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Guest Post: The death of in-game interaction

Dean Poisso

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WoW's evolution has changed the course of both MMO game design and the landscape of the MMO player base in dramatic ways. By exploring the road most traveled, WoW has led the way from the roots of tabletop pen-and-paper RPGs and early MMO tabletop simulations into MMOs as virtual RPG themeparks.

Despite WoW's fantastic success on many fronts, in its evolution toward catering to the most common, casual style of play, it's removed much of the human interaction that made early MMO experiences special. Today's WoW is slick, seamless and streamlined. There is nothing one player can achieve that another player cannot also relatively easily achieve. Yet while players in today's WoW maintain that this thinly clad, egalitarian experience is "best," in reality, what we see is a continuous striving for distinction free from the confines of the game design itself. The ever-present GearScore sniff test has streamlined the need for player interaction to the point that interaction is barely needed at all.

In fact, it might be this very streamlining that has caused this MMO behemoth to slide away from the real magic of the early MMOs, to become a sanitized gaming experience that only barely acknowledges its need for virtual face-to-face gameplay. I miss the real interaction with my fellow players that speaks to the oldest traditions of what spawned MMOs: tabletop RPGs. I want player interactions to drive the game experience, from raiding to crafting to questing. The biggest villains and heroes of an MMO should be players, not pre-scripted heroes and playerless cut scenes. The next big MMO, I hope, can make this happen.

Player skill interactions

A class- and skill-driven economy One of the things I miss in an MMO is the face-to-face sale of class-specific skills and buffs. It's a level of interaction that fosters community.

Deep crafting While having raiding instances drop the latest and greatest items (as justly they should) is fun, making your own items should be equally rewarding. While I wouldn't remove epix purple dropz entirely, keeping epics truly rare makes them special. A deeper crafting experience would be fostered by rare and dangerous spawn locations. Why can't there be more significant seasonal crafting materials available only during certain times of the calendar cycle? Why can't skilled player services carry equal or greater importance than those of mere NPCs? Why can't players form crafting guilds with factions and intrigues of their own?

Dynamic guild content: Meta-factions

Players: a vital game resource Again, players and player guilds should serve vital functions for the game itself. Meta-guilds in major social hubs (for example, a thieves guild, a mage guild, a blacksmithing guild) provide a framework for faction-specific services and rewards, driven by players and player guilds. A player guild might be associated directly with any of these meta-guild factions, with suitable responsibilities, internal requirements and commensurate rewards. Solo players could participate as individuals. The game developers could control meta-guild relationships within certain parameters: PvE- and PvP-oriented quests, in-game directives, faction-ranked responsibilities for specific players ... (Guild war between the thieves guild and the guild of mages, anyone?) This would allow guild leveling and player factioning to be driven by the players, for the players. Guided by the game developers, this system can generate nearly endless content and offer something that has never been handled well in MMOs: intrigue.

Taking faction deeper with PvP Players become involved in PvP not only by something as simple as flagging for combat but through choices such as which faction they will ally with. It is possible to be a casual adventurer -- but this decision also means opting out of the skullduggery and intrigues some factions might require. (Choose your friends wisely.)

Player-created cities Player-generated, self-sustaining content breathes life into MMO cities. Allowing players to create their own cities tied into the player meta-guild system loosely described above could provide another source of near-limitless content. Players should be able to replicate much of the design content found in the game for their own uses. These areas should be pre-planned in the design of the MMO, and these regions could be instanced.

PvP/PvE interactivity Why must PvE and PvP be completely separate pursuits? I would love to see traditional WoW-style PvE instances that can spark a PvP event in which groups can queue to go head-to-head for better rewards, faction goals and greater experience.

Risk equals reward

Death and taxes Death is meaningless in WoW. Why not bring back that meaning? Make game death its own experience in some cases. Or bring back experience loss or some other meaningful consequence, so that players will strive to avoid death. Death should have gravitas.

Incarceration! As part of the faction system, players who run afoul of their meta-guilds or enemy factions might be placed in a prison instance with other player inmates. Create interactive content in prison. Jailbreaks! Pit-fights! Gambling! Quests -- PvP, PvE and faction-related content! Where are rogues from the guild of thieves supposed to go after getting busted? Perhaps there are rare crafting mats found only in certain prisons (or deep in the pockets of certain prisoners). Perhaps there are rare skills and knowledges that can only be learned from the scurrilous scum who've learned to make prison a lucrative business. Prison is a dire but sometimes rewarding place ... And yeah. There's more death.

Everything counts

Virtual life in Azeroth has become too institutionalized, favoring automated systems over player interaction. As a gaming nerd with a handful of dice and a pencil, I realize now that WoW (which ultimately attempts to simulate pen-and-paper RPGs) has possibly removed the very essence of the multiplayer experience. It's done many things fabulously well, but what I'd like to explore is the interaction between my fellow players within the context of the game. Every mundane activity should be be an opportunity for some sort of interactive experience.

Instead of interactions akin to chatting with the people in line at the next theme ride instance, the next MMO will rely on the human element to keep the possibilities dangerously unknown. I want my next MMO to make me gape in fear and wonder what's behind that door. I want my guildmates to pull my ass out of the fire at the last moment, not save the day by reminding me to stay out of the goo on the floor during phase two. I want to smell the whiff of danger at the entrance of that mineshaft yawning before me. I don't want to find myself yawning at that same mineshaft as I run past ... ever.

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