Thursday, March 13, 2008

Which MMO would I unmake

Tipa posted another one of her great question posts today. This time she asks if we could erase one MMO which one would it be? See her full post here. She wants to unmake Dungeons and Dragons because she feels like it forced stat heavy MMOs on us and killed creativity. I share her frustration with ExelMOs but disagree about why we have them.
Because the players had to roll the dice and the DM had to figure the results himself the numbers had to be upfront in D+D. Players had to know how much damage they did and how many hitpoints they had left.
The same was true of many of the early computer RPGs. To know how many hitpoints they had left because there was no way to represent it graphically. However these days are gone. There is absolutely no reason for this anymore. Computers can give us qualitative clues to our condition instead of quantitative information. Allowing the players to know their exact strength and damage is, first of all, unrealistic and, second, counterproductive. By supplying large amounts of quantitative data to players we signal that numbers are the most important thing. We give players the ability to parse their performance and the performance of others and determine the "best possible path".
I think the main problem with MMOs is that players should not have all this numerical data, they do not need it and it is couter-immersive. They are always going to be numbers games due to the fact that they are computer games and this is the way computers do things. Even if we distill it down to whether or not they have a skill it is still a numbers game either you have a 1 in the skill or a zero. There are really no good ways to do combat in an interesting fashion without the numbers to some extent. But the players don't need to see the numbers. We can leave them guessing. Street Fighter has numerical values for its health and attacks but we are barely aware of them and it is far more immersive for it.
I think the other major problem with MMOs has nothing to do with their roots in D+D but the solution comes straight from D+D. The problem with MMOs isn't that they are like D+D it's how they are unlike D+D. They are like one of the cheap boardgame knockoffs that have cropped up over the years with a limited number of scenarios. MMOs can't make everyone feel like a hero because the designers cannot make enough content for everyone to have their own personal moment of glory. Computer generated content of real quality is still too far off. The answer is to do what made D+D so successful: player generated content.
There are many ways to do this, the obvious one is to allow players to build dungeons and make quests themselves. But other MMOs have been utilizing player generated content without givng content creation tools to the players. Games like EVE and UO managed to harness the actions of the player community with complex systems to continually generate things for the players to do.

So what MMO would I erase? One of my favorites: Everquest Why? It set the standard for putting the numbers up front.

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