If you asked me this question a decade ago, I would have a much different answer. Heck, I would have had a different answer for you five years ago. I'd have to say that I really need an MMO to be open to casual play or to be enjoyable on a casual schedule. Really, though, I miss being able to "dedicate" myself to one title, logging in and joining a guild and conquering monsters. That stuff is really the essence of MMOs. But I work and play differently than I used to. Now I value being able to play casually, but only if the designers seem aware of casual players. That doesn't mean I want MMOs to be designed around hour-or-less play sessions, but I simply need to be able to play casually. It's just a matter of scheduling.
I also must have customization. I want my character or city or whatever to stand out somehow. Being unique is more important than being powerful.
If we're talking purely mechanics, I'm going to go with "nothing." No one thing is that important. There are game elements I like to have, but as I consider each of them, I then think of a game I enjoyed or even still enjoy that lacks it, including essential-seeming bits like housing, crafting, trade, guilds, grouping tools, respectable combat, quest logs, quests (!), and yes, even minimaps (or in-game maps period). Ultimately, if there's one thing that drives me from a game, it's a meta thing: a crappy dev team philosophy or attitude. So I'd say that a good studio attitude and rapport with players is the one essential thing for me beyond the mechanics; when that disappears, I do leave.
I think the feature I can't live without is a group finder. I'm in Australia, so our MMO "peak" times can vary widely depending on the game we are playing. It can make it really hard to find groups for dungeons or PvP depending on the game.
The "sister" to this is a super-efficient queuing system, one that can pick my level and sort out classes for me without my endlessly waiting for PvP to pop. It's a matter of convenience!
I think I'm with Bree on this one: There isn't one mechanic that I can think of that I've needed to have in an MMO in order to enjoy it. I will say that something I value pretty highly is any mechanic that makes it as simple as possible to play with my friends. The way The Secret World
has handled their servers and the ability to swap between them is pure gold. Aion
's mentoring and City of Heroes
' sidekicking are both great ways of bridging the leveling gap. Guild Wars 2
's lack of competition over resource nodes and mob tagging is another good way to make sure that folks aren't worried about playing in groups. I can still enjoy a game without one or more of those mechanics, but they're definitely among the things I look for first when scouting out a game.
I would probably have to go with crafting and/or a robust economy. Combat is so overemphasized and so poorly done relative to other genres that I find myself looking at tradeskilling first when I research a new MMO.
I know it's not flashy or even that new, but if I have to be 100% truthful here, my answer would be the minimap.
I mean, think about it. Awareness of our surroundings in MMOs is absolutely vital. Where we are, where everything is relative to us, and where we need to go are constant questions in need of answering -- and the minimap does that. I've played a couple of MMOs without a minimap and felt suffocated by a lack of vital information. Maybe it's fun for you to just explore and be expected to remember landmarks, but not me. No sir.
The minimap actually encourages exploration in me by giving me a heads-up about locations I might want to check out or points of interest that could require some finagling to reach. And as a tool to track resource nodes, it's essential.
Really, look over the rest of the list if you must, but I think you have to agree that the minimap is so vital to the MMO UI that to lack it is to drive a car without windows. It can be done, but it's just a painful, awkward experience all around.
Smooth casting. There is a very delicate art to making spells feel "just right," and if it's not ultra-slick and rewarding, I just can't get into the rest of the game. This is one reason I think World of Warcraft
remains so ridiculously successful; it has the most fluid and responsive casting/combat controls of any MMO on the market. DC Universe Online
is another excellent example. Other MMOs have piqued my interest due to their creativity (Aion
) and design (TERA
), but without the satisfaction of perfectly-balanced combat controls mixed with great animations and sound effects, it just isn't going to happen.
Perfect controls are hard to describe, but you know them when you feel them.
My #1 pick is definitely a player economy. I hated Guild Wars
' lack of a robust trade market, and it really baffles me how people can make games without some kind of easily usable marketplace. I can go without a minimap or even no map at all -- memorizing terrain was a hallmark of EverQuest
players -- but being able to freely trade with players is something I can't live without.
Though I've been playing MMOs for over 10 years, the feature I can't live without was introduced to me only last year. Guild Wars 2
removed competition over monsters, resource nodes, and open-world treasures, and I never want to go back. Everyone who contributes during a fight gets a full share of experience and a roll on the loot table regardless of who tagged it first or who did more damage. You don't even have to be in the same group to take advantage of this. There's also no rushing in to steal a mining node or treasure chest while a stranger is fighting off monsters. Everyone can loot them. It seems like a no-brainer now, but it's taken the industry years to put features like this in place, and I hope more MMO games are built this way going forward.
While I really like Justin's answer (it's true, I would hate playing a game with no minimap), I have to say that I have developed a strong love of crafting. I never really was much for fighting, but I still like to feel useful in a game. If I can craft for guildmates and enjoy the time making things in a game, then I have fun.
What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.