the worst kept secret in gaming, so I'm banking there's still time. I also think Blizzard is the only developer with the ingredients necessary to actually attempt these things. Those ingredients being (A) Enough cred with their publisher to do whatever the hell they want, and (B) Deep enough pockets to do pretty much whatever the hell they want.
So you can't swing a dead LOLcat on the internet without hitting a blog post about what's broken in today's MMO's, and how we should fix it. Well, this really isn't that kind of post. Because you see, I'm one of the few people that actually don't think MMOs are too terribly broken. I still like MMO's, and I like most of the things I find in them. And why shouldn't I? The current state of MMO's is the product of over a decade of refinement to the genre in an effort to appease as many of us that play these games as possible. So yeah - quests, aggro, death models, classes - I like those things.
But I do think there are some great opportunities renovate them a bit. Bring them into the current decade. You'd have to be living under a rock to not sense the general dissatisfaction with the current state of the genre. Well these things aren't going to change the MMO world as we know it, but they're at least a few of the things I'd like to see incorporated into the next triple-A MMO, whomever makes it.
Stop fighting my out of game community, and embrace it
One of the things MMO's haven't done a good enough job of so far is recognizing that it's a different world than it was ten years ago. By far and large, most of us now live in a world where we've already formed our social networks when we come to the game. Whether they be real life friends, or twitter friends, or guild mates from previous MMO's, we come to the game wanting to play with the friends we already have. So MMO's need to stop putting up barriers to us playing together. The two biggest barriers to playing together in today's in MMO's are server shards and factions. Server shards can be built around. Yes, a hundred instances of a single town is not an ideal solution, but that can be worked around at least, and you can still request the instance of your buddies and join up with them. Also, what WoW is doing with RealID's I actually find to be very exciting. I didn't even know until today that you could now group up, across servers, using RealID's, to run instances. I find this to be so intriguing I'm thinking of trying to form a Google Plussers group of players to play across servers, just to see if it could work. But that's a different story.
The other thing that that puts up barriers to players playing together are factions. Now that's not to say that you can't have conflict in your MMO, gawd forbid, but build your factions in such a way that there's at least a way for players across factions to play each other. Hell in WoW already there is now so much common content between the two sides and pretty much all the instances are exactly the same, so just drop the outmoded concept, and allow me and my friends to play together, regardless of whether they chose light or dark, or defiant or guardian, horde or alliance. Make your war an uneasy war, and allow room in your fiction for us to play together.
Player generated quests
This idea is actually pretty old - it was actually a concept in Eve, when it launched. And in truth, I think SWG had this as well, now that I think about it, at least in its original incarnation. Well it's long over due that this mechanic make its way into the major MMO's. Player generated content is all the rage these days, now that Notch has shown the world that players love to be able to build things, given even the simplest of tools. But typical designer made content such as you find in your theme park MMO doesn't respond well to having it's borders pushed around in unpredictable ways. But allow players to build tasks for each other, and not only do you allow people to feel that satisfaction of creating something, but you suddenly get free content that satisfies both producers and consumers. Here are some examples.
In Eve, at least at the time of launch, you purchase a ship on the market. But that ship didn't just appear in your mailbox. You had to get it transported from whatever sector it was in, to whatever sector you were in. So you could put up a job, for a certain amount of money, and someone could take that job, travel to the distant sector, and bring your ship back, and collect the reward. Boom, player generated quests. Furthermore, a transport quest like that then generates more jobs. Maybe the player making the transport needs an escort. So then he puts out a job to hire escorts.
A high level player is wanting to level up her leather-working. But she needs 250 rough leathers. She doesn't want to go grind that stuff, she's got raids to run. She creates a contract for 250 leathers, puts it up on a board with a bounty. I'm out questing, leveling up my skinning, I'm collecting leathers to burn. I pick up the order, fulfill the contract, collect some money, she gets her leathers. It's not just buy orders on a market house, though that's a good thing too. It's more task oriented - a means for players to represent those tasks, and a means for players to fulfill those tasks.
Bring control back
When you bring up the LFG tool right now, you see three role choices: tank, heal, and DPS. When people talk about roles in MMO groups, they call in the holy trinity. But it wasn't always such. Way back in the day, there was a fourth role - the role of the controller. And having a good controller in your group was every bit of an important role as a tank or a healer. Because mobs were too many and too powerful to take on all at one time. And it took finesse and skill to pick out and stop those mobs that weren't currently being handled and take them offline long enough for the DPS and the tanks to get to them.
Somewhere along the way though, we sort of genericized the nature of dungeon combat, and the design shifted to place where control wasn't really necessary. Large scale AOE aggro control and AOE damage meant there wasn't really a notion of not being able to handle too many mobs, or at least all the mobs you got in a typical group could be handled. As long as the priest kept the tank alive, and the DPS kept themselves alive (step out of the fire), things were good. We lost something along the way though. We lost a fourth role opportunity - a support role. And I think the opportunity for people to fulfill more roles would be good thing - especially if those roles were designed in such a way as to be forgiving. I'd like to see that role return to the mix as a first class citizen. Which actually leads me to my next wish:
New roles. Different roles.
Again, this one comes from Eve. One of my first, really memorable sessions in Eve came from when our player group did something really heroic - we mined some ore. No seriously. See, several of our guys had purchased and built some huge tankers. And several others had small transport ships. And some of us had some nice mid class cruisers, fitted with fairly impressive armaments. We took the entire bunch of us to relatively low-sec sector (this was a long time ago, we were all pretty much noobs)., but the transports mined and transported ore to the haulers. The haulers moved from location to location as necessary. And those of us in fighters ran patrol throughout the sector and dispatched pirates that tried to attack us. At the end of the evening, we took all the ore that had been mined and brought back to the base, and we essentially paid everyone equal shares for their effort. The cool thing was, we all had roles, we all had jobs, and we did it without the usual one person tank, one person heal, and three people DPS.
I know it can be done. And I think you don't have to build your entire game around starships to do it. I do think contemporary or science fiction themes do offer more opportunities for new roles, but I do think if you look for it, you can find opportunities even in traditional fantasy MMO's for people to perform in new roles, and still participate in group activities. And even group activities that revolve around fighting and killing stuff - things that people like to do!
Heh actually I'm just kidding I don't give a rat's patootie about player housing, and there are plenty of MMO's you can get player housing in already anyway. :)
I invite you to discuss either here or on Google +. Do you think these kinds of things can breath new life into a genre that you might personally feel has become stale? Or is it time to throw in the towel on the entire genre, and spend more time playing Dragon Age and our Xbox's?