Steal These MMO Features — Please!

Feature theft — or “borrowing”, for the conscience-addled developer — is a common enough way of life in the MMORPG world.  WoW starts putting exclamation points above people’s heads as some sort of text-less “click here dummy!” icon system, and then suddenly everyone else is doing it, just with a fresh coat of paint to avoid outright claims of plagiarism.

Fine, bring it on, I say!  In fact, here are some MMO features I wish more games would abduct from others and force them to work in the salt mines underneath EA or Turbine’s palaces:

1. Sidekicking/Exemplaring

For a game that came out waaaaay back in 2003, City of Heroes turned a lot of then-conventional MMO staples on their ears and introduced a few radical and crowd-pleasing ideas.  One of these was the sidekicking system, where lower-level players could be temporarily linked with a higher-level player and boosted up to the second player’s relative strength and toughness.  This allows friends of any level to play together at any time — something that few other MMOs have done before or since, and yet players clamor for this more than almost anything else.  It’s downright counterproductive for companies who are looking to retain players to tell those same players they can’t run missions with their friends because one person plays more than another.

2. Public Quests

Warhammer’s Public Quests have seen both praise (for the general “raid without the bullcrap” idea and implementation) and scorn (for PQs that are deserted and others that are virtual clones of ones that came before), but the idea behind these dynamic, join-at-any-time, group-without-the-pressure events should be included, standard, in any MMO that’s coming down the pike.

3. Appearance System/Gear

I really harbor suspicions that MMO devs know exactly what will make players happy — and they choose to deny their subscribers those features or changes, because the devs think they know better.  Kind of like how parents make kids eat spinach instead of ice cream.  Sometimes they’re right, but sometimes they’re beyond stupid.

The look of your character is one of these areas.  Players hate looking stupid, and therefore want choice over how they appear to themselves and others.  EverQuest 2’s appearance tab let players equip two sets of gear simultaneously — one for visual show only, and one for stats.  Through this, players could tailor their favorite look while continuing to upgrade their “real” gear.  While other games are starting to incorporate this, it’s not the de facto standard yet (*glares at Blizzard’s clown outfits*).

4. Phasing (World Instancing)

Guild Wars and Blizzard might be the two biggest names attempting to show off phasing (visually changing the world for you after your character accomplishes something), but we’ve yet to see a MMO go full-fledged awesome with this idea — and certainly more need to do so.  The possibilities for storytelling and empowering players with world-changing decisions are endless.

5. Music

I’ll admit it — LOTRO is the role-player’s wet dream.  Unlike other titles, the devs really went out of their way to throw in silly fluff elements that had no greater purpose than to let players have fun and do something other than killing.  Their music system might be one of LOTRO’s biggest successes — players are able to buy and then play a variety of instruments for others to hear, and even coordinate to perform songs together.  Within the first month of the game’s release there were concerts being put on — and attended! — and that’s something that shouldn’t be denied to other games.

6. Player Housing

I’m kind of sick of how player housing gets shoved waaaay down on the list of priorities for up-and-coming MMORPGs.  It’s invariably one of the first questions asked (will the game have it?) and invariably they respond with one of those non-committal remarks (we won’t have it at launch because if we do it we want to do it well).  The fact that so many titles have yet to introduce this much-wanted feature YEARS after release (*glares again at Blizzard*) boggles the mind.

Players like to feel as though they “belong” in the game world, that they have a virtual place to call home and decorate, even if they don’t visit it much.  And it should go without saying that RPers need this like they need air.

7. Non-Combat Classes

Just when did we decide that it was no longer useful to develop classes that didn’t put “homicidal murder” at the top of their skills list?  It wasn’t the most common thing in the world, but MMOs used to offer players non-combat options for advancement, including Star Wars Galaxies’ entertainer career.

6 thoughts on “Steal These MMO Features — Please!

  1. If WAR ever wanted a true leg up on WoW they would add housing asap. Like you said, it is the first question that comes out of players mouths.

    I like Blizzards clown outfits! Even tho they screwed up with WotLK and were too lazy to go back to BC and update the quest rewards for DKs. Why would a DK go do MC, BWL, SSC, ZG, Hyjal, BT, ZA, Kara, or any other class tagged gear ever before Northernd? Lazy! Lazy!

  2. My responses:

    1) Agree, but See #4.
    2) Totally
    3) Well duh! Blizzard has perfected this. Figure out what the customers want and then make them earn it by grinding the game – but not too grindy.
    4) Disagree totally. Phasing is a huge problem and is actually in direct conflict with #1. The world should change, but phasing is not the way to do it.
    5) Meh, I like to listen to the world and turn the music off in every game that has it.
    6) Have you seen the player cities in SWG?? What a piggin mess. No thanks. Maybe everyone gets a room at the inn? Or have some sort of highly controlled construction planning.
    7) Okay that would be cool. The trouble with the non-combat professions in SWG though is that they are essentially worthless, because of other implementation decisions, until max-level. So everyone simply grinds their way to max.

  3. I agree with all of these.

    I like the way that LotRO has implemented housing, with instanced “neighborhoods” so that there’s really no mess and housing is pretty much limitless. It’s clean and simple, but I wish there were more perks to the neighborhoods… they have a bank/repair vendor in each neighborhood, but how about crafting facilities? That would be pretty sweet.

  4. This would pretty much be part and parcel my list, except for #4. I dislike ‘phasing’. Yes, it has opportunities for story progression, but they’re a bit cheap too. “Hey, let’s re-use much of the same area / architecture to double up on content”. Meh.

    1. Sidekicking totally on top. Hear, hear.

    6. Player Housing. Even with the games that do have it, I’d like to see it improved.

    For starters, give it multiple tiers: the instanced neighborhoods (or apartments) for everyone / anyone, but for the uber rich– I’d like to see all those fake doors put to good usage (anyone ever counted doors you can’t open in Stormwind or Bree?), let ’em be living quarters for the highest bidders. That’d throw more life into these worlds.

  5. Ugh and WAR just added Sidekick / Apprentice, but you have to pay to get it via their recruit-a-friend system. That’s right, get 4 people to pay to get one of the most asked-for features in the game. =/

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