISK scam can’t be beat.

While such a real world amalgamation seems unlikely as games grow more niche, I can always dream. How would you Frankenstein your Perfect MMO?