This does tie in directly to WoW - Blizzard's direction - and MMO's. I thought it was a great read.
Article here: http://www.wolfsheadonline.com/everq...e-again/#50471
1. Harsh Death Penalty and Corpse Runs
Death in a fantasy virtual world needs to have serious consequences. Without a tangible death penalty players will never respect your virtual world. Substantive loss such as experience and requiring players to retrieve their corpses is a basic requirement of bringing back that EverQuest magic. Without the possibility of loss, a virtual world becomes a safe amusement park. Let’s also not forget that a death penalty can be mitigated by player resurrections and corpse finding abilities given to special classes — both are class interdependence design elements that help to strengthen the community.
Failure is not bad; in fact it makes us better players. Pandering creates lazy and inept players. Sure, some players will hate a MMO company that brings back a harsh death penalty but that is the price of leadership. You’re not here to be popular; you’re here to make the very best virtual world! Uneasy lies head that wears the crown. Better to be hated by many, loved by a few and respected by all.
2. Grouping Must be Encouraged and Soloing Must be Discouraged.
There is no way around the fundamental requirement that at it’s core a fantasy MMORPG should to encourage and promote that players form groups and experience the world together. SOE should reward groups of 2, 3, 4 and more players that band together and give them a synergistic advantage based on complementary class abilities. Grouping creates community. Soloing destroys community.
Needing to group also creates a much better community and better players. Players who behave like idiots soon find out that their reputation will precede them and they won’t get groups. Without groups, they can’t progress. Little Johnny learns a lesson that he has to behave considerately or he will never get a group.
Allowing easy soloing to the level cap will simply not work and will trivialize the entire world. Players already have scores of MMOs and video games they can play if they are looking for a single player video game. Be bold SOE. Do not give in!
3. Stop the Hero Crap I think at this point the MMO community is really sick and tired of being spoon fed false praise and constantly told we are HEROES. It’s insulting to our intelligence. EQ Next devs need to focus on the we instead of the me. WoW style quests are a big part of the problem here as they continually force feed players the hero self-esteem mantra. People already get enough bogus self-esteem from parents, teachers and politicians. Telling players they are special breeds self-centered players instead of community-centered players. True heroism is its own reward and a real hero doesn’t require a Flaming Sword of Doom for killing 10 rats.
4. Let Players Form their Own Memories and Make their Own Stories
With WoW, the story became the focal point. The quest designers and storytellers dictated how players should act. Players were herded into an episodic narrative that has no deviation and only one outcome. Players became puppets that blindly went from golden question mark to golden question mark doing the bidding of the quest designer.
Force feeding players stories and that are not their own and instead driving them into the box of contrived narratives is a recipe for disaster and erodes the cooperative spirit which is the bedrock of creating a good community. This is what Blizzard has been doing for years and they have the worst player community in MMO history to show for it.
5. Quests Should Be Rare and Special
EverQuest had precious few quests and the ones that did exist actually meant something. Just surviving the harsh world was reward enough. Rarely were there WoW style “to do lists” WoW that distracted players. Nothing will kill EQ Next faster than if SOE inundates players with endless tutorials and quests. Solo quests kill community! Quests have become their own form of transactional grinding in most MMOs that copied WoW.
If there have to be quests, then don’t make obtaining them easy; make players work hard for them by allowing extensive and meaningful two-way conversations with NPCs. With the integration of Storybricks technology hopefully there will be significant opportunity for this to happen.
Also, put expiry times on quests. Give special quests for groups only. Quests should make sense and have a legitimate reason for being completed. If Farmer Brown needs a bucket of water then don’t give thousands of other players the same quest. Make tasks applicable to the NPCs and to the immediate situation around them. If a dragon is burning down the village, don’t allow an NPC to give a quest that has the player going out to collect flowers in the fields.
6. No Instancing
If I were to blame one single feature for the devastation of the MMO genre it would be instancing. Instancing has been a cancer for MMOs. It’s a design cop out. Nothing has destroyed community and the sense of immersion more than the scourge of instancing. Instancing is an abomination to the notion of status. Instancing is a form of virtual world socialism where everyone is entitled to the same content. Instancing creates a sense of entitlement within players.
You can’t have Lord Nagafen — the famous Norrathian dragon — being simultaneously killed hundreds of times each night and thousands of times each week and expect that to not erode the sense of accomplishment for killing a dragon. Instancing is really a virtual world within a virtual world. Instancing is responsible for a host of evils in MMORPGs: it separates players from each other, it creates barriers, it impedes freedom, it devalues achievements and status, it encourages farming and creates a glut of loot. Community dungeons MUST be brought back into EQ Next!
7. Player Drama and Conflict is Good **
Both Blizzard and SOE, with WoW and EQ2 fell into the philosophical trap that held that eliminating player conflict was a good thing in a virtual world. They foolishly believed that when players disagree and fight over various things like contested spawns and resources, kill stealing, and trains that it was a bad thing and the game needed to have built in anti-exploit/anti-conflict mechanics built in to stop it. This had the unintended consequences of sanitizing the MMO and treating players like prisoners by taking away their freedoms. As this MMO design malpractice continued, suddenly trains stopped as mobs were put on leashes. You could no longer attack a guard or member of your own faction.
How a MMO studio can promote a rich fantasy world full of drama and conflict on one hand but be against it within the ranks of your playerbase on the other hand is mind-boggling. Emergent gameplay is all about letting the players work it out on their own. Freedom should be promoted instead of curtailed. Players should be allowed to police themselves. Instead of banning griefers, turn them into outlaws. Prevent them from entering cities and banking. Put bounties on their heads that law abiding players can claim.
Allowing conflict will require more GMs but it’s worth it. I want to be part of a world where there is drama and intrigue going on with players. After all this is supposed to be a massively multiplayer online role-playing game not a supervised day care center.
8. No Easy Travel
Nothing makes a world smaller than providing fast means of travel. This is true for the real world as it is true for virtual worlds. Easy travel trivializes all of the hard work that environment artists and world builders and designers put into all of the zones.
Fast travel should only be made available to players via special classes such as wizard and druids. This has the wonderful side-effect of promoting class worth and class interdependence. Another benefit was that players would congregate around druid rings and wizard portals areas in hopes of getting ports. Travel buffs such as the Spirit of Wolf should only be available from select classes as well. Again this encourages class interdependence.
Absolutely no flying mounts for players either. Insta-portals such as the ones that the original EQ had in the Plane of Knowledge were a disaster and made Norrath into a joke. Mounts should only be available at the highest of levels.
Learning the Lessons from the Present
The most obvious lesson culled from the present day is that because of the success of Blizzard’s WoW, players now rightly expect a minimum level of polish in their MMOs. One area that SOE has continually dropped the ball on this issue in their current line-up of MMOs is the creation of hideous character avatars and the failure to update them.
Another lesson I would emulate from Blizzard is that the world along with combat has to be visually exciting and interesting.
The last Blizzard related lesson is this: don’t remake WoW in any shape or form. According to Smed they have learned that lesson. We shall see.
SOE has also learned another important lesson: free-to-play is here to stay and is now the optimum method of MMO monetization. The problem remains: how can they implement it with integrity and without offending the players and cheapening accomplishments and avoiding the “pay to win” dilemma.
A Dynamic World with Dynamic NPCs
But a bigger question is WHY NOT? For example, why don’t we have a virtual world where there is true dynamic content instead of the scripted content we have today?
Why can’t we have dynamic content that responds to the actions or inactions of players? Content such as NPCs, structures found in towns and cities and even nature itself should all be dynamic — buildable and destructible. EQ Next should have landscapes that reflect the seasons as well. We have the technology today to pull this off.
Resources should play a big part in a dynamic world. Food and water should be leveraged as a basic commodity subject to supply and demand– you can build an entire fantasy virtual world around that alone! For example, players could engage in hunting and gathering to keep villagers fed and clothed. If players can help the villagers achieve a certain level of prosperity then the villagers can send more recruits to the feudal lord. If the feudal lord has more soldiers, mages resources, they can protect the villagers actually expand the boundaries of the kingdom. Bring in the importance of other resources such as ore and wood and crafted goods. Of course all of this should fluctuate depending on the level of involvement by the players.
If players choose not to help, the town dies and the feudal lord’s kingdom goes into decline. Seeing weakness orcs and bandits rise from the shadows and dungeons and oppress the villagers and chaos runs through the countryside and to the very gates of the kingdom. Who would not want to be involved in a dynamic world where the contribution of every player was not valued and needed?
One final thought on a dynamic virtual world is that the players alone should control the destiny of their worlds. Stop with the fixed plot lines dictated from on high that every player must conform to. The best example of this is in MMOs like WoW where the story of each expansion is predetermined as the big bad boss of the expansion is destined to die about 2 years into the expansion. This is what happened in Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm. What if the players can’t or choose not to kill the uber boss? Why does every server have to have the same outcome?
It’s time to stop the on-rails mentality of current MMO design and allow emergent player behavior in a completely dynamic world.
A Final Warning
I’m fearful that as EQ Next progresses into the future, SOE will fall into the trap of pandering to the ultra-achiever types — you know them as the uber-guild types, the min-maxers, the theory crafters, the number crunchers. The very same thing happened to the original EverQuest. SOE made the mistake of turning EverQuest into a raiding loot fest and forgot about other types of players such as explorers, socializers, killers and role-players.
Ultra-achievers tend to make the most noise in any MMORPG and since they usually kill the most high level and prestige NPC’s they get an disproportionate amount of attention from the devs because these are the players that are defeating the premiere content they created. Devs should resist the temptation to behave like groupies, think about the fans in the audience, not the rock stars on the stage. In other words, make content for everybody!
Another warning I have for devs is they need to be vigilant about going too far in the opposite direction and avoid creating an entitlement culture that has saturated most MMOs these days. Being a part of a virtual world is a privilege, not a right. Too many developers in the past — such as Blizzard — have given away the farm in a misguided effort to appease players. In the process they have devalued their own creations by making them so accessible as to be utterly meaningless which is why subscribers are fleeing in droves worldwide.
Think long-term, not short-term.