High Horse: MMORPG’s sort of suck and really need to change

High Horse is a rotating opinion column in which GamesRadar editors and guest writers are invited to express their personal thoughts on games, the people who play them and the industry at large.

You walk into a hallway, and there are a few orcs or robots or whatever standing in the corner. They’re staring right in your direction. Not 10 feet behind you are the corpses of their fallen comrades, lying in a giant pile, the loot stripped from their bones. For some reason, the foes don’t approach you or your party. They completely ignore you until someone goes within 10 feet, and then they all run over at once and attack the nearest person. You attack back, hitting numbers that correspond with abilities that refresh over time – and once they do, you cast them again.

Above: SWTOR moves the genre forward in some ways, and holds it back in others

After the enemies are killed, you go into the next room and there’s a boss. You minimize the game and pull up a YouTube video showing off how to kill the boss. You tell everyone in your Vent channel to shut up because you’re looking it up. You could just try and figure out the battle yourself, but the developers want to make the bosses extra tricky, so they gave him unique mechanics that don’t make a lick of sense or have anything to do with the rest of the game. You need to stand on the blue blocks when he turns orange, kite him around the room while he spawns little versions of himself to fight, and hide behind a column when he screams “I HUNGER!” And then you kill him and he drops and item that’s 4 percent better than the one you have. You equip it. It looks a little different than your old one. Everyone is jealous. You do it again.

Massively-multiplayer online RPGs, everybody – let’s give them a round of applause!

The basic MMO formula hasn’t changed much since EverQuest. Hell, it hasn’t changed that much since multi-user dungeons (MUDs). You pick a class, choose a race, grab an item and beat rats or goblins or droids to death with it for 400 hours until you hit the level cap. And that’s when it really starts to suck. See, the developers don’t want their game to ever end, so at level cap, you’re usually given a bunch of extra-hard dungeons to fight in.

Above: Pandas aren't going to save the genre

Those dungeons give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons.

And then you do raids, which is that same crap with more than a dozen people. PvP and crafting both follow that same model, giving players a carrot on a stick instead of actual rewards.

The worst part is that it’s obvious why they do it: MMO communities are a mess, and they don’t know what they want. Whenever a developer thinks outside the box, the community complains that the game isn’t close enough to World of Warcraft. When they go by the book, everyone calls it a World of Warcraft clone.

Above: Guild Wars 2 has some unique ideas; hopefully they're different enough

That’s not to say things haven’t improved; elements have been refined, with Trion’s Rift being the finest example of a pure MMO to date. The Old Republic switches things up, too, giving the entire genre a coat of beautiful paint, but both of those games, at their core, are still mediocre action-RPGs gussied up in pretty outfits. Really, really, really pretty outfits.

The combat needs to change. Having 30 different stats needs to disappear. The idea of “agro ranges” needs to die. The endgame needs a complete overhaul. Even games that have done a good job at changing things up, like DC Universe Online, The Old Republic and Age of Conan, still eventually boil down to repeating the same actions in different scenarios.

Developers need to stop creating sequels and spin-offs to EverQuest, and start making their own game. They need to take a step away from the norm and create new experiences within the genre, and until they do, everyone is going to act as though every game in the genre is a sequel to the game before it, instead of an actual game in and of itself.

Above: Secret World's unique leveling could be what helps it stand out

MMOs need to evolve, not because I’m tired of killing rats or doing quests (to be honest, I actually like that trivial nonsense), but because the number of people willing to put up with that might have hit its cap. I’ve heard developers say that in order for another big MMO to succeed, WoW needs to fall. There are a finite number of gamers willing to put up with that tired model, and developers are just trading them by the thousand. That’s bad. That’s unhealthy. That will eventually kill the genre, unless someone makes some changes.

And I love the idea of playing with millions of people too much to see it die.




  • ultimatepunchrod - January 30, 2012 8:22 a.m.

    I'm not much on MMOs, so I didn't realize it was this bad. I hope it gets better because those do not sound like games I want to play.
  • winner2 - January 29, 2012 3:01 p.m.

    Only MMO's i ever played were runescape and Guild Wars. And really, the need to look different and create your own playstyle is what pulls people into these kinds games I think. On RS, I eventually got a subscription and got up to like level 90 or so and had some decent stuff, but then I realized I couldn't seem to get any farther, I kept seeing more of the same and couldn't really get any amusement. Incredibly addicting at first, but it started to die on me after a while when I realized I could get cool stuff but I'd just look and play the same as everyone else. Then on GW,even though i still have all my characters with all the oh-so-important special expensive armors like Obsidian on my Paragon, I felt like the game wasn't entertaining me enough to keep me playing when there was so much more to do away from the computer. But really, I think the uniqueness of your characters should come as top priority for the devs, because that's really what determines the experience as far as I can tell. Almost everyone feels a little better when they look different and make their own style of appearance and gameplay.
  • Ravenbom - January 29, 2012 1:40 p.m.

    HoCo: "multi-used dungeons (MUDs)" I'm pretty sure it's Multi-user, not "used". Well, Eve Online is a very different experience but it hardly gets mentioned. I've never played it and by all accounts it seems virtually (not a pun) impenetrable. It should be mentioned as an exception. I do agree with everything you said though. For me, I really don't want MMOs to improve because I've already thrown my life away in MMOs for a few years, I don't need a reason to go back. I'm only thinking of it now, but your Super Review probably should have compared The Old Republic to Star Wars Galaxies. Just saying, HoCo.
  • GR HollanderCooper - January 30, 2012 9:44 a.m.

    I'm going to blame Kenneth Parcell.
  • AuthorityFigure - January 29, 2012 4 a.m.

    MMOs are for gamers who are scared of playing alone, scared of playing on consoles and scared of not being seen by other people.
  • yonderTheGreat - January 29, 2012 1:52 a.m.

    I miss you pre-CU SWG...
  • GR HollanderCooper - January 30, 2012 9:45 a.m.

    I miss it too :( Creature handler/Teras Kasi hybrid ftw.
  • maledwarfwarrior - January 28, 2012 6:22 p.m.

    Innovation is coming, but not from your expected source. The secret world is one, but there are others. Infinity: The Quest of Earth uses a randomly generated universe system to create true discovery, even the developers don't know what's next to be found. Age of Wulin – Legend of the Nine Scrolls turns players into NPC's when they log off, and combat is governed by martial art techniques combined into a style individual to the player. You can join a school and raid others to learn new skills, and there are dozens of professions each with potential for gear and money. These games don't have the advertising budget of bigger MMO's, and are mainly spread by word of mouth. if you want to find more hidden gems for this year, check out
  • Rowdie - January 28, 2012 4:08 p.m.

    I got one, you die, you start over.
  • reach110 - January 28, 2012 12:34 p.m.

    Thank GOD someone else is saying this. This is what puts me off of MMOs. When I think of playing online in a virtual world I get a vastly different picture than the one all MMOs cling to.
  • amagasakiseb - January 28, 2012 9:48 a.m.

    How about a game where you log in and make a character and when you die you have to start again from the beginning.. This might lead to a situation where.. 1) Groups have to sacrifice a group member in order to be able to kill a boss and then they would need to help the member level back up again quickly. This might lead some interesting teamwork if people are genuinely that nice to each other. 2) You could have GMs who go around (who are super super high level) "keeping the peace" so for example if on their log they see that someone kills a load of people below their level within a few minutes, they could go over and kill that player as a punishment and force them to restart their game. This way, you would never have too many high level people and the ones that are would not be absolute dickheads. However you could do the similar thing as WoW with its PvP territory and make it so that the GM will never attack you no matter how many people you kill, as long as you do it in the PvP territory. Then you could move onto a system that develops organically where higher level players offer (for in game currency) to smuggle you across the PvP territory. This might also lead to interesting skirmishes where rival smugglers fight each other in hope of getting control of the territory but it would always happen in a dynamic and believable way. Just a thought! I'm not an expert on MMOs by a long shot but this is just what I can imagine being interesting. Sure it might be boring if you play on your own but there's too much individualism in today's society so it might make people work together more!
  • talleyXIV - January 28, 2012 10:48 a.m.

    The first idea there is pretty cool, but people would get really stressed out over that type of thing. People are paying to play the game and don't want to be punished by being restarted. I.E. Infinity Ward recently deranked a lot of people for the prestige token glitch, I bet they lost a ton of players due to that. And that isn't even a game where leveling up is a hard thing to do.
  • amagasakiseb - January 29, 2012 6:11 a.m.

    I guess to deter people from killing each other you could have big hordes of NPC enemies attacking bases on a regular basis meaning that the all the race/factions would need a fair amount of higher level players to protect it from them. I suppose the developer has to give even the most dickhead of players a reason to not kill each other aimlessly. Meh I guess it would be too controlling but if some kinds of virtual social norms came into play it might work out in the long run.
  • lilbuddha - January 29, 2012 7:40 a.m.

    You do realize that you described Diablo 2 hardcore mode pretty much to the T, right ?
  • Logic - January 28, 2012 3:36 p.m.

    Check out Haven & Hearth, it does this pretty well. Its pretty laggy, though.
  • lilbuddha - January 28, 2012 8:09 a.m.

    Having played mmo's since their infancy, and everything in between... Developers need to make MMO's accessible enough for a profitable population, but then just completely ignore the opinions of "casuals". They have no clue what makes an mmo good. They want instant gratification, IWIN buttons. It makes for an incredibly dull game. There are two things that matter: RISK VS REWARD, you should feel a sense of accomplishment for killing/completing a raid or whatever. Not a "yay I beat the boss [on easy mode] and I got all this great gear [that is only 2% worse than ultra hard mode gear]" And separate rulesets for PvE and PvP. Seriously. Separate them. Or you know, you could go blizzard's route and just completely screw over both by simplifying the talent trees to 7 choices and claiming through and through that it's "way more versatile and all your choices matter". EQ Pre-PoP Mid to late game, DAoC RvRvR + questing, FF11 Endgame, Warhammer T1-T3 + Lore collecting, WoW Vanilla Raiding/Leveling and WoW BC Raiding/Leveling were the high points of MMO gaming in my experience. The majority of people here sound like they've put maybe 50hrs into MMO's in total in their lifetime...clearly its NOT the genre for them. Stop trying to turn the genre into every other game (and essentially a single player experience). Voice an opinion when you've actually experienced more than half the leveling content and a few PuG raids in a game. Voice an opinion when you've got more than a year+ played time (All mmo's combined i'm probably sitting a 3+ years played time ie: 26280 hours). If anything developers need to keep MMO's as MMO's and change the single player games to have better larger scale Co-Op experiences. A Mass Effect type game with a solid 4 player mode, which also had some sort of randomized mission creation would be a huge success. Borrowing themes from MMO's, but being its own entity.
  • hellodesdemona - January 28, 2012 9:32 a.m.

    Clearly you have no idea how business for MMO's work. How many of WOW's 12 million players have more than 1 year play time? .01%? An MMO NEEDS to attract new players and casuals in order to stay in business. Ten thousand people who play 1 year+, but only pay a monthly subscription of 15 dollars will not sustain a company. If you are proposing that companies exclude casuals, than be prepared to pay an inflated subscription. Let's do the math: 12 million people at $15 a month= $180,000,000 per month. If you exclude all but the most hardcore 10,000 people: 10,000 at $15 a month= $150,000 a month. BIG difference. What would subscriptions have to be to match the current $180,000,000 a month if only the most hardcore 10,000 played? I hope you're ready to pay $18,000 a month in subscriptions.
  • lilbuddha - January 28, 2012 11:29 a.m.

    Wow's current subscriptions centered around it becoming popular, not becoming a better game. I dare say that the game itself could become EQ-esque hard overnight and subs would increase rather than decrease. People flocked to WoW after it became popular with the hardcore. The "hardcore" have left wow, and now we are starting to see the mass public follow. 200k subs, 300k subs, 500k subs, 800k subs, over the past several months lost. It's adding up. Your numbers are also retardedly wrong and don't represent reality at all. As I said before, Blizz needed to make the game accessible but also having Risk Vs Reward to it. This simply doesn't exist anymore. You can do ALL content in the game with a pug group. The "hard" modes supposedly made just for "hardcore" players gets nerfed regularly. Its completely counter intuitive to the point. The lack of something SIGNIFICANT for gamers to strive towards leaves no reason to continue playing. I quit at the end of Lich King; I could step into Catalysm today, level my character to 85 in 2 days, play every dungeon in one more day, raid the first tier the next, the 2nd the next day, and PuG the final tier of content over the course of the next week. I could literally experience the entire content of the expansion in less than month, with minimal issues. I would have zero sense of accomplishment. I had zero sense of accomplishment in Lich King, save for a select few server firsts I did...and those were fleeting at best, especially after having steamrolled the normal version, seeing the sameish gear, seeing the sameish mechanics, seeing the same quest dialogue weeks prior. As much as the game needs to be approachable, wow has gone far beyond that.
  • KnowYourPokemon - January 29, 2012 8:42 a.m.

    Funny thing about WoW subs "following" the "hard-core" is that WoW subs started to drop right when they tried to make things difficult again. Sure if you went into Cata today you'd do things pretty easy, but when the expansion started up until 4.3 came out? Ha. I'd also like to see you back up your ridiculous statement with completing all the content within the month given the incredibly low number of guilds to down Heroic Rag let alone Heroic DW. The one thing I actually agree with with what you've said is the nerfing to the heroic mode raids, I could see where they were coming from when they did nerf the raids but now it seems they've finally smartened up by adding raid finder difficulty. And for those who still want more of a challenge with normal and heroic they can simply turn off the buff that the raid is going to give to bring the difficulty back up. I honestly have to laugh when people talk about how easy LK was too given how the vast majority of guilds didn't even down him in heroic until the buff you were given in his raid reached 30%. The change WoW really needs with it's difficulty is not to require normal mode to attempt heroic modes, you should just be able to walk in and try the heroic fights if you want. You also do realize that a large part of WoW's subscribers are in China right? Which have shown to be way more attracted to the true hard-core old school MMO's? The odds are more in favour to them just growing tired of a game that isn't and has never truly been hard-core to begin with. As far as casual gamers go do you really think they give a damn if "the best players" leave the game? Hell no. What do they care if someone they don't even know stops playing a game they play? The odds of that being the actual case for subscriber losses are slim to none in comparison to the actual logical reasoning. And lastly, before I get the automatic title of "WoW fanboy" for simply defending a game. I barely play WoW as it is, I probably put a total of 3 hours into the game a week. There are better games out there than WoW, more so in other genre's than the MMO genre of course with exceptions, and I have no problem with people giving some logical reasoning as to whether they enjoy a game or not but that's the difference, you dislike WoW now so clearly it's a horrible game, there can't be any mid ground where "Yeah WoW's an ok game but I don;t rarely care for it" it's either "WoW's the best!" or "WoW's the crappiest game ever" ya know except for "the good old days" which were far from great to begin with.
  • lilbuddha - January 30, 2012 4:06 a.m.

    Actually, yes, the casuals DO care about where the "hardcore" go. The hardcore are the ones that generate a. the income for an MMO in it's infancy to get popular in the first place b. the blogs/articles/forum posts/word-of-mouth telling everyone about the "latest and greatest" The entertainment world is a group of followers, with very few actually leading the pack with 'new' ideas. I guarantee that if the entirety of a Top end raiding guild like (i dunno anymore) Vodka all of a sudden announced "wow is dead, we're playing rift now", that subs wouldn't be affected ? They most certainly would, in huge numbers. And as far as "completing all content", I wouldn't have to step into a heroic raid or even a normal raid to "complete all content" because it's handed to players that are able to select the LFR option and just faceroll through the whole thing while others carry them (not that I would do that). The people that DO want to progress, these claims that people haven't cleared it... it's BECAUSE of all the nerfs they hand out. People have already been trained to expect them, they know that they can either work and progress, or just wait 2 weeks and they'll be able to get over that hump with little difficulty. You know what that does? It makes the Risk vs Reward players leave/quit guilds, and move on to other stuff...and who takes the place of those people "IWIN NOW" raiders, who have little to no patience, and happily decide "hey lets just wait a week or a month and it'll be so much easier with that 10% buff, I'm go play MW3 in the meantime !". Even if you wanted to have a "purist" guild and wanted to take down content at its maximum, you CAN'T. The minute you get a snag in your progression (as not everyone in the world are #1 players), you end up hitting some sort of nerf that blizzard forces on you. You can't flip on/off their buffs/nerfs. Sure on rare occasion you might be able to, but then you ignore the "XX will no longer breathe YY during ZZ" and all the other stuff that vastly change mechanics in those pre-% buff scenarios. It's all a mess and I'm sure it'll leak over to other mmo's despite it being a horrible way to trickle content to the idiots.

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