Putting "non-MMO" gameplay into an MMO game

Massively's own Michael Zenke just doesn't seem to quit thinking about MMOs-- not only is he writing for us here, but he's also posting very intelligent stuff on other sites about MMOs, and even over the Christmas holiday, on his own blog, he's turning out insight about MMO design. His latest post is about a game I love, Viva Pinata for the Xbox 360, and how developers can use the lessons learned in both casual and more complicated "empire-building" or "garden growing" games like that to inform MMO gameplay.

The thing that Viva Pinata does best, in my opinion, is that it creates a living breathing world easily and with a relatively transparent interface. Create some worms (sorry, "whirlms"), give them a house, and all of a sudden you get birds. House the birds, and more animals appear-- there's the sense that you're not so much playing as interacting with a real world around you. And that is something that is very easily translatable to MMOs-- I feel like I keep bringing it up, but Pirates' concept of "stored labor" gives me that same sense of "waiting to push the button" that Zenke talks about. And he also mentions the achievements and the gift system that extend VP's gameplay, and it's definitely true that those kinds of things can push MMOs forward as well.

It's probably true that the next big MMO won't draw their influence from an MMO at all-- it'll be the kind of game that brings not only hacking and slashing to the massively multiplayer table, but these other kinds of deeper gameplay as well.