What's wrong with MMORPGs

This guy nails it pretty well. He reflects my feelings, and the feelings of quite a few people I have talked to on the subject as well.

If you are even tangentially involved in any MMORPG please take a pad and pencil before clicking this link and take copious notes.


Thanks for that. It’s an excellent overview.

FWIW my “next big thing” antenna have been quivering over WOW for a few months now.

I’m gonna read the whole thing… but was just wondering if he mentioned annoying kids?

Pretty optimistic on the WoW front, IMO. I expect it will have most of the same problems other MMORPGs have.

I haven’t quite given up on them – I’ll probably play either EQ2 or WoW or possibly Horizons if it gets great buzz – but I’m close. I haven’t been a subscriber in over two years, I think, and every time I look at a new game I think “Feh, not worth upgrading the computer for that!”

They always begin well but I just don’t have the time to meet their requirements – and even if you are not competitive (I am, unfortunately), playing with others often enough to make friends takes a lot of time. These are bad games for parents of small children. :-(

If I had to bet, based on my own experience I would project a violent contraction in MMORPGs as more and more players experience them and burn out. The core community of likely players just isn’t that big…

Good article.


Seems like every article I see lamenting how crappy MMORPGs are invariably turn into some type of discussion of how boring and repetitive the gameplay mechanics are.

Hello?!? You remember PnP RPGs, right? You remember pretty much every single player CRPG? The mechanics are simple and repetitive and are designed that way. The thing that compels folks in single player CRPGs is the story. The thing that compels folks in PnP is the story and player interactions. If you’re not playing MMORPG for the story and player interaction (and more the former than the latter), it’s not exactly poor game design that’s keeping you from enjoying the game.

I just don’t get it. 3D graphics plus actually having to hit a button is a far, far greater paradigm of interaction than sorting through various plastic polyhedra and rolling them.

Someone edumacate me please?

Pen and paper stuff has the benefit of a GM who can invent stuff on the fly – imagine playing an MMO and having a GM tossing encounters at you and speaking through NPCs to you.

Nah, I know how pen and paper works. But that seems akin to me to saying “I don’t like MMORPGs because by the time you’ve played a year, you know everything there is to know.” There’s plenty of stuff out there that you still haven’t seen unless you spend all your offline time looking up info on the game and reading spoilers. Sure, I guess you have to go find it instead of having it show up on your doorstep, but I’m still not convinced that’s enough of a drawback given that you’re still not dealing with tedious amounts of dice rolls just to interact.

What I’m getting at is there’s a fundamental difference, IMO, in the way that players approach online MMO RPGs and any other type, with (IMNSHO) a tremendous amount of unrealistic expectations pinned thereupon.

“Nah, I know how pen and paper works.”

Maybe with the games you have played but I have had many fun PnP experiences that were a direct result of a good GM. That does make a diffrence for some people.

The big difference between being a knight of the kitchen table and playing a MMORPG is personalization. (For lack of a better word I can think of)

What I mean is… if you’re playing around a table and your character slays a dragon, that dragon is dead. It doesn’t come back in 20 minutes. You can’t go back and kill it every day. What’s more, you can walk into town and people give you a free room at the inn and their daughters because you saved the town from the dragon. You’ve made a change in the world and are recognized for it.

Single player RPG’s do this too - usually.

However, in a MMO, the opposite it true. You, personally, have no effect on the world. You can’t even chop down a tree. It’s a totally non-interactive game except for three things you can do:

  1. Kill monsters that respawn endlessly
  2. Fed-ex quests. Kill this, pick up that, take it here, get this. Help other people to do the same monster, item, delivery. It never changes, quest is never solved in the world.
  3. Crafting items. Utterly fucking boring in the extreme. Woo… I made a thing. I made it again. Again. Again. Again. I can make a new thing now! Again. Again. Again. Zzzzzzzzzzz

So basically, the only “fun” your going to have is fighting monsters. Character advancement is the path to fighting new monsters, when you’re bored with the old ones. Character advancement is a means to an end, not really a “goal” itself unless you’re really into it.

Big issue #2 with MMORPGs is that you have to devote as much time to the game as your friends do. If you don’t then within a week you cannot play with them any longer.

That article seems to be spot on, as it shows many of the things that make me reluctant to try MMORPGs. Weren’t these games supposed to offer more dynamic and changeable worlds? Why is it that the opposite is happening? Wasn’t the promise that it would be more like real life and living in a fantasy world? (Well, the first thing isn’t much of a selling point to me.)

However, I do think perhaps a couple of things are either beginning to be addressed or exaggerated just a tad. Granted, my only experience is with FFXI and not too much of that, but I’m thinking if that game can do it and it isn’t all that different from the norm, then maybe the article’s a bit long on drama to get its admittedly quite seemingly true point across. There were always plenty of computer NPCs standing around to give interface hints, explain how to do things and recommend places to go, as well as story-relative computer characters to give you some structure and missions. Second of all, how hard do these games make it to change your class? I mean, you aren’t set aren’t you? You can change like the job system with your own free will, I mean may mean a bit of back-tracking but you still have a choice right? And I’m assuming there are all sorts of D&D-like mixtures of classes with advantages and disadvantages like a kit or hybrid class or dual class, that are equivalent to having your second job or advanced job in FFXI? If the newer skills are just buffs of older ones then how do these games take in high scores, as that’s not exactly blazing game design?

Third, storyline is wafer-thing? I’m assuming most MMORPGs have a whole bunch of NPCs and journals and diaries and selectable dialogues and sidequests on top of the player characters thing, right? Like the famous giant’s toe scene I’ve heard mentioned in Everquest? And there’s supposed to be puzzles, I’ve heard Infocom designers talk about them? In FFXI’s case, there were some pretty involved cutscenes.

From what I’ve heard A Tale in the Desert is very different and Shadowbane does some of these things right.

But yeah, none of these small differences really get to the end of the bigger problem. Of course games like these have to an overarching structure with which to have some sort of sense of community, but that doesn’t mean they need to seem like some sort of RPG cliche factory. I would try more if they offered me neat, world-specific things to do. I’d love to have an age of exploration MMORPG that use Zelda’s sailing or Skies of Arcadia’s flying with ship to ship battles and piratey options and treasure hunting. (Well, there is Puzzle Pirates, but it hardly seems like the same thing.) It doesn’t seem to me like there is a need to make the superrare and valuable available to anyone, start legends and make them there until one person finds them, and don’t make them dependent on your level to find, perhaps make it like uncovering a puzzle or forming an accurate map based on clues. It really shouldn’t be that hard, especially with developers on hand tweaking the game. They already do it with missions and quests and such. Why have it feel like you’re lining up at the RPG amusement park to go on the scary ride with everyone else? I don’t know, offer an MMORPG where I can start as several creatures and evolve into other forms, independent of such RPG statistics. Maybe its an underground world where everyone primarily mines to the dangerous deepest depths to find new sorts of gems and craft objects for alien traders who value the planet’s works, with different styles and sorts due to different civilizations. Maybe we can be witches and warlocks and have Quidditch like games and research spells and have lots of wacky spells to try out and transform the world that work on a resource of sorts. Why the need to stick to pest control?


That’s the fundamental flaw in MMORPGs right now. In a standard CRPG or PnP game, you are the hero. The entire game revolves around you and your party, and the things you do are momentous and world-altering. MMORPGs currently try to duplicate that, but they can’t because each player is not the center of the game world. It is much more akin to the real world than a heroic story.

I believe that. But that seems far divorced from what folks complain about as far as the games go.

Looking at, say, Kitsune’s post, (and inferring from the same complaints over and over), people say what they want is a truly dynamic world. AC/AC2 has tried that on a set schedule (monthly updates) and haven’t been deluged with folks. They do indeed let their players (in the aggregate at least) change some things about the world (new episodes hinge on what happened with real players previously).

AC2 at least also solved the repeated ad infinitum fed ex issue you discuss.

Shadowbane approaches the dynamic concept totally differently, and doesn’t seem to be a raging success either.

I understand the desire for a dynamic world; I just don’t understand why players think it’s actually achievable, much less why they get so upset when it doesn’t happen.

MMORPGs aren’t any more limited than other game genres. Based on the small sample set, they seem to be making the same small advancements of any other genre. But there’s far more of a clamor for that revolutionary product to come out, and really, the sooner the better. I guess what I’m asking is why this genre specifically? Ancillary to that is do folks think pointing out mechanical gameplay aspects really adresses the fundamental concern here (that seeming to be that folks want a world that “feels” alive and which they feel they are a part of).

I can conceive of ways to build MMORPGs that are far less mechanical seeming, but I just don’t think it would solve the problems. Ultimately I think the problems are more in terms of players expecting the “virtual world” to never get repetitive or tiring or anything like that. Given that this certainly isn’t the case in the real world, I can’t imagine how it would be that the virtual world would escape this drawback.

Not in DAoC, not in EQ (at least not when I was playing), and a very tenuous “sort of” with AO, as in that game you can specialize in whatever you want, but your class determines how much a particular skill costs from your pool of skill points. Historically, being able to change classes has been the exception rather than the rule, but newer releases seem to be changing this a bit.

MMOGs take in high scores because they’re MMO. Gamers have always been willing to accept subpar gameplay as long as the social experience is there. Until subscription numbers start to reflect a backlash, the template will continue, but that backlash can’t be far off.

It sounds like you enjoyed FFXI. I gave the beta a try for a few days, but unfortunately, it was set to end in about a week, which I guess explains the people coming up to me and saying “Wow, a level 1! Haven’t seen one of those in a while.” I didn’t play it again after that.

SWG lets you just “drop” skills immediately. Asheron’s Call 2 lets your buy points out with XP. AO gives you the ability to “reset” a skill - only 1 of the zillion you have - every so many levels.

Personally, I think the BEST (most bestestest!) character re-spec system was in Kesmai. You could commit suicide, create a new character as an offspring of the first, and take a quest to pray at a temple and get access to your ancestor’s items and a portion of their XP. Thus, you ended up about 3/4 their level and had their gear. So, that’s a lot better to me than starting from the newbie zone killing rats again. Also you had to have someone escort your lvl 1 newbie to the temple - it wasn’t a cakewalk, and took friends to get you there so remaking a char wasn’t a casual thing.

Another thing about AO, that game truly typifies the “what the hell am I supposed to do” feeling that accompanies beginning some MMORPGs. They’ve done a little work to make starting out more user-friendly, but it still feels too thick, and a free week of play isn’t long enough (for me at least) to kick that feeling.

Contrast that to the first ever MMORPG I played, EQ, in which I loved the feeling of cluelessness…until my guy did a swan dive into this huge pit full of powerful enemies and was lost forever.

You can essentially respec in AC2 unless you’re really deep in, but then one would assume if you were that deep in you were happy with your character as is.

The Kesmai technique sounds interesting. In Everquest (and AC2), however, such a system would yield players who didn’t have enough skill for the difficulty at which they were playing. Contrary to popular (or at least vocal) opinion, there are character classes/options for whom play skill is an important factor.

Yeah, lack of consequences is a huge turnoff for me in MMORPGs, but we’ve hashed out this thread topic before.

Looking at, say, Kitsune’s post, (and inferring from the same complaints over and over), people say what they want is a truly dynamic world. AC/AC2 has tried that on a set schedule (monthly updates) and haven’t been deluged with folks. They do indeed let their players (in the aggregate at least) change some things about the world (new episodes hinge on what happened with real players previously).

While I like the concept of regular updates, in practice, AC2 plays like every other MMORPG on a day to day basis. The stuff that does change in the world feels very staged (because it is), and you need to stretch your disbelief pretty damn far to convince yourself that the changes are a result of anything that you did. The average player’s day-to-day interaction with the game is the same as it is in any other MMORPG, though. The dragon doesn’t stay dead–you can kill it again tomorrow.

And AC2 is chock FULL of fedex quests. Many of them are close to mandatory, particularly for the bonded weapons, or whatever. The super dee dooper magical blades you only get at the culmination of a shitload of quests and dungeon crawls.

Sure. But nobody complains about folks respawning in Quake, either. There’s a fundamental incompatibility when you need to have an external party in control of the storyline/progression and the players (and there are multiples) want to actually have an effect on the storyline of the game (especially immediately, which would be necessary to circumvent the “staged” mechanism).

I guess my overarching question is why is it this genre makes folks think they can have things that they can’t in any other genre? Nobody complains because quake doesn’t have a consistent, player interactive, dynamic storyline with player shaping of the outcome. Is it just carried over expectations from standard single player CRPGs? Would one of the larger muds (Achaea?) completely bowl over the MMORPG world if they simply had a graphic client (since M*s tend to provide more player control by far)?

While we’re at it, would these games suck for the folks for whom they suck if those folks played far less? Say, 20 hours a month or so? Even at $50 initial and $15/month, that’s still a great rate for entertainment dollars per hour.