We’re coming up on the new year, so this seems as good a time as any to ask: what do you think the future holds for MMOs? More to the point, what do you hope it does? I’m not talking about The Future where we’re jacking into the cyberspace and hacking the Gibson, I’m talking in the next few years. What are you hoping we’ll see in the near term future for MMOs?
Personally, I’m hoping to see the death of the Tank/Healer/DPS trinity, or at least a significant shift in the way it works. There are lots of problems with the THD trinity, but one of the biggest ones is that it doesn’t scale well. It works fine, if really unrealistically, in 5-8 man groups, where the concept of having a main and maybe off tank, a healer for one or both, and then fill the rest in with more healers or damage dealers leads to fairly heterogenous groups. However, when you start talking about raids, you end up with the Rock Star Tank problem: ultimately, it all comes down to the tank, and you only need one of them, two if you need an off tank for something. The rest is, ultimately, support for the tank, when the tank started out as a simple abstraction of mechanics, i.e., “Who’s going to keep the healers and nukers from getting killed?”
I think D&D 3e had a really good idea in the concept of attacks of opportunities and threatened areas, but DDO didn’t really seem to do much that was useful with it, from what I remember. Essentially, instead of having tanks that tank because they’ve got the taunt powers to generate threat quickly, boil it back down to the basics: it’s dangerous to move past the guy in the heavy armor with the sword because he’ll stab you to death if you try. In addition, if you try to do something stupid like use a bow or cast a spell, he’ll stab you while you’re distracted and foul your aim/cast. Of course, if it’s just one guy, and the stuff behind him is dangerous enough, it might be worth trying to get past him to kill them. But what about if you have two guys in armor with swords between you and the squishies? If you’re just some schlub with an axe, it’s probably not worth it, and you can keep trying to kill one of the guys in armor before making your way to the jerk in robes plinking you with firebolts. But if you’re a dragon? There’d better be 5 or 6 guys trying to keep you in place.
And this mechanic allows for even more interesting ideas: what’s your threatened area with a spear? The first guess is “more than a sword,” but the more accurate answer is “a different area than with a sword.” Larger, yes, but weaker as the person closes on you. That allows for “tanks” that are actually standing behind other tanks, and that need to be there to do their job the best.
What about the rogue? Well, I’ve argued for a while that a rogue’s job is not “damage dealer,” it’s primarily “debuffer.” LotRO implemented them this way, and it works pretty good; however, if people want the classic damage dealer rogue, a few tweaks of this system make it work well, too. Make rogues leave areas of opportunity more easily, and areas behind an enemy/PC not threaten as strongly, so rogues leap in, stab the dragon in the back, then back out before it can retaliate. Make it dangerous for an enemy to turn their back on anything, to the point where it’s not worth it for the dragon to turn its back on the fighters to deal with the rogue, unless he stands there and tries to get another backstab in.
The ranged DPS and healers can be made more interesting with this mechanic, too. A small enemy getting in close becomes dangerous not because it’s likely to kill them, but because it prevents them from doing their job correctly. That removes the necessity of making them uber-squishy, replacing it with a more organic, “Watch out for your friends so they can watch out for you” mechanic.
So, there’s a starter for “where I hope we’re going, and a possible way.” What do you want, and what have you got?