Opinion – I Want An Online RPG That Isn’t Massively Multiplayer

by Isaac Perry on Nov 21, 2013 at 06:45 AM

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games aim to create worlds brimming with adventure. They pit hundreds of players against each other. Epic is their undertaking, and sometimes they deliver.  While a dedicated fanbase proves plenty of love exists for the genre, I want something different.

A few months after World of Warcraft’s launch, a friend pitched me the idea of the MMO. “Picture an RPG with hundreds of other people in one huge explorable world.” Growing up on PC role-playing games, I was an easy sell. 

As the game downloaded and the anticipation built, I imagined what an online role-playing game would be like. I pictured completing exclusive quests that were only available to my character. I would enact change on a living world. People would recognize my avatar. Caught up in the hype of the new type of game, I envisioned a completely different game. 

World of Warcraft finishes its installation and I leap in head first. The stunning intro cinematic plays. I fly through the character creation screen – I spent the previous night planning out exactly what race, class, and name I would choose. The game finishes loading and I notice something’s wrong. Five other Orc Shamans surround me. One looks identical to me. Players crowd around a reclusive quest giver. Enemies fade in and out of existence. I watch the quest that I’ve supposedly finished tackled by dozens of other people, and I realize that I’ve accomplished nothing.

I played World of Warcraft (and other MMORPGs) for years. They are fun, but nothing measures up to what I envisioned for the genre. The forefront of MMO marketing was faction warfare and massive PVP battles. Developers continued improving on the massively multiplayer part of the genre, and not what I cared about: the role-playing.

It’s simple in concept, but undoubtedly challenging in execution; I want MMO developers to bring the scale back a bit. Make it smaller – smaller maps, fewer players. Make it more personalized – better quests, greater consequences, and a world that is permanently changed by and for each character. In other words, I want a tailored multiplayer online role-playing game. 

Imagine playing with just one of your friends. You log in. You’re prompted to complete a quest like any other MMO. The objective asks you to retrieve a sword (courier quests never get old). When you show up, the sword isn’t there. You ask around the quest giver and he says your friend beat you to the punch.

Maybe that’s the end of the quest-line, or maybe that one quest opened up a whole new set of quests that your friend missed. Your friend could join factions and complete their questline. The opposing (not necessarily warring) faction could shun your friend and leave their quests open to you.

Player choices would take on a whole new role. Your consequences would be consequences for your friend as well. Picture saving one NPC over saving a town – your friend returns to a burned down village. He’s missed out on some quests and probably has vowed his revenge. In a game like this, player versus player would allow players to assume the role of a villain, or a troll. By adding another agent of change into an otherwise single-player experience, PVP would greatly influence each playthrough. 

I’m not a game developer. I can imagine that creating a dynamic and pervasive online world would be extremely difficult, but it’s possible. Aim small. Replace the typical MMO scale with something more intimate – maybe just two to four players with a story arch that is finite. A story I would want to revisit again and again with friends. 

The problem I have with the current state of MMOs is as a result of the game accommodating the barbarian horde that is the internet. I want the experience I have with tabletop RPGs and my favorite single-player RPGs. I want quests that end, bosses who stay dead, and a world that changes because of me (or another player). I want my friend to see the effect I’ve made, and in turn I want to see what my friend has done. On the cusp of a new generation of gaming, I’m hoping this change of gameplay could become a reality.