Friday, February 27, 2009

Sixth screenshot

Well, I have been tagged by mbp to post my 6th screenshot from a game of my choosing. For interest, I have traced the lineage of this meme as follows:

mbp was begat by Zoso, who was begat by Ysharros, who was begat by spinks, who was begat by Tarsus. This is where it gets confusing. Tarsus was tagged by 3 people.

On the one hand we have the Snark Sisters, who were in turn begat by Siha. Siha was begat by both Bellwether and spicytuna, both of whom were begat by Megan, who was begat by Euripedes, who deigned to declare who he was begat by, perhaps attempting to steal credit as the grand master vampire who rules us all. So, that's a dead end.

On the other hand, we have Yakra, who was begat by Darraxus, who was begat by wtfspaghetti, who was begat by frost is the new black, who was begat by maiara, who was begat by NON-GAMER crazy german lady, who I assume started the whole thing.

Finally, Tarsus was also begat (don't ask me how you can be begat by 3 people, I told you, it's complicated) by George, who was begat by Namthe, who was begat by vads, who was begat by Yakra, who... wait a minute, Yakra begat Tarsus and also several generations above Tarsus, implying that Yakra had some inappropriate relations with their descendants at some point. Disgraceful.

Anyway, so my screenshot is from Warhammer Online. I would have had a choice Guild Wars screenshot I'm sure, but those are on my laptop which has been demoted to living at work now. Anyway, this screenshot depicts me pwning it up in good ol' Tor Anroc with a collection of fun AoE skills. This was before I got sick of playing Tor Anroc for the 1000th time and unsubscribed. Note that I could not totally erase everyone's names without partially obscuring teh awesome damage numbers, ah well.

I have also chosen to include a completely unrelated screenshot from Left 4 Dead, because it demonstrates how pro I am and how you should all bow down before the might of my e-peen right now. This is on No Mercy Chapter 4, where the survivors ascend to the roof in an elevator. Just before the elevator doors close, there is a 1 in a million opportunity whereby a sneaky smoker can grab one survivor, and since there is no way to re-open the elevator doors, nobody can go back for him. Anyway, here I am as a smoker after having pulled off just such a shot (note the lack of an elevator in the doorway). True, I pulled it off on a bot character who is a little stupider and hangs around in the doorway of the elevator too long, however, I can assure you I am still quite teh leet.

Anyway, now I must tag some people. It is very difficult to pick from my unbelievably long list of readers but I have narrowed it down to a lucky few. Apologies if you've been tagged already, but as you can see above it's hard to keep track of these things!

Pete S

The MMOPseudoG - 50% ain't bad

So, basic recipe:

Take 1 part chat system, and add to 1 part achievement-whore system. Give people achievements for most words typed in a day, people talked to, people talked to simultaneously, people on friends list, people on block list, number of people who have you on their friends list, number of people who have you on their block list, and whatever other completely retarded fail thing you can think of.

Stir slowly.

Add 1 part avatar design with all the Bell's and whistles, something like what City of X does. Shake well.

You have now covered 50% of Bartle's types, as well as the special super secret fifth Bartle type known as 'fluff whore'. And you didn't even have to make a game! The sad part is, a small part of me knows that if somebody made a program like this (and made it easy to add friends from other social networks), it would probably be wildly successful.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Begone, skills!

Yes, I copied Ysharros's recent post title for this one. Wiqd has a post up saying the same sort of thing - maybe if we say it enough times all together, something magical will happen!

Basically, these good people have been saying that if we have fewer skills to pick from in an MMORPG, it will lower the learning curve necessary to get into the game. If the skills are all quite different in functionality, depth in gameplay would not need to be sacrificed. I want to give some numbers to illustrate just how much this is true.

First some definitions are in order. Kyoryu has a great post up about "complexity" vs "depth" in game design - to sum up he says that:

complexity is the number of factors the player must consider at any moment

depth is the number of choices a player can make at any moment

I'm going to extend that definition of depth, and say that depth is related to the number of comparisons of choices the player must make, to determine the best choice. For example, if you can pick one of "A", "B" or "C", you have to know how A stacks up against B and C, and also how B stacks up against C (let's assume the order isn't important). You could say that this action has a depth = 3 according to my definition, since there are 3 comparisons to make. It has a complexity = 3, since there are 3 things you have to know (the functions of A, B and C).

As the number of options rises, so too do the number of comparisons, in quite non-linear fashion. Here's a quick table to illustrate the point: the left number is the number of choices, and the right the number of comparisons when you must choose one choice each time:


So take the typical WoW skill-bar with, say, 20 different things to do on it. Seems like a lot of depth right? Sure, 190 comparisons to make with that super-computer brain of yours seems like a lot of work! Of course in reality nobody really makes all those comparisons... but it still serves as a useful number to measure how deep whatever thought processes they DO make need to be.

Now compare those numbers with the following. Instead of picking one skill each time, you're able to pick one skill, OR two skills. So in a choice between "A", "B" and "C", you need to compare A with B and C, and compare B with C, as previously. However, you also need to compare AB with A, B and C alone, and you need to compare AC with A, B and C. You also need to compare BC with A, B and C. Finally, you have to compare AB with AC and BC. Gee that was hard work wasn't it! All up that's a total of 15 comparisons to make, compared to only 3 if just one skill had to be chosen.

And our complexity count, the number of things about the game that we need to know, has increased by..... zero. We still need only know what A, B and C do to make all of those comparisons.

Here's this relationship added on to the above table:

n....pick one....pick one OR two

That racked up quickly, didn't it! In fact, we can see that to rival the same depth inherent in a 21-skill MMORPG bar, we need only 10 skills. In a more simplified world where we only have to match the depth of, say, 15 skills in the "pick one" scenario, we would need only 5 skills to accomplish this! Even the 4 skill case offers as much depth as ye olde 10 skill case, and such forth. Suddenly my puny 8-skill Guild Wars skill bar is looking mighty over-crowded!

One problem that could be nay-sayed against such a system is that it requires players to have more manual dexterity, since they have to push two buttons at a time. This is easy to get around though: for instance, allow the buttons to be pressed in any order, and at any time - when the second button is pressed, simply add it's function to the function of the first button. Since we're going for only two actions at a time, a third button press could remove the oldest one from the list of current actions. Compare this to a combo system in any fighting game and it seems simple enough that my aged Grandmother with one hand could manage it.

As the others linked to above pointed out, another key to ensuring that combat still entails lots of options that feel radically different from each other, is to ensure that each of these 'reduced' skills offers quite different functionality. With a system like that the above numbers illustrate that there are massive reductions in complexity to be made, which would open such a game up a lot for new players, while still not making the combat any less deep for experts. Win-win, no?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The PvP QQ problem

Scott Jennings has a post up in which he whips the dead horse that is the imminent Darkfall release. He says that a PvP MMO can't work, people will realize they hate it, and will then scurry back to whence they came (PvE).

He is wrong.

What WILL not do too well in today's market is a 'hardcore' PvP MMO, where people can grief the pants off each other (literally). Such games are

a) Not indicative of the success in general of MMO's that focus on PvP
b) Almost always riddled with various other problems, as Scott mentions but somehow brushes aside (bugs, crashes, lag, or horrible combat systems never designed with PvP in mind)

So, could we all please stop QQ'ing about how nobody wants to play an MMO that concentrates on PvP. It's just like the people that QQ that no MMOFPS can be successful because Tabula Rasa and Hellgate failed (hint: both awful games for other reasons completely).

I know that the Scott's and Tobold's of the world want every game to be exactly like WoW, but in that case they should probably just go back there. That is all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Avatar sex selection...

I fall into the rather large category of male gamers that prefer to play an MMO with a female avatar. I do it mainly because I'd much rather spend my 500+ hours of MMO play time watching some hot chick beat up bad guys than an over-pumped dude with a penchant for lycra.

So anyway, when it came time to creating a leveling pact duo in City of Heroes with my girlfriend, I had to ask myself the question:

Is it weird to play as a female avatar when you are playing with your girlfriend?

Since we would be spending a lot of time in the game together, I imagined that it would be a little odd having her introduce me to another player as her boyfriend if I looked like a woman... or is it these days? (lol)

I decided to ask her how she felt about me playing as a female avatar. Her reply was:

"I think that would be a little weird, don't you?".

My initial response was:

"Pfft... no.. it would be hot!..",

but I ended up agreeing with her. It was definitely an interesting experience creating a male avatar... kind of a first for me. I wasn't sure if I should be making him look attractive or deadly or scruffy (apparently girls like scruffy) or something else entirely. The CoX character creator definitely didn't help much. There are about a billion different options to choose from. I tried a few combinations, but I just couldn't get comfortable with what I was seeing. In the end I just went with a cross between what I looked like, Han Solo and Superman. It seemed to work... although I don't think it did me justice ;)

In other news, Saylah has written an interesting article about how in gaming, gender sometimes matters. Maybe I should have created a female avatar...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The leveling pact!

One of the things I like about swapping MMOs is discovering new little innovative ideas that make the game better. City of Heroes has a cool little built in feature called a 'leveling pact'. It's easy to set up, you just right click on the person you want to create a pact with and activate it. From there on in, all experience gained on either character is shared between the two, even if the other person is logged off. If the pact was enabled when both characters are first created (i.e. level 1), they will remain the same level all the way to end game, unless the pact is removed or significant death penalty is incurred.

Now, why would I be so excited about sharing my hard earned XP with someone else?

My girlfriend and I have two different types of play styles. In simple terms... I'm a little bit more hardcore than she is (just a tad). This means that I'm most likely going to hit level 20 around the same time she hit's level 14. Unfortunately this creates a bit of a level gap, which kinda ruins the fun of playing together. My only choices up to now were to either play slowly (which is fine, but destroys a bit of the fun for me), or to have an alt which I only use when playing with her.

But not any more!!!

Thank you Mr Leveling Pact!

What an awesome example of a simple game design idea, that solves the leveling gap problem when playing with friends or family. It also means that a utility class has a way of gaining equal XP to a DPS class. This makes it's easier to concentrate on healing people, and not having worry about making kills just to get XP.

It would be nice to see some other leveling based MMOs incorporate this feature. I think it absolutely rocks! ;)

RPG's: back to the roots

A core gameplay component in the RPG's of yesteryear was the management of a limited set of resources. In particular, the number of spells that could be cast in a given dungeon were limited, and your gold was limited which meant that you only had a certain number of potions and magic items to take with you.

This meant that a large part of the gameplay revolved around the player's decisions on when to use those resources. You don't want to waste your big guns on the punier enemies that you run across, but then again you have to make sure that you can still handle them without becoming too injured, otherwise you'll have a tough time later on.

Further, healing was especially scarce. Most healing spells only healed for a pitiful amount compared to your HP, and they were touch range with a long cast time to boot. This meant that healing was relegated to post-combat usually. The focus was really on mitigating damage as much as possible in the first place, through smart use of spells and abilities - your HP pool was there as a margin for error.

Fast forward to current (online) RPG's: spells are spammed. Damage comes flying in by the thousands. Limited use items are a dime a dozen and can be farmed up the wazoo before entering a difficult area. The fundamental RPG gameplay notion of limited resource management is gone. This is why MMO combat feels so dumbed-down - all the strategical decisions have been made before the combat started (your character build, your team's build), leaving the players to just go through the motions.

Forget the fact that spam heals at range do not agree with any fantasy lore ever created whatsoever (no, WoW books don't count). The spammy spammy nature of healing is killing off one of the few interesting areas of RPG decision making, and sapping all the depth out of most games, leading to posts like this one (which inspired my mini rant here).

Design should be based instead around damage mitigation. Light healing is ok, but shouldn't completely reset the scales after each battle, otherwise to be a challenge EVERY SINGLE GROUP OF MONSTERS has to have a fair chance of killing someone in the group (leading to many current MMO 'hard difficulty' options where enemies can just 2-shot you).

Guild Wars has done some impressive work in this area with the Protection line of skills. These are used far more extensively than healing skills in PvP. Sadly in PvE people mostly resort to the good ol' trinity. There are probably a few reasons for this - a big one is that tanks already mitigate damage to a large extent, and so often the only stuff that gets through is stuff that ignores most damage mitigation. It's clear that getting rid of the spammy spammy nature of healing goes hand in hand with getting rid of the notion of a tank that can miraculously 'hold aggro' with magical taunts that also have no basis in any lore I've ever heard of. That means, of course, changing mob AI and a bunch of other goodness.

Another necessity seems probably to limit the number of limited-use items that can be used by the team during a dungeon crawl, to prevent simply stocking up on a pile of them beforehand. Alternately, such items could be made available during the dungeon crawl, rewarding adventurers with more power for exploring off the beaten path a bit (but of course with the added risk of burning more resources than you gained on fighting the extra monsters that you'd encounter... Strategical decisions, no?).

An interesting 'half way' solution is the Halo combat system. Each group of enemies there have to punch through your shield before they can damage your health. The shield regenerates quickly after each fight - your actual health, not at all. This avoids painting yourself into a corner where you simply can not possibly beat the next group of enemies, while still limiting your resources over the course of a level (aka dungeon).

Expansion of this idea would, I think, be the best way to go about overhauling MMO combat systems to be a bit more deep and a bit less auto-pilot. Also, when you have to focus on protecting people, you get to *gasp* pay attention to the actual game world, instead of watching a bunch of health bars. Everybody wins! (cue wining of people who say "omg I play healer in every MMO don't tell me how to play!!!!~1111")

Today I played with a 9 year old girl

Yes, that sounds a bit wrong. Anyway.

I was playing Left 4 Dead tonight when one of my team mates announces in local chat "I'm 9 years old and a girl". Whatever, I think, as I had just witnessed her eat some guy's face and do a bunch of damage. But then I heard the voice chat.

Holy crap there was indeed a 9 year old girl playing this (15+ rated) game. And you know what? She's probably better than about 80% of the people that I play with. She:

- Advised us whenever she didn't know how to do something, instead of doing something stupid instead.
- Followed instructions to the letter.
- Called out whenever affected by the attack of a boss zombie, along with supplying the name of said zombie.
- Got lost only once.
- Saved comrades in trouble.
- Mowed down infected (more than me in one map!)
- Attacked at the same time as the rest of the team when playing the infected, as opposed to dying quickly alone.
- Thanked us for the games when she had to leave.

This was, seriously, a dream team mate. What gives? How come a 9 year old is so much better than a bunch of young adults? Seems to me like most more mature players bring an arrogance with them to a new game that is roughly inversely proportional to their actual skill level with the game. Young kid, clean slate, 100% willingness to learn, and no snarky "lolpwnt" mentality.

Time to go start recruiting clan members from Free Realms or something.

P.S. It was her SECOND DAY playing the game.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When is an MMO old enough to reduce it's sub fee?

A lot of the single player games that were made back in 2004 have long since passed through the bargain bin and are now occupying space in the landfill, so why the hell should I be paying the release sub fee cost for an MMO that is 4-5 years old? Are MMOs exempt from price reduction over time? Surely there must be a point where the MMO becomes obsoleted by the new kid on the block and thus must lower it's sub fee to compete...

I recently downloaded the trial of City of Heroes and was keen to sign up, but their sub fee is still $15 US a month? The same price it was when it launched.

I'm not a fan of the subscription based payment model, but am willing to pay if the game is worth it. I like CoH, it's a good game... you just need you brush the necrosis off it's graphics and physics engine. With new trailers of Champions Online coming out every week, CoH is looking pretty old...

This raises the question, is an MMO like a fine wine? Does it get better with age?

I guess the older they are the more content they have and the less bugs, but does that compete price wise with shiny new graphics and a potentially better game play experience?

My girlfriend who is very new to MMOs has shown significant interest in CoH, but I don't want her getting too far into a game that is about to be obsoleted unless I'm being financially compensated. That may sound a bit tightass, but I think I make a fair point!

Yeah... this became a rant...

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's finally happened!

I spent the entire weekend playing an MMO with my girlfriend!

If you're wondering why that's such a big deal, then perhaps I need to fill you in on a little history. My girlfriend very rarely plays video games. I'm talking maybe 20 hours of gaming every 6 months. The only way I've managed to get her interested in games in the past, was by appealing to her love for fantasy and sci-fi (i.e. Star Wars). KOTOR on Xbox and Pokemon on GBA were winners, but almost everything else failed miserably.

There was a period nearly two and a half years ago, where I managed to get her playing WoW. She loved the game, but she stopped playing after about 20 hours online. It was completely my fault. I'm a min-maxer by nature and so I tend to rush through MMO games in order to have the most awesome PvP character available. My gf had no interest in PvP. She was having fun picking herbs and using emotes in the Evermoon fountain. I tried to push my min-maxing style of game play on her in order to improve her character, and it consequently destroyed her entire WoW experience.

If I had of just let her do her own thing, we'd probably have spent the last two and a bit years playing MMOs together. Lesson definitely learned. You cannot try and push 6+ years of MMO gaming experience onto someone completely new to gaming and expect them to understand, or even enjoy it. You have to let them take things at their own pace. This includes learning about the dynamics of the game through VERY slow PvE exploration.

So how did I manage to get her interested in an MMO again after the scare I gave her with WoW?

Friday night, I downloaded the trial version of City of Heroes. I'd been reading about it for quiet some time through various blogs, and I thought that it was a good idea to check it out before Champions Online hit the shelves. I installed the trial and created a female Scrapper (melee DPS). I got to the screen where you create your super hero costume and my gf walked into the room:

GF: "Wow, that looks interesting! What game is that?"

ME: "Just some super hero MMO that lets you design your own costume and then go around beating up baddies"

GF: "Your hero looks like a slut! You should give her some more clothes. Bad guys are more likely to ask 'how much?', than actually run in fear."

ME: "If you think you can design a better costume, you are welcome to try..."
(how good was the bait?)

Ten minutes later, I had a trial account set and the game running on her computer (my old beast). We spent the next 3 hours or so having a blast designing super hero costumes. It's amazing how many combinations there are. Then came the big silent breath hold for me... did she want to play her newly designed super hero? Luckily she instinctively pressed the next button before I even had to ask. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it certainly did me a favor.

Learning from my previous mistake, I took things very very slow. We did the tutorial together, but I made sure I was always 2 steps behind her. She was the expert and I was the novice. She loved thinking she was teaching me and I loved pretending she was as well...

We spent the rest of the weekend leveling our characters in the City of Heroes. We even ordered pizza and ate it in a LAN party style fashion. I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.

A big thank you to NCSoft/Cryptic for City of Heroes and to the bloggers that got me interested in the game to begin with: Sente, Tipa and Syp.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Playable non-playable characters

I started to reply with this idea to a comment in my last post, but it ballooned out as usual into its very own post.

So, the idea was discussed about having players take the role of NPC's. The idea I've had kicking around in my head for a while now is to have a world composed entirely of NPC's that all move around and do their own thing - when a player logs on, they choose an NPC to take control of.

The player is then free to do whatever they wish with that NPC, however within certain bounds. If you take control of a palace guard, he absolutely can not be forced to turn around and slaughter the royal family. However, if you take control of a brigand on the streets... well, his moral compass is a lot more askew, so he can tend more towards the ultra-violence - but he can't be made to go out on a trek to save the city (looting a dragon's lair would of course be a different kettle of fish!). And so forth.

Obviously, there would be some NPC's that would be more desirable to take over than others - your Drizzt's and your Elminster's for example. These characters would have a dynamic price based on the demand for them, and the length of time you can play one for before being logged off it would be less. There could even be some sort of system whereby players can bid on particular slots for particular characters.

The currency with which to buy play time would be accrued by fulfilling the goals of other NPC's you have taken over (i.e. take over that palace guard and defend the royal family from assassins... get points. Take over that brigand on the street and nab some purses for him... get points). Whether you want to blow all your points on playing the most famous character for 10 minutes, or playing a lesser known but still fairly powerful character for a couple of hours, is up to the player. The higher the profile of the character you take over, the more opportunity for changing the world would present itself. There would of course be free characters - peasants and beggars, you know.

So basically, I envision this world that drives along on rails of its own accord resulting from the combined action of thousands of NPC's scattered across the game world. Players can deviate the story from those rails if they work hard enough, by controlling particular NPC's at particular times. Or they can just muck around and enjoy the ride.

One objection many MMO-ites would have (I imagine) is the lack of a persistent avatar with which to identify yourself. To overcome that problem and also to add a bit of flavor, you could have the players being, say, angels or demons, who are able to possess the earth-bound NPC's in the world. In 'spirit' mode players would be able to turbo-fly all around the world, looking for a likely NPC to take control of.

This even makes for interesting faction-based warfare, with angels warring demons by proxy through their human hosts, each seeking to promote their own agenda. Or something.

Conventional MMO problems I see this system as a whole overcoming:

- People can do epic stuff in the game that changes the game world.... they will literally get their 15 minutes of fame (more frequent players will get their 15 minutes of fame more often though!)
- Players will feel like they're driving the story, but because it's governed in large part by NPC actions, they can't deviate things too much from the interesting scripted plots that the developers have in mind for the game.
- No running around in RvR looking for a fight! The armies of NPC's will already be there fighting each other, you can just take control of one and jump right in.
- No armies avoiding each other since 'not defending gives more renown noob'. The NPC's can be made very reluctant to leave their posts (unless of course the army is being routed).
- Death means something - the NPC dies. But YOU don't, you can just take over another one.
- Battles can be balanced - the developers can make sure that in a battle between 2 armies, there is an even representation of all classes. Then the players can waltz in and play whichever class they feel (of course, important battles will fill up fast, so the better you can read the flow of events in the world, the easier it will be to get into such events). No more people bringing classes to a dungeon that are incapable of beating the encounter - developers would be able to design things KNOWING what the group composition will be for each fight.
- No levels or classes or respecs needed for your character (the NPC's have all these things, and control of each one is temporary)
- No accruing endless power - you can save up for that leet NPC, but if I play once a week and you play every day and we both have enough to each take over a wizard in some epic mage duel that's about to happen, we're on the same playing field for that fight.
- Instant travel possible while in spirit mode (avoids wasting player's time) while still avoiding having armies teleport on your doorstep to ruin PvP (since the NPC's still have to walk the old-fashioned way). Also, the 'massive world' epic feeling is retained since in NPC-mode you can't teleport around the place.
- Can easily get rid of griefing while still having a massive open world (since NPC's can not make be made to do things that are too against their nature, those very against griefing can control NPC's in peaceful nations, etc). But, there's still a place for the griefers, since they can take over the murderers and brigands of the world.
- I'm sure there are others....

Anyway, discuss :)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Gave Wizard 101 a bash

First up, I was very impressed with the amazingly small client (I'm a software engineer, so these things impress me). The game downloads itself as you play, which means you only need to download the first 100mb or so and then you can start playing away.

When the game started up, I had to chuckle at the Banjo Kazooie style kiddish graphics. Nothing brings a smile to the face better than the feeling of being a big kid.

I created an apprentice necromancer and set out on a quest to save Unicorn way.

The game designers behind Wizard 101 have done an excellent job. The game is pure genius...


it's not for me, and I'll explain why in a few seconds.

I should point out that I highly recommend this game to every adult out there with an appreciation for good game design. The are so many things done right, that it's really not funny. From the pricing model to the anti-grind design, to the real-time turn-based combat, to the character and item customization... it goes on and on...

Now for what I didn't like:

How many times can you watch the same combat card animation over and over before you go insane? I felt like I needed to unlock or buy new cards just so I didn't have to watch the same damn Fire Cat leap out and vomit up a mouthful of flames on my opponent. It might sound a little nitty picky, and I'm sure kids would love it, but it was starting to feel like an itch I couldn't scratch. For those who haven't played Wizard 101, combat occurs via the use of cards (kinda like Magic the Gathering). When you use a card, an animation occurs and the monster in the card comes to life and jumps into the combat circle (you fight in circles). It then does some funky attack animation on your opponent and disappears. The whole sequence is over in around 10 seconds. Now times that whole sequence by the number of cards in your deck and then by 50 and you've just reached level 7.

I went through the options menu, looking for some way to turn the off combat animations, but then I remembered... it's an MMO. The animations are viewed by everyone, not just yourself. I felt like I had found the one crucial design flaw to the game that had so few...

Like I said, not for me. Brilliant game though.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I, Loot Whore

As usual, Tesh's blog has stimulated interesting thoughts about MMO game design. This particular post and the comments discuss the difficulty and rewards systems for these games we all love (but can't quite figure out why we love them sometimes). Go and read it all now!

Are you back? Excellent. So, it's pretty evident that alternate difficulty levels are required in all games, and that includes MMO's. The problem is that people will only be motivated towards the path that gives them the most loot per unit time invested (and then bitch because they can't complete the hardest difficulty). This means that we must steer the game design away from fostering a 'loot whore' system, and to do that we need to understand why items drive players so much. I think that there are a few reasons:

1) Power in an MMO is largely dependent on items, and the best items are made very hard to obtain due to their great rarity. There is this retarded 'power creep' whereby numbers become bigger and bigger and bigger as you progress through the game (really, my sword is actually 1000x more dangerous than the starter sword? Was the starter sword constructed entirely out of kitten fur?)

2) MMO combat is kind of boring, so just beating an area is not particularly interesting. Compare this to pretty much every non-MMO game, and ask - why do you play it? It's because you enjoy the experience itself.

3) Playing with other people fosters feelings of inferiority if you're not as far along as they are. So there's a strong pull to rush through content to catch up, which means that the story in these games is often skipped. It then loses its pull as a motivator (one of the reasons I am skeptical of SW:TOR's claims of the magical fourth pillar in the MMO universe).

This pull renders the 'side-quest' (non-story related quest) especially useless. And these things take up, literally, 95% of play time in MMO's. Why introduce so much of this artifical kill ten rats content? To keep you playing and therefore paying your subscription, of course.

4) Leveling up makes things more interesting, however the leveling is slowed down so much in MMO's since, again, they want to keep you paying subscription money. This is not a problem in Guild Wars - levelling is very fast, such that most of your time is spent playing at the cap.

These problems each need to be addressed if the field of MMO gameplay is going to move forwards. So we need to:

1) Diminish the dependence of player power on items. Guild Wars does this and it ruined me for WoW. Don't worry, grind is still present in the game - but only for fluff, not for power.

2) Spice up the combat. Whether it's turn-based tactical, or an fps, or anything in between. Current MMO gameplay is just so.... unstimulating. It's great to counteract lag, but that's about it.

3) This may sound odd, but the traditional story-based structure of most games should probably be removed (other than a single player pseudo-tutorial area - AoC did this and it was one of the few celebrated features of the game).

What to replace story with? Easy, it's an MMO - social interaction on a massive scale. Players should be able to work with and against each other to completely alter and immerse themselves in the world - a true sandbox. HOWEVER. Sandboxes are historically very inaccessibly designed games, because new players simply don't know what to do, and because of rampant griefing.

These are not easy options to overcome. However I've given you the means to doing it: you don't have to spend development time on making a story. You instead have to work out good ways for players to make their own stories (yes, this can and should involve bucketloads of user-generated content, to make your game awesome and to save you development costs at the same time).

4) I'm going to develop a new acronym for this one: PYOFG. That's play your If you, as the game developer, find yourself bored grinding through all that lovely 'content' you've created, then your players will too. Don't take the easy way out and just throw in a vegas loot-whore system to force them through it - make it fun, or scrap it from the game. Yes, this may mean that players don't keep paying subscriptions for as long - this is a good clue that the subscription model is incompatible with good gameplay, and since you're not a corporate asshat you actually want to make a good game.

So come up with a new business model. A good example of this is micro-payments for each area (thanks Tesh), allowing people to progress at their own pace and not making them feel as though their money is being wasted if they don't rush. It also still allows you to release mini-expansions at a regular pace.

Vive la Revolution!