One of the topics posted in the forums about the possibility of an EverQuest sequel got me thinking; what exactly would a new MMO need in order for me to really consider it a new and interesting experience?
Hopefully some time later I'll have a chance to go into more detail about what I think would be the best way to address some of these things, but for now I just want to give an overview of the components of MMOs that are long overdue for a change. I've tried to only include things that are universally agreed upon. For example I was dying to add instancing to this list, but some strange people like it, so I left it out. This also leans slightly more games in a fantasy setting, but really applies to all different types of MMOs.
For now I'm just going to talk about what needs to go, since what should be added will probably end up getting pretty long!
Suggesting that tanking be removed is practically blasphemy, especially in a fantasy style game. It's really unfortunate though to see games like Borderlands, or Eve Online still adopting the same model of using a decked out defensive unit to take blows while the rest of the team deals damage, it flat out just doesn't make sense. Part of it relates to the lack of any sort of AI, as with proper AI mobs would hopefully not be dumb enough to attack the most heavily guarded unit all the time, but AI or not - main tanking needs to go. Defensive stats are something that every player should have to be conscious of, and balance against offense.
Some developers seem to be starting to clue in to this one already, but I feel obligated to mention it. Auto attack is useless, it's not even fun. You could remove auto attacking from any game and decrease the hit points of all the mobs by an amount comparable to the decrease in damage dealt by players and nothing would change. Auto attack is what we used when we had 14.4 modems and MMOs were just muds with a graphical interface. This is no longer the case, and so there's just no reason to even consider it anymore.
No, I don't think quests should be removed - but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who is sick of collecting random animal parts for random NPCs that I don't care about, will never see again, and have nothing interesting to offer me other than experience. I don't know about you, but after killing 1000 blue Orcs I'm really just not sure I should still gain experience for killing 1000 green ones. Experience should be granted for learning something new, or contributing to the game world, not for washing an NPCs dishes or taking their dog for a walk. If we wanted to do useless tasks all day we would be playing Farmville. Stop mixing my MMO's with Animal Crossing and give me a persistent story with interesting quest lines that relate to the overall feel, and direction that the game is taking. Stop giving me totally unrelated side quests that offer me nothing but aggravation. No one likes doing these quests, we like the experience, or we do them because of the rewards, but they're not fun.
I've killed dragons and gods. I save the world once a week after work. If you want me to go pick flowers you can probably fuck off.
While faction standings are an important part of MMOs, the way they are handled needs to be changed. Faction shouldn't simply be a grind - kill 10000 Orcs and the Elves will like you. While it may please the Elves that you're killing Orcs, your faction standing with different groups should be based on the choices you make in the various story arcs in the game. Single player games often do this very well, so that it isn't endless slaughter or item turn-ins but grand gestures and important choices that determine who likes you and who doesn't.
The faction grind needs to go, and along with it the cut-and-dry system of faction levels. NPCs all over the world shouldn't automatically be able to identify you as an enemy or friend from 100 meters away when you run by on a horse just because you killed some Orcs on another part of the continent. Notoriety or fame has to be incorporated into faction, and even then the individual members of a faction should be able to make their own choices based on your actions. Hey! You! Stop killing those babies! oh.. I see, you have collected 10000 Gnoll Scalps for our castle carpeting project. Carry on then!
Ask any EverQuest player about the first time they died, and probably eight out of ten people will tell you it's when they accidentally hit space with their class trainer targeted, which turns on attack - and promptly gets you decapitated. Annoying? Maybe slightly, but these kind of events are what make MMOs more memorable than single player games. I still recall just how awesome I thought that Druid was when he was running around in Wolf Form killing the Dwarven guards. Sure it was annoying when I ran to the guards to save me, only to realize that they had been killed, but it made me feel like I was playing a game where the world could be manipulated by players, and wasn't just a glorified version of Simon Says where the only unexpected thing that can happen is that someone can answer a question without calling me a fag.
I should never be prevented from doing something by the game, I should only be prevented by the inhabitants of the game world, or the repercussions my character will suffer for doing something I shouldn't. We're getting way too comfortable with allowing artificial limitations to limit intelligent design. If games don't start going in the other direction we're going to end up with MMO's that are nothing more than a series of quicktime button pressing events that take place while your character is automatically following a predetermined path from quest hub to quest hub.
I could probably go on for weeks, but I think those are the things that are quickly becoming a staple of MMOs when they really have no business still being included, and are only there because no one has bothered to come up with a better alternative. So I'll leave it at that, like I said I plan to go into detail with each one at some point in the future, but before I stop writing this there is one final thing that absolutely needs to go - and it's not up to the developers at all.
Bullshit Sense of Entitlement
Note: This isn't directed at anyone who is likely to be reading this here, except possibly myself!
Just because you pay a monthly fee to play a game, doesn't mean that you have any say in how the game is made. If you were playing Halo 34: We actually gave Masterchief an udder so we can milk this franchise more easily or whatever it is you morons play when you're not in my general chat being annoying, and you came across a boss that you couldn't kill would you immediately log on Bungie's forums and complain that the boss is too hard? No, because that would make you look at best stupid, or more likely both stupid and terrible at the game. Yet for some reason in an MMO this is acceptable behavior.
If an ability you were using in a single player game was bad, you just wouldn't use it. You wouldn't go around demanding that it be fixed or you will - let's face it - continue to pay your monthly subscription but silently brood about it until you are nothing but a horrible shell of a human being, your insides having been eaten away by the terrible things that the malicious developers did to your beloved Battle Mage.
Why is it that MMO players all assume that they're really good at whatever MMO it is that they're playing? and therefore if they can't do something on the first or second try, it must be because the game is broken. You people whine and whine until the game is nerfed into the ground, then beat all the content in a week and start complaining that you're bored and there's nothing to do.
We, as the players of whatever MMO we're playing are entitled to nothing but the servers being accessible. No one promised us new content or class updates, no where does it say that your monthly fee also grants you the title of "Company Gameplay Advisor" and really, no one listens to 90% of what you have to say anyways.
Do you really want to know why every single MMO gets worse as it goes instead of better? It's because they start listening to us. I'm sure that individually there are a lot of people out there who have some really fantastic ideas about how whatever game they play could be improved, and when the developers combine those ideas with their vision for the game things start to improve. But when the developers try to make a game that caters to every complaint in an effort to make a game that everyone will enjoy, they end up with a game that no one is completely happy with, which then causes more complaints - and the downward spiral of MMO death begins.
To make a long story short. Make your suggestions, make your complaints, get as angry as you want about the game you're choosing to play - but lose the attitude, because no one owes you anything.