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Games: If it ain't broken, don’t fix it

Every time a new Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game launches, developers promise the millions of saturated MMO players that “This time it will cause a revolution or introduce a gameplay mechanic that has never been done before.”  A lot of times “the promised revolution “does more damage to the gaming experience than good. Let’s take a look at some examples.  

Yesterday Luke Plunkett from Kotaku lamented the introduction of an in-game parliament system called "Vanarch", in the Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), Tera.


The Tera Wiki explains this game mechanic as follows:

TERA politics are going to be driven entirely by players on each server. The main political goal of the players will be to become Vanarchs, who have "a shit-ton of power, a shit-ton of money, and a shit-ton of fame." One can become a vanarch by popular vote or through epic guild vs guild battles. Vanarchs are able to do many things usually out of the players' reach in MMOs—they can raise or lower taxes, enable certain NPC’s, or disable open PvP (on PvP servers). Vanarchs will need to collect Policy Points to fund their edicts. These points can be obtained two ways: through popular vote or extremely challenging Vanarch quests, often involving gigantic monsters whose defeat requires not just the Vanarchs themselves, but also armies of their subjects.  

Plunekett however points out what we all know about gamers; if there is something that can be exploited in a game mechanic, gamers will find it, and abuse it till kingdom come, or until developers change the mechanic.  

“Which sounds wonderful in theory, but of course once it hit the real world it all falls apart. Factions have begun creating what are essentially dummy groups that do nothing but get killed, creating duplicitous cannon fodder in the name of easy kills, and thus an easy road to power.”  Read the full article here.

I talked to one of our local gamers, Yolanda “Lolita” Green, a MMO fangirl that has played through World of Warcraft, Rift and Tera, about her opinion on the implementation of this feature.  

“The option to exploit is there just as in anything else in this world. But just because it's there, doesn't mean that gamers do that. The political system brings back to MMO's what has been deteriorating from it; a greater sense of community and interacting. Gamers once again helping each other and learning together as well as taking charge of the game they play. The game is less controlled by AI and more controlled and driven by its players, which is a great fete to overcome for MMO developers. Gamers want to self-regulate and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. It can only help grow the community.”  

Check out this video to understand more about becoming a Vanarch in Tera.

In another news report last week, expert blogger Neil Soren hangs out Diablo III’s dirty laundry by pointing out the flaws in the design decision to use the real-money auction house (RMAH) as a post-purchase revenue stream.  

“…the RMAH forced Diablo 3 designers to implement game design that is giving its players a severe case of indigestion. In short, game balance predicated on a need for auction house use to progress has caused a series of design decisions that, while making sense in and of themselves, aren't good for the overall game.” Read the full article here.

Then there is the example of Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR). A MMORPG that topped the charts for costs in delivering an MMO experience that would forever change the genre. After only a few months, subscriptions dropped by the thousands. Electronic Arts attributed the loss of subscribers to the casual player base. A lot of hard-core MMO fans left the game because it failed to deliver in end game content.  

The latest example is The Secret World from Funcom. An MMO where there are no classes or levels. Funcom changed a lot of the gameplay mechanics that have been the backbone of the MMORP genre. Time will tell if players will fancy the new structure or if we will see the repeat of a game that promised a revolution, but caused an exodus.  

Maybe, what MMO players actually need is not, in fact, a complete makeover of the genre, but for developers to continue to improve on that which is already working.  We would love to hear what your thoughts are on this subject.

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