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I was going to post on the AoC forums after reading some garbage posts about why MMO's suck ass (and yet the poster has played like 7 of them - they suck but he keeps going back…whatever) but it just turned into a flame fest. I thought I could get better feedback here (*cough* Koal!)
One poster said that MMO's are too focused on end game - people fly through the game missing a lot, just to get to end game and then complain that there isn't enough to do.
My thoughts, which all have flaws but deal with it:
1. Force players to slow down. It would piss people off if it was too extreme, but put a cap on the number of levels you gain based on /played time, or real time. So 10 levels in a week max or something. It forces players to actually look around and explore, they'll actually do the dungeons appropriate for their level instead of grinding on to the next level and not grouping ever. Casual players it wouldn't really affect at all other than having more people at their level to group with. Hardcore would probably bitch, whine, and moan, but they would get over it - would alleviate the nothing to do cries too soon. But like I said you couldn't make the restriction too extreme.
2. Allow players the option of leveling up. I like leveling characters up and doing all the dungeons along the way, having mediocre groups but working through it. End game everyone is max level so there isn't a level challenge in dungeons. But when you try and do gnomer with a bunch of level 25's (smart ones….) it can be a fun challenge. The problem is if you want to stay at the level to explore the region more, you can't. I hated it when I would out level a region before finishing the quests there. Why not allow a player the option of "Hey you could level up to 24 now if you want, or you can wait a while, and then go to 24." One issue I thought of is twinking - since you could do <insert instance here> for <uber weapon of death> 500 times until you got it and not worry about hitting level 20. But once they reach the level 20 option, give them a certain period of time to stay at that level if they choose, and after say a week, force them to the next level if they haven't moved on (Told you my ideas were flawed!).
Somebody else was complaining about mmo's being 'tank - dps - healers' which it is, but what else are you going to do? You need healers - if you had no healing in the game, then the fights would be no strategy at all - it would be "lets all hit this dragon and hope that we hit harder than he does." If you had a smart dragon that ignored a tank and went for the healers (as a smart dragon would do!) then everyone would complain that the encounters were too hard blah blah. They need the 'tank dps healer' system, but with more creative encounters. Like a boss that focused on the tank, but had an ability to tail swipe the healers when they pissed him off (not pulling aggro, just like an interrupt).
I've thought a lot about the whole leveling thing. Characters need a way to advance, some sort of progression arc so that you have a sense of accomplishment. Capping based on /played wouldn't really help things since people would find ways to keep their characters logged in 24/7 or bitch endlessly about the arbitrary constraints.
Leveling all players at the exact same rate (ed: capping max level based on real time) is somewhat better but if you have finished all the content of a particular area but cant move ahead because you aren't high enough level yet it is also a problem. That could also present an opportunity though. It may create new incentives to group up. People at the front end of the leveling curve may be motivated to join forces and work through more advanced regions. It would create an interesting community. Casual players could group or solo as they wanted since their level would meet or exceed the difficulty of the regions they were in. The more focused players would be compelled to group up to advance into more difficult zones. You would need to avoid level restrictions on loot or else the higher level content wouldn't be of much use.
I think ultimately someone will have to come up with a system that doesn't rely on levels or at least one where the content is consistent from the earliest levels to the highest. No sudden changes in game content or opportunities for game play based on reaching a certain level of advancement. One idea that has been talked about was a system where the only difference between new players and veterans would be veterans have more skills and abilities available for use than the new players but there wouldn't be vast differences in health or dps.
No matter what sort of system a game uses developers must be prepared to serve up a constant stream of new content to keep players interested. I've talked before about using a system that would bring new regions/content into a game while cycling old regions out for a facelift to be re-introduced later. If you ever heard of the old D&D game Ravenloft it could work like that. In Ravenloft each part of the world existed in it's own isolated region fenced off from the rest by a cloud of fog. Now and then paths would appear in the fog that let people move to new places and old ones would disappear in the mist. Regions that were well used and familiar could be taken out of the game when new content was added. While it was unavailable developers could re-use that content to create new experiences for players so that when the area was put back in further down the road players would have places that were both familiar and different. They would create a sense of continuity and a sense of change or evolution at the same time. Something like this would make it easier to create new material for the game while simultaneously allow the developer to keep the world small enough to feel populated as new zones are added w/o becoming overcrowded. The physical size of the world could expand or contract as player populations rose and fell.
Having the option to level up or not is an idea whose time has come. If you've read up on WAR on their website or listened to the podcasts you know that they have split RvR content into different tiers spanning different level ranges. There will undoubtedly be players who find themselves at the maximum level for their tier who don't want to advance to the minimum level for the next. We get a glimpse of that when someone threatens to apply xp rewards to WoW pvp. To some people that means the end of the world since they would end up being pushed out of their BG bracket and have to level up and reequip for the next one.
Nearly all MMORPG's are based around the holy trinity of tank, healer and dps but I think it's time to slaughter that sacred cow. It's a good, reliable vehicle for providing players with a tangible mechanic for working together but it also pigeon holes people into very narrow and restrictive roles. How many times were we stuck because we didn't have x amount of a certain class? or were forced to tell people they had to sit out because we had to many x,y, or z already? How often are players unable to find groups because they can't find a tank, healer, or whatever the game's "bitch" class happens to be. You know the one. It's the class you can't get by without but hardly anyone wants to play because it just isn't any fun.
The next really great MMO will be the one that finds a way to eliminate the 'bitch' class and let people play how they want to play w/o being restricted by clichéd archtypes. You worry about loosing the familiar structure of combat but other mechanics can be provided that will create new structures. Instead of one person tanking the boss while five others play whack-a-mole with health bars everyone should be involved in the fight. In books and movies the battles don't work the way they do in games. What happens is everyone tries to fight while at the same time covering each other's ass. Give all players some ability that works like taunt to distract an enemy from killing their buddy and others should get a guard ability to shield each other form damage. Another mechanic that could work is the 'save' where one player pushes/pulls another out of harm's way. Combat in such a game would be much different than we are used to. There would be no such thing as 'tank and spank' and everyone would be responsible for everyone else not just a handful of dedicated healers. Healing could still have a place in the game but not the endless health pumps that are in use now. Instead healing could be used to recover after a fight or prevent people from dying from wounds they had received. It could also be a way of helping injured comrades back on their feet and into the fight or escape the fight entirely.
There are a fair number of games that don't use the tank/healer/dps model or don't rely on it as heavily. Anarchy Online, Asheron's Call, SWG (at least the version I beta tested), and Tabula Rasa are all examples. That kind of model can provide game play just as fun and entertaining as the trinity model but is more difficult to tune to the 99th percentile the way WoW and EQ raid encounters are. Even games like Diablo managed to have very fun group oriented play without relying on those old stereotypes. In fact, that I think is the key. Diablo worked because it was designed to be fun as both a single player game and as a multiplayer game. All content worked for both types of play with no distinction or separation between them. Games like EQ and WoW talk about creating single player content on one hand and providing group content on the other as completely distinct entities and I think that's where they ultimately begin to fail. In the end developers need to provide two or three types of content all based around different, often conflicting, concepts with little or no crossover between them. This means they have to devote two or three times the resources to keeping players entertained than if they only had to work on one type of content that fulfilled the needs of all types of players.
The old models are pretty heavily entrenched but there are still lots of ways the genre can be improved. WoW changed the way people approached an MMO and altered player's expectations. Hopefully it will motivate developers to look for new ways to innovate when designing games to compete with it and not create a monolithic standard that everyone is too scared to break free of.