Tag Archives: Black Desert Online

Comparing Top Eastern vs. Western MMORPGs

The MMORPG gaming culture differs slightly between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, and game design varies accordingly. While there are no hard and fast rules, Eastern games tend to put more emphasis on quality graphics and on grind-based gameplay.

Neither model is better or worse than the other; it’s all just down to personal preference. But since most of us do tend to prefer one style or the other, it can be helpful to look at how Western and Eastern games in common genres compare. Maybe you like the ideas behind Neverwinter but would prefer a game with a more Eastern flavour, or enjoy the deep mechanics of Black Desert but want something with a more Western style.

To that end, we’ve compiled a breakdown of similar Eastern and Western games in some of the more common MMO genres.

Themepark: World of Warcraft/Final Fantasy XIV

World of Warcraft remains the undisputed king of Western MMORPGs, and even after having fallen from its peak quite a bit, it’s probably still the most successful MMO on the market.

Stormwind City in the Western MMORPG World of Warcraft

With that said, Japan’s Final Fantasy XIV has been enjoying an impressive level of success since relaunching as A Realm Reborn. Like its Western cousin, WoW, it has managed to survive as a subscription based MMO in a world where free to play and buy to play are now the norm.

Both offer very similar game mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who’s played themepark MMOs. In both, you’ll find standard tab target combat, kill and collect quests, and trinity-based group roles. FFXIV’s combat is a little slower, employing a 2.5 second global cooldown, as opposed to WoW’s 1.5 second GCD, which is lowered to one second for some classes.

Both offer deep if sometimes inconsistent lore drawn from the venerable franchises both games are based on. Final Fantasy’s graphics are more advanced and often stunning, but WoW’s have more personality.

FFXIV does offer a few features that WoW lacks. Most notably, any character can learn any class and swap between them at will, essentially eliminating the need for alts. It also offers a player housing feature, though housing plots are limited and it can be difficult to grab one.

On the other hand, World of Warcraft has the advantage of being faster-paced and less linear, and it has been around for much longer, giving it a vast reserve of legacy content that could take a new player months, if not years, to fully explore.

A forest zone in the Eastern MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Both are very polished games with a wealth of content, but there isn’t a whole lot to distinguish one from the other. If you’re already established in one, there’s little cause to switch. If you’re new to both, try both for an hour or two and see which feels better.

Sandbox: EVE Online/Black Desert Online

Icelandic made EVE Online is one of the great successes of the sandbox genre. It’s been around longer than World of Warcraft, and while it’s never been a household name, it has managed to maintain a healthy and loyal fanbase for a very long time despite being a relatively niche title.

Exploring space in the Western MMORPG EVE Online

Recently it’s been given a new rival in the sandbox field in the form of the Korean MMORPG Black Desert Online, which so far seems to be have been well-received by sandbox fans.

EVE and Black Desert are very different games in a lot of ways, but they’re both very complex, very deep games, to an extent few other MMOs could equal.

EVE is a sci-fi game that takes place in the depths of space. While you can design an avatar, in practice your character is basically whatever ship you’re piloting at the time. Black Desert employs a fantasy setting; depending on your perspective, this can be seen as a source of welcome familiarity or a lack of creativity in a genre already dominated by fantasy. Black Desert boasts impressive visual character customization to help you stand out from the crowd.

However, while it’s easy to look different in Black Desert, your character’s abilities may not be so unique, as it does rely on a fairly standard class system. EVE Online, meanwhile, has a skill-based advancement system that allows every character to grow in any direction they like.

EVE’s core gameplay is a bit stilted — it is often viewed as a game of menus and spreadsheets — whereas Black Desert utilizes a very flamboyant style of action combat. Most would agree that Black Desert has better minute-to-minute gameplay, but we haven’t seen it create the kind of devious politics, epic wars, and shocking heists that have come to define EVE Online. EVE is a game of lower lows, but also higher highs.

Both are very complex games with a steep learning curve. EVE is probably a little harder to learn — but if you’re a true EVE fan, you probably view that as a positive.

EVE is another game that’s managed to maintain a subscription-based business model, whereas Black Desert is buy to play with a cash shop.

A maewha character in the Eastern MMORPG Black Desert

Both are solid choices for the sandbox fan. Black Desert has the edge for those who want to explore a beautiful and detailed fantasy world, or those who want more natural-feeling gameplay, but EVE is a better choice for those who want to make their name on a cutthroat frontier and engage in politics on a massive scale.

Action combat grinder: Neverwinter/Vindictus

Neverwinter and Vindictus are both games with intense action combat and a strong emphasis on grinding instanced content as opposed to the open worlds of more traditional MMORPGs.

A cave in the Western MMORPG Neverwinter

Neverwinter is developed by American Cryptic Studios and is based on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting from Dungeons and Dragons, but it does take a lot of liberties with D&D mechanics, so it doesn’t hold as much appeal to pen and paper fans as you might expect.

Korea’s Vindictus is published by Nexon and serves as a prequel to Mabinogi, another MMO from the same developer.

Of the two, Neverwinter is a little closer to a traditional MMORPG and offers a slightly more robust experience. It does have open world zones to be explored in addition to dungeon crawls, and it makes at least some effort to be a full-fledged RPG, whereas Vindictus is more of an arcade experience, putting a laser focus on constant dungeon-crawls.

Notably, Neverwinter offers a standard set of classes and races to choose from, whereas players in Vindictus choose from pre-established characters and can only customize them to a limited degree.

Neither game is going to win much praise for its story-telling ability, but Neverwinter has a slight edge in that regard. Similarly, neither boasts top of the line graphics, but Vindictus tends to look a little better.

Both offer as their main virtue brutal action combat, and while both games’ combat is excellent, a slight edge should probably be given to Vindictus for offering slightly more depth and interactivity. In Vindictus, players may, for instance, grab objects from the environment — or even enemies — and hurl them as crude projectiles.

Both games are free to play and offer a lot of gameplay without spending a cent, but in both cases you’ll eventually have to make use of the cash shop if you want to maximize your performance in the later stages of the game.

A character in the Eastern MMORPG Vindictus

Neverwinter is the better choice if you want something closer to a traditional MMO experience, but Vindictus is superior if you want to focus on maximum brutality and mayhem.

ARPG: Diablo III/Devilian

Once again proving that Blizzard is the goose that laid the golden egg, Diablo III is the biggest name in the action RPG field. It had some stumbles at launch, but following the well received Reaper of Souls expansion, it’s now in a very healthy state.

A crusader character in the Western ARPG Diablo III

There isn’t a lot of competition for D3 from the East right now, but if you’re eager for an ARPG with some Asian flair, Devilian would probably be your best bet, at least until Lost Ark gets a Western release.

In terms of core gameplay, they’re both very much the standard ARPG fare. Click, kill, loot, repeat. Devilian modifies the formula slightly by giving players alternate demonic forms they can transform into for a temporary power boost.

Diablo III is pure buy to play — no micro-transactions at all, though you do need to buy the expansion separately — whereas Devilian is free to play with a cash shop.

Most would tend to agree that Diablo is the better game, but Devilian does have a few advantages going for it. It is a bit closer to the traditional MMO experience; you’ll be sharing the game world with other players, and there’s some degree of visual character customization. By comparison, Diablo III is closer to a single-player game with co-op support, and players can only choose their class and gender.

A screenshot from Korean ARPG Devilian

It’s also worth noting that Diablo III hasn’t gotten any significant content updates in quite a while now. There’s some speculation over a potential expansion announcement at this year’s Gamescom or BlizzCon, but right now it’s only wild guesses and rumors based on dubious evidence. For now the future of the game is very uncertain.


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.


Can We Kill MMORPGs’ Holy Trinity Yet?

The MMORPG holy trinity has been around for ages. For those unaware, the holy trinity is a paradigm of balancing combat around three roles: tank, healer, and damage. Its roots can largely be attributed to Dungeons & Dragons where a front-liner, healer, mage, and thief were necessary to succeed. Recent editions of D&D have somewhat moved away from that, and good dungeon masters can balance adventures to conform to all but the most bizarre parties. Yet, the MMORPG holy trinity has persisted well into 2016.

blade and soul combat

To be fair, it’s not a particularly bad foundation. Damage dealers make up the bulk of groups and just try to kill things as fast as possible. The tanks, with their massive damage mitigation, taunt enemies away from killing the damage dealers. Cleric types keep the tanks from dying.  Everyone gets a role and everyone gets to contribute. It’s also relatively easy to balance because damage, damage mitigation, and healing can all offset. The problem is that conforming to such a system stifles innovation. Players spend the majority of their MMORPG time in combat. It stands to reason then that combat in MMO titles should be innovative. Otherwise, why not play the top MMO games that already do a great job with the holy trinity?

The Holy Trinity’s Fundamental Issues

The lack of innovation that the holy trinity breeds forms the crux of my issue with the popular model. It’s simply been done to death at this point. I can only groan at class selection when I realize what fate awaits me. Regardless of which role I choose, I’ll get relegated to a one trick pony. I didn’t mind that for a time, but it’s dreadfully dull now. Even if it can be challenging at times to juggle aggro or play the heal bot, that doesn’t make it interesting.

What’s the alternative? That’s a pretty complex question, which is why so many developers are reluctant to leave what they know. Damage is clearly a necessity of combat (things have to die, right?), but in my mind decreasing taunty tank and healy priest roles is what will move us away from the holy trinity.

At their most basic level, healers and tanks both play support roles, and there are no shortage of support abilities. Examples of support abilities include crowd control, buffs, cross-class abilities that temporarily emulate other characters, and damage mitigation. For those worried about healing, it can exist perfectly fine outside of the holy trinity. Guild Wars 2 uses classes with familiar archetypes but without a holy trinity balancing mechanism. One of the ways in which they accomplish this is by providing every class a healing ability. I’m personally not a fan, but it works and is certainly innovative. Ultimately, Guild Wars 2 allows for a wider range of party compositions because of this. If everyone has priestly healing abilities then it eliminates the most common grouping bottleneck. That said, MMOs can also exist without healing (though I’m not aware of any developers who have been brave enough to try it).

guild wars 2 heals

For those seeking inspiration, an alternative support model already exists on a smaller scale. MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA2 strategically necessitate a support role for their 5v5 matches. Some support characters can heal but many cannot. Supports fill their role with a variety of tools such as crowd control, shields, escape mechanics, buffs, and limited heals. Pure supports could certainly still exist in an innovative MMORPG, but I’d like to see these tools spread out across all classes. Ideally dungeons in such an MMO could be crafted so that adventuring parties will always have a weakness. This enhances replayability and creates genuine difficulty as parties must strategize how to overcome their collective shortcomings.

These shortcomings could be overcome by exploiting a new AI threat system that eschews generic aggro based taunting in favor of individual targeting methods. The current holy trinity system bases mob aggro solely on numerical taunt/damage/healing threats. This leads to limited ways for players to react and limited methods in how to compose parties. Instead, monsters should target based on their move set. For example, some enemies might focus on who’s closest, the lowest health character, a player activating a mechanism, the most recent spell caster, or even who is wearing shiniest clothes. Not only does this add flavor to drab monster AI, but it forces players to adapt to situations and play with an “out of the box” mindset. Bouncing aggro is suddenly an interesting mechanic for the entire party instead of just one player.

Typically, looking for tanks and healers stall out parties faster than a troll ninja looting an unequippable rare. Most players want to deliver damage, strike the killing blow, and loudly proclaim their hero status. Like in MOBAs, tanks and healers rarely get star treatment, even if their talent really saved the day. I know this is dangerous, but I want the onus of typical holy trinity tanking and healing spread across everyone’s shoulders.

Ultimately, I want to kill the MMORPG holy trinity because I feel that developers fall back on that method instead of looking to create something new. We just end up with these rehashed combat systems that fall flat because they’ve already been done (and done better). The wole thing reminds me of a movie called Multiplicity with Michael Keaton. In it, he creates a clone of himself to handle time consuming chores. That clone then thinks the same thing and clones himself. This cloning saga repeats ad nauseam with each clone spawning as a progressively dumber version of Michael Keaton. That’s how I feel about holy trinity MMOs. Modern releases feel pretty dumb compared to older generations.

It’s unfortunate that MMOs cost so much to make. Publishers are less likely to take risks when so much is on the line. We can’t rely on indie studios to usher in innovation as they do with smaller scale projects. Killing the holy trinity might be a major risk, but there are definitely success stories. Blade and Soul and Black Desert Online, the biggest MMORPG launches in the West this year, have built a strong following without mandatory party compositions. In fact, I recently estimated Blade and Soul as one of the most played free MMORPGs.

Here’s to a future where innovation reigns supreme over the holy trinity’s mundane corpse.

 

 

 


Virtual Worlds Ironically Lacking in MMORPGs

When I played Ultima Online for the first time, figments of my imagination began bleeding into a reality. A game now existed in which I could truly live an alternate life. In many ways, it transcended the simple game tag and provided my first virtual world experience. I expected many immersive, virtual worlds to follow. After all, MMORPGs were only entering their infancy in the late 90s when Ultima Online launched.

ultima online housing good for virtual worlds

Wait? You mean I used to be able to see the OUTSIDE of player houses too?

For a time, I felt this virtual vision was coming to fruition. Several titles around the turn of the century created something more than a game. They created vivid, breathing virtual worlds. Nowadays MMORPGs feel a little too much like games. It’s a little disappointing because the genre is a fantastic springboard for creating believable worlds filled with player controlled alternate identities. Maybe this is a case of rose tinted bias, but I think it has more to do with the modernization of MMORPGs, the rise of casual gaming, and minimal creativity in adapting to those changes.

Time Investment

The biggest downside of true virtual worlds is that they require a lot of time to really appreciate. My free time allotment when in school allowed me to really dive into the alternate realities developers had crafted. Spending some extra time trying to decipher where to go for a quest in EverQuest didn’t feel frustrating. It just pulled me deeper into the world.

In today’s gaming climate, a quest-driven MMORPG would find itself with a pretty limited audience without obvious World of Warcraft style quest markers. That’s largely because somebody with a limited schedule wants to feel like they can accomplish something in thirty minutes. And somebodies with thirty minutes to spare are in the majority. This creates situations where developers create short feedback loops to fuel the MMORPG achievement addiction. And that has some long term implications that run counter to crafting virtual worlds.

star wars cantina image

It wasn’t perfect, but Star Wars Galaxies cantina performances pulled players into its virtual world.

You see, in order to create a believable virtual world, it needs to follow certain properties of the real world. One of the general properties of the real world is that in order to be successful, one needs to put hard work. It should follow then that one’s character must put in hard work in order to achieve virtual world success. “But Bro, I play games for fun not to work”, you say. Guess what? I do too!

Notice in the above paragraph the use of the word character instead of player? In general, I think developers (and publishers, probably more importantly) focus too much on what’s worked in the past. Character progression is typically a 1 to 1 ratio of character to player effort. If a character cannot progress without the player, then MMORPGs are pigeonholed into casual advancement. This is why I love MMORPGs like Eve Online, Black Desert Online, and Crowfall building AFK progression systems. It frees the player from working for all of their success and places much of that burden of the character.

Additionally, hard work is not inherently boring. If I want this blog to do well, I need to put in the effort and write a lot. My success is linked to hours spent writing, promoting, socializing, and other blog-like activities. I enjoy these things (or I wouldn’t be here). If active character progression is time consuming but enjoyable that’s OK. Unfortunately, MMORPGs tend to emphasize repetitive tasks AKA grinding. Whether it’s quest grinding or mob grinding, the negative effect on the player is the same. This is why I love dynamic events in games like Guild Wars 2 and hope to see the concept continue to evolve.

Eve Online's skill queue responsible for its strong virtual world

Spreadsheet simulator isn’t so bad when it lets my character, not me, do the heavy lifting.

Great, unique concepts like AFK progression and dynamic events push us closer to believable virtual worlds. They advance characters through the character handling the boring heavy lifted instead of the player. Equally important to character progression is the world’s evolution. Enticing players with the promise of a persistent world, MMORPGs subversively promise a world that behaves differently due to the player’s participation. This is largely not the case.

Persistent, Virtual Worlds

A persistent world technically means little more than a near 24/7 online, virtual game world for the player to access. MMORPGs do in fact provide that service, but persistent worlds seem to take themselves a little too literally. In the vast majority of the genre’s games, the worlds do not change. Players defeat the same quests, mobs reset, everything important gets instanced. A player’s character has nearly no impact on the persistently static worlds of most MMORPGs.

A true virtual world should change based on character actions. My immersion breaks pretty easily when GIANT DRAGON X gets defeated for the thousandth time on my server. Infinite resources, best in slot legendaries, static economies, and instanced content sever any remaining semblance of immersion.  This doesn’t make modern MMORPGs bad games. It makes them bad virtual worlds.

Ultimately, immersion is why creating a true virtual world is important. Virtual worlds immerse players into inhabiting an alternate persona. This is a platform created that can continuously evolve as the player plays their character. The opportunity to interact with real people who can do real things should enhance that experience. Yet, the systems available feel anything but immersive. I enjoy progression and socializing in MMORPGs, but right now I play single player when I want immersion. That shouldn’t be the case.

I’m not saying immersion is a prerequisite for a good MMORPG. They are games, first and foremost. The genre is vast and there are many ways to entertain. I’m just saying MMORPGs are dropping the ball in an area where they had a distinct advantage fifteen years ago. Bring back actual virtual worlds, and they’ll reclaim that “believable alternate reality” throne pretty quickly.