Anyone who plays tabletop RPGs will attest to how cool and interesting even the smallest actions or events can be while role-playing. As a kid, I felt the same sense of wonder in my first MMORPG, The Fourth Prophecy, as I still do while playing Dungeons and Dragons. I spent hours upon hours having fun with a warrior in T4P, whose only option was to swat at enemies with his +1 short sword. Now, I sit in Meridian, the Defiant headquarters in Rift, with upwards of thirty unique spells on my skill bars, only mashing specific buttons in order to deal optimal damage to a test dummy. New games suffocate players with choices and activities, which ends up diluting the excitement of learning a new spell or finding a new piece of gear. No longer can I adventure across the world of Azeroth with three skills and a pet imp without wondering what my best spell rotation is. The advancement of MMORPG meta-gaming has created a new world of competition for both PvP and PvE players by breaking apart the game into its most basic pieces, but this process has also stripped the experience of the wonder and discovery that drew me to MMORPGs in the first place.
Can The New-Game Experience Be Replicated?
It would be ridiculous to expect a genre to stay in its infancy, as games grow along with their fanbases, but I often wonder if it would be possible to recreate the ‘first-MMORPG’ experience through design. Blizzard is famous for refusing to allow players to play a Pre-Burning Crusade version of World of Warcraft, because they want players to focus on the current version of the game, but what would happen if they attempted to recreate some of the charm of Vanilla WoW in the next Warcraft expansion? The question balances on the problem of whether or not a game’s charm has an inverse relationship with the player’s understanding. Can a veteran WoW player still feel the sense of awe that early Vanilla wow evoked or is Blizzard incapable of recapturing that experience? I think it’s possible to design an MMORPG experience that rewards exploration and discovery, but its also impossible to make a player forget what they already know about a game. The key is to encourage activity that leads to the kinds of gameplay that makes alpha, beta and early-launch MMORPGs so exciting.
The Power is Yours!
The weight is not entirely on the game designer’s shoulders, however. A lot of the joy from the basic MMORPG experience comes from how the player chooses to play. Just like a game of Dungeons and Dragons, the depth and complexity of an adventure is up to the player. Most MMO players opt to rely on quest tracking mods to see where they need to go and who they need to talk to, rather than reading quest text and talking to non-player characters. Story and exploration come at the cost of time and if a player isn’t willing to take the time to smell the flowers, then they might not know there are flowers there at all.