Tuesday, November 22, 2011

That Skyrim MMO

In the last ten days there were two kinds of posts. The one kind said that there should be a MMO like Skyrim. The other said that this wouldn't work. I agree with both.

Consequently, instead of describing how Skyrim can be transformed into a MMO, I will outline what the genuine desire for a “MMO like Skyrim” means.

Players like a fantasy world which takes itself seriously.

There is a constant desire among developers to make fun of the lore they create. This is quite understandable considering that the developers work on these games for many, many years. They are often burned out the moment the games are released. But the players are not.

You can compare this with a politician who tells the audience how broken politics are. This strategy always succeeds at getting applause. But it just never succeeds at winning elections (and rightfully so!). Players will laugh if a fantasy MMO makes fun of itself but ultimately they will always buy the one that takes itself seriously (if available).

Players like reasonably scaled graphics. The “fiery doomsday sword of man-slaying” with 13 skulls dancing around its tip is inferior to the beautiful 'semi-realistic' design - less is more. You will marvel at the consequences of transmogrification, Blizzard!

Logical thinking is not as important as to keep the player's mind busy with emotions. This is a sad thing to say, I think. But it's simply true. The time when games for the mass market required you to think are gone. The internet had its part in that.

If you like Skyrim then for many reasons but certainly not because you need to be smart to play it. This fits nicely into Blizzard's current philosophy to make every choice about style. In this case Skyrim extrapolates a development WoW goes through!

Over seven million players are willing to learn ridiculous controls to play a PC game on a console. Some even learn the controls once this PC game is ported back to the PC platform. Ergo: there is no reason to implement click-to-move controls into WoW. It's ok to teach players how to play the game. It's ok to make them learn to play their char the right way.

There is no need for steering with arrow keys instead of the mouse. This isn't blogged about very often but it is a main reason why players perform so differently in WoW. The many different ways to control a char make balancing very difficult and among other things causes the leveling/endgame rift.

Narratives which are scattered all over the world are superior to one singular story. Blizzard already acknowledged this with MoP when they announced to make a 180 degree turnaround back to vanilla WoW. Exploration rules! The world can never be too large.

Procedurally-generated content is inferior as of yet. The money should instead flow into tools that allow professional content creators to create content (like dungeons) more efficiently. Following this route long enough will eventually lead to completely procedurally-generated content, anyway.

Theorycrafters will always exist. But you don't need to cater to them. Hiding numbers can work.

The mass market loves housing!

Annoying pop-up achievements, silly pets and exotic mounts are unnecessary. Thank god!

Rethink character power progression! I'll go into this in a future post.

Minimaps are not mandatory.


  1. I'll tell you why I personally wouldn't want a "Skyrim MMO" Nils; I think a world like that could work perfectly online, I can see a Skyrim co-op where friends simply meet up to travel together, do a few quests cooperatively, craft a little, decorate their houses etc.

    ...but I'd never want the beautiful world of Skyrim overrun by hundreds of people - ever. I wouldn't play it.
    even less would I want to share that world with the type of "where are the raids? the achievements? the loots?"-players, asking for auction houses and PvP and whatnot because any online game needs to be like WoW.

    No thanks :)

  2. First the meta questions:

    You don't say whether your goals are the "best" MMO, the best theoretical AAA (i.e. mass market) MMO, or a mass market/AAA in the existing world. The goals are different. The difference between 1 & 2 is regardless of how well the critics at GDC rave, Darkfall/EVE will never make a AAA title.

    In spite of the theoretical preferences, we live in a world that has been doing EQ/WOW/Rift/TOR for nearly a decade and that creates expectations from customers about pricing, CP, leveling, crafts, RMT, etc. If Nils your Immersion and Fun consultant correctly says that (made up examples) mass looting is bad and sparse public player population due to housing is bad and your market researchers say that competitors have the features and players want and expect it, what do you do? There is no correct answer, at least until you decide on the goals of the game. My guess is you could make a "better" game if you throw off many of the assumptions of the last decade - but it probably would not be as profitable as if you do not jar players expectations too much.

    My biggest response was an immediate and visceral negative response to #4. I can't conceive of playing an MMO without arrow keys. No arrow keys, like the Skyrim FPV, I assume is the game vendor signaling to me that this is not a game for me. Which does not make it a bad game, but may indicate it will have a harder time becoming an AAA sized MMO.

    The more homogeneous you make your target audience, the smaller it is but the better of game you can make for them. You can't make a game by and for under 22 male console owners and then get the sales numbers as if you also appealed to parents, women, non FPS, PVE or older players. But you can't make a game the segment (can you call a market the size of CoD a niche ) loves as much if you also spend resources on appealing to the broader market.

    #5 agree of course

    #9 - unnecessary for good game play or unnecessary for increasing game profits? When a designer says "this is a decision that is bad for the game but the customers would like", what do they do? My opinion is that the important thing is to be consistent with your game design philosophy.

    #6 - My unrealistic desire is for the players in the sandbox to help in the creation. Perhaps with enough landscape, crafting and non-ganking interactions, perhaps the developers put in the village in the mountains but a lot of the "content" is the weekly trade fair the Mr S Fetters Leatherworking guild holds. Getting back to the meta questions: if the ultimate content generators are players in a sandbox and if theme-park on rails MMOs sell better, what does a vendor do?

    I think you raise a good point. If you are a small company, you have to make enough to pay back the investors so as to have money for salaries and advertising. There are a few multibillion dollar companies who could invest in a (non-Unreal) toolset that allowed them to generate content cheaper/faster. ( My wall of crazy is what if Google spent a few hundred million US$ on a licensable, HTML5 game engine.)

    #7 - I understand having unchallenging games or challenging games with numbers. Saying you want a challenging game without numbers does not seem right for me. In particular, most of the people who want challenging (non-twitch) games are used to numbers.

    #1 OOG quibble - In the USA, at least once a generation, telling voters how broken politics are works quite well. The 74 (Watergate) and 94(Contract for American) elections showed huge swings towards the anti-politician party of the time. One could count 76(Carter) and 80(Reagan) elections as well. I don't anticipate many good things being said about politicians in 2012.

  3. Narratives which are scattered all over the world are superior to one singular story.

    Not necessarily. The important things about a singular story is that:

    A) It has to be interesting.
    B) It has to be replayable (in MMOs).

    Cataclysm failed in both; MoP is addressing B) by making questing less linear. This doesn't mean there won't be a singular story, simply that you will be able to skip over the boring bits instead of being forced to read every word of every page for the 4th, 5th, 6th time.

    In TBC, I disliked questing in Blade's Edge. So I didn't. In Cataclysm I did not have the same option. There is zero reason why I should have to complete 100% of Deepholm before being able to unlock Therazane dailies, assuming there is a reason I have to unlock shoulder enchants via reputation in the first place.

  4. Real people in MMOs make game designers work a lot harder so that one gamer isn't advantaged over another. That actually turns out to make a game that is more fun, since it's more of a challenge. For instance:

    An MMO can't have the ability to save and restore games, can't shower you with items and gold, can't have easy exploits that one person can do and another can't etc.

    Many of Skyrim's defects, OTH, arise because the developers cater to what players *say* they want, which is lots of lootz, easy save and restart etc. They also feel they can lazily ignore gameplay bugs and even put across the exploits as features.

    I don't know the figures, but I guess that any AAA MMO would cost a lot more than Skyrim did - and a big part of the reason for that would be the rigour and testing needed to make it work with lots of people hammering it at the same time.

  5. "8)
    The mass market loves housing!"

    I'm not so sure. At any rate, what I liked about housing in Skyrim was this:
    1. Storage for my goods. In WoW my bank gives me this.
    2. Crafting nearby (in the house).
    3. A bed, where I can fast-forward until the shops open. WoW solves this problem a different way, by not allowing NPCs any time off. No MMO can solve this problem the way Skyrim does, because no player can fast-forward the game in an MMO.

    Player housing isn't a neccessary solution to these problems (and skyrim's player housing has other problems; for instance, my house gets more and more untidy over time because I can't pick up things that were knocked over and put them back where they came from).

    To go back to
    Players like a fantasy world which takes itself seriously.

    This is very true, but it doesn't go far enough. Players like a fantasy world in which everyone in the world takes it seriously. This, IMO, is why UO has such a fond place in people's hearts. Players themselves took the world more seriously than WoW players nowadays do. How often in WoW have you seen a horde raid attack the king of Stormwind, for instance, while many alliance players stand around doing nothing to prevent it, or worse make fun of those involved in defending the king? Such behaviour is commonplace nowadays in WoW, but would not happen in Skyrim. In fact, one can imagine that in Skyrim if you were present in a Thane's city when he was under attack, and did not defend him, he might later send troops round to pick you up and jail you. Wouldn't it be great if Varian Wrynn would do the same? At least, shouldn't you lose Stormwind rep if the king of Stormwind was killed by the horde and you were present but didn't even have your PvP flag up? Wouldn't it be great if all the NPCs were to run to (and possibly die in) his defence, even the auctioneers, trainers and vendors?

    Anyway. Players like a fantasy world in which all players take the world seriously. Other players take pleasure in spoiling the fun of this first group, and an MMO nowadays needs to address this issue by having consequences for ignoring the logic of the fantasy world.