Posted in Elder Scrolls Online, New World

Why do some MMO developers fight so hard against mini-maps?

One trend that I’ve been watching with some dismay is the increasing tendency for MMO developers to push back against having a minimap — an on-screen overhead view of your position — in their games altogether. Fallout 76 and Elder Scrolls Online chucked this in favor of a less-informative compass. New World doesn’t have one at all. There are some older games like Wurm Online and upcoming ones like Embers Adrift that don’t see a need for them.

I think this is flat-out ridiculous. Minimaps are not just helpful to MMO adventuring, they’re a standard feature at this point. So why the pushback from devs (and a vocal segment of players)?

Well, if you listen to devs talk about why their game is so grand as to not need a minimap or discuss with anti-minimap players why this is a good design choice, the argument tends to be boiled down to two talking points:

  1. It encourages you to explore more
  2. It frees up screen real estate

In my view, both of these are really flimsy arguments. A person who loves exploring in an MMO won’t be held back by a minimap (and can often elect to minimize it if so desired) if they really want to explore. I explore a whole ton even with minimaps available. And minimaps are never the focal point of the UI anyway, often tucked into a corner for occasional use. You weren’t really needing that corner empty to make room for some more god rays or something.

It’s not worth the trade-off, because what minimaps give us is so much more than a vague motivation to poke around without directions. The way that I’ve always seen it, minimaps are a representation of your character’s sense of surroundings. In real life if I’m in a room or a familiar building, I have a sense of the layout even if I’m not directly looking at it.

Furthermore, the radar helps navigate unknown spaces that would be confusing and frustrating otherwise. Old school CRPG gamers might recall back when dungeon mazes had to be mapped out on graph paper because you’d have no map whatsoever in your game. More immersive? To some, sure, but to most, just severely annoying. It’s the same reason why I drive around with a GPS-enabled map app, because I’m more interested in getting where I want to go than to get lost, confused, and possibly sobbing in a ditch somewhere.

Taking my minimap away is cutting off a dependable feature that I’ve relied on in MMORPGs for decades now and then telling me that it’s a better product for it. This delusional, “you think you want it but you don’t” kind of thinking may get the devs on that high horse, but meanwhile players scramble around to install minimap mods to make up for this design deficiency.

Stop taking minimaps out of the games. This is dumb. Thanks for coming to my SYP Talk.


4 thoughts on “Why do some MMO developers fight so hard against mini-maps?

  1. This post is everything wrong with MMO players today.

    If all you’re doing is running place to place because thats what an interface is telling you to do, then you’re doing it entirely wrong.

    Are you trying to immerse yourself in a world, or are you trying to complete a checklist?

    I am in support of developers trying to return the sense of world to these games… instead of just making them “video game levels” designed to clear and move to the next.

  2. For all the… uh… vim, of Zippy’s reply — I disagree with the premise of it.

    Morrowind had a minimap, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind could suggest for a moment that game didn’t promote exploration to a degree well beyond what we tend to see these days.

    Minimaps don’t demote the importance of exploration — it’s the fact objectives are literally put onto it and/or the compass.

    I loved my time with Morrowind, but I’m still unsure it’d go a good idea to go back that far. In any case, that’s a whole other topic.

    Back to this one: Minimaps are great. Long live the minimaps! (Or ability to add minimaps via addon, as with ESO!)

  3. I don’t hate minimaps… but I can see why games like New World choose to leave them out. Simply put – you can’t get lost with a minimap. The worlds feels much larger and more dangerous. I remember getting seriously lost in Hibernia when I originally played Dark Age of Camelot, at least one time in company with a Ranger who was (ironically) famous for getting lost. We wandered through the Cliffs of Moher for ages before finally blundering back into territory we recognised. When I returned to DAOC, years later, and found they had added a minimap my reaction was “it’s so small – how did we every get lost in here?”

    Minimaps are convenient for the player, but good game design isn’t just about maximising player convenience. If it was, games would just hand you a max level character, full best in slot gear and the “I Won” achievement on first login. Good game design gives the players a carefully curated level of difficulty, and limited information is part of the designer’s arsenal.

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