So, I’ve been very critical of quite a few things here in the gaming space lately. I almost feel bad for my treatment of Marvel Heroes, and then I remember how it treated me. I’ve also lobbed a mountain of criticism at consoles and a few other things here and there. I suppose it’s time to start talking about what makes a good game. A tough subject, not the least of which because it’s so personal. What I like may not be what you like and vice versa. Still, I think it’s reasonable to set some expectations and try to explain what I think makes a good game. At least this way, you have a better idea of where I’m coming from and what I consider to be quality. So let’s start with MMO’s and what I think they need to be or have, in order to get me to invest in them heavily.
First off, a good MMO should be a social game. It should be easy to make friends and easy to team. The fewer barriers to teaming the better. You auto-level to a mission owner’s level and everyone gets the mission bonus if they’re running it together. These are no-brainer concepts that the MMO industry STILL can’t wrap their heads around. Even some of the older game makers who were doing this, seem to have forgotten how important this is.
Second, a good MMO should let me feel like my character is unique amongst the sea of characters that exist in it. Given the customization options available in many games these days, there’s really no excuse for this any more. Can I make the character I want to make, or do I just have to make what one artist thinks I should look like? If I can do the math in my head to figure out how many costume options your creator allows me to start with, then you don’t have enough. If you tie your appearance into gear, then the gear should be easily accessible to all. And I don’t mean accessible via a quest, I mean accessible via a vendor. Otherwise you need to rethink how you do gear.
The third thing a good MMO should be, is a framework for the adventures of my hero. I should be the center of the story. This is in my opinion something that’s more important than the teaming and customization things but harder to explain (never mind execute on). A good MMO should not just let me make a character, but make a story with that character in the world that it exists in. This should be my story and particular not just to me but to the character I’m playing, at that moment. Too many other games let you take part in the story of the game that the Devs are telling, but at the end of the day, you’re not what the story is really about. They may call you a hero and let you feel like you’re contributing, but are you? Or are you just meat for the grinder that the world NPC’s send you into while they sit back and reap the rewards for all your hard work? NPC’s should NEED me. And I don’t mean need me to do some fetch quest, but NEED me in order to survive. They should make me feel like I’m the most important person on the planet. Nothing is worse then a contact you walk up to who is a drill sergeant that decides the best way to enlist your help is to insult you, tell you you’re the worst he’s ever seen, and then send you off to collect pelts for 2 hours along with every other idiot who wanders too close to him.
Gameplay itself can contribute to this in a profound way. Does the game let me feel like a hero as I play through it? Do I face insurmountable odds and come out on top? Both solo and cooperatively? Is the story crafted around me to make me feel like it’s all on me? Are my abilities commensurate to my status? Or am I still using the same pea shooter I had at level 1 with just a fancy + number at the end of it and a different look then what I started with? Am I running the same quests along with 4 other players, in an open game world where everyone else is playing at exactly the same time? Is it an epic battle for survival or an epic battle to finish before a high-level character wanders over and kill steals the mob in the epic race against non-epicness that I feel whenever I see a high-level character blow past me?
The theme in all of this, is ultimately the ability to have a custom experience. The ability to craft an adventure and story that is unique to myself, yet sharable with others. Something that sounds opposite on first pass, but if you look closer, you can see that it’s no good to be the hero of your story if no one else is watching. These are the kinds of experiences I’m looking for in an MMO, and this is what I consider to be good. Or at least, the important things I think an MMO should strive for. Many MMO’s have tried for this, but many fall flat. They miss one or two key components (or almost all of them) and never quite stand up. Will the next gen MMO’s get this right? Will they get what I see as a true quality experience and strive to provide it? Or will it be more of the same bland do this and follow that and you’ll get gear and rewards beyond your wildest dreams while the events of the universe carry on without you and without any weight from your actions whatsoever. Oh and those rewards? Next patch they’ll be worthless. Carry on.
Not good enough. There are games that have come before that do all I describe above and more. There’s no reason we can’t get there again. But I’m still waiting.