What makes a great MMO?

I just read a Twitter exchange quoted on MMO-C between WoW dev Muffinus and a player, about what defines a good MMO. It was very short and, as all communications from Blizz these days, unsatisfying in terms of imparting any real information, but it did get me to thinking. Herewith the pertinent MMO-C post (And I confess I do not know what “undertale” means, or what it might be a typo of, and also I am not sure I have ever heard of a 5000 lb gorilla except possibly in monster movies…):

so you said dungeons, world bossEs and pvp make an mmo. But it’s more than that right?
Not to be too undertale about it but people make an MMO. Free hugs. (Muffinus)
The players grew up, and so has the game. is still the 5000 lbs gorilla in the MMO room.
every expac the game feels less like an mmo. What can you do to change this?

What makes an MMO? Good question. What sparks MMO memories for you? Dungeons, World Bosses, PvP? (Muffinus)
random matchmade groups. The one thing I miss from Vanilla and BC wow was my server community
.I don’t disagree, I miss the old Tichondrius forums. Is this viable in the current climate? (Muffinus)
what do you mean the old forums? Like the old layout?
.Nah like back in the day when people would post cascade memes during BWL progression  (Muffinus)

I will stipulate that what constitutes a “good” MMO is certainly different for every player. But given WoW’s longevity and the fact that at one point there were 12 million players, there must be some describable near-universal appeal, some unique formula with a magic mix of quantifiable factors, that have allowed this to happen. But I will be darned if I can list those factors. The answer to the question “What makes a good MMO?” lies in the frustrating realm described by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when confronted with legally defining hard-core pornography:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

I suspect for most of us, we know a good MMO when we play it. And we can certainly list some of the attractions we find in any given game. But to step that up a level and come up with a meta-list of what makes a good MMO, even for ourselves? Very tough.

This is not just an academic exercise for me. I feel like I should be able to actually write down the critical factors I need in order to commit to an MMO for the long term. I was, after all, schooled in logic by Jesuits, trained to plan every detail of both large and small military operations, and spent several recent years enumerating factors that could contribute to computer network vulnerabilities. I should be able to do something as seemingly trivial as break down the components that make a game “good” for me, and then apply them as a formula to evaluate new games!

But of course — at least so far — I can’t. Here is my first stab at it, with which I am not happy, but which nevertheless is at least a starting place:

Factors that make a “good” MMO for me (not in any particular order)

  1. It must not be a first-person shooter, and it must not even default to that aspect in — for example — combat situations.
  2. It must allow a wide range of choices for game mechanics, for example player-designated keybinds and movement techniques.
  3. The characters and environment must be neither too cartoonish nor too real in their depiction.
  4. There must be a robust PvE component. That is, it cannot be a PvP-only game.
  5. Social play must be supported and widely available, but not mandatory.
  6. It must support a variety of engagement models and activities, such as solo questing, exploring, professions and crafting, social chat, economic/money-making activities, group raids or small instances, etc.
  7. It must allow for character progression, and there can be no avenue for progressing or getting an advantage through real-world buying of items, either directly or indirectly. (This is why I am always suspicious of free to play game models.)
  8. It must be playable within a wide range of time commitments, from an hour or two a week to many hours in the day. Basically, this means it can be neither turn-based nor real-time-based (where the game insofar as your character is concerned keeps progressing whether or not you are logged on.)
  9. There must be opportunity to experience every aspect and role of the game, either through multiple characters or through easily changing specialties on one character.
  10. It must be “big” enough and change frequently enough that you can never feel like you have completed everything it has to offer.

(Oh, and one other thing — don’t hate or judge — it must be playable on a Mac.)

See, I don’t ask for much!

What about you? What are some things you either have to have or will not abide in an MMO?

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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