Creativity in MMO Design

After starting my trial of EQ2 today, it brought back afresh all of my thoughts on design. Possibly the most dissapointing portion of modern MMOs for me is the relative sameness of the titles in the genre. There are some that have radically different controls, or introduce a few new and interesting features, but by in large we've seen the set pieces of the genre placed and seldom see people approach those with an eye to change.

Perhaps I have a unique perspective on MMOs since my first, and best remembered, MMO was a free to play browser based war game. The action of building an empire and leveling a character are fundamentally different actions, and build very different sets of core rules. For instance I never grinded for my empire level, in fact going to war was always a risk, because you could grow very quickly by winning and absorbing population, but you could also lose very quickly if the invasion went badly.

I understand the pressure in the industry to conform to the proven formula, but it seems as though whether it is a random person on the web or a key note speaker at GDC everyone is keenly aware that change is needed. If we continue to produce games off the same formula, burnout is bound to set in, if it hasn't already.

Of course it is easy to say cover new ground, but finding that ground is the source of some debate. I know there are some people in the industry reading these blogs so I'd like to give any of them in a position to take action some ideas that may be actionable.

Firstly: A political/fashion/counter culture MMO. What you do is focus on a single city, and populate it with NPCs who can vote on major political issues every couple months. The players spend those two months forming activist organizations who can paper the town, hold in game concerts, tag buildings, etc. The fashion layer is mainly on the community level, as players should be able to design their own clothes or purchase other people's designs.

Each Player gets a certain amount of money every day, and an amount equal to that is sent to their cause(guild). The only way to increase your money is to win community awards which should be at least biyearly, if not bimonthly. Best graffiti, best musical performance, etc..

Second: A Medieval Re-Enactment MMO. Unlike the basic D&D based MMO, the MedievalRe-Enactment MMO is to mirror the usefulness of actual weapons and armor from the dark ages. While obviously you aren't looking for complex physics simulations, you are looking to emphasize the situations in which each combination was actually useful. For instance heavy armor and large shields gain large bonuses when in a workable formation, but are basically an excercise in exhaustion in one on one and small group. Calvary has it's place, but it's weakness to a well organized phalanx relegates it to the actual use of calvary in history, breaking the flanks and harrassing.

You could leave historical servers where you could replay historical battles and work for hsitorically accurate organizations. You could then open free-play servers where a large section is left open for players to colonize and develop.

These are just a couple of ideas I've had over the last couple of years. Maybe they can help people get a feel for directions you can go besides the current MMO standard.

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