· by Steve · Read in about 5 min · (940 Words)

I have a confession to make. Sometimes - just occasionally, mind - I fancy trying a massively multiplayer online game. I know, I know - I shouldn’t, but occasionally I can’t help myself.

Back when I was in my late teens / early twenties, access to that nebulous cloud called the ‘Internet’ started to become available to the general public. It was all text-based in those days - I remember the first time my fantastically overpriced non-local internet provider, which I used for only telnet, ftp, and occasionally archie and gopher services (remember those? ;)) started offering access to the ‘World Wide Web’, and wondering what the hell the fuss was about, given how all it did was fill my text console with seemingly meaningless markup. But, on it I played the odd text-based MUD / MOO and had quite a bit of fun - each MUD server was it’s own little microcosm, and it it didn’t take long for you to learn your way around, nor did it take much time investment to play.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the MUD-on-steriods, MMOGs, are de rigeur in every genre. I would have killed to be able to play the kind of games there are available now back then, but now, I just don’t have the time. My primary problem with MMOGs at this stage of life is that due to their gargantuan, open and persistent nature, they are inevitably biased towards rewarding those with virtually no other life outside the game. You have to put in the hours, you see - otherwise your clan / guild / party is gonna throw you out for being a part-timer, and you’ll remain in the shadowed background whilst everyone else lords it over you with their +15 Robes of Poncing About. I don’t have that sort of time, and even if I did, I’d feel rather shallow to spend it all on a game. However, I’d still love to try it sometime, just a little bit - only the fear of getting hooked keeps me away. I’ve also found that playing online matches of games like Unreal Tournament soon wears thin, mainly because I don’t play the game 24×7 - so after the first couple of weeks, your chaces of getting continually smoked by some cocky 13-year old with nothing else to do but practice all week increase seemingly exponentially. Either that or I’m just very crap.

So why do the majority of MMOGs target the obsessive players? Well, I guess because they’re a stable source of revenue. But it’s a shame that so far there are no casual MMOGs; the sort you can get together on with a few friends every now and then, have fun, and not feel pressured by the ethos of the online world to treat it like a vocation rather than a bit of occasional fun. That means if I ever did find time to play a MMOG, I’d be looking for these things:

  • Smaller, tighter communities A relatively small world (compared to, say, WoW) with only a modest number of players on each server, not thousands upon thousands. A community only builds and binds when you can realistically start to get to know others. Simulating an entire planet of constantly changing people might be technically impressive, but it’s actually pretty dull from a social perspective - MUDs had a better community spirit.
  • Only consensual PVP. Beating up other players is fun when you actually want to test your strengths, it’s no fun at all if you’re the one getting mugged all the time by hardcore players.
  • Planned for short, occasional time slots. If I have an hour to play, I want that to be rewarding in itself. That means no trekking across half the world and back to fulfil a quest, it means no arseing around fighting endless random creatures, it means no repetetive and formulaic actions designed to make me feel like I’m on a chain gang. I want to see something new and interesting in that hour, and it better deliver otherwise it will also be the last hour I play. And for Gods sake, make it easy to pick up again a couple of weeks later, and plan for parties where not everyone can make it every time.
  • Forget the damn levelling already. Some people like just running around bashing things until a light goes ‘ping’ to say they’ve somehow passed an invisible marker labelled ‘next level’,after which they do exactly the same again, bashing slightly tougher enemies until the next ‘ping’. Well, they’re idiots. Little mice scampering around a maze, being rewarded with a piece of cheese popping out a dispenser when they press the right button when the light tells them to. Yes, you need a measure of progression, but levelling is the most unoriginal, basic and downright lazy ass way in the world to do it. Games which have 50-100 or more levels are acknowledging that they don’t have enough ideas to fill the rest of the game, so they hope to distract with regular ‘level hits’ instead. It’s the game experience that’s important, not a set of damn numbers. In a roleplaying game, it’s exploration, interacting in a storyline, cooperating to solve problems and such things that are important, not how many hundreds of the same kobolds you can brain (perhaps while chanting ‘Chug! Chug! Chug!’ if the mood takes you)

They probably won’t make such a game, because people like me probably wouldn’t be economical to attract since I’m just not obsessive enough. Perhaps I’d better stick to the DS online play when it comes out. 😉