Rant: Stories and MMOs

So my brother made a blog post a few days ago about MMOs, and that spawned this thought process.

The problem with having a story in an MMO is that inevitably there are too many actors. Everyone wants to be the hero, but you can only have to many heroes without a story feeling cheap (see Sluggy's recent commentary on respawning evil quest mobs). When the NPCs are the supporting actors, you end up having hundreds, thousands, even millions of star actors.

But that's entirely the wrong train of thought. MMOs don't need a story, or at least those that I've played. The story is the players themselves.

The weakness of such MMOs isn't that they limit what players can accomplish. Players have no final effect on their environment aside from their effect on other players, which could hypothetically be part of the motivation of griefing. This lack of investment in the Player's ability to shape their environment is ignoring the strongest pull for play.

What you need aren't the tools for players to design their own worlds, but to have an effect on their own world. To have players create by playing.

In an MMO where cities can be sacked, leaders killed, nations conquered the players are motivated to make history. They can recall "I was at the battle of Fanador, and was at the forefront of the suicidal charge through the gate". They can say, "Ah yes, I gave my life defending the King of Pelas". They can wax nostalgic, "It was I who furnished arms for the High Guard of Tornoth before they made their final, wild charge to death and glory." This is exciting, this is visceral, this is history.

It's the ultimate solution to the "consuming is easier than creating" problem. For almost everyone reading history is infinitely more boring than making history. Give the reins of history into the hands of players and you have the truest form of digital crack possible.

Granted, there are amazing hurdles to surmount. Balance is a nightmare, the disconnect between impermanent death and permanent world effect could be offsetting, what are the incentives for being a part of the wars, and what if the scale makes it too much like the real world where the effect of one person feels too small?

But these are problems equivalent to those other MMOs face today. The MMO I've described here has a completely different dynamic. It doesn't require leveling because your investment is in the world as much as the character. It doesn't requiring grinding the same mobs over and over again, battles will never be the same. It trades one set of problems for another.

Now someone read this post, steal the idea, and make the MMO for me. I'm lazy.


360 Trooper said...

Actually, you're stealing my idea. Remember a few years back?

Matoushin said...

I do. But at the time I only understood it from an informational standpoint, the same as a child perhaps. Factual but not functional knowledge.

And no backsies.

Phyvo said...

I think someone already made that type of MMO for you. It's called EVE. Unfortunately, it has its fairness problems. Darkfall will probably come out, but it certainly isn't providing any solution to don't-expect-to-ever-do-anything-approaching

That's what a competitive player world gives you. That's also why the focus of my post was more on player creation of parts of the world itself, or more cooperative content creation akin to Spore. Sure, not everyone is going to get famous there, but at least you aren't getting locked out of a whole region because you don't belong to guild X. It leaves whatever "locking out" there is to the company.

I think the fact simply is that MMOs just can't deliver on story like single player games or books can. How *can* everyone be *the* hero when they're all together in the same place? They just can't! It's impossible!

What is it then that MMOs give? They give basically a way of interacting and meeting people that is IN THE GAME, by utter chance, and nearly involuntarily. All other games must rely on forums and RL, and other online games are merely games with chat rooms attached. Only in MMOs, is everything - social networking, the game mechanics, what counts as story, the players - together. Everything.

Matoushin said...

EVE isn't exactly what I was talking about. It's similar, but not the same, and as you noted it has fairness issues, although that is the biggest issue for any such MMORPG, maintaining the balance of power.

The point is that competition isn't the be all and end all of such an MMORPG. You can do well, or even better, being a builder of cities/gear than you might as a warrior. At that point you're deciding whether you're playing Harvest Moon with combat elements, or Diablo 2 with much better crafting.

The inherent problem with letting players be the architects of the core world rather than just given a specific set of tools to manipulate an existing one is that there can be no consensus. That's why most popular fantasy and sci-fi universes have "canon", a clearly defined core that is immutable. Without it, overzealous and unskilled fans (and authors) can rip apart that which makes a universe interesting and turn it into something they think is great but most people abhor.

So ultimately, it's about carefully controlling the level of freedom players have. You don't want to let people create guns in a medieval fantasy MMO and such.