Recently I returned briefly to the World of Warcraft (scarily enough for the main purpose of claiming my StarCraft II mini-pet) – the world of Azeoroth, a familiar world that I had left behind nearly a year ago. Looking around I was shocked to see how under-geared I have become, despite having been on the top tier of my class when I left the game. It was jarring to see how my characters no longer matter in the world, and at how unheroic I felt, despite having achieved so much previously. Once I was a hero of the land – rescuer of maidens; slayer of dragons; and conqueror of titans and gods – but now… I find myself sitting alone in a virtual tavern, unable to get into groups to see the latest contents due to “having a low gearscore”.
This experience highlights one of the biggest problems that is associated with most MMOs today (a problem, that is especially prevalent on WoW), namely, the gearing mechanics. The very nature of MMOs means developers need to keep the customers constantly engaged – whether it be with bonus XP weekends; new level caps; new instances; special events; or some other contents or mechanics altogether. In an ideal world, players would play a game for its gaming mechanics, and they would stay in the game for the lore, the world design, and for the communities within. But as it stands players nowadays seems to move at a faster pace than gamers of old, and require a more constant steady stream of progression in order to stay engaged and invested in their games. And unfortunately gear – shiny, oh-so-shiny new gear – is perhaps one of the quickest, cheapest, and most effective way to provide such a stream.
Gear (in this case stats-based) can provide a quick improvement on in-game stats, and reward players with a quick sense of achievement. It also provide the players with a way to externally show off their skills and power, by allowing them to wear their trophies on themselves. Not to mention that gear, and the obtaining of, can be extremely addictive. The introduction of ever more powerful new gear, not only provide players with the motivation to stay in the game, but that lust for the shinies can also give the community a sense of purpose. Common goals, that can encourage teamwork and draw the players together. However, as my experience have shown, gear can also serve to separate the playerbase. Gear, can reduce all your previous achievements to naught, turn great heroes into hobos, and hobos into- well they remain hobos, but you get my point. Unfortunately for gamers like myself, as long as the current gearing systems remains, this problem is likely to remain also.
While I know that WoW and other similar MMOs are not likely to change their gameplay mechanics on my behalf, there are however a few things that I would like to see implemented into a MMO at some stage.
Imagine a game where customisation plays a large part, where gear are all cosmetic, and not stats based like in most games. Skills would play a large part in the gaming mechanics, in a system similar to Guild Wars’ where skills have different functions, but not one skill would be more powerful than another (at least not in an overly overpowering way). The idea is to make a game where each character is unique, and no one character is more powerful than another, placing everyone on equal footing (for the most part).
Now, imagine dungeons and raid instances where the game adjusts its settings each time, perhaps with selected randomised or branching features. Perhaps each week the dungeons might have different sets of rules, or perhaps different set of roaming extra rare mobs each month. When combined with the limited stats nature of the game, this would give the content more replayability, and provide a challenging experience even on older contents or for the more advanced players.
But that’s not all. Remember how I mention the cosmetic nature of the in-game gear? Now imagine, the existence of special drops and rewards, special cosmetic gear that are just a step shinier, with better textures, more elaborate designs, and maybe special animations. You are probably thinking right now – “isn’t that just like the current raid gear?” But, here comes the twist. Two twists actually. First twist is that these gear, instead of giving you stats bonuses like in other games, they will instead give you stats debuffs. You might get a special helmet for example, that turns your face into a fearsome fire breathing dragon, but, wearing it would also give you a 5% decrease in accuracy. So in effect, you would be trading in looks for stats. But of course, some players would be smart enough to carry a set of normal gear for their fighting and their instances, which leads me to my second twist.
And that, is the introduction of a leaderboard system. Each time you play a dungeon or a raid instance, the game will score you and your team at the end, based on a number of factors. Factors such as gear, time taken, level of the players, percentage of mobs killed, objectives completed, et cetera. What would be unique about this scoring system is that the harder you make it for yourself, the higher your score and ranking will be. So if you go in wearing full debuff gear, or with lower level characters for example, you might end up with a higher score than a group of high level characters wearing normal gear. This system would allow players to set their own difficulties, and would give “lesser geared” or less experienced players more chances to get into groups than in many other games. The usual leaderboard options would apply, with filtering options such as “Overall”, “My Friends”, “Weekly Scores”, et cetera, allowing players to set their own goals and challenges. Even those who are not skilled or lucky enough to get on the top 10 of the world for example, could still get the satisfaction of beating their own high scores for a particular dungeon.
Finally, to complete this system would be a instance-view and record feature. Imagine being able to look into the instance and watch the top scoring players fighting in real-time. Or being able to record the playback of your run, after finally defeating that boss-mob for the first time. Or how about having a full group of hardcore raiders, in their full debuff gear pieces, uploading their leaderboard topping run directly onto YouTube?
All this, of course, is just a pipe-dream of a jaded gamer. All of us I am sure, have a few ideas that we would like to see implemented into our games. Ideas that each of us believe are completely unique and revolutionary, ideas that will prevent the destruction of the world, and perhaps bring about the next stage of human evolution. Let me end this rant with a little question. What are YOUR gaming pipe-dreams? What would YOU do differently in your games, to help turn all those hobos, back into heroes?