Reply To: Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games

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This is a pretty enlightening discussion. I have really enjoyed reading everybody’s thoughts.

The major hurdle that would have to be overcome in order for a MMOAG to be successful is the fact that so far, nobody has really been able to translate a good storyline past the single-player experience – and an adventure game has nothing without a story.

My experience with MMORPGs is limited to a few years of Ultima Online and a couple weeks of Star Wars Galaxies. The Star Wars and Ultima worlds both have very rich histories to draw upon in attempting to write compelling story content, but from what I have seen, any attempts to do so in those two MMORPGs have fallen flat for a number of reasons:

– The majority of the people playing the game aren’t role-players, and simply don’t care.
– Players generally aren’t lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see unannounced events.
– Many people avoid attending announced events due to lag and the presence of grief players.
– With the vast number of players in the game, one person can’t truly have any impact on the story, making the whole thing feel more like you’re watching a play or movie than actually taking part.

So how do you take a story, make it massive, and be successful? I don’t think it’s possible. Even if you could do it, you’ll never get around the fact that a large part of the game’s population will be k3w1 d00dz with little interest in role-playing, which can really kill your suspension of disbelief. You can’t force RP on players and expect to still be financially successful, and you can’t write a quality story on a massive scale. I have possible solutions for these issues, though.

How do you make players role-play and feel like they are part of a story without needing to ham it up like a stereotypical role-player would? Set the game in the real world, where the “character” you “play” is you. This would also carve out a niche for the game, in a field where everybody else is doing Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

I have much knowledge of today’s Ultima Online “dungeon crawl” – Recall to a Blood Elemental spawn area and compete with five other guys for the three Elementals, rinse and repeat, and hope for the best magic loot to drop. OSI didn’t even try to counter this trend – instead they created a dungeon specifically for the item farmers. Now, you can spend days if you like, competing with fifty other guys for a 0.0001% chance at a rare item! Recently developers seem to have realized how un-fun this can become and have invented “instanced dungeons” – random dungeons that spawn just for you and your buddies, so you can enjoy a good crawl whenever you want, and in your own way. Now think about the way that you used to enjoy adventure games, and imagine how this concept could be utilized to take adventure games into the multiplayer realm.

I enjoy playing adventure games alone, sure, but the best times I’ve ever had playing an adventure game were when I was with a few family members or friends, everyone brainstorming ideas for how to get past the puzzle at hand. It wouldn’t be so difficult to make this work online by giving each player an avatar to control. You make the adventure game multiplayer, just not massive.

Rather than having one major story arch, the game could be episodic in nature. In fact, a police theme would lend itself very well to this format – imagine Police Quest, but with a squad of four or five people instead of just yourself. An episode could involve any of a million situations drawn from real life – from basic patrolling to recovering stolen vehicles, drug busts, or tracking down a murderer.

For maximum realism, it might be necessary to employ a simple combat engine (minus any kind of stats or levelling). We’ll not let realism get in the way of fun though, and say that nobody can die, but will rather be incapacited and hospitalized until the end of the mission should they get shot. You might also give people the opportunity to play the bad guy instead of joining the police force.

To make players feel like they are part of a larger world, you could name your servers after various larger and smaller American cities, with each town’s crime rate being tracked for all to see.

I’m not sure whether this idea would satisfy adventure purists, or whether it would be successful long-term, but I don’t think anything like it has been tried before and it’s about as close to a multi-player adventure game as I think you could get.