Not too long ago, there were only a few MMORPGs on the landscape; the genre was relatively new. The big names started with Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, then EverQuest and EverQuest 2, and finally, the ultimate behemoth, World of Warcraft (yep, I know your other favorite was in there somewhere as well, but those are the biggies). Since that time, the genre has literally exploded; currently, there are almost 600 active MMORPG’s available, from every genre imaginable, with emphasis on one feature over another, browser-based, to mobile, and even some targeting consoles. How the heck do you choose? I say this because to many folks, an MMO is a long-term commitment; many are looking for a game home that will provide off-hours recreation for a good many years; many solid friendships and even marriages have come from people met in-game, so finding that right mix is essential. Keep in mind that as you ask yourselves these questions, there is no right or wrong answer; everyone has their own preferences for play, just be honest with yourself.
It pays to narrow down the options, so let’s start with…
Last time, I talked quite a bit about endgame, and how games might be designed to avoid “grinding” for progressively more powerful gear once the character has reached “max level:”
Use a skill-based, horizontal progression system rather than a level-based, gear grind system. Give us a huge pool of options and gear to buy, but let players find their own right combination of skills and gear. Place an upper limit on the most powerful gear in the game, but provide lots of it—variety of abilities and gear should be the progression for players who play for epic achievement.
More players than ever are starting to demand horizontal over vertical progression in their games. Recent dust-ups around Guild Wars 2’s introduction of a new gear tier brought to light how much emotion there is on the issue – thousands of posts protesting the decision on the forums after the announcement.
But what does horizontal progression really mean, and how does vertical progression conflict with it?
One of the most criticized and praised elements in more recent “themepark” MMORPGs is the concept of “endgame.” A themepark MMO is a static world that remains largely unaffected by player actions. It can be described as a backdrop where players are “led” through quests (with many pointers and hints making it difficult to fail at the task.) Players critical of themeparks joke about games being “on rails” like a rollercoaster ride at a themepark. Eventually—the time varies depending how frequently the person plays—the character completes most of the quests and reaches “max level” or “level cap,” and endgame. This is simplified, of course; there are often additional ways to reach max-level besides questing, including player-vs-player (PVP) battlegrounds, crafting, and instanced dungeons.