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Redefining MMOs: More than lore

Kyle Horner

There's a self-created paradox in the MMO industry. This genre asks its participants to invest copious amounts of time and people do want to spend a hours and hours within a single, expansive virtual environment. The downside is that videogames tend to spin on a single mechanical axis: conflict.

In the MMO realm, conflict generally means combat. The problem is endless conflict becomes excruciatingly tedious. Crafting, socialization and sometimes even mini-games have been employed to counteract this, yet it remains a substantial issue. Whereas the story and plot development -- our topics this week -- have largely taken a back seat.

With professional MMO development soaring and a whole new generation of promising titles on the way, we stand on the cusp of what could be the next big evolutionary leap for online gaming. In the coming weeks and months, Massively will be examining how the MMO genre has been redefined during the current generation of games and where it's headed in the next. If you have something important to say on the topic, feel free to post a comment on page two or even write your own "Redefining MMOs" blog post and leave a comment with the URL -- we'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Everyone has a story to tell, and so it's only natural that the creative minds who build and participate in massively multiplayer online games have many of their own. This week's installment of our ongoing Redefining MMOs feature focuses on story, it's evolution and potential future.

It came from the MUD

In the beginning, there were MUDs and before long they proliferated. Many of them allowed for storytelling but much like their eventual descendants, they primarily focused on beating the living brain matter out of things.

Story in MMOs has always come in two parts, or flavors, if you will. Half consists of the story a developer deigns to design into their game, while the other half sprouts from those looking and willing to tell their own story. The ratio has traditionally always leaned towards the players' story; greatly depending on the game in question as well as its community. Socializing had to stand in for story, long before story was ready to take over.

Early MMOs

Then there were the early MMO prototypes, like Meridian 59, that were largely experiences focused on the mechanics over the story. Much of the early MMO crop were limited by the technology in certain ways, especially when it pertained to evocative storytelling. Even so, the Ultima RPGs were focused on their stories, giving way to a rich history upon the release of Ultima Online. Although this was the first game with access to a rich lore, the design philosophy of the game and wild west nature of its original community gave way to far more interesting player created stories.

So it was that this era relied on the proactive player to create a memorable story themselves. This was especially true in the early days of EverQuest, where maps were nonexistent unless you broke out a piece of paper and a pencil. Exploration played a big party in people's personal EverQuest stories, as an environment can tell its own type of story. Even still, the developer's story of Norrath and its woes was enthralling at the time, largely because it was told in 3D.

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