I don’t even know where to begin with this. I am so frustrated with the state of MMO games as of late. On one hand, we have games like Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) pushing people to play alone. The story feels like it revolves around your character. Now, I’ve lost count of how many people saying they would have preferred a proper Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) 3. If a game is all about me, why do I need to connect to an outside server? Why do I care about other players? Personally, I do not care for PvP, so that leaves me with no reason at all to play with others. The game, while marketed as an MMO, is actually a glorified lobby.
On the other hand, Blizzard made Diablo 3 into a pseudo-MMO. It requires a network connection, even when playing by yourself. Ironically, the only difference between Diablo 3 and SWTOR is that you can see other people running around in SWTOR. Diablo 3 has you explicitly host or join a game instance.
I have a message for anyone and everyone making an MMO: if I cannot affect the world, it’s not an MMO. In other words, yes, Minecraft is ten times the MMO than SWTOR will ever be. The only difference is that server hosting is left up to players in Minecraft. So, sure, there is no Mojang server with 1000+ players. Still, when I enter a Minecraft server with 8 people, my decisions affect the other 7. The decisions of the other 7 affect me. If others want to quest into the underground, they can hand me some gear and allow me to contribute (as opposed to games where we cannot cooperate due to me being level 2 and them being level 50+).
The next great MMO will be one where players want to login because of the world, not the other players. A common concern in MMO design is that there always needs to be something for players to do. All too often, this concern becomes the centric driver of design. The result is a big single-player game where you may observe others doing the same quests you are doing. After all, who wants a game where quests are mutually exclusive? You’d see your quests ending abruptly as someone else in the world already completed them and claimed the rewards! Still, it is amazing how much server infrastructure is maintained so that people can play alone.
The design process must be absolutely miserable. Rather than enhancing the game’s core mechanic, you’d spend all your time trying to fill 50 levels worth of random activities. You know what Minecraft and Ultima Online have in common? They have no levels. There is still personal progression, but it is a natural consequence of time spent in the game, not an artificial score. This “next great MMO” needs to make players want to come affect the world. This does not mean players have to play together (another complaint I’ve heard); they just have to live with other players’ decisions.
Affecting the world is not limited to physically altering the terrain (a la Minecraft). A great MMO could include political turmoil/control between cities. A great MMO could include people working together to mitigate natural disasters. A great MMO could include a single boss with 12 trillion hit points that do not regenerate between fights; so, everyone needs to go do what damage they can.
I want to join MMOs where the world matters. Otherwise, I’ll just play with my friends in instanced games like Torchlight II.