I think it’s insane the big MMO everyone is waiting for hasn’t been made yet. I don’t quite understand why the developers are missing so much stuff that seems like an MMO should obviously have. That’s why I’ve written down a few things I'd like to present to anyone who is willing to take a stab at making an MMO.
The Player’s Importance
The majority of the population of whatever universe you build for this MMO will be the players on the server. Nothing very interesting will come from whichever NPC Kings, Princes, Generals, etc. you put in this universe. They’re codes that, no matter how complex you make them, will never be able to come close to what a human can do. Any event or mission you add to your MMO will fall short of anything a player can organize if you provide them with the right tools in-game.
You want heroes and villains in your game, and you’ll have no greater hero or villain than an ambitious MMO player. You want the 22 year old who used to bully kids back in elementary school to be able to organize a guild of assholes, march in a city, and if strong and organized enough, to be able to slay whichever starting Ruler NPC you set, and to be able to capture some central control point of some sort which sets him as the new city’s leader. From now on he may set very high taxes on vendor NPCs and control various other things which will provide him with a steady income that he may use to pay his subordinates. There are many other specifics that you can come of with for that player to be able to control. “Oh, but that player goes to sleep eventually. Can’t some other player just walk in and capture the control point.” Of course they could, had he not spent several days recruiting a sufficient amount of, say, aussie players to act as guards assigned to graveyard shifts.
Are you seeing where this is going? Only the most cunning and respected players would be able to retain such a position. If the villainous guilds raise taxes too high, the players of that town would want to revolt. Other guilds would want to take over if they think they could do a better job. Wars would happen. Guilds have to organize well to stay on top. Spies, assassins, scouts, etc, would be born. Constant struggle for power would make the world very very interesting.
"Yeah, but players would complain if a guild is oppressing them too much.." Like I said, people would try to take them down in-game. What are you trying to protect your players from? Fun? Wanting to take down antagonists gives many players drive. Also, types of people vary, so the heroes and villains born in this world will act in different ways, making the different types of clashes we’ll be seeing very interesting.
Maybe you can think of a better way to achieve this, but the bottom line is to provide the means for the players to rise to power or fame by use of their skills and intelligence. You’ll see epic stories naturally unfold if you do this right. Nothing interesting will come if you’re afraid of a player having “too much power”.
Market, Thieves, and Dropping Items
What about the market? You know that Market you open up that lets you sell and buy anything from whichever city you’re at? To hell with that. You’ve got enough gold to buy the Hyperblade you wanted? Well, you better prepare for your journey over to Palhassia, the only place that has Hypermetal veins nearby, thus being the home to Hyperblade blacksmiths. You may not have noticed, but there we gave birth to travelling merchants. These players will stock up plenty of things from different cities, and will sell them you for a higher price, having saved you the time of a journey. And with travelling merchants, we need bodyguards. A merchant makes plenty of money, and would gladly pay two or three players to protect him from that bandit guild that mugs travelers.
"Wait, but how can they mug the merchant?" Make it so that when a player is killed, he drops the money and items currently on him. You probably already see that as impossible, because "Players would be put off by that. I don’t want them to stop playing the game." No. If your game is boring they’ll stop playing the game. Scratch that: they won’t even give it a try. Dying isn’t a big deal if there is no significant punishment. Loosing exp would be ridiculous because one learns even in loss. Armors and weapons breaking is just lame. But people being able to take the armor and weapons off your body, that makes sense. Make them drop. If the thieves kill the traveler, he’s going to take that anger and either form a party to hunt the thieves, withdraw money from the bank and hire mercenaries to go kick their ass, or hold on to some grudge and turn into the server’s next Batman. If they want to make sure that certain weapons or armor they have are kept in their possession after dying, they can buy enchantments that prevents them from dropping upon death. It’s way cooler this way. You’re making professions useful and interesting, creating jobs like bodyguards or mercenaries, not because you added some sort of class to the game, but because they arose from the players’ needs.
A real raid
This should have been in MMOs a long time ago: random raids by creature armies, led by an incredibly strong boss, on towns and cities. “But towns and cities should be a place where the player always feels safe…” No. Your game isn’t going anywhere with that type of mentality.
You want your world to feel epic. You’ve seen movies and read books. Bad shit happens. It’s often some of the most interesting parts of a story. Stop trying to control everything. You have to let things flow. Think of how fun it would be to have an army composed of different enemies attack a huge city, every player having something they can do to help, the generals of the army slaying less experienced players left and right, only being able to be stopped by veteran players.
If the city is under a certain guild’s control, watch them do their best to protect the citizens so that they maintain a good reputation. Imagine an enemy guild getting word that the city is under creature attack, so they take the opportunity to make a successful coup.
This, this is the kind of stuff you want happening in your world day to day. It’s exciting, interesting, and will have different outcomes depending on circumstances. And you can see how it’s all intertwined.
Creatures and Levels
"Oh, hey man. You started playing? I’m level 22, but I’ll make a new character to play with you." This can be fixed. You think there is no way to make the level 22 able to have fun playing with the level 8 or vice versa? Let me give you an idea to how it’s done.
First off, stop putting creatures of similar levels all bundled together. That’s bullcrap. Creatures of similar strength don’t just decide to hang out in the same areas. This is the Mountain of Blissmouth. It has goblin camps at its east side, berserker goats halfway to the top, rotworms inside its caves, and a dragon who has claimed the mountain as his own. Over at the goblin camps, some, being the leaders of the group are stronger than the others. No, it’s not a same or slightly higher leveled elite mob. That’s boring as fuck. It’s Bartooth, a general who is surprisingly stronger than the other goblins when he’s around, and can probably kick your newbie ass. “So is this area my level or not? I don’t get it.” Basically, this is a good example of a good place where your more experienced friend and you can hunt together. Bartooth and the other camp leaders will be a good challenge and will provide decent experience for your friend, while you deal with the lesser goblins. Once Bartooth and the leaders are taken care of, your friend can go take on some of the berserker goats while they spawn again, but will be close by if you need him. And if the dragon passes by, you’re both dead!
It’s fun. You’ve seen the stories people post in social sites and forums. They never say something like “we were both in the appropriate level to grind in this area, so we went and had a lot of safe fun!”. It’s always something silly or risky they tried, and if your game doesn’t provide the means for such things to happen, you’re wasting both your and the player’s time.
There also needs to be a good mixture of types of attacks, abilities and defenses on the creatures. An orc fortress has an area with hasty orc berserkers. A low level mage could get some really good experience from fighting them, if they weren’t so good at getting all up in its face and just completely out damaging due to the mage’s low physical defense. Being a low level mage, he also doesn’t have as many spells to slow it down or trap it around fire. Luckily, the mage’s knight friend can hold them off for him.
Some creatures should be challenging not due to their stats, but due to their sheer amounts. There are animals who travel in packs. Sometimes an immense amount of creatures gather together for one reason or another. Don’t make some dumb limit number of creatures per area, and set distance between them. Look at the type of creature you’ll be adding. Determine if it’s a lone creature or one that would travel in a group. Place them accordingly. Sometimes, place an incredible amount of them together.
Make enough places combining a lot of different types of creatures in different amounts, standing in very different types of areas that vary in shape and size, and you’ll have players who can all benefit from teaming up together despite a 10-30 level difference. You’ll also have areas in which the general strategy for handling the creatures is different, not just from area to area, but depending on which classes are fighting them as well. If you tire from one place, go take your adventure to another.
Another thing that would make creatures interesting is if you can only effectively damage them by exploiting their weakness. You shouldn’t be able to easily kill a werewolf just because you have good enough weapons and experience. You should be able to kill if if you have the right weapon. It’s fun to have to find out the different creatures’ weaknesses, and also having to acquire the right kind of tools. Having to prepare for a hunt does not only make you feel like a badass who knows what he’s doing, it also gives you something to do when you’re watching a show and commercials are on or you log in to talk to your guild but don’t feel like going out on some hunt or adventure.
Also, as you level up, the stronger creatures should feel they’re harder to defeat, not because they have more HP or do more damage, but because they’re more unpredictable, are harder to dodge, outrun, or trick. At high levels, creatures should be able to finish you off easily if you do any mistakes. It provides a constant challenge that keeps you entertained. It’s no secret why games like Dark Souls are very popular. Too many games nowadays are too dumbed down. People who play MMOs are looking to sink many hours into the game, meaning they have more than enough time to get really good at it. You don’t have to make it easy, specially at higher levels.
The bottom line here is that going out to hunt creatures should be fun. You want the players to want to level up to gain new abilities because they want to try them in new situations, not because they’ll just be stronger. You want them to go fight hydras because it will provide them with a damn good challenge, not just because it’s a necessary part of a quest. You want them to feel proud about being able to kill a Dragon, because it took skill, not because they were at the appropriate level.
You don’t want them to race to the end. You want them to enjoy the journey.
Quests, Secrets, Environment, and Legendary Items
Quest: a long or arduous search for something.
Just like the word raid, this is another word that has been raped and left to die on MMOs. Fetching 5 apples from the apple tree, be it protected by a damn stone giant or not, is not a fucking quest. Escorting some NPC, whether it’s a peasant or a King, is not a quest either.
You should have rumors, maps, legends, all scattered throughout the world, whether hidden in books, NPC dialogue options, temple walls, etc. All of these having clues to the location of special weapons or treasures. Make the process of investigating their location fun to the people who first explore your universe. Later on, when the secrets are uncovered, those who wish to use guides to get the items can, and those who wish to go through what the first explorers did, can, as all the information will still be there.
People will search for these items and encounter all sorts of perils. Make the areas interesting. Make the paths not-so obvious. Like I said before, people who play MMOs are looking to sink many hours into the game. Every quest should take a reasonable amount of time and provide a challenge, not be something you can just get because you’re in the appropriate level. The more hours you have of content, the better, and if you make the other areas of your MMO as interesting, even if a player were to finish all the quests, they’ll still have hours and hours of fun to be had.
Don’t be afraid to make the environment very dangerous. The reason these weapons and items are artifacts or legends is because they’re hard to attain. The Hellblade 10 layers underground shouldn’t be in the Hell Dungeon where the creatures are really strong and there are several areas where the ground erupts and damages the players for half their health. No. That’s for pussies. The Hellblade should be in the Hell Dungeon where your character dies of heat stroke in 10 seconds if you didn’t bring the proper heat resistance potions that you can get from an alchemist, where your ice spells don’t work for shit, where the paths are narrow and sometimes confusing, where lava is everywhere and falling in it means you’re dead, because it’s fucking lava, and where the creatures purposely try to knock you into it constantly.
"That sounds extremely hard!" That’s why it’s the fucking the fucking Hellblade that only true adventurers can obtain. That’s why not everyone can get it and why once you obtain it, you feel like a boss, like you had the skill, not because like you were just in the appropriate level.
Now, I’d like to talk about one of a kind weapons and armor. Make them. Make some godly creature attack a server and drop a one of a kind weapon. Yes, the only one in that server. Owning it would make that player a legend. Make them get some extreme powers from it. Don’t be afraid of making them strong. Having a one of a kind legendary weapon on a game in which you drop items upon death means they’ll be a target of many aggressive people and villainous guilds. Also, if it’s not tempting enough to be used, the player might just store it away instead. If the player is worthy of it, he will not loose it. If not, it will eventually go to the hands of a more worthy player.
Who the hell cares about housing, right? Barely anyone nowadays, but not because it can’t be interesting, but because most games make it extremely unappealing. I personally think it’s because the houses aren’t around in the city. It’s either in a specific area, or one loading screen away. Why buy a house if it’s not part of the city? Wouldn’t it be cool if you lived next to the potion shop or bar? If you could look at the city streets from your balcony. Housing will never be liked by the majority of the players unless it’s something like this.
"But that would mean there are a limited amount of houses. Not every player could have a house!" Of course. Why shouldn’t owning land in the city be exclusive to those who show the most interest for one, gathering up the necessary money and staying up to date with the auctions.
Put them in different areas of the cities and towns. Make them of different shapes and sizes. Make large themed guild houses. Make some hidden in a forest or a mountain, for a guild of hunters or thieves. Make stores that can be bought by crafters so they are able to sell their products. Most importantly, since there are a limited amount, they should have a monthly fee. This way you ensure that players who are active own them, and there will be a constant sale of houses from players who have stopped playing or from players upgrading to a better house.
It will be very interesting to see how people value houses depending on the city’s reputation, which will depend on the crime rate, the current leader and the taxes set, or which hunting grounds or materials are found near it.
I specifically want to talk about stuff like taking a boat. Don’t cut the journey in any way. Instead make it interesting. Make random events that may happen as someone is taking a ride. Have pirates target the boat. Don’t make them attack blindly. Have them ask the players for a sum of money each. If all the players pay, they leave peacefully. If even one player refuses, then they attack. Have different crews attack, and make each feel different enough. Assign loot accordingly. Let players collect a bounty if they helped defeat the captain. Place treasure maps or clues that lead players to actual quests.
Don’t just do hostile events. Some part of the ship breaks, but a player with woodworking may fix it and in return gain some gold and raise their woodworking level. Have rare NPC vendors pop in on certain rides.
And these are only a few things of many that can be done to make travel interesting!
Let’s make NPCs interesting. Why should all NPCs talk to you? You should have some NPCs deny service due to your class. Maybe they just don’t trust rogues. Maybe they just don’t trust your race. “But how will that player buy or do “x” thing that requires that NPC?” They can’t. And that’s that. That won’t really be a problem if you’ve made your universe vast and rich.
Some NPCs should only do business with you if you’ve done them a favor, or look strong enough. Heck, some towns should even distrust you completely until you prove yourself to their leader or pass some test. Others should give you better prices or point you to the direction of a treasure if you’re a class they like. Maybe some requiring even a specific combination of class and race.
Everyone loves when race, class, and professions actually does a difference. In games like Skyrim, some people are even grateful for just a several lines of dialogue that appeared only because of a race they picked. Imagine their surprise when they are able to find out about a secret location or get some special treatment!
Profession, Protection, and Status Effects
In what I’ve already written about the other segments you’ve seen I’ve mentioned professions here and there. What you may have noticed is that the way I think they should be made makes them more useful and relevant to many situations.
If you can do most of the things in the world of your MMO without needing anything out of the professions, don’t even bother making them. Don’t get me wrong, armor crafting and weapon crafting can be useful, but depending on how you make your world, they might just end up being either boring or just not worth the time.
They have to be useful on a whole other level. Metalworkers should be able to craft an armor from a specific metal that protects from certain kind of attack, let’s say for example some laser throwing lizards, that otherwise would just tear you appart. If for whatever reason you want or need to hunt those lizards, you need a metalworker to make you the armor.
This also makes having different sets of armor interesting. There shouldn’t be a “better armor”. There should be “the right kind of armor” for the situation. Like I had said before, learn about the creature, whether you look it up, ask someone, or trial and error. Then, prepare for the situation. Do the same thing with environments. Visiting a new area? Ask the locals. The players that live around that area know the tips and tricks you need. They’ll also obviously have all the materials you need to survive.
Watch professions like Alchemy and Enchantment be relevant and useful when you make hazardous areas. Slippery ice mountain? Enchant those boots. Venomous gas fields? Potion of toxic resistance.
And don’t make weak status effects. Poison that only lasts a little while, and then goes away? Does that sound like it will add much excitement to your world? Let warrior take on the small scorpions going his way. He takes any attacks and strike them down with ease, one blow, but… surprise! Because they are so frail, they carry a very deadly poison. Three hours of fast acting poison, and eventually an unprepared dead warrior that has learned a lesson he won’t soon forget.
In a MMO like this, the creatures are more interesting, the professions more important, and there are many reasons to properly gear up. Doesn’t it sound great? When facing something new, you’ll be on the lookout for what it does, rather than what level it is.
All of what I’ve written here can be done. It’s not easy, it can be risky, and probably takes some hard work and proper planning, but being innovative always has been this way.
There’s a little old MMO that made a lot of these things work more than a decade ago, that’s how I know this can be more than done nowadays.
Unfortunately, most teams making an MMO seem to want to build on an old model that was once successful, but it doesn't work anymore. People are hungry for something new, and it’s not secret what the people really want.
If MMOs are going to evolve, I don’t see them going in any other direction. I piled these up from my experiences and peoples' suggestions over the years.
Anyways, my best wishes go out to those who trying to break the monotony.