The largest releases in MMO’s recently have failed. They generally begin as subscription models and because of revenue must change their business model and become free to play, generally with some sort of online store for the game. Why? Why did Conan, Star Wars, and Star Trek all have to change their business plan? It’s not that it was a bad plan. It’s not that it was a bad marketing. It’s not that no one was excited. It’s that is was a game, like all the rest, so very MMO, repetitive, and boring. The whole concept of MMO, of grinding, of having levels, grinding, npc’s that continually respond, leveling up, upgrading armor and unlocking locations based on levels, and more freakin’ grinding, is old, unimaginative, played, and not worth paying for. It was neat because it was novel- fifteen years ago.
What players want now is an experience – a unique experience. We don’t want to fight that boss just before level twenty eight just like everyone else who has gone past level twenty eight has before us. Everybody’s done it. What we do as players will not matter. Star Trek Online even has the same crew issued to everybody. Do you know how ridiculous it is to run around on a planet and everyone being followed by duplicates of the same crew? What is that? But they pay a lot for writers. They create many quests, but can’t create the Star Trek world.
Players want to do something that matters to them or the world they play in. How could this be done? It would require a remodeling of the online experience, a new game structure. MMO’s based vaguely on WOW, with the leveling/grinding structure, are old. Repetitive quest lines are yesterday’s games. Go do this, kill him, gather ten that; this is the structure of every single MMO and it needs to change. Give us instead, a persistent online world, sandbox, with the ability to go anywhere. Take away leveling entirely, let the noob be as free as the vet. Instead of levels, simply have a skill tree that the player levels up a la Bethesda games, albeit without the levels. Place limits on numbers of skills and mastery of multiple skills. Differences in play would define their characters, not class. Don’t design quests, but instead give a structure to play within.
It might be easier to explain with an example. Imagine Star Wars the Experience (not another game). When you first sign in you choose your character, man, woman, long hair, or short, etc. But there are no classes. You start with the same skills as anyone, with the only differences coming from racial characteristics. After that, you are free. If you go to an Alliance world, you can join the rebellion. If you go to an Imperial world, you can join the Empire. If you wish to do neither and sing, or be a dancer, or a shopkeeper, or a interstellar business owner, you can. In this framework there would be no NPC’s to give you quests, only people that could pay you for your services. A tailor needs ten of thus and such, you go get them and be paid. If you wish to be a Jedi, find a Jedi and maybe they will train you. Like Galaxies, you could be the mayor of a town or even a planetary governor. As an imperial naval officer, for instance, you could rise through the ranks and become an Admiral or General of Marine forces. The Empire and rebellion would have to take and hold territory. More territory would mean a better economy, more production. The higher Generals and Admirals from both sides would decide where to attack, where to move forces. At this level the game might resemble the map stage of total war, civilizations, or some strategy game. As a captain or fleet admiral it would be all about space combat and holding star systems. At a grunt level it would be a first person shooter. Where ever you like to play, you could. Planets could be taken and lost. Cities on planets conquered or lost. The Empire might grow to control the galaxy or it might fail. But the players on that server would decide its fate. That would mean that the actions players took would hold meaning on that server. If a commander took a city or planet (or lost one), it would mean something to every other player.
In this structure, you could be the Sith lord that holds four planets for the empire or the Jedi that slays the emperor (or whomever is in charge). No matter what you play, just playing and interacting with others on the server would have meaning, would make a difference to others. No more grinding, just real gaming. Imagine Star Trek online with this structure. The war with the Klingons over star systems would be fierce. Fighting in battles, winning, losing, would have meaning. It would not be the endlessly repetitive battles they have now. How many times can Starbase 24 be attacked or the Borg arrive? But Star Trek is a different post.