lego-sculptureThe old maxim goes that it’s always easier to destroy than create, which is true but also as tired as your mom telling you not to do what your friends are doing because they might jump off bridges and you will follow them blindly while forgetting the unfortunate law of gravity.  When viewed in this rather simple filter — creation vs. destruction — it’s safe to say that most MMO features skew to the “destruction” side.

We kill and kill and kill some more — breaking down those mobs and dungeons from 100% to 0%, in order to be rewarded.  We fight other players, destroy bits of the landscape as the game engine allows, and gleefully put to use that new piece of uber gear to rain even more chaos upon the world.  Practically everything we do in MMOs is to accomplish greater and greater amounts of destruction — particularly the acquisition of better gear and the progression to higher levels.

While MMOs haven’t always been as destruction-centric as they are now, this method of interacting with virtual worlds (“Go to far away places, meet interesting people and kill them” as a military slogan seeps appropriate here) has certainly become the norm.  Lots of people find great appeal in smashing something to bits, and for MMO developers, it’s far easier to model a repeating feature of the game on that than to take small bits and build something up.

But see, there’s that other side of the coin: creation.  Now, I don’t mind combat and whatnot in MMOs, but there’s also a part of me the yearns — as a poet’s heart does in the middle of winter for the first breath of spring — to be able to create as well.  To build, to fashion the world, to accomplish something more than just “I got Hogger on farm status”.  Some MMOs make half-hearted to no attempts at enabling players to create; some go to great lengths and find an overwhelming response from gamers who want to do something other than pick up a +1 mace and hit something in the face with it.

Creation isn’t impossible in MMOs, merely more difficult and challenging to implement, because it is the opposite of destruction in a key way: where destruction requires the designers to give players a wide range of tools to do the one same thing (kill/destroy), creation requires a wide range of tools to be able to do a variety of things, many of which are outside of the foreknowledge of the devs — who have to worry about regulating potentially offensive content that springs up within their games.

But as a guy who used to love playing with Legos more than any other toy, I want to encourage MMOs to continue to push (and in some cases, reclaim) the art of giving players tools to create.  Whether it be providing them with tools to role-play with other characters, tools to craft with, tools to make unique-looking characters, tools to design their own missions and instances, or even tools to build structures and towns within the game world itself, this is the essential lifeblood of making a game more real than an “on rails” photocopied experience.

I adore City of Heroes and Champions’ character creators, which always get the same reaction after people spend days and days with them — “Why don’t more games let you do this?”  I find it captivating when people link to some of the more creative player houses in EQ2, the result of hours of work to build something that has zero impact on combat and leveling, but is huge in making that player — and others — feel part of a living world.  I think it’s a shame that titles like Tale in the Desert, which focused on crafting as an exclusive path of progression, weren’t exalted and expanded upon by more companies.  I’ve even started to appreciate and champion the cause of role-players, who often work to create content without the support of the game’s developers whatsoever (other than creating often-unregulated RP server rulesets).

If you give us so many tools to destroy, why aren’t we getting more to create?


16 thoughts on “Creation

  1. Andrew September 8, 2009 / 7:59 am

    “If you give us so many tools to destroy, why aren’t we getting more to create?”

    In bullet point format:

    – Way harder to implement
    – Way harder to balance
    – Way easier for “creators” to abuse

  2. Slurms September 8, 2009 / 8:02 am

    Enter: Lego Universe

    In regards to the article though. It’s all about control. It’s much easier to create a game and limit the players control over it’s environment. You make a controlled experience. Theres so many factors that weigh in when you give more control to the player base. Look at EVE’s economy for instance. It’s entirely player driven. But look how much of a learning curve there is to getting anywhere in that game now that it’s been out and established for so long.

    I think we’ll eventually get a game where we have more ability to create, but it’s going to take a monster of a developer to bring us something that will work on a massive scale. Maybe the Lego MMO is a good first step?

  3. Frank September 8, 2009 / 8:04 am

    Back when online games were text-based, there were MUDs, which were the hack and slash type that we’ve come to know and love, and MUSHes or MOOs, which emphasized creation of items and room customization. The latter never really took off, although Second Life is the biggest spiritual successor to those games.

    MUDs though, had creation after a certain point. It’s too bad that there aren’t people more mindful of what could be created with a system in which people were able to craft what they wanted.

  4. CunningB September 8, 2009 / 8:08 am

    I agree with you totally here, the only creation you see in games these days are the crafting mechanics they impliment, and most of the time these fall by the way side as a means of character development because the gear you get from “destroying” is often far far better than that you create >.>

    Only MMO ive come across with ligitimate large scale creation is EvE Online, which as boring as some see it, has an economy almost completely run by the players through trade and construction of virtual goods.

  5. Capn John September 8, 2009 / 8:47 am

    Saylah’s house in Runes of Magic was like that. If you took part in contests you could win upgrades to your house, such that Saylah’s house had a second level whereas my default house was just a single-storey (oh, I see. Americans drop the E from storey. 10 years here and I’m still finding words spelled differently.)

    Saylah had also incorporated each of the crafting work tables into the design of her house so fluidly that I was unable to pick them out at first, which meant her house not only looked great, but was functional, too. Because characters in RoM can learn all of the trades (while mastering just one or two) this meant Saylah didn’t have to run around town from one area and one work station to the next to process her gathered materials into usable components, she could just port to her house and process all of her raw mats there. She told me when her Guildies discovered that, it was not uncommon for her to log in and be greeted by several Guildies in her house taking advantage of this.

  6. Siggy September 8, 2009 / 8:54 am


    Great post! This really got me thinking. One of my favorite moments in WOW was when the Sunwell Isle opened up and you had to do dailies to unlock different parts of the war effort. This was incredably immersive for me as a gamer. It was one of the few times in an MMO that I felt like my actions were effecting the world as a whole. It really brought the guild together as well. I still remember the messages in guild chat to have every member go out there and do the dailies to help the server. Why there isn’t more of this I have no idea.


  7. tarisai September 8, 2009 / 9:07 am

    Get rid of vendors and make all attainable items drops from mobs and crafters. All trading takes place on a player driven market. When you die, you loose your phat loot.


    This allows people to craft full time and gain wealth*. It also allows people to kill full time and gain wealth*. Something EVE Online has done very well.

    This doesn’t really fit in with the level based system where you gain xp for killing mobs and completing quests. I guess you gain similar XP for crafting items. I rethink of the popular level system isn’t exactly blasphemous and would perhaps do a lot of good.
    Obviously it works perfectly with a skill based system such as EVE’s.

    *Note: Wealth being whatever in game reward you are playing for.

  8. Xapur September 8, 2009 / 9:56 am

    Very interesting questions to think about, as even crafting to build things in most MMO results in killing lots of mobs to get materials. Is it a mirror of our society or just a “commercial lazyness” ? I’m still waiting for a multiplayer game where you don’t have to bash/kill/destroy, and don’t just group to be stronger, but really interact with the others 😉

  9. Zeno September 8, 2009 / 11:42 am

    I pretty much agree with everything you said. I also believe some MMO companies and their parent companies (like Atari and Activision) are stuck in a rut with what they perceive to “work” for the subscribing masses. They use tried and true techniques which is nice but often leaves much to be desired in terms of ingenuity and creativity in the end product. I would like to think that companies will get the idea eventually but it might take a while and we as consumers need to demand such things by being vocal and voting with our subscription dollars. Along those lines we as a community need to reward creativity in MMO development and be vocal there as well.

    On a side note, Lego Universe might be a step in the right direction. I might test it out with my Sons if it ever comes out.

  10. Kevin September 8, 2009 / 11:48 am

    I agree with you. It is one of the directions MMOs need to head. Crafting is one method of creating. Player Housing is another great way. Several MMOs implement these well so far. Unfortunately, most MMOs do not make these relevant to your character.

    Whether you like or dislike the game, one thing I like about Aion is they give you XP for crafting, gathering, crafting quests, etc. They mentioned wanting to add player housing, but not until they can make it a fulfilling experience. WHAT?! Devs that care about making quality features with a purpose!?!? But how does that help us DESTROY!?

    I think there’s even more out there to discover. CoX had a great idea for making your own missions and enemies. I think the NEXT step for the MMO genre is making your own DUNGEONS. Give several dungeon entrances throughout the world (as if running to an instance in WoW). Give the option to randomize the dungeon (like Diablo II) or to keep it static. The player would be able to create monsters (to an extent) and loot that drops (to an extent). Starcraft and Warcraft III had great map creators with great custom maps. Look at the things the community makes in Little Big World.

    Sure, I don’t have all these great ideas for maps… but someone out there does.

  11. spinks September 8, 2009 / 1:10 pm

    I have a lot of faith in players’ abilities to create stuff even when game devs don’t provide the tools. It just makes me sad to imagine how much better stuff we could make if we DID have the tools.

  12. vekkth September 8, 2009 / 2:51 pm

    very good read, was thinking about stuff like that rather often.

  13. We Fly Spitfires September 8, 2009 / 4:27 pm

    Basically, destruction is more popular. Look at WoW – it’s the most popular MMORPG and has the worst character creator and roleplay features.

  14. Thecho September 8, 2009 / 5:34 pm

    Decomposition and Reconstruction (or general construction)

  15. Radishlaw September 8, 2009 / 9:21 pm

    Most problems with this approach:

    1. Inertia: Nearly every game put emphasis on destroying. “Creating things” are often considered “girly/boring” by some players.

    2. Difficulty in balance: some creation may lead to rapid degradation in other area of the game (example: mission creator in COX), and newcomers may have difficulty in starting (for example if some people already have a big castle they would not need a newbie stonemason). In this case, you may have to allow some way for these creation to be destroyed to give others a chance.

    3. Stress on infrastructure: from crafting to player housing, most of the “construction” will create new data for the server. Just as there is a limit to how many players can be in one server, there is a limit to how many objects can be in a server. Like the player problem, instancing is a solution.

    4. Design problems: content creation system requires the designer to know what can be created in the first place, and has to account for everything. The more variable there is, the more work there is to be done to ensure no unintended result is gained.

    Still I agree this is a good direction to go for a more well-rounded mmos/niche mmos in the future, one recent example is minecraft(

  16. garumoo September 11, 2009 / 12:20 pm

    Another problem with creation vs destruction is that there are always some damn fool that wants to burn the town down. For every 1 person trying to create something, there would 5 or 10 who would delight in smashing windows.

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