Category Archives: Blaugust

Is Augmented Reality the Future of MMOs?

Pokemon Go is a huge hit. There’s no doubt about it. The mobile game sensation earned over $200 million in its first month of operation. Much of the game’s design and locations originate from developer Niantic’s first augmented reality title, Ingress. Real world locations act as key destinations for players to visit and interact with in both games. In Pokemon Go, these are gyms where players fight their Pokemon and Pokestops to collect resources. It seamlessly blends in with the real world and requires only a phone to see the virtual overlay. Pokemon Go boasts many similarities to MMOs so it got me thinking. Is Augmented Reality the Future of MMOs?

augmented reality ingress

Augmented Reality, Present Day

Few games integrate reality with core gameplay. Of those, only Ingress and Pokemon Go come close to the offering of a fully fledged MMO. It’s certainly a step forward in the evolution of mobile gaming though. Pokemon Go encompasses all of the basics of an MMO. There are tons of players who can interact directly and indirectly with one another. Players also gain levels in order to access more challenging content. None of app’s gameplay is very complex, which is no doubt a huge reason for its success. Anyone that can flick an object and tap a screen can play.

This simple gameplay has created an environment for friends of all skill levels to play with one another. Unlike MMOs that segment players by level, Pokemon Go’s augmented reality locations benefit everyone. Grouping doesn’t confer any direct benefits, but players can help other players by sharing locations of rare Pokemon, setting lures to increase Pokemon appearance, or capturing gyms to place Pokemon in. People playing Pokemon Go are often hard to miss so it also acts as a potential discussion opener. Like MMOs, this conversation is not always welcome, but there’s no doubting augmented reality offers a rich social component.

The freemium cash shop sells some nice incentives for purchasing real money currency without enraging free players (so far). It permits Pokemon Go to operate on the popular free to play model that’s allowed numerous MMOs to thrive, or at least survive. Finding MMOs that aren’t pay to win can be a rather difficult task. Pokemon Go might just be in a class of its own with its freemium model. There is some argument over whether Pokemon Go is pay to win, but the masses seem to have no problem with it. Ultimately, that’s what counts when it comes to future game development.

Augmented Reality as MMO’s Future

What augmented reality lacks compared to traditional MMOs is depth. The gameplay in Pokemon Go and Ingress can feel repetitive pretty quickly. The game revolves around a rotation of catching Pokemon, leveling up Pokemon (basically by catching more), and conquering gyms (to get resources to catch more Pokemon). Everything comes back to catching Pokemon and the faster one does that, the faster they progress. There’s only one real path so if it gets too worn, the player may not stick around.

augmented-reality-pokemon-go

That’s not to say Pokemon Go is in danger of going extinct anytime soon. I do think we’ll see revenue taper off in the face of this repetition. Complete MMOs and even browser MMOs produce a wealth of content that could be enhanced via augmented reality. Imagine for a moment an MMORPG like World of Warcraft with it’s crafting, raiding, questing, and PvP. Now consider how much more engaging these activities would be with a real world tie in. The core mobile elements with deeper gameplay systems would be revolutionary. If only it were as easy as that.

Mobile bandwidth can really dampen the play experience. Pokemon Go ran into some serious server issues at launch and Niantic is still working on a consistent experience for its users. This is with relatively static, asynchronous content. If an augmented reality MMO developer wanted to introduce something more dynamic like PvP combat, lag alone would ruin it. Phones, especially in more rural areas, can’t always maintain consistent connections. Really, complex combat of any kind would limit any potential audience on a technical level alone. The bright side is that with 4G LTE, bandwidth is becoming less of an issue. Yet, connection consistency and speed is only half of the battle.

The attention span of mobile users is another serious hurdle for augmented reality MMOs. Pokemon Go is succeeding in large part due its pick up and play nature. The gameplay is easy for anyone to grasp and light enough to be rewarding with just a few minutes of play. By contrast, MMOs often ask players to commit to hour long sessions. That’s not a time commitment the majority of people are willing to make. Most would be Pokemon masters are transient passersby. On the flip side, several people can be seen playing at major Pokestops for hours on end. A potential augmented reality MMO would need to appeal to a range of play styles without blocking off content for more casual players.

Why Augmented Reality?

It’s one thing to think that augmented reality MMOs are a possibility. It’s another to ask whether it’s something developers should consider. I think the answer is a resounding yes, for a few reasons. One is that grinding and leveling in even the best MMO can get repetitive. Real world tie-ins mask that. The social component of augmented reality games dwarfs any classic MMO. Face to face interaction is a healthy human interaction that can’t be replaced by emotes and voice chat.

I like that augmented reality games promote exercise. Spending too much time sitting on an MMO will damage one’s health eventually. It’s easier to feel less guilty when walking from place to place to accomplish anything. Finally, it’s good for businesses. Many retail stores are using Pokemon Go to spur sales. This interest by local establishments could be used to enhance the game with cooperative tie ins. Instead of a player-developer relationship, a third party enters the picture. This opens brand new doors for content interaction.

All in all, I feel that augmented reality MMOs are on the horizon. It’s a merging of genres that makes a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean we’ll see traditional MMOs and MMORPGs die out. Desktop and console gaming will always deliver more complex gameplay than a mobile phone. Still, Pokemon Go and Inress are just the kindling of augmented reality’s bright future.


The 8 Best NG+ (New Game Plus) RPGs

Occasionally I like to veer of the MMO track of discussion. After all, something needs to keep me busy between MMO launches. I don’t like to drive too far off course though. NG+ (New Game Plus) is a game mode that many MMORPG players should find enticing. In it, players can restart a single player game, keeping all or the majority of levels and equipment acquired in the previous playthrough. Though many action and adventure titles also offer NG+ modes, RPGs are the single player genre most appealing to MMO/MMORPG fans. The persistent nature of NG+ RPG characters (and sometimes world states) draws alluring parallels to MMOs of all kinds.

The NG+ RPG List

8. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC/PS3)

new game plus dragon's dogma

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is an amazing open world action-RPG that combines fantastic party based combat (using the AI’s help) with a minimalist story that actually works. NG+ doesn’t change much but the carryover of levels and gear will give you the strength necessary to travel to Bitterback Isle. This is an expansion dungeon with a wealth of new, difficult challenges. The new abilities further enhance your character’s epic feel and makes for a well rounded new game plus experience. The core game world’s difficulty remains the same but challenges such as dropping party members in favor of solo play can keep difficulty in tact. NG+ in Dragon’s Dogma is largely enjoyable because character advancement and combat is so fun that you won’t want to stop. With 200 levels of RPG goodness, NG+ ensures you won’t have to.

7. Chrono Trigger (SNES/PS1/DS/iOS/Android)

I’d probably be killed if I didn’t include Chrono Trigger, but luckily I think it’s a worthy addition. As the first RPG to implement NG+ in a meaningful way, Chrono Trigger set the bar high. Chrono Trigger’s thirteen unique endings play on the game’s time traveling plot to show various ‘what if’ scenarios. Some of the endings also add additional backstory, and all of them can be easily accessed after beating the game. Chrono Trigger isn’t particularly difficult to begin with so NG+ ends up trivializing the game’s combat. Normally I’d count that as a negative. But after fighting tooth and nail to save the world, taking your time traveling warriors on a timeline perfecting romp is pure fun. Chrono Trigger’s New Game+ never gets in its own way like many RPGs and simply lets the player continue on its memorable journey.

6. The World Ends With You (Nintendo DS)

I’ve never felt this game earned enough praise. There’s so much great about it that makes this DS experience wholly unique. The new game plus mode is just another testament to it’s well thought out design. First, the difficulty of TWEWY can be finely tuned to the player’s discretion more than any RPG. Seriously, the sliders are ridiculously awesome and incentivize harder levels with better rewards. It ensures that while you’re constantly evolving, the game is too. Second, there are little bits of backstory that can only be found with NG+. It doesn’t diminish the base game and serves to enhance the full experience. The World Ends With You is such a fun ride, I’d honestly recommend buying a Nintendo DS just for it. With TWEWY’s NG+ mode, you might lack the time to play anything else on it anyway.

5. Rogue Legacy (PC/PS3/PS4/XB1)

ng+ rogue legacy

Rogue Legacy is a tough as tails rogue-lite action-RPG. The game can technically be beaten in one go but is pretty damn difficult to do so. Instead, the players relies on acquiring gold each playthrough to enhance their offspring’s abilities (i.e. subsequent playthroughs). This eventually gives the player adequate strength to succeed. NG+ in Rogue Legacy gives players access to new gear. The game also grows harder with each playthrough so this new gear is much appreciated. What I enjoy appreciate most about Rogue Legacy’s new game plus is that each subsequent “plus” increases the difficulty. Unlike a lot of RPG games, NG+ and NG+10 in Rogue Legacy mean very different things. At some point, character growth halts, but the enemies perish such a thought. Thus, in Rogue Legacy, a high NG+ level is legitimately a badge of honor.

4. Dark Souls 2 (PC/PS3/X360/PS4/XB1)

Dark Souls 2 generally gets a bad rep in the Dark Souls community, unfairly so in my opinion. At the very least, it’s new game plus is clearly the best of the series. After defeating the game’s final boss, the player can move to NG+ at any time. Like Rogue Legacy, multiple new game pluses are available (up to NG+7). The most relevant are NG+ and NG++. In Dark Souls 2’s NG+, new enemies are added so that repeat dungeons remain perilous. Additionally, other enemies grow stronger, boss fights change, and new gear becomes available. NG++ adds more rings to collect with again higher damage/health enemies. By the end of NG++, the player should feel more than equipped for all subsequent NG+ plays. From there, the player can focus less on staying alive and more on exploring the game’s rich lore. It’s not as developed as Dark Souls 2’s predecessor, but there is still plenty to discover.

3. Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter (PS2)

Cursed as a pariah in the Breath of Fire series on release, Dragon Quarter has since gained a strong niche following. It integrates rogue-lite gameplay with turn based RPG combat that makes new game plus part of the actual story. Like Rogue Legacy, it’s pretty difficult to finish in one play. Luckily, after dying, the player carries over accumulated items, equip, and skills (so everything but levels) to a new game. What separates Dragon Quarter is how these playthroughs integrate with the plot. Elements of the story continually expand based on the player’s D-Ratio, which grows via previous “new games”. Unlike most RPGs where new game plus means slogging through identical events, Dragon Quarter gives the player a legitimate reason to experience the same content by constantly presenting it in a fresh manner.

2. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP)

new game plus tactics ogre

Tactics Ogre is technically available on other systems too, but Let Us Cling Together is the far superior version. Most relevant as to why is its new game plus mode named the WORLD system. After beating this tactical RPG once, the player can access key story points to change history. You see, Tactics Ogre is a politically charged RPG where your decisions dramatically impact the storyline. Choices have major long term consequences and the WORLD system lets the player fully experience the ramifications of each choice. Additionally, a brand new set of events become available (again, depending on what choices were made in the base game). How long does all of this take? 188 hours according to How Long to Beat. Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together offers a helluva lot of NG+ content for an RPG without falling into the trap of getting repetitive.

1. Nier (PS3/X360)

ng+ nier

If you haven’t played Nier and you own one of these systems, change that. Now. Each NG+ play of Nier will change how you view the story, lore, and major characters. In fact, after beating the game once, NG+ skips you past the first half of the game because that part of story becomes fully told. Nier will challenge you emotionally and physically as enemies grow more powerful and characters grow more personal. Finally in Nier’s NG++, the player gets to experience a new ending that brings the story to a full close. I can’t say more than that. The beauty of Nier lies in its story and characters and how they integrate into the game’s clever use of NG+ and NG++. To discuss more would only risk ruining it.

How’s that for a list of the best NG+ RPGs? Do you agree with the order? Did we missing anything? Is this type of single player focus acceptable for our fellow MMO Bros? I’m feeling pretty good about, but comments are always welcome.

 


Horizontal Progression is Best Progression

More options, more choices. That’s what I want out of my MMORPGs. That’s what I expect. I don’t want a treadmill for my character but a wide open park to roam free. Horizontal progression is that park.

horizontal progression park

The vast majority of MMORPGs use vertical progression for character advancement. Vertical progression uses a limited number of ascending levels to define power. As players accrue experience, the character levels up. Each additional level explicitly enhances the character’s power. Higher levels come with the ability to wear better gear and use better skills. It’s widely used in single player RPGs as well, a place where I think it is better suited.

The advantage of vertical progression is how easy it is to sense improvement. Since each level undeniably increases a character’s overall effectiveness, progress is clear. This provides a clear incentive for players to play the game to increase those levels. A new whirlwind attack and twenty more strength points will be just enough to take on that new dungeon. Vertical progression holds our hand and guides us on the well-traveled path.

Vertical progression also gives us clear insight into which challenges we should be fighting. If level of enemies match our character levels then it’s game on. Otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for a one-sided stomp. The problem with this is that the MMORPG becomes less about interesting mechanics and more about numbers. And I love interesting mechanics. That rationale has been the basis of suggesting we kill the holy trinity and why Landmark is better than Steam reviews suggest. Adventure should be less about mad calculations and more about creative thinking. Horizontal progression gets us there.

Choose Horizontal Progression

Horizontal progression in MMORPGs replaces vertically ascending levels for a relatively flat advancement system. Growth comes from gaining access to a greater array of skill and spells but with limited concurrently “equipped” abilities. Each ability comes with its pros and cons so in horizontal progression, the player decides the best combination instead of the game’s leveling system. It’s sort of like pure democratic voting vs. vertical progression’s militaristic chain of command. In the former, every skill gets fair representation and incentive for usage. In the latter, there’s a clear answer as to which are the better skills. This ambiguity creates options for the player to let them determine how to best overcome encounters.

horizontal progression in swg

Star Wars Galaxies somewhat horizontal system promoted flexible play

I mentioned above how vertical progression ultimately comes down to a numbers game. To challenge the player, the developers must provide content with a roughly equal level or power rating. But then the players advance and the developers need even more difficult challenges. This loop creates an infinite power creep and splits MMORPG communities between the haves and have nots. Bigger numbers become all that matter with no meaningful way for high levels and low levels to interact. To me, this is where the grind first rears its ugly face, and I’d love to do nothing more than remove grinding from MMORPGs.

We complain when our life gets boiled down to a number, but that’s just what vertical progression does. Players either have the proper levels and gear score combination or they don’t. It’s a binary determination created by the game’s developers. The community fracture this creates is fairly unique to MMORPGs amongst multiplayer games. It also makes for a repetitive endgame since artificial gear gates give us “something to do”, but there are further advantages implicated by a horizontal progression system.

Keep Developers Honest

Horizontal progression also encourages developers to provide interesting encounters.  Challenges in such a system come from new mechanics instead of bigger numbers. It’s not all that difficult for developers artificially inflate difficulty by using levels as a content gate. It keeps players moving along the expected route and definitively awards them access to new enemies and new locations. To me, this doesn’t feel intrinsically rewarding. Sure, time has to be spent to level up but it’s less satisfying knowing that anyone can do it. This game design philosophy makes think about how everyone gets the same trophy in little league, win or lose (relevant video for emphasis).

Don’t me wrong. I’m not looking for MMORPGs to add Dark Souls level of difficulties to their encounters. There’s a place for exclusionary levels of challenge, and MMORPGs are not it. I just don’t want my character’s advancement to be purely predicated on grinding. I’d like to see more resources devoted to enemies and encounters with ambiguous strengths and weaknesses vs. particular abilities. Then players can decide which mix of skills to pull out of their horizontal toolkit. To me, personally selecting that right mix of abilities to overcome challenges is infinitely more rewarding than using a predefined arrangement.

For Best Results: Use Two Parts Horizontal, One Part Vertical

I don’t want to leave vertical progression completely out in the cold though. Seeing numbers go up with obvious power improvements is enticing. I just don’t want numbers to be the only thing that matters. In an ideal horizontal progression system, each of these myriad of skills could be leveled up to some limited degree. I don’t want to get into a never-ending  progression loop but improving a skill through use would continue to fuel player achievement. Mastery of a skill shouldn’t take too long (what’s the point otherwise), but could be something to improve when the desire to grind arises. It’s pretty well exemplified by the pre-CU Star Wars Galaxies skill system (pictured earlier).

The primary appeal MMOs lie in character advancement. It’s obviously an important system to get right. Vertical progression is the easy, safe answer. Balancing around limited numbers is much simpler than balancing around a wealth of conditions, effects, and attacks with unforeseen interactions. But like my holy trinity argument, I think vertical progression severely limits gameplay opportunities. And laying in wait to enhance those opportunities is the magic of horizontal progression.


Which Countries Make the Best MMOs?

I’m on a kick lately of segmenting out MMOs by uncommonly explored attributes and analyzing numbers. In June, I ranked the best MMORPG by year for the past twenty years (including honorable mentions for each year). In July,  I estimated the most played free MMORPGs, sorted by peak player counts. This month, I’m looking at which countries produce the best MMOs.

First, this requires a ranking of the best MMOs. As opposed to June’s best MMORPG blog post, I decided to use an impartial judge to assess the cream of the MMO crop. I selected mmorpg.com’s user ratings as my source due to their ratings’ age and breadth. From there, I chose the top 50 MMOs as a cutoff. This provided a strong sample set without severely diminished quality between the top and bottom of the list. I don’t necessarily agree with the order (Defiance is ahead of World of Warcraft, seriously?), but the list looks solid overall. The result? MMOBro’s first infographic!

which countries make the best mmos infographic

The United States and South Korea were the first countries to begin developing MMORPGs in the 90s. Seeing them as #1 and #2 on the list is to be expected. Thus, I find the data more fun than surprising. It is noteworthy that South America is unrepresented, despite what is actually a strong MMO userbase.

It is important to note that mmorpg.com caters to a Western audience which does skew the list. I researched Korean MMO rankings by popularity (as opposed to ratings), but over 90% of their most popular MMOs are developed in South Korea. It then seemed to me that focusing on a single, large audience would make for a more compelling and relevant read. MMOBro also targets a Western audience (by virtue of the whole site being written in English). Thus, I hope (and believe) for our readers, the validity is not lessened.

Feel free to download the infographic and share it. I only ask you drop a link to us in the process.

And for those fact checkers out there, here’s the complete 1-50 list (which may be different now compared to current ratings). Feel free to ask any questions or point out any inconsistencies.

  1. Black Desert Online (Pearl Abyss – South Korea)
  2. Guild Wars 2 (ArenaNet – USA)
  3. Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (Square Enix – Japan)
  4. The Secret World (FunCom – Norway)
  5. Elder Scrolls Online (ZeniMax Online Studios – USA)
  6. AD2460 (Fifth Season – Norway)
  7. Warframe (Digital Extremes – Canada)
  8. Rift (Trion Worlds – USA)
  9. Darkfall: Unholy Wars (Aventure S.A. – Greece)
  10. Blade & Soul (Team Bloodlust – South Korea)
  11. Marvel Heroes 2016 (Gazillion Entertainment – USA)
  12. Path of Exile (Grinding Gear Games – New Zealand)
  13. Destiny (Bungie – USA)
  14. Eve Online (CCP Games – Iceland)
  15. Lord of the Rings Online (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  16. EverQuest II (Daybreak Games – USA)
  17. Guild Wars (ArenaNet – USA)
  18. Final Fantasy XI (Square Enix – Japan)
  19. Dark Age of Camelot (Mythic/Broadsword Online Games – USA)
  20. Ryzom (Nevrax/Winch Gate Property Limited – France/Cyprus)
  21. TERA (Bluehole Studio – South Korea)
  22. Perpetuum (Avatar Creations – Hungary)
  23. Aika (JoyImpact – South Korea)
  24. Atlantica Online (NDOORSGAMES – South Korea)
  25. WildStar (Carbine Studios – USA)
  26. Neverwinter (Cryptic Studios – USA)
  27. PlanetSide 2 (Daybreak Games – USA)
  28. Fallen Earth (Reloaded Productions – USA)
  29. Elite: Dangerous (Frontier Developments – England)
  30. Wizard101 (KingsIsle Entertainment – USA)
  31. Dungeons & Dragons Online (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  32. Ultima Online (Origin Systems/Broadsword Online Games – USA)
  33. DC Universe Online (Daybreak Games – USA)
  34. Lineage 2 (NCSoft – South Korea)
  35. EverQuest (Daybreak Games – USA)
  36. Anarchy Online (FunCom – Norway)
  37. Defiance (Trion Worlds – USA)
  38. Vindictus (devCAT – South Korea)
  39. World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment – USA)
  40. Asheron’s Call (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  41. Age of Conan: Unchained (FunCom – Norway)
  42. Firefall (Red 5 Studios – USA)
  43. Eldevin (Hunted Cow Studios – Scotland)
  44. PlanetSide (Daybreak Games – USA)
  45. Xsyon: Prelude (Notorious Games – USA)
  46. Global Agenda (Hi-Rez Studios – USA)
  47. Wurm Online (Code Club AB – Sweden)
  48. Dragon Nest (Eyedentity Games – South Korea)
  49. Trove (Trion Worlds – USA)
  50. Aion (NCSoft – South Korea)

In Defense of Grinding

I don’t like grinding. I never have liked it. I wrote a blog post just last week deriding grinding. Yet the vast majority of MMORPGs insist on building the majority of their content around grinding in some form. Grinding takes the escapism and wonder that compels us to venture into a new MMO world and distills that experience down to a treadmill of numbers. But today I am going to defend it. Call it playing devil’s advocate, looking on the other side of the fence, indulging curiosity, whatever. By the end of this post you are going to see not only the merits of grinding in MMORPGs, but its prominence outside of the genre.

Grinding takes many forms and I want to be clear about my definition. In my opinion, grinding is the act of repeating a mindless task in order to progress your character in some significant way. Thus, grinding can range from running dungeons to killing creatures to completing quests. There are variants on the definition, but I don’t imagine mine feels too distant from others’.

black desert online level 56

You don’t want to know how long it takes to get 1% EXP at level 56 in Black Desert Online.

The level of grinding in MMORPG certainly varies from game to game. Something like Black Desert Online has essentially an infinite grind. Progression in Black Desert takes hours, and then days, of dedication to killing the same enemies at high levels. In games like World of Warcraft, the grind at high levels is much less pronounced but is none-the-less part of the game. The highest quality content requires certain gear levels in order to reach. Players reach the requisite gear levels by repeating low threat dungeons for better drops. Now, in no way am I placing Black Desert Online and World of Warcraft in the same realm of grindiness. I just want to illustrate that it exists in a very wide spectrum.

One of the perks of grinding is that it’s easy to relax and zone out. It’s almost a form of meditation. Replace breathing in and breathing out with pressing tab and pressing 1 a few times. You can almost feel the zen calm washing over just thinking about it. Combat against menial creatures is purposefully simple, and it’s kind of the point. With meditation, the mind is occupied with some sort of repetitive task. This allows the person to peruse their thoughts gently and calmly. It’s meditation with a different focus point.

One doesn’t need to full on Buddhist monk to get the relaxing benefits on grinding. It can also be considered a form of decompression. You know how most people feel after maxing their brain’s capacity for a full day? Tired. Coming home from a long day doesn’t invite strenuous challenges. It invites seeking serenity. It’s not unreasonable to want to completely veg out after mental or physical strain. Grinding provides the means to do so.

Everyone can progress in a grind based system. If MMORPGs were to implement content that always came with the possibility of defeat, it would alienate some of the players. Grind based content ensures that as long as the game is being played then the player will be rewarded. A critical component of grinding is the significant length of time required to accomplish tasks. This time keeps the player around. It keeps the player playing the MMO. This is a win-win situation. Players are guaranteed advancement simply by playing the game and the developers to get to hold on to their player base.

grinding quests in asta

Not all quests are grindy, but a quest grind is still a grind.

From a developer standpoint this kind of content is pretty easy to produce. Anything that can be repeated with low difficulty isn’t likely to raise a stink. Some trivial content doesn’t mean all trivial content though. The time developers save on easy content can be spent crafting memorable encounters. This is the price that the players pay for the top notch content. Filler content has to hold one’s attention in the meantime. This filler content makes up the bulk of MMORPG progression but can sometimes be at least hidden in a way that doesn’t make it too obvious. MMORPGs can’t really afford to lose players so they need some sort of hook to keep them occupied until they get to the interesting content. Grinding is that hook.

Similar to the rationale to the above paragraph, grinding serves to counterbalance the highest-quality content. Gameplay naturally has its ups and downs. If everything is crazy exciting than nothing it’s crazy exciting. So grinding is the low point of an leveling experience but is an important counterbalance to the high points. It helps you appreciate the work that you’ve put in and the content you’re rewarded with.

It’s not like grinding is really anything new to the gaming world either. Diablo and Diablo clones revolve the bulk of their game content around killing minions mindlessly to get progressively better loot. Survival games involve mining poor innocent resources to the point of exhaustion to…well…survive. Browser strategy games entangle the player in a endless cycle or building structures, waiting, then upgrading them or building more. Many other examples exist of games outside of MMORPGs that utilize grinding in at least some capacity.

The first Final Fantasy on NES tasked the player with powering up their heroes to save the world. In order to accomplish this, the player had to engage in multiple winnable battles to attain the necessary strength to defeat each boss. Similar gameplay to this 1987 title decidedly exists all over today. It’s just better concealed now. It means grinding has stood the test of time through no series of accidents.

Grinding can relax. Grinding can calm. Grinding guarantees achievement. Grinding equalizes the playing field. Grinding gives developers time to craft unique content. Grinding puts into perspective that uniquely crafted content.

Look, I’m really not saying that grinding is a great thing. It’s the type of content that after not too long pushes me back into playing single-player RPGs. It’s also easy to understand why some people do in fact like heavier grinding games. Grinding clearly has its place though and contributes positively to MMORPGs overall. Now who wants to kill a thousand goblins with me?


More Instanced Channels, Less Servers

Stargrace from MMOQuests posted last week about the issue that multiple servers creates in MMOs. It’s something that really resonated with me because it’s indeed a very frustrating experience. If I know or meet somebody outside of a game who happens to play that same game, I do have a general expectation I that should be able to play with that person. However, the way most MMORPGs works is that players must choose a server when they create their character. That character is then tied to that server for remainder of their artificially born life. Since a big part of MMOs is spending time building up your character, taking hours/days/weeks, it’s unlikely that players will want to start a new character on a new server.

maplestory channels

So if Joe and I independently start playing Final Fantasy 14 and, after heavily investing in our characters, discover we each play, our first thought is going to be “cool we can play together”. However, our hearts will sink when we learn we’re actually on different servers. So even though we want to play together, and we both have characters with compatible power levels, we aren’t able to do so.

The above example is one of those stupid issues in MMOs. We already have level restrictions separating friends from players, so why in 2016 should servers further that divide? No other genre of game separates its player base due to some arbitrary decision at character creation. Personally, I feel it also detracts from the ‘massively multiplayer’ aspect. When World of Warcraft had 15 million people playing, it didn’t really mean much to me. The people on my server, the people I could actually interact with, numbered in the tens of thousands. Not the millions.

Now of course, we can’t just have one server, where everyone in the same area can see each other and interact. Especially for popular MMORPGs, overcrowded mob farming would ruin enjoyment and tank server performance. Luckily, a good solution already exists: instanced channels. Instanced channels have been used by Guild Wars and a number of Korean MMOs. These instanced channels replicate the game world and allow players to generally move freely between these replicas. The game servers will choose which instanced channel to place players automatically. Players can also manually choose certain channels, in case they want to play with particular people.

The main detractors of instanced channels are typically against any instancing at all. They say that it breaks immersion, or splits the community, or makes the player interaction less natural. It can be off-putting to be hunting in the Fairy Forest, and maybe a thousand other players are also hunting in the Fairy Forest, but you can only see 20 of them. Players who like open PVP especially seem to dislike it because it can be hard to retaliate against other players. It can make conquering territory (officially or unofficially) less meaningful.

black desert online channels

I used to think that way. Switching channels really would break my immersion and made the game feel more like…well…just a game. I’ve become much more realistic in my approach to MMORPGs since then though. Instanced channels actually provide a lot of benefits besides the obvious. It gets rid of ever needing those nasty server merges. The number of players can be perfectly optimized for the content in each area. And of course if you happened to realize that a friend is playing the same game as you, you can actually play with them. These all deal with player interaction, but there’s so much more to it.

I think one of the best benefits is something that doesn’t get talked about much. Instanced channels create more potential gameplay opportunities for players. Maybe each channel is a little bit different based on player actions. Guilds could be strong in one channel but not the other. Maybe the completed public quests led to a different landscape. Instead of just one world to explore the player’s character actually gets access to dozens. This creates more ways in which the character can affect the world and more ways to find their happy place.

Instanced channels would ideally be integrated into the overall story of the MMO world. Take the multiple shard premise from Ultima Online. But instead of shards representing different servers, they would embody multiple channels that players could travel between. To enhance the role-playing aspect, players could need to physically enter a portal to travel between channels. Perhaps different channels even come with unique rule sets. Open PvP could be confined to one or few channels for when the mood strikes. Players who want to avoid it entirely can easily do so.

There’s a lot of unexplored potential for instanced channels in MMORPGs. So far they’ve just been used to replicate servers to reduce congestion. In fact, most MMORPGs with channels still have unique servers, which is incredibly frustrating. The ability to create multiple dynamic worlds that are spun off of one original world is something that even sandbox developers have largely ignored. I’m just imagining an MMO right now where the price of admission for one world actually grants my character access to dozens. Imagine exploring such alternate realities built by the players simply by entering a portal. The world that you’ve grown accustomed suddenly morphs into a refreshing landscape. Healthy player populations and the ability to interact with anyone who plays the same game as you is just icing on the cake.

It’s time to do away with individual servers. Instanced channels have been underutilized by MMORPG developers for too long. In the real world, everybody is just an internet connection away from interacting with one another. In the virtual world that MMOs attempt to create, we should be no less apart.