Let me start off by saying I only recently watched a few videos on AOC. I admit I don't know the ins or outs of the game to be, and this post is more so my general concept of MMORPGs as a whole. I'm sure most of my ideas are not original, and they may be subject to change or debate. This post is more so about brainstorming what the "perfect" MMORPG would look like.
To introduce my background, I am a long time PC gamer and have played titles including Runescape, Knight Online, World of Warcraft, Atlantica, Archeage, Guild Wars, League of Legends, Elder Scrolls Online, PUBG, and so many more… I’ve put tens of thousands of hours into these games over the last two decades, and have played, enjoyed, and quit.. so many of them.
Many games have been created, having their own unique successes and failures, yet crashed and burned in the end. They may still technically be up and running, but failed to live up to their hype. They did not explode in popularity, or retain their initial burst of hype/attention/population.
I could go into great length detailing the individual failures of these games, but that would be a waste of time. It’s enough to say that it was either P2W (Pay to win), server instability or overpopulation, or lack of interesting content. (Or a combination of them all)
But, developers have to make money. It takes time to create an MMORPG, and time is money. It takes money to pay for servers. And it takes money to pay salaries post-launch. (Devs, player support, public relations, ect.) We’ll talk about making money later.
This is why many companies have had their games fail due to “greed”. They implement items into their in-game cash shops that allow players to take shortcuts in progression or gain instant wealth. They justify this (If they even feel they need a justification..) by saying things like, “it gives casual players a chance to compete” or something along these lines. And it’s true. People who are interested in MMORPGs often include younger people still in school and working adults, who don’t have endless hours to commit to a grind just to compete. However, nobody wants to pay hundreds, sometimes thousands (myself included in the past…), just to COMPETE, with the more “dedicated” players. And of course, the dedicated players don’t want to be competed with by players with deeper pockets.
So.. Where is the middle ground?
That’s the tricky part… and clearly, quite difficult for most companies looking to successfully launch their own game. The solution is within the game itself. It must be structured in a way to allow casual players their fun, while simultaneously allowing dedicated players their fun, all while avoiding P2W.
This means several things must be a reality..
Players cannot purchase anything in the cash shop that allows them to gain strength, progression, wealth, or any sort of shortcut to them. It would be best to simply think of the cash shop as a place to buy things to make yourself or your things look cooler. (But in no way add any stats or effects.)
In game currency cannot be obtained via real world cash. This means you cannot sell anything you buy in the cash shop to another player, OR trade them. In game currency should be something to work for in game, it should be something that has value because it’s not-so-easily obtained. Unfortunately, this also means that you cannot trade money either. This can be avoided via an auction house without player driven prices. (If players dictate their prices, players could post a 1 silver item and allow gold farmers to buy it for hundreds or thousands of gold.)
To allow casual players to still have fun, despite not spending endless hours grinding quest lines, dungeons, or mobs... dungeons and PvP should be “tier” based. Meaning, you have a gear-score, and you get placed into a PvP-instance or dungeon instance, in which you can only play with or against someone else in your tier. Open world PvP is exciting and can be one of the most interesting styles of PvP, however, it’s not for everyone. Some people never want to come into any sort of conflict in the game, and that’s understandable.
One of Archeage’s greatest design elements covered this issue well. (Zones, war and peace-time.) Archeage’s open world PvP (possibly the greatest of all time) was so great because it was often initiated with an objective. Obtaining money, reputation, and/or satisfaction, when killing an enemy player. There were greater rewards for players transferring goods to war-zones that were far away. This meant large-scale fights could often erupt between guilds attempting to move large quantities of goods for a big time cash-in. Money and reputation (reputation itself should be a currency, earned via quests, killing mobs, and PvP) had value in Archeage, and therefore open world PvP became thrilling.
So.. let’s talk about the most important part of any MMORPG:
Progression is perhaps the single most important part of any MMORPG. In other words, as you play the game, you have to feel like you’re becoming stronger and/or richer (This is the reward for the time spent playing the game). This is accomplished in many ways, and all players have different preferences on how to go about this element. Therefore, it’s important to balance each and every method of going about it.
Some people like to grind mobs.
Some people like to grind quests.
Some people like to grind dungeons or raids.
Some people just like to PVP.
Some people simply like to do miscellaneous professions, like fishing or crafting.
And some people like to do a combination of all of the above.
The important part is to make ALL of them give the same experience and rewards for the time spent doing that task. Yes, this means putting A LOT of thought into coding and balancing the game, but it’s necessary and worth it in the end.
Pretty much every single element of playing an MMORPG comes down to progression. Whether it’s progressing a level, increasing your wealth, obtaining gear to become stronger, or becoming more skilled in PvP.
So, when creating the various elements of the game, it’s important to consider all of this. Every element should be vast and challenging to master. It should take a very long time to obtain the best of any gear, the highest of any level, or the most skill in PvP. However, there should be SIGNIFICANT rewards and progress collected along the way.
As a single example…
Let’s consider a player grinding mobs to obtain two rewards: cash and levels. The cash reward comes from crafting materials the mob drops that can be sold to the game (A “general store” NPC situation) or the fixed-rate player auction, which should be a slightly higher return than the general store. At the same time, the player is obtaining exp for each monster killed. (On a side note, it would be nice if levels were designed to be quite thorough. I.e character levels, gear levels (individually by type.. I.e. 1 handed sword, leather armor, ect.), and skill tree levels (each of these trees should offer a “recommended” cookie cutter solid build, as well as very deep customization, for the casuals and hardcore people). This means the player is progressing in several different ways, all at once. Trust me when I say, this is what’ll make it fun. And, it still doesn’t end there. There must be a point to a player acquiring all the wealth and levels. Therefore, it comes down to the rewards for the rewards. From the wealth, it can be better gear (which should basically be endless... there should always be a better piece of gear out there somewhere) with better stats that increase a player’s gear score that helps in PvP and against higher level mobs in the open world or dungeon/raids. The wealth could also help you acquire a higher level fishing rod for your fishing hobby, although there should be proficiency requirements on job related items. (Again, progression…) And so on and so forth.
Some games have come close to “perfection”, but have fallen short in some area. Archeage, in my opinion, came the closest. Unfortunately, they fell short in the “commerce” category. They allowed their game to be P2W, and failed to create a situation that catered to casual players in PvP, thereby losing the vast majority of their population in a short time. (Not to mention several game-breaking bugs.)
Progression with significant depth, and an economy in which in-game money has significant value to the player, are the most important aspects of any MMORPG.
But, again, the nasty problem. The game has to produce money for the company that spent so much time to make it happen. In this matter, I admit I am slightly ignorant. However, I would think about games like Fortnight and League of Legends when considering this element. These games have raked in a ton of cash for the companies that created them. Simply make the game free to play, with skins in the shop that players actually want… badly. (Skins for characters, mounts (A few universal mounts with the same stats, like a horse with levels, but completely different skins they can wear - that completely change them into another creature.), housing, ect..) The game ought to be free to play in order to allow everybody the chance to see if they like the game, and then subscription based after say, 14 days post account creation. This will generate more population, and therefore more money.
All of my words are subject to change, and should be thought of as incomplete. Feel free to debate them, add to them, ect.