MMOs have you running on a treadmill to reach a carrot dangling in front of you. We talk a lot about that carrot. Is it big enough for the effort required? Is there any carrots to chase after you max your character’s level? One thing hardcore grinders like me can forget to ask is, “What about the treadmil itself? How inherently fun is the activity you spend most of your time doing?”
When I ask someone what the core-gameplay of something is, they might say it’s killing stuff like IG-88 from Star Wars. But that’s not what I mean. That’s the theme they paint on top of it. At it’s core, you have some kind of challenge like lining your crosshairs up to shoot a droid in a shooter like Shadows of the Empire on the Nintendo 64, or trying to decide which cards to play as you do in the SWG online card game, or spamming specials to try and hold agro for the group as you would do as a tank in the IG-88 heroic instance in SWG. The actual core gameplay is vastly different in all of these games.
The core gameplay isn’t just one thing though. It’s not just killing. It’s getting ready for fights too. Whether that means deciding which materia pieces to put in your sword in FFVII or which cards to put in your deck in a card game, or which traits you want to equip in Lotro, or waiting for a buff from an entertainer in SWG.
What keeps an MMO from being a grind is all about the core gameplay being fun. Crafting is one of the worst offenders when it comes to core-gameplay. In SWG the whole system is just a bunch of menus and boring click-fests. I literally used a mouse recording program to do the clicking and dragging for me when I used to make +35 powerbits because I found it so boring. If I didn’t use such a program, my hand would cramp up and hurt after the first couple hours of crafting.
SWG of course has a great crafting system overall. Searching for the best resources and the rarest junk-loots has the same treasure-hunt style core-gameplay that you have in real life when you visit a flea market. All of the good gameplay in crafting is in the finding of resources when it comes to SWG.
But this is true for most MMOs. Lotro actually lets you automate the process when it comes to actually crafting so that you can walk away from your computer while making iron bars for xp. In EQ2, they realized the core-gameplay of combat was more fun than crafting so they tried to copy combat over to crafting. You could actually die to a forge if you messed up too much. The gameplay centered around trying to simon-says match the skill shown on the forge with the appropriate skill and also spamming other specials inbetween simon-says events.
Then we have Free Realms. In Free Realms there are twitch-based crafting games that have you do things like trying to pour just the right amount of water into a pot. There’s also a clock so that you can see what your best time is. Some of the actions are a real pain in the wrist, but it shows a lot of promise as a concept.
This has me wondering tonight… what do MMOs need to do in order to have core-gameplay as fun as single player games?