MMOs – Progression or Progress?

Spinks writes a farewell to Blizzard’s publicly cancelled, unreleased MMO “Titan”. She mentions a bunch of the reasons Titan failed to see light, but the most interesting anecdote is that the biggest successor to World of Warcraft might be Minecraft.

Now we all know that Minecraft is not an MMO in large part because it is not “massive”. One could also argue the persistence of things is in question.  However, I think Spinks makes the best implicit point.

The MMO design space people should be exploring should be more like Minecraft than World of Warcraft.

Okay, let me retract a bit. I don’t mean MMO’s should be building and exploration games, although parts of that do help. However, Minecraft is not aimed at progression, and I feel like MMO’s are stuck in this rut of progression first, progress second. At the WildStar event I was invited to long ago I remember overhearing one guest say “we’ve played this game already”. The game of leveling and progressing and getting new skills.

That is why I feel KTR has been lackadaisical about the latest MMO offerings. WildStar is an impressive reimagining of World of Warcraft with a lot of new bits, but then supposedly aimed at a very niche group of players (raiders) so it has a “quitwall“. Elder Scrolls Online, well, I’m just not hearing much about that one. At least WildStar is getting some attention, even if not wholly positive.

I feel like Guild Wars 2 is honestly the only MMO to progress the genre after WoW and EVE. Clearly going 2 years and growing the studio (as opposed to reorganizing, a.k.a. layoffs) makes it a success even if many do not find the game “their thing”. It is still “my thing” because I love the flash mob style gameplay centered around events. I love WvW, even more now that our server is much less hardcore (Tier 1). I feel Guild Wars 2 still stands ahead of most MMOs in terms of progress.

The only MMO I am really excited about at all is Everquest Next because it is really trying to progress the genre. They are even starting with Minecraft in mind by doing Everquest Landmark. However, I am really excited about procedural events / quests. Guild Wars 2 was a good step away from “quests”, and Everquest Next is seeking to push that even a bit further.

The MMO I am most excited about, however, is Ubisoft’s The Division. Like Minecraft, this might not be an MMO per se, but who cares, it feels social and persistent. Ubisoft has been refining it’s open world gameplay this century big time. They’ve got it down to a science with the release of all the new Assassin Creed games, and for me, Assassin Creed games feel a lot like single-player MMO’s.

Anyway, why The Division matters is because it focuses on “phasing”. Phasing, in my opinion, is the future of MMO’s. In The Division‘s case there might be two groups of players each in their own world fighting NPC’s, and then all of the sudden the system phases them together to fight! Phasing will constantly change the content, and that is key.

Phasing could conceivably tailor the experience of each MMO player. Enjoy a lot of PvP, well the system could phase you near hostile players. Enjoy being a solo player, well the system could keep you separated or have you run across other solo players from time to time to see “life”. Events could be phased for a specific portion of the active population.

I feel like with Minecraft (and it’s clear effect on Everquest Next) and The Division, that non-MMO’s are pushing the MMO design space way better than MMO’s. As a nod to developers, I understand that MMO’s are horrible, complex beasts to develop, and the safe route filled with investors is likely “progression over progress” at this point. Safe bets allow for paychecks, for a time, so I understand that. However, as a mere pundit, I can’t help but dream for the stars.


13 thoughts on “MMOs – Progression or Progress?”

  1. Actually GW2 didn’t really progress, it regressed because like Carbine it listened to and was taken in by the 1%er crowd which threw the entire game development off course from what was promised prelaunch in countless interviews about where the game would be focused. It became the very thing that people claim it’s not, a gear treadmill/dungeon focused/P2W money pit, especially so now since it costs gold still to get the gear you need/ the traits you need/ and the enchants you need that are either RNG drops only or are only available to be crafted from RNG drops like lodestones. GW2 started off as the best thing to happen to mmo’s but their stubbornness was turned inward and it’s taking it’s toll. The only thing they really innovated on were minor things like even keel leveling xp requirements and universal nodes but progression is exactly the same in GW2 today as it’s been in any other title.

    1. I feel like your use of “need” in GW2 is largely misplaced. Just because it is a goal of yours to get the best gear does not make it a “need”. That is a huge difference between the progression in other games.

      1. Yes! I am happily winding my way through GW2 on my 3rd character closing on 80. I’ve no idea what is epic and what is needed. I do what I find fun and my gear is often many levels below me and I hardly notice. Occasionally I will hit the auction house to get some orange or green gear to catch up, but I never feel like I need to. I am totally loving Guild Wars 2 from a super casual stand point. Usually when people complain about something I honestly have no idea what they are even talking about.

  2. While you mention you don’t hear much about ESO, ironically all this “phasing” talk is -exactly- what Zenimax did in ESO. Entire zones would change for the player as quests are completed. The catch 22 was, it was horrible trying to play with friends. It implies the permutations of possible phases in a region can result in players never actually seeing each other and unable to naturally join / share quests.

    ESO took the phasing all the way with the ability to scale zones too. Imagine Oggrimar, lowbie zone, suddenly scaling to lvl 80 for players in that level range…mobs scaling, quests scaling and literally the lowbies and veterans are in the exact same zone but “phased” and thus never see each other. So while it sounds all magical like a Diablo 3 style of re-using of content, it doesn’t make the world very social and alive though, it makes it a single player (or small group at best) experience instead.

    So in ESO they even phase factions like this, so imagine not even seeing those pesky WoW Alliance players because they are yet again in a different phase, despite being in the same zone….

  3. I have to agree with Meonthissite. The watershed moment came incredibly early on, when ANet buckled at the very first strong pushback after the Karka event. The entire almost-two years since then has been one long retrenchment that eventually turned into a full-scale retreat.

    GW2 is an excellent entertainment and I play it every day but it isn’t much like the experience they promoted through beta and up to Southsun. It’s now very close to being a mainstream post-WoW themepark MMO with some quasi-vertical progression and a huge amount of grind-based horizontal progression. The combat is slightly different (but only slightly) and that’s about it.

    Since I wasn’t all that sold on the original vision, that’s not necessarily a negative development in my opinion. I just get irritated that they seem so unwilling to come out and admit what they are doing.

    Of major upcoming MMOs I’m probably most interested in The Crew but personally I’d be very happy with more of the same. I’m nowhere near bored with the regular style of MMO yet. Probably never will be.

  4. @ Meonthissite

    I consider your post a massive misinformation. Guild Wars 2 is neither a gear treadmill, nor a dungeon focused game. Nor is it P2W.
    Gearing remains a short and inexpensive endeavour. All the farming and grinding at endgame is about visual fluff that is in no way mandatory to access content.

  5. Will have to come up with another phrase than ‘phasing’, it’s already in-use. Phasing, as it is now in MMOs, is a evolutionary dead-end, it does nothing besides split up the players in a zone, ESO is the prime example. In contrast, what Dark Souls popularised with players being able to jump to other players worlds for co-op or pvp, but what would it be called, ad-hoc multiplayer, single-player/co-op with seamless online interaction.

    I wouldn’t say GW2 has regressed, but they haven’t exactly been progressive either and have added plenty of regressive stuff since launch. The hints of improved AI in the works might be interesting and I hope they at least are thinking of a response to EQNext, they have the foundation already established in their event system.

    1. Yes, another term. The ESO phasing according to Silvertemplar is the inverse of what I see for the future of MMOs because it is player-driven phasing. In other words the phasing is a product of the player’s situation.

      I want the opposite. I want the player’s situation to be the product of phasing. I think the megaserver in GW2/ WildStar (and others?) is the most broad attempt at this. The system puts people together as best as it can. Once a system is designed to start phasing in content or situations AND people… oh man, that’s the future. :)

      1. Sounds like you want something essentially RIFT-like, in terms of the game always putting some kind of content (planar invasions and so on) in front of you, mixed in with megaservers… creating an essentially procedurally directed experience?

        Sorta like Left 4 Dead’s Director on MMO world steroids?

        Scaling up to massively multiplayer numbers might be an issue, but well, different games are taking piecemeal forward steps. Modded Minecraft’s world generation is really quite something to look at, imo, with all the different biomes and randomized artifacts.

        I think another stopping point for Triple A MMOs is the humongous cost/effort to add pretty 3D models and animations for everything. That means a limited and finite number of content variations to go through, and player recognition of repetition might set in quickly.

        1. I guess I left out the word “tailored”. RIFTs was definitely a first start. I am guessing they had some sort of something to “tailor” a rift’s activity. I know they added a lot more scalability and stuff after I left. However, it was phased for the whole shard, which ultimately made it not much different from the more timed GW2 events. Plus, unfortunately that was not what Trion concentrated on… their game seemed much more to be about raiding and dungeons in the end, which was sad that IMO their crown jewel was left trailing behind.

          But, yes L4D’s Director is probably the closest thing in existence. The Division looks like it will be the closest thing once it gets released.

          1. Rather than the original rifts and zone events, a better example from Rift of ‘tailored’ content is the Instant Adventure system. That allows players to join-in a series of quests with other players in the open-world, that scale with numbers of objectives and mob strength. Players can join through the interface, or if they happen to be in the vicinity of the IA group.

  6. A lot of what you pointed out here hits close to home for me.
    GW2 is definitely a breath of fresh air in an all too familiar homogeneous group of fantasy themeparks. Even though Meonthissite is right on pointing out the same tired mechanics GW2 is using, they failed to point out what they are doing differently. Localized heart quests that doesn’t clutter a journal, auto level adjustment depending on the area of the zone you are in, dynamic events (though repeatable, adds a variety to the level experience since they aren’t always going on all the time), lots of horizontal progression in an otherwise top heavy vertical progression genre, and the list can go on.
    I’m not convince phasing is the future, but it looks like it could be a very useful system. It looks like Destiny is using it and I hear no complaints, but ESO is using it and there are a lot of issues when it launched. I haven’t played either so I don’t have experience on how well they can work yet.
    Great article, I enjoyed reading it.

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