I was dreaming about computer games again. I was not asleep at the time, but that’s no matter because my thoughts were about as far from reality that computer game makers will ever dare to tread. I’ve asked around to some of my mmorpg playing friends for their thoughts so I thought I would also do the same with the rest of you.
If you recall from an earlier post, I don’t play mmorpg’s anymore because none cater to me as an infrequent player. Which is silly because a player like me would still pay the monthly fee but hardly ever suck down any cpu time. You’d think that would be how you maximized profit. Still, sometimes I wonder what it is that keeps me away other than not having enough time in the day to participate at a useful level. My earlier post made the point that I just did not play enough to advance through much if any of the content of the game. But now that I think about it, these games don’t have content. None at all. And I guess that’s what keeps me from booting up.
I know that may be a shocker to some of the actual game designers out there. I’m not disparaging the incredible work that goes into the art, the client, the server, the general game mechanics, et al. It’s just that the actual content, the itty bitty dribbles of plot injected primarily as ‘quests’ leave a lot to be desired. It’s not that they are bad per say, just that they are either too little or too inconsequential.
How can this be so? Well, for one, there are generally a few thousand people on your server at anyone time that have already accomplished that particular quest. If somehow you ignore the websites with all the secrets revealed, ignore all the chit-chat discussing the how-to’s and what-for’s and really, truly try to go it alone, you usually still end up in some dungeon somewhere trying to complete a task with a hoard of other players already in the process of doing the same. You can’t close your eyes. You can’t help but complete it without much mental effort, following the lead of everyone else. With everything already solved, your only real challenge is your deft finger clicking. These games devolve into level-quests, where the players rabidly click on the mouse button in rapid-fire motions, drooling uncontrollably, waiting for the pellets to drop. This is not content; it’s just random conditioned response.
A real game is something that continues to challenge. I’m not a chess player but I’ll use an analogy to it. You might think the ‘content’ of a game of chess is the set of rules that make up the game. It is not. The rules define the playing field, not the challenge. The challenge is the other player. If you are under matched, you will trounce the other player and will have no fun. An online mmorpg without real content is like playing a chess game against a toddler. Because you are not competing against one another except for bragging rights. You are playing against the pre-canned quests that are easily analyzed by thousands of players.
It is incredible irony that you are actually playing a game with thousands of other actual people all at the same time and are not truly challenged by any one of them. Sure there are things like player-versus-player combat. But this is hardly a challenge. It generally goes to the player with the most beefed up character. Some games encourage mass battles against teams of players, defend a stronghold or lay siege to one. This goes a little way toward making the game a tad interesting, but its just a combat simulator with no real twist or turn except for which particular spell the enemy casters will employ.
What we really need is an online game that puts the control of content into the hands of the players directly. Imagine a MMORPG that is like a massively multiplayer version of Dungeon Keeper, where individual players (given some status) are actually capable of hollowing out hills, building dungeons, deploying traps, fielding monsters and hiding treasures. Of course, this would all cost the building player in-game monies or equivalent to be able to do this. But think of it. There would be an endless supply of original content, challenges posed by players against other players. “Hey, I bet you can’t take on my keep. It is killer!” “The first one to the bottom wins the burning sword of neputopia!” Maybe the builders earn points depending on how many heroes fail at the task.
This kind of challenge would solve the PVP pettiness that plagues most online worlds. Challenges would be set, but players would still have to choose to take them on.
Now that would be something.