I’ve been sitting on an idea for a while, trying to sort out my thinking. I’m talking many months here. But the latest Everquest Next announcement and reactions from the blogging community have managed to crystallise some things for me. Syncaine is not impressed with the new announcement and is predicting a SWTOR level of fail. Azurial is less harsh and ends his post with some hope that it might be playable, but he’s pretty much on the same page. The surprising thing for me was that Wolfshead got excited about it and posted for the first time in a year, but perhaps that was due more to him wanting to get something out there. I’m in the Syncaine/Azuriel camp in that I think this is a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. The strange thing is that they didn’t pull the wool over the eyes of the live audience at the presentation, nor on the official Everquest forums, but the blogging community as a whole seems to have shat itself in fawning pleasure. Strange. Perhaps next time the presenters should fill the audience with bloggers.

There has been much focus from certain bloggers over the last couple of years as to what works and doesn’t work in a true MMORPG. I have written about many of these myself, but let’s go over them once again just to be clear.

What Doesn’t Work:

Story. This should be kept to single player games. And if story doesn’t work then take out cut scenes, instance-related content, and most quest systems. Story is detrimental for the simple reason that the content will expire and more will need to be generated. It’s like a drip-feed for zombified players. If you hear a game designer talking about the need for an “ever-changing world” then you need to run away screaming.

Heros. If everyone is a hero then I want to be the truck driver. Or, I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have someone like me for a member.

Dumbing it down. This is broad and can mean many things, but a great example is what happened to rogues in WoW, my personal tragic MMO experience. From making poisons, lock-picking, stealth based on ability and skill, and many more things, we went to duo-wielding axes and healing ourselves.

Being able to solo content. If you’re going down this road, you don’t have an MMO.

No Fast Travel. Trivialise your world and you will trivialise your game.

No Gimmicks. I am sceptical about EQN because of the amount of noise surrounding this parkour component they’re talking about. Yes, it’s certainly not as bad as the voice acting debacle with SWTOR, but it amounts to the same thing. There is no gimmick that will make your game. Your game will not be different from the others because of this gimmick. Your game will probably suck. Why? Because we’re talking MMOs here, children. We’re not playing Angry Birds. And while a gimmick will work fine in a simple browser-style game, it ain’t going to count for diddly-squat in the mire of an MMO.

I could go on. But you know what I’m talking about, especially if you’ve been reading my blog for a while. So what does work? I believe that there are two things:

Community. Strange as it may seem, in a game designed around the fact that there are lots of players, it is the strength of the community that will hold your game together. Damage the community, trivialise the community, undermine the community, and any short term benefit that this brings will have a negative effect on the MMO in the long term. You don’t keep logging into the same game, day after day after day, for gimmicks. You log in to see your mates. And hang out with them, and experience the world with them.

None of what I have written so far is new. But the next thing is. This is what I have been trying to formulate in my head for quite some time now, but it took an outside catalyst to make me see the light. Here it is:

Randomness.

Tomorrow I will explain.

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