Just when you thought you couldn't get any sicker of news surrounding the 2.4 patch for World of Warcraft, here we are again with another edition of Ask Massively. Here at Ask Massively, we like to consider ourselves the "Anti-Trendy" crowd, not because we all shop at Hot Topic or put bumper stickers that preach non-conformity on our SUV's (Mass produced non-conformity? I digress...), but because we like to take stories that have been beaten to death and take a look at them from a slightly more skewed perspective.

This week's inspiration comes from a young lady named Tara.

Dear Massively Massive Guy,

I've been playing World of Warcraft for quite some time, but I wonder what other games do that WoW doesn't. What games offer features that may someday be implemented by Blizzard? Surely, Blizzard doesn't innovate everything that is popular in MMORPGs.

Curiously Yours,

Tara


If you would like to be immortalized in electronic print, send us a question via our tipline, or by email at ask AT Massively DOT com. To the nice Nigerian gentleman who wants to enter into a business arrangement, the check is in the mail. For more on this topic, feel free to read on after the jump.

It certainly seems like this week's patch in World of Warcraft included everything but the kitchen sink. However, there are a lot of other games out there that boast features that Blizzard either cannot or will not implement. Let's have a look at some of these and see what we, the MMO fan, can learn about how the rest of the world lives. (or dies... repeatedly... with XP Debt and repair fees for everyone) This is not going to be a compendium of every feature boasted by every MMORPG. Instead, this will be a brief list of features in current or upcoming games other than World of Warcraft which may prove popular enough with the masses to become "standard" features in an MMO someday.

Sidekicks/Mentors
If you've ever played City of Heroes or City of Villains, then you are familiar with the sidekicking system. If not, then you're missing out on a treat. Let's say, for the purposes of discussion, that you have a friend who just picked up a copy of your favorite MMORPG. While you're sitting at max level with a collection of powers and gear that would leave the average player insanely jealous, your friend is stuck, by himself, farming yard trash and learning the game on his own. With the sidekicking system, you can give your friend a taste of what is to come by temporarily promoting him to your level (usually level -1) and letting him come with you while you run a dungeon for the 87,000th time. Or, if you prefer, you can revisit some of your favorite quests and dungeons from the past by temporarily dropping down to your friend's level (again, usually level+1) and experiencing the content from a level-appropriate perspective. (no more running your newbie friends through a zone like Wailing Caverns where they spend more time picking up loot than fighting mobs) Sidekicking adds replayability to the entire game without having to engage in all of the twinking and tedium of creating a second (or third... or eighth) character.

Complex Player Driven Economic Model
Economics, on its most basic level, is about supply and demand. Someone might think that an economic system in an MMORPG would be simple to manage. That someone would be painfully wrong. Managing an economy, even in the simplest of games, is a complex task due to the never ending supply of raw materials. After all, if you need more gold, you can just go out and kill more monsters, can't you?

That fact makes the economies in games such as EVE Online and Pirates of the Burning Sea that much more impressive. Keeping up with the amount of Luminous Kernite or Sugar Cane that exists in the game world, and adjusting prices in the marketplace accordingly is too much of a task for most MMO companies to manage, so why not let the market decide? Well, then you have issues surrounding farming and RMT because it will always be easier to pay someone else to farm materials for you than it is to go out and farm them yourself, right? Well what if an economy had so many different kinds of "raw materials" that it would be effectively impossible to farm all of them? Now you have the start of a robust economic system. Players can hold on to some materials in anticipation of increased scarcity later on, or risk cargo in moving their goods from one port to another in order to obtain a more favorable price. A robust economic model embraces the tendencies of players to "farm" materials and integrates those tendencies into the game. Imagine if World of Warcraft had separate auction houses in each city, each offering different prices for goods, and further imagine that transporting those goods from one city to another involved the risk of losing those goods in transit. I admit, it isn't likely to happen in a game like World of Warcraft, but it isn't difficult to see how it would add an element of challenge to the game.

Achievement Badges
Here is another example of game mechanics from City of Heroes/Villains , that has already been implemented in other games such as Lord of the Rings Online. What better way to show other players that you have "been there and done that" than to have a badge or token that says so? It is a simple way of keeping track of a character's history and of showing other players what you have accomplished. World of Warcraft has, to an extent, addressed this by adding titles to characters such as "Hand of A'dal" for accomplishing certin end-game quests, but what about some of the lower level achievements? How about a series of badges that shows all of the zones that you have explored, or any tradeskills that you have mastered? City of Heroes has a badge for just about everything even badges for visiting landmarks and memorial plaques in game. It adds a layer of richness to the game and makes players feel more connected to the overall story.

Complex Combat Mechanics
Let me start with the disclaimer that I have not yet played Age of Conan, so I do not know how well this works in practice, but I am very excited about the Complex Combat Mechanics in Age of Conan. Multiple attack angles which vary in effectiveness depending on how the defending player is defending themselves, combination attacks which result in damage greater than the sum of the individual attacks involved, and even spellweaving which combines the effects of multiple spells in order to achieve unique magical combination attacks will all result in a permanent departure from the days of "Click Auto-attack and go AFK for a few minutes" which were all-too-common in games like Everquest or even World of Warcraft to a point. (With WoW's macro'ing language, casting spell combinations by hitting one key over and over aren't all that hard to pull off.) Attacks of opportunity as well as combined effects can result in each encounter with a monster being relatively unique.

That's all we have for this week, but if you want the opportunity to toss out a few ideas of your own, or if you have questions that absolutely must be answered, you can comment below, stop by our tipine, or even send an email to "ask AT massively DOT com"

This article was originally published on Massively.
Behind the Curtain: Less realism, please