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Role Playing (Games) Editorial Entertainment Games

The Trouble with MMORPGs 403

Posted by michael
from the lack-of-tribbles dept.
jasoncart writes "The trouble with MMORPGs is a humorous account of one gamer's struggle to find and assume his place in the rapidly evolving societies which form a part of the online RPG explosion. Ultimately, it is also a lament for the loss of direction that is the scourge of the genre."
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The Trouble with MMORPGs

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  • by grasshoppa (657393) * <skennedy.tpno-co@org> on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:38AM (#7301473) Homepage
    We simply hang in there, hoping it will get better, blaming ourselves for the lack of content in their game.

    "It's our fault", we say, "that I am not enjoying this as much as I did when I first started. If I just hang in there, and believe, it will all be ok"

    We're sorta like battered wives, except we pay for the privledge.
  • Studies (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Scoot G (714257) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:41AM (#7301527)
    We did a study on this in my Social Issues In Computing class last year. Online RPG'ing is a scary thing. People get sucked in and lost the ability to coherently act outside of the game. Who do we blame? The gaming organization? I don't think so. They are just good at what they do. It is like when Coca Cola put traces of cocaine in their soda. They were just good at getting people addicted...then the whole cocaine is illegal thing came to notice. Oh well.
  • MUDs had it right... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by normal_guy (676813) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:43AM (#7301547)
    One word: JediMud. The economy was barter-based, the world was dynamic and quests were DM'ed by former players. The best part of all was you could only get as high as level 30 (still 40-50 hours of play) before being forced to become immortal or remort. After remorting you got a 1-point bonus to one stat. That kind of system would really cut down on what I consider the worst aspect of MMORPGs, lifeless nerds playing for 80 hours a week and effectively 'ruining the curve'.
  • by tarnin (639523) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:53AM (#7301652)
    They try and tailor each game to nothing more than time sinks. The longer your play the more money they make. This right there takes the "fun" factor away and adds in the grind. Why do the developers think its fun to go on a 14 hr raid to maybe get a piece of eq that I might need at some point in my characters life. Also, after the initial time sinks have been reached, instead of rewarding you they add more! Look at EQ and DAoC. Both of which have added pay for expansions that do nothing more than give you more pretty pictures and a TON more time sinks.

    At some point they have to realize that time sinks do not equal long term cash. Maybe back in the day when EQ and UO were the only game in town could this be done. Now, there are litterly hundreds of new MMORPGs on the horizon lining up to get a piece of the pie.

    Devs!! It's time to remember that we play these games for FUN not for another grind akin to our every day lives.
  • by Xentax (201517) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:55AM (#7301680)
    ...as far as I'm concerned, anyway. I'm in the last stages of burning out on SWG big-time. As usual, that's more depressing than surprising, I knew going in that they'd have to really bust ass to keep me interested beyond a month. Considering how many other 39.99 or 49.99 games have only held my attention for a month or two, though, that's not a terrible thing, just another bad game to stack beside the various bad games and bad movies that come and go between the rarer good stuff.

    I also share the author's hope that World of Warcraft will actually BE DIFFERENT than the mass-multi's we've seen so far. I sum up my feeling on that as: "If anyone can do it, Blizzard can".

    But that still leaves me wondering *if* anyone can. I mean, how can the content creators ever hope to keep up with the powergamers? It takes 10 or even 100 times as long to create a robust, interesting, and distinctive quest or mission as it does for a typical player to complete it (at least, that's the sort of numbers game developers have tossed out when asked). Solutions like EQ epic quests aren't the answer, because they force the player to join enormous guilds in order to access significant amounts of the game's content, forces an amount of play (in terms of per session and per day or week) that is more than many players can afford to give.

    So, have the releases thus far been unable to keep it fresh and interesting because of incompetence or poor design choices (as the author claims), or is actually an unsolvable problem?

    Xentax
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:02PM (#7301751) Homepage Journal
    I watched my roommie in college waste a solid week of his life on these things. I'm in greater danger from Sid Meier products.
    The MMORPG that might be tempting would be an accurate historical one.
    What if you could go back in time to, I don't know, Homer's Greece and tool around with Jason ISO fleece?
    I hope that there aren't any archeology/history professors on /., because if they teamed up with the right coders, you could have a killer app.
    Even more frightening is the threat of the players learning something. Useful. About reality. Fear!
  • by objwiz (166131) <objwiz@@@yahoo...com> on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:05PM (#7301781)
    I have to agree so much about the staleness of MMORPGs. But I read about Second Life [secondlife.com] here on /. and I am in love again with online gaming. It is a totally different experience, nothing I could have prepared myself for. I certainly thought I would be bored with it but I'm not!

    Seriously, I recommend giving it a try...
  • by Razor Blades are Not (636247) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:07PM (#7301812)
    It's not the power gamers who suffer the most. Sure they bitch and moan that they don't have their Sword of Ultimate PKing yet, and they've only camped the Monster of Incredible Drops for three days straight.
    Yes, this kind of bitching is annoying.

    But it's the fact that there is often *nothing else to do* in these games which pisses the average player off. The average player wants something new and interesting, or at least wants a near constant set of rewards, to keep them playing.
    As the writer of the article suggests ...
  • Re:text of article (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cranesan (526741) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:14PM (#7301875)
    >>I've played most of the big ones - UO, EQ, AC,
    >>DAOC and now SWG, and I've exhibited the same
    >>reaction to almost all of them. You see, I'm
    >>always the fish that got away.

    The fish that got away? How much money did the game companies get, for selling this dude the box set to each game, and 6+ months of monthly service... the article talks about how the players are losing out, but as long as we consumers pass along the message that what they give us is profitable they will keep churning out as much crap as they can.

    Did you know SWG is the most expensive MMORPG, and that they had a period where instead of working on and fixing all the customer service tickets, they said "We just fixed a couple bugs, so we are going to delete all the tickets. If your problem is still here, then please make another ticket". What the hell is that???
  • by DrEldarion (114072) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:19PM (#7301935)
    The trouble is that giving the same reward over and over quickly looses it's apeal.

    A cure for this was found in the Diablo series of games - random items. It made it so that they gave the same reward over and over, but since there was always a chance if you getting better and better items, it was still VERY addictive. Why no MMORPG has implemented this item system is beyond me. I knew people in Diablo that would spend HOURS and HOURS just searching for items, and getting some relatively nice stuff, too.

    -- Dr. Eldarion --
  • I also recall when Planetarion was free (I dont know, 4th or 5th generation when I started) that the player associations or whatever they were called all banded together and became so powerful taking over so many planets that the game was pointless. My galaxy in peticular was doing very well (on the top 10 list) by itself until the folks in one of the associations crushed each and every one of us in one swift move. No protection against it, nothing to do but ruin 6 months of hard gaming.

    Because of that experience, I'm not so sure that I'd waste money going back to it. I do recall Planetarion being a VERY awesome game though, must better IMO in multiplayer interaction than Earth 2025.
  • by rossz (67331) <ogre@nospAm.geekbiker.net> on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:28PM (#7302036) Homepage Journal
    The engine should allow a person to play a monster/creature. The type of monster you play should be completely random. This way a person won't choose the ancient red dragon for his friend to easily kill.

    Some safety controls need to be implemented. For example, two players get together, one plays the monster and allows himself to get killed, thus allowing the other player some easy experience. That's not good. Perhaps what is needed is to limit how often you can create a monster, e.g. once a day. This would severely limit the free experience of letting your buddy kill your monster.

    There needs to be some sort of payoff for playing a monster. Perhaps you get something of value each time you do it, e.g. (play) money you can give to a character of your choosing.

    Another feature to implement is some sort of bonus for cooperating with other players. The more people (to some reasonable limit) banded together for a common cause, the bigger the experience bonus. Be sure to adjust treasure finds for bigger parties, too. It sucks when you get together with a group of people only to have one person grab the one or two items worth keeping and skipping out (as happens all too often in diablo 2).
  • by Jason1729 (561790) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:28PM (#7302037)
    Profitability: It's already nearly impossible to make money on a game given the up-front development costs, and losing the markup at the front end probably means higher monthly fees, which makes it less motivating to play in the long run.

    I'm somewhat involved in the board game industry. I imagine the numbers would be similar for computer games. Retail and wholesale markups are each 50%, so out of the $50, the manufacturer only gets $12.50 (already less than the monthly fee for a lot of games). Out of that, they still have to pay for manufacturing costs which are probably around $5.

    I really doubt the company would lose a cent if they made the game a free download. The issue is appearance. The game won't be taken as seriously if players don't see it in a shiny retail package. As a previous poster said, RoE doesn't have as much market, probably because players don't see it in store. The companies need to get something into retail stores at a cost of about 1 month's service and then include the first month free.

    The trend is going that way anyway. In the early 90's, ISPs charged a big activation fee when the market was new. After a few years that went away, and now a lot of ISPs have promotions like first month free or first 6 months at half price. As the MMORPG industry matures, it will go through the same sort of changes.

    Jason
    ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:29PM (#7302041)
    Even better than that, with NWN I can download quite a lot of games for local, solo play. I can team up with some friends I played D&D with 25 years ago (some of them I haven't seen in nearly that long but found online in NWN) and DM them through a classic module I recreated in NWN. It's really not that hard to recreate these if one or two people DM things to make sure they flow properly.

    IMHO, this is one game that has it right. Even though I may stop playing for a few weeks, I always come back to it. Recreating the classic modules is just a blast too ...
  • by Bendebecker (633126) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:32PM (#7302082) Journal
    That was what was so great about the old arcades. If you didn't like the game, you just stopped putting quaters in it. If you didn't like a game, you didn't stand in front of the box bitching and moaning, you went and played another. If you didn't like any of the games, you got your ass out of the arcade.
  • by nautical9 (469723) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:35PM (#7302121) Homepage
    One of the best features of some MUDs I've played was the fact that after reaching a certain point in the game (level, quest goal, whatever), you could become one of the games content creators.

    You'd be given access to a rudimentary scripting language, given a "starting point" in the online world (a door, a cave entrance, whatever), and could create your locations and quests from that point on.

    Your creation would be "moderated" by other random people who have also been granted this benefit, so as to avoid buggy or inappropriate areas, but aside from that, you could do pretty much anything.

    Granted, the MUDs I would play typically only had about 100 people (30-40 who be online at peak times), so managing this amount of new content was relatively easy. MMORPGs would have a harder time dealing with this I'm sure, but it could be done much like /.'s moderation system.

    It made for an ever-expanding and truely dynamic gaming universe, and kept it interesting. Some quests were typical hack-n-slash, others completely story-based, others purely puzzle oriented, and everything inbetween. And by only allowing this ability after reaching a certain point/level in the game, each content-creator was likely to be interesting in extending the game, and not trying to screw it up (of course, this was before Macro's were commonplace, so to reach a high level meant actually playing the game).

    I think I'd actually be interesting in one of these new-fangled graphical MMORPGs if they'd incorporate a similar feature, if only as another creative outlet for me to explore.

  • by stwrtpj (518864) <p.stewart@NOSpaM.comcast.net> on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:46PM (#7302234) Journal
    I spent lots and lots of time playing MUDs

    There were also upmteen different varieties of the MUD that came out, many of which were devoted more to role-playing (RP) than level advancement.

    I was on PernMUSH (based on Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern universe) for 3 years, 2 site changes, and 1 database rebuild. It was a huge timesink for me because it was fun. And the main reason it was fun was because the PLAYERS got to decide what plots to RP. Anyone could come up with a plot, round up enough interested players, and RP it, so long as it fit within the framework of the Pern universe. And more often than not, if it were interesting enough, other players spontaneously joined in after it started.

    Sure, it had places where you could "advance" (you could become a dragonrider, or you could advance in a craft, etc), but in most cases, advancement was determined by other players based more or less on your RP activity rather than arbitrary tasks.

  • by Duncan3 (10537) on Friday October 24, 2003 @01:41PM (#7302760) Homepage
    American MMORPG have quite simply become MMOFPSG. No more roleplaying, way more FPS.

    3-D graphics engines, complex and pointless interface controls, with camera positioning and such of course, blah blah blah. Where are the deep quests the more-then-trivial guild structures and behefits... etc.

    Maybe that's why the largest MMORPGs in the world are still 2-D.

    MMORPG's need WRITERS not more caffine tweaked coders. You know, those creative types geeks are raised to dispise... problem is, THEY make good games.

    And that's why games are so damn lame after the first couple weeks... there really is nothing more to do.
  • by Xentax (201517) on Friday October 24, 2003 @01:47PM (#7302828)
    I've been waiting for a game to include a better player bounty system.

    Obviously, it couldn't be as simple as 'bounty' -- as in, killing the target. But having a game mechanic for players to create 'needs' and for other players to accept the mission(s) to complete them, would be very cool.

    A couple games are starting to at least scratch the surface on this as far as crafting goes -- like SWG's bazaar and vendors (I know, they didn't do it first, but it's the most recent first-hand example I'm drawing from). The flip side -- *ordering* specific items -- isn't quite there yet.

    Add similar capabilities for finding items, killing creatures, finding/capturing/killing players, maybe have the game generate source material for these in the forms of wandering monsters, etc.

    I agree that if there's a solution, player 'driven' if not necessarily 'generated' content is going to be a key part of it. Unfortunately, I don't see much if any such mechanics in the works for the next batch of releases, WoW included.

    Xentax
  • by nahdude812 (88157) on Friday October 24, 2003 @02:02PM (#7302968) Homepage
    I disagree with this. Although I'm less likely to make the initial investment required to play a game which requires a software purchase, plus monthly licensing fees, once I make that crucial purchase, you'd better believe I'm going to be playing it for several months.

    I currently refer to this as the Star Wars Galaxies syndrome. Lots of people paid for a game that was ready for beta 3 when it hit the shelves. They played in a world that was incomplete and buggy, and the initial weeks saw crucial nerf after crucial nerf. To date, there is still a question if they've yet programmed the Jedi class since no one has unlocked it yet. So with all of this, you'd think the world would be totally empty. But it's not. Why? Because people paid $50 or $60 or whatever the price was initially, and they are trying to get their money's worth out of it since they have no chance to get a refund on that money.

    All of the MMORPG's that I've downloaded have resulted in the same thing for me: I've quit after the free trial ended. I don't go for the monthly installment plan, because it doesn't hold my interest that well. It would if I was already invested, but not if I'm not. This is true of Lineage, Rubies of Eventide, and even with Star Wars Galaxies (I was in beta you see, and I didn't buy the game).

    Everquest: I paid for Everquest. And I'm still paying for it. Initially I paid for it to buy the CD in the shiny box. When my free month was up, I hadn't totally made up my mind about the game, but as I was already financially invested, I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound, and let the subscription roll over. By the time I felt I had gotten my initial investment's worth out of it, guess what? I had a level 30-something cleric. No way I'm gonna give THAT up! It's only $10 a month, and still mildly amusing.

    Plus I'm psychologically invested between my progress and the friends I'd hate to say goodbye to. Did I make those friends in my initial month, during the free trial? Nope. The friends I made during that time I'd have been easily able to say goodbye too, it wasn't until I'd spent several months with them on an almost daily basis that they began being worth more than the monthly investment.

    So I might as well keep playing, I have friends and accomplishments here.

    Now it's 3 years later, I have a 61 necromancer with his second level title, a 55 cleric, a 53 druid, a 53 bard, a 36 monk, a 36 ranger, a 36 mage, two accounts, plus my wife's account, plus my brother's account (he pays for it, but lends it to me), plus my brother in law's account (he quit, but I pay for his account since I use it).

    I guarantee, if I hadn't made the initial investment, I'd have quit at the end of the first month. Now every 6 months they're releasing an expansion, and I'm running around buying tons of copies of it for all of my accounts, and paying all those monthly fees. It creeps up on you, but you gotta get them hooked, and that takes more than the free trial period. Oh, and I'm hooked.
  • by Noren (605012) on Friday October 24, 2003 @03:09PM (#7303775)
    In addition to being free to download and having a free 24 hours-of-actual-played-time trial as others have mentioned, A Tale in the Desert [atitd.com] is explicitly intended to have a finite story arc. In theory, it's supposed to last a year, although we're nine months in and as far as I can tell we're about halfway through.

    It is expected that there will be a Second Telling once we win/lose this one. (basically, a complete reset with unspecified changes in world/tech/mechanics/etc.) Many people seem interested in staying after this reset, but it remains to be seen what effect this will have on the player base.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 24, 2003 @03:24PM (#7303967)
    The problem - punk high school kids can spend upteen hours a day playing, and you, as an adult with a job cannot. Therefore you must put up with punk kids operating at 1,000,000th level, while you are putzing around killing rats trying to achieve 3rd level (finally!).

    The solution - age the characters online. If your online persona aged and _lost_ str, dex, etc as they aged, quality time would be worth more than quantity time. If your character aged at, say 1 month per hour online, and died of old age somewhere around 80 years old, you'd get around maybe 500 hours of useful active character life, after which you could still spend another 200 hours or so boasting and showing off the scars, etc.

    This is not entirely new. Remember good old addictive Pirates! forced you into retirement after you'd spent a certain number of years chasing galleons around the Caribean.

    Death is such a great way of slowing down the accretion of wealth in the hands of the few. The kids mostly blow the wad...
  • comments from a gm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by humankind (704050) on Friday October 24, 2003 @04:18PM (#7304442) Journal
    As an ex-senior guide from Everquest, I'd like to add a few things to the discussion. The lion's share of online "helpers" are often volunteers; players like everyone else, that often field abuse from frustrated players. We ourselves are just as frustrated, but we just can't show it (hopefully).

    I agree with much that has been said on the issue, though I think Everquest is far and away the best and most successful MMORPG. Star Wars Galaxies turned out to be hugely anticlimactic. What makes EQ work are IMO, the core of solid low and mid-level people involved. The problem with most of the user's gripes are related to issues beyond the control of those who really have the ideas and the willingness to make the game more enjoyable.

    A good example of this is with real-time GM events. As quest coordinator for my server, I pushed very hard to add more dynamic, interesting content to Everquest. But we were very limited to certain confines as far as what quests we could run, and most importantly, limited to very substandard rewards that could be given away. As a result of the mediocre rewards, many players would groan at the discovery of a GM event because they knew it would not be worth it.

    This frustrated the GMs even more than the players, and resulted in morale loss across the board, as well as less enthusiasm to run events, which is why you don't see many, and when you do, they're lame. There's nothing more disappointing than participating in an event and getting a reward that you would sell to a merchant rather than use. But we couldn't do anything about it.

    To make matters worse, most volunteer GMs share all the same frustrations, but are afraid to publicly voice much opposition, even among their peers for fear of being excommunicated from the privileged fold. As a result, things don't change much.
  • try eve-online.com (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Crass Spektakel (4597) on Friday October 24, 2003 @04:33PM (#7304572) Homepage
    EVE may seem like an MORPG at first glance, but it isn't. Its more a revival of those Massive-Online-Tabletop-Spaceoperas some may remember from early 1990 BBS-Games like Tradewars, Outpost-Trader etcpp - I'll call that MOTSO. Sure, you can learn skills, but you just learn them by buying and letting them run while you are playing. And those skills are not uberpowerfull - they mostly add 10% to 50% to some skills - so three wellworking n00bs can easily beat someone playing for months.

    This game doesn't involve stupid "macro-woodwork to get a good working-level". It makes no claims that YOU are the hero, because you most likely aren't.

    Have you ever tried as a level one character to join a level 65 party? Well, in EVE you may succeed: You keep a bit back, play the mule but still are a vital part of your party.

    Actually the GMs do not show up much and still nobody really misses them. Most gameplay is evolving out of the many corporations, megacorporations and superpower-alliances. So the universe is run by the players, not by some mostly ignorant admins.

    Even the economy works pretty well. Ok, there is lots of Basic-Items sold by NPCs, also NPCs are buying here and selling there, but everything beyond food and Coke (Quafe in EVE) is available for better conditions from players.
  • by Carnivorous Carrot (571280) on Friday October 24, 2003 @05:55PM (#7305199)
    I found a MUD once where, golly, your starting stats actually made a difference. You could, minimax style, crank up the str of your troll and actually walk out the gate and kill things much tougher than you if you left the strength normal putting it into other stats.

    If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't bother replying. Mudconnector sucks in this respect.

    I don't wanna have a tough time with rats. I wanna crank up a troll and an ogre, chain them together, and go kill the level 14 blue armored guard standing out in the cross roads area.

    I remember when EQ started, my dwarf fighter was sucking at the crossroads, and cloth armor drops were so nonexistant I was mostly naked at level 7, so I built a "gigantic ogre with maxxed strength".

    I remember shouting how, at level 1, I was tough enough to kill a yellow thing! Someone replied they, a caster, could kill reds. OMFFFFFFG! Ahahahahahahahahahahah! Casters could kill reds. :(

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