Friday, April 12, 2013


MMOGypsy, alias Syl, has a detailed and beautiful post about why "Storytelling in MMORPGs is overrated."

Ignoring some confusion about lore, story, story telling and narrative, I completely agree with her. Actually, only a very few people disagree, which is a somehow remarkable fact. Now, what would be a good example MMORPG?

Imagine, a pure PvE MMORPG. You kill monsters / steal treasures in dark caverns, cut wood, etc. to build houses. You have an incentive to build houses next to others players’ houses. At the same time, from the North Undead attack the land.

Naturally, where they come from, the best treasure can be acquired. The Undead are controlled by a rudimentary AI occasionally supported by an employee of the game developer.

The Undead need to be fought back, they sometimes attack in waves, they attack villages and destroy houses, some kinds of Undead even loot houses. The game at this point doesn't have an end. It is an endless struggle trying to find the best treasure in the most dangerous places to build the most prestigious home/village and to fight off the Undead in a concerted effort with other players. You don’t need many scripted boss fights for this. If the Undead attack your village they do this in waves and they might attack from different directions. They focus different players or try to burn down specific houses.

Now, add some minor struggles to this world (giant termites in some local wood, dangerous trolls in some mountains to the south, a magic race of fee in the west (nobody who ventures there returns), a terribly hot desert, inhabited by strange desert folk, to the East, a dangerous underground labyrinth that connects far-away places in a confusing magical way.

Use a death penalty that prevents players from getting from A to B by dying often enough …

This game could easily be made a reality using any modern MMORPG engine. It would tell a never-ending story. And you don’t even need PvP. It would still be a very fun game with lots and lots of player-generated content.

The point is: The story in this game is not told, it is experienced.


  1. You can't ignore the differences between Story, Lore, Storytelling and Narrative, that's the point. Trying to do so would be like trying to ignore the difference between the weather, the season and the time of day. Words matter and discussing the implications of one while having in mind the meaning of another leads to poor communication, confusion and, not infrequently, war.

    Personally, while I'd happily "play" a "game" such as you describe, that's not what I came to and come to MMOs for. I want to visit other worlds, worlds of the imagination. I want to be inside a story; I don't want to be told a story but neither do I want to write on, either singly or collectively. I want to wander among the remnants of stories that have already been told, trying to piece them back together. For that, someone has to write them.

    1. Actually, I agree with everything you wrote there, Bhagpuss. The game I very briefly described there includes lots and lots of lore which is completely independent from the player; who is absolutely not a world-saving hero in this game.

      Even though there is the main adversary who acts as a kind of outside pressure to make players bond together, there are many other lore-rich places in the world. Of course, these places will eventually interact with the main adversary. So, there is some kind of story that is being told. But you need almost no text/video to do so. And, honestly, the end of the story should not be certain at any time. while game is still running.

    2. @Bhagpuss

      Ah but when you rescue the children and rebuild the town, you are inevitably always writing story too. :) to me, that's the beauty of it - especially if you get a choice and that choice has an impact.

  2. Would this really be fun ?

    In GW2, - sorry I know this game best - there is a fight between centaur and human. Human have a city, that can be captured by centaur, and you can repel centaur. There is some events (a general take the lead to fight enemies, or a badass centaur take his army against human). Player are not staying here to infinitely fight the enemies.

    Two important differences between your example and GW2 : houses cannot be burnt, and village cannot be enhanced. So there is no progression.

    In your exemple, is this progression finite ? - you can have the best village possible or a totally burn village - or do you create the system to be infinite - when your village is near the best, the difficulty increase sufficiently that you'll always lost some progression ?

    1. I do think it would be fun ;)

      But, yes, you can lose stuff in this game. It is not (only) an item treadmill, but also a world to live in and experience serious drama when villages are attacked. Of course, the game is not unfair. If you log in at least once a week or so you can find out whether there is some danger to your village: the Undead require some time to prepare before they attack an even slightly fortified village. And minor skirmishes can be fought by PvE guards.

      You certainly don't log in and find out that *surprise* everything you own has been looted by PvE mobs. Now, if you go on summer vacation you should make sure that other players defend your village. If they cannot, you might contact a GM and ask him whether he can protect your village for a month or so. If he judges that you aren't exploiting this, he will probably agree.

  3. Nils i disagree with the idea that there need NOT be a story driving the world further. An underlying lore that ties the world together as it evolves ( we agree that this needs to be happening even after long periods i hope ), To my knowledge such an MMO that you are describing i.e. without characters that you connect with, be that either evil or good/truth representation has not been tried out. At least as far as PvE games are concerned since pvp can indeed exist without lore/storytelling and all that.

    PS. the term PvE itself enforces lore/storytelling and evolution of the Environment so that it keeps the players occupied and entertained without being caught in a static content repeating the same things over and over.

    1. The game I described would have an absolutely not-static, not-repeating world. The Undead would move around on the map and sometimes concentrate. They would try to build powerful weapons/magic (that you can try to steal/conquer). There would absolutely not be place X where you can farm 'tree skeletons, level 8' for forever. There are absolutely no dailies and only a few 'quests'.

      The main goal of the player is not maxing out level or skill or gear, but to have an impact on his immediate surroundings by gaining and spending resources (e.e. wood) and products (e.g. swords).

      As for the story of the world. There is a past that you can find out about and there is a future which is *entirely* uncertain. But there is no Boss-Undead (alias Lich King) that you can ever kill. That would be boring, in my opinion.

      The Undead behave reasonably but are not entirely predictable. There is some kind of conscious mind behind them, but you're not the hero. You will never see any 'mastermind', let alone defeat it by cutting it often enough with your sword. It is a game about gathering, building, constructing, repairing, defending and exploring. And all that is created in a way to encourage, but not enforce (!), working together with other players you have just met in the game.

    2. I think most people need predefined goals when they begin an MMO. I know not just from myself but everyone i have played with.

      What you are describing lacks consistency and therefore results in chaos between servers/shards with different futures' due to that "*entirely* uncertain" mechanic. Unless it is not that *uncertain* in a way funneling players towards specific goals.

    3. You can absolutely have goals. After you start the game you try to build your first house. There's also a tutorial that helps you, of course.

      The first house is going to be rather small, but a fine goal. After that (or before) you can try to explore the landscape and find other players - work together with them to defend your more valuable homes from the Undead. Some players will open shops with function like an auction house for one kind of product. If none of that is to your liking you can always explore and try to bring the loot you gather home to get gold to buy/craft better equipment to explore more.

      Since the landscape is going to be very large and players cannot teleport much, they will be distributed over the entire map. This means that not many servers are actually needed. Of course, it's not that simple, I know :)

  4. Nils,

    I would play your game for a month or two, but probably no more than that. I would expect this amount of time would be sufficient to explore, build a house, join a community and repel a few incursions of undead.

    Having satisfied myself that I had experienced all of the gameplay your game had to offer, I would be then most likely be tempted away by a new shiny.

    1. If players who start this game played for two months, I'd be very happy already :)

      I also think that anybody who has played for two months has a very high chance to play a third month because his friends just decided to explore an underground cavern to find talismans that can help repel undead if you attach them to the wall around your village.
      In sufficient numbers they can also help cast a spell that empowers weapons in a 100m radius around your village ... :)