Massively Multiplayer Online. This genre has split off into many sub-genres from role-playing to first-person and, recently the real-time strategy for the independent community. These games number in the hundreds of thousands and they fall just as quickly with only a small player-base due to imitators or a poor use of a pay-and-play system which fails to impress. These imitators attempt to change the experience in other ways-like setting or character-based narrative-but the result is very much the same: A single-player experience for a small time with a limited amount of player interaction leading into a necessity for group play. Generally over twenty to thirty players in order to be effective and an interesting experience for the players to actually survive. It was an effective business model for Everquest and World of Warcraft both, but the gaming public has grown bored with it.
So, what is the method to take now? While single-player and multi-player aspects to those games may move on in other field, the dedicated multi-player game is doing the same old stuff and the players are bored with it. Guild Wars did something more interesting by making tactical combat a requirement for progression. You had to use your skills the right way and support your teammates in a manner where every class was useful and every party setup could function as long as the specific class knew what they were doing. In World of Warcraft, every role could function as different roles, but some roles were considered more valuable than others and were scrapped in party creation over those specific roles instead. When the dedicated healer is being thrown away for the off-tank healer who can apparently heal more than the dedicated healer? Something is very wrong here.
So, what can be done? I think a good idea can come from single-player games, actually. Bioware seems to understand that with Star Wars: The Old Republic, one of the few MMORPGs I’m actually looking forward to. While the battle system is going to be quicker and more like Mass Effect in terms of tactical combat in real-time, there is still a number of items and effects used to make your character interesting and powerful as you move along. Many of the game’s ideas come from the single player RPG Knights of the Old Republic. Character interaction and exploration of the world as well as the people involved will take as much precedence as the combat. The downloadable adventures have already been given a great deal more care and interest than a normal adventure in these games. Also, it is more than possible to play the game on your own with a well-prepared party of computer-controlled allies who have personalities and a over-arching back story which the player might relate to. World of Warcraft has many quests for sure, but none of them draw the player in except for beating up enemies over and over again.
A new form of multiplayer game is known as the real-time strategy. While these games certainly had multiplayer elements before, the dedicated multiplayer strategy game makes you work for your victories and even your failures. Points for purchase are rewarded despite the win-loss condition to simulate a pyrrhic victory or bittersweet defeat, but the problem arises: shouldn’t you earn something more for winning? Upgrades and spendable points for more effects or visual uniqueness is a good start and something used quite often in these kinds of games, but another possibility rests in unlockable single-player missions to use new units or to just improve the player’s interest in the overall world and the story. The only way to unlock these features would be through playing the game and improving your skills against other players or computer-controlled enemies. Another idea comes from what happens after such a game is completed; extra resources or bonuses that are significant take effect after completion of a map. Such access could be bought with points to make each player unique from another and their combat style to be unique for any given situation.
Well, there are other kinds of multiplayer games…specifically a genre which has really jumped all over the place. The MMO-First Person Shooter. However, that is becoming so pervasive a game type that I am going to trigger a whole article on that one; there are a lot of good things going on in that genre, but a number of similarities have started to emerge that make for a depressing cycle of gameplay that can become boring. With the next Genre Outlook, we will look at ways to make the games more original and engaging despite the fact that shooting imaginary guns at one another is still somewhat interesting. See you then.