If you are an MMORPG player, or even if you aren't but have friends who are, or have a keen interest in virtual worlds and societies, you already know that most of the MMORPGs are pretty similar, and they are based on the same abstract game mechanics.
There are, of course, many differences between the game settings, artwork, time period, theme, items, spells, power ups, level ladder, etc.
But they still have a few things in common:
1. A lot of repetition.
2. Superficial quests (not a lot of a storyline, many times randomly generated).
3. Unstable economies.
4. Lack of a "world changing" ability, where one player or group of players can forever alter the history and the direction of the game.
Now, let's analyze each point, and see why all the MMOs, from those created by small, indie teams, to those backed by big corporations, which require millions of dollars to produce, and see why is that none of them tried to solve those abovementioned issues.The repetition, AKA "Level Grinding"
There are two distinct kind of online games: those where there is no persistency, and implicitly ingame-experience and ingame-skills, and those with a persistent world, experience, and skills, which are saved when you log out, and restored when you log in.
Games such as Counter Strike, Quake, Doom, DotA and so on rely only on the experience and skill of the human playing them.
The average MMORPG is part of the first category, where the ingame status is preserved between sessions.
Each type of game has it's fans. For example, Counter Strike is an extremely popular game, played by many millions each and every day, for many years.
WoW has millions of fans as well.
Some people play both kind of games; they are not mutually exclusive.
Every once in a while, someone on some forum, chatroom or article will come up with this very original idea of combining both worlds. For example, they envision a virtual world where you don't really have ingame-experience, and you would play the game the FPS style, only that instead of having 16-32 players on a server, you'd have maybe 1-2K players.
Unfortunately, this is not possible. Why? Well, the first thing is technical reasons. A FPS game requires a very low latency, preferably under 100 MS. FPS games are also very bandwidth hungry, because they have to send a lot of data, such as the position of every entity, speed, direction, bullets and so on. Unlike a MMO, the FPS has to send this data many times each second, because it is critical that "what you see is what you get". The MMO can get away with that, since it is less critical for all the players to be perfectly synchronized. The result of a spell or missile collision is often calculated by the server based on some formulas having to do with the distance, weapon accuracy, player skills, and usually a random number as well. Therefore, rather then attacking in the direction where a player is, hoping to hit, most of the MMOs will let you directly select which player you want to hit.
The second reason why a massive FPS is not possible has to do with the "fun" part. It would quickly becomes boring to play a FPS in a world with 1000 players online.
Now, I am not saying it wouldn't be fun to play some sort of FPS castle siege sort of game every once in a while, but playing it every day, for hours? The fun of FPSs is the teamwork, and teamwork is impossible in very large numbers. You can't coordinate people very effectively, you wouldn't remember their name, skill, etc.
On the other hand, a castle siege type of event in a MMORPG would be fun EXACTLY because of the repetitive nature of the game.
Think about it: In real life, where do you make most of the friends? For most of the people, the answer is: At school and at work.
Now, most of the people would agree that school and work are both boring and repetitive places, where you spend a lot of time doing things that are not so fun, but vital in the works of the society.
In a similar manner, the MMO players usually make friends in boring places. Do you want to increase your mining level? Well, my friend, you have to spend many days in the mines, mining for ore. This is quite boring, and for this reason many miners start chatting about various things. Eventually, you will realize that you have things in common, and become friends. Or, the opposite, you realize you hate this guy and become enemies.
Same thing with the other skills; you will need to interact, more or less directly with a lot of people. Some games require player cooperation, while other games make it optional. Either way, the player interaction in a MMORPG is frequent.
Now, after a while you will want to start a guild/group or join one. Obviously, you will want to have as many friends in that guild, which is why you will recruit your friends.
In games that allow guilds to build/buy territory, that can be attacked/conquered by others, it is normal for all the owners of that territory to come together and defend it against the attackers. So we have a castle siege, but this time the two teams (those who attack and those who defend) have a very strong motivation to defend/attack the territory. And unlike in a FPS, the defenders have invested a lot of time and pride in that castle, so they organize better, and put more passion and effort into defending it at any cost. Would they have such a strong motivation to defend it if they knew the game will be restarted once they win or lose the battle, and they will have to fight again, and again and again, to no end?
So you see, the repetitive nature is not something bad; it is something that, just like in the real life, motivates you to strive for more, and work more. It makes you put more value on your virtual possessions, and on your character. It leads you to make new friends, and have more goals. It gives you the reason to live in a virtual world. It is in the human nature to do the same thing every day, over and over again.Superficial quests
The reason so many MMORPGs have little or no quests, most of them being: "go kill 10 rats", is not necessarily because the developers lack the imagination to create a big storyline, revealed in quests.
Most of the time it is due to the players themselves. Let's admit it. You (I am talking about the average MMO player) do not think the storyline is very important. You never bothered reading the stories on the website, or going to the game's library and reading all the books about the history of the world.
If a quest is too demanding for you, you will go to Google and search for an walk through. Or perhaps just go to a site with 'tips' and read which is the fastest way to solve the quests, and what the prizes are.
Yes, I know, some of you would really, really like to have good quests, with a lot of story. You like to read everything about the game world, it's history, and even go and read fan fiction stories. Unfortunately, you are a minority. The development teams have limited resources, and so many things on their "to do" list. A lot of their "to do" list is already taken by stuff such as find this bug, fix this bug, verify this bug report and see if it's there and if it can be reproduced, adjust the drop chance of an item, adjust the stats of a monster, and so on.
The little remaining time has to be divided between adding new features (such as spells, weapons, monsters, locations, skills) and writing/implementing a new quest.
Given the fact that pretty much everyone likes a new location/monster/skill, only perhaps 20% of the players would truly appreciate a new quest. From this 20% percent, some will like the new quest, while some will criticize it, and complain about various issues, such as: the quest is too easy/hard, the story line takes a turn they don't like, etc.
So, in conclusion, the MMORPG quests are lacking due to the fact that most of the players would rather have the development team focus on other issues.Unstable economies
A lot of complaints are targeted at the fact that the MMOs have a very fluctuating economy. Some people consider this a bad thing, while a few of them see this as an opportunity for them to affect the economy of the game in their favor.
The reason why the virtual economies are so fluctuating is the fact that the number of players is usually constantly rising, while the number of resources is usually the same (infinite). I am talking about resources that can be exploited in a reliable way, for example the ore in a mine. The monster drops are not reliable, therefore I do not consider them a resource.
Why are the resources infinite, unlike in the real life? Well, the number one reason is that the real life and the MMORPG life are very different.
For example, in the real life you die once, and that's it. No more respawns. When you die, you become, again, a resource, so all your minerals return to the environment. The quantity of everything is finite, which makes some resources very valuable (such as the gold). Because of this, many people are very poor, and a lot of them die of hunger every day. A lot of wars are started to control the resources, and in those wars a lot of people die, and even more have their lives turned into a living hell. There is a lot of misery in the real life.
In a MMO, on the other hand, you want to avoid this misery. People play games to feel entertained, not miserable. As such, the developers must implement different rules, and distribute the resources in an equitable way, so that everyone can have access to them.
Limiting the quantity of resources to an arbitrary number each day would make a lot of people unhappy. Limiting the quantity of resources a player can harvest each day would create an artificial barrier and wont help that much either, as one player could for example just go kill monsters after he can't harvest anymore for that day. And by killing monsters you still get some drops, which contribute to the "infinite wealth" problem.
In many games, there are NPCs which will buy items from the players. Those items can come from loots, or, if the game permits it, from the manufacturing process, where the player creates his own items using resources. This will cause a limitless influx of money in the game, because if the resources are infinite, so is, in theory, the production.
Such a limitless influx of money will of course create inflation. And the inflation will create some discontent with the players, which is why they are often heard saying: "the economy of game X suckkx!!11".
Are there ways to control the economy, so it won't quickly degenerate to a point where it is irrevocably ruined? Sure, there are some ways to do that, and, indeed, many games implement some countermeasures. But given the fact that the players have this affinity for finding ways around those countermeasures, and the goal of the developers to make the game fun, the result will be, inevitably, a very fluctuating economy.Lack of a "world changing" ability
I heard some complaints about the MMORPG developers not giving their players the ability to "change the world".
Now, I am not going to get into the technical implementation of such a design, but I am going to answer with a question: "Do you want OTHERS to be able to change your world? Or do you perhaps want only YOU to be able to change the world?"
Let's imagine a MMO so advanced that it replicates the real life.
How would you feel if, after working a few years with your friends to build this greatest city ever, The Griefers Guild decides to sneak in a 50 GigaTon nuke in your city and destroy everything? Would you like that?
Sure, it would be very cool if that would happen to someone's else city, but not to yours.
How about if the development team spends a few weeks to create this brave new, world changing quest, where, of course, only one player can win? Obviously, nothing else will be implemented in the game during that period, because the development team was busy over their head working at that quest.
So with great anticipation you prepare for that great quest, and just before it starts, your Internet connection goes down? Or maybe you live on another continent, and the quest takes place at 4 AM, and the next day you have to finish a very important project at work, or have a decisive exam at school?
What if you are in a small vacation, on some tropical island, away from the computer?
Would you like to come back and find out you just missed the event of the year?
Wouldn't it, maybe, be better for the developers to spend their time adding normal quests (the trivial, non world changing), or perhaps working on some bug fixes or balancing issues?
In conclusion, the MMORPGs are done the way they are because people like them as they are. Yes, many people complain, but when you put so much work into a product, you kind of want to please the people who appreciate it, not those who just spend their time criticizing it.
Those who want more quests, and "save the world" stories, they should perhaps play a single player RPG, such as Fallout 1&2, the Ultima series, or whatever else you like.
The MMORPGs are not for everyone, and you shouldn't spend your time playing a genre that you hate in the first place.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and feel free to leave comments.