Today I’m going to combine a few rants/whines about MMO systems and look at it as a combined, rather than separate, issue. There are two situations that particularly bother me about developing live MMORPGs, and I’m starting to think that they’re related.
The first issue that I have are games that introduce new systems and then either fail to support them or end up deleting them in the future entirely. World of Warcraft is downright notorious for doing this. Blizzard is forever introducing expansion-selling features — glyphs, jewelcrafting, garrisons, artifact weapons, order halls — and then downplaying them or outright eliminating them come the next expansion.
This frustrates me because it creates an environment where nothing can be depended on to last. You get super-invested in these systems because the studio is pushing them hard, and then you’re left holding nothing for all of your hard work and effort. Star Wars Galaxies’ Creature Handlers know of which I speak. It’s also frustrating because then it develops an inner attitude of mistrust, of thinking “well, why get invested in this, it won’t last!” And that’s not the attitude I want to have when playing a game. I want to get excited about it, I want to revel in it, and I want to play with the reasonable expectation of feature stability as long as that game lasts.
The second issue I have are with MMORPGs that, over the course of time, have introduced so many additional systems that they are now bloated and incomprehensible to the newcomer. Long-time players (and developers!) who have been with the game through the introduction of each of these systems don’t notice the bloat, as they’ve gradually grown accustomed to them. But too much in the way of systems can be a barrier to anyone coming into the game who now has to read enormous guides, anyone who wants to come back after a long absence, or anyone who would like to roll a new character and has to navigate all of these systems to build up a proper toon.
Marvel Heroes, pre-shutdown, is a good example of this. That game was forever adding new systems and stats and various ways to develop characters to the point where it gave me a headache to try to figure out everything that had to be done in order to properly build a superhero. And that was a game where your primary interaction was fast mouse button mashing!
As I said, the more I thought about both of these situations, the more I realized that they really are two sides to the same coin. MMOs should and do add features over time. That’s just part of live game growth, and it can be really exciting for players. But MMOs do have issues with too many systems and unsupported systems that ruin the quality of play for newcomers and experienced vets alike.
There’s no miracle cure for this but rather a sensible middle ground. As MMOs introduce new systems, they have to commit to fully supporting them going forward. These new systems should integrate well with previous systems and not overpower, overwrite, or clash with preexisting features. And MMO studios should always be evaluating the number of systems and how they work together — and guard against bloat. They should consider streamlining obtuse systems and even combine two or more related systems together in an improved fashion.
And if a system really won’t be supported, it should be cut — but that should be the final resort rather than a regular habit.