Going Analogue: What MMOs Can Learn From LARPs

In theory, MMORPGs are my favourite PC games in the world. Exploring strange new worlds, dressing up in shiny armour, and kicking butt are my primary gaming motivations and MMORPGs have those in spades. Richard Garriott sold me the dream of a living fantasy world to inhabit in my early PC gaming days and it’s a dream I’ve never quite given up on.

Yet the genre has become stagnant, like the fetid dregs of your drink once you’ve dragged yourself to bed after an all-night raiding binge. Everquest became popular, then World of Warcraft ridiculously so, and the desire for all that subscription money cemented the theme park MMO as the One True Way, with only EVE Online achieving success while stubbornly flying the sandbox flag. Which isn’t much good if you prefer dragons to spaceships. I believe that MMORPGs need a good kick up the arse and I’d like to propose an unconventional Boot of Inspiration: live-action role-playing, better known as LARPing.

Even if you’ve never swung a foam sword in anger, there’s a chance you’re familiar with concept of live-action role-playing from one of its depictions in popular media, such as this, this or, if you’re British and of a certain age, this. This promotional video for the recently-launched Empire LARP is something a little more aspirational.

LARP is essentially pen ‘n’ paper role-playing unhitched from the dining table; instead of describing your characters actions, you perform them. Rather than rolling dice to determine the outcome of a combat, you don armour, grab an axe and do it for real. Want to impress that elven princess with your wit and charm? Good luck, honey.

LARP systems come in all shapes and sizes, but I’m going to be concentrating on festival, or fest, LARP; large-scale weekend events with hundreds or thousands of participants, generally with a broad fantasy theme. With that many players, the experience is naturally very different from your typical Dungeons & Dragons adventuring party scenario.

Fest LARPs and MMORPGs are remarkably similar. For example, both feature lots of people inhabiting the same place with different ideas about what makes for a good time. There are MMORPG players who just want to kill stuff and become powerful. Others want role-play full of intrigue and romance. Some just want to shank up other players. Some want it all. LARPers are very much the same and event organisers have to cater to all tastes, without the benefit of being able to give everyone the same “Kill boars for fuzzy scrotal sacks” quests.

The way they get around this is to focus the game on players interacting with each other, just as EVE Online does and all those other MMOs don’t. You have to wonder what the point of developing an open world is when everything revolves around instances.

How do we get MMORPG players to play with each other? The first step is to build game elements that require interaction. The aforementioned Empire LARP, as the name suggests, casts players as representatives of ten nations that make up a vast empire. The ruling body is the senate, which is made up of about three senators per nation. Each uses a different method for selecting its senators, ranging from a conventional ballot, to anonymous interviews, to straight up buying the position.

A similar system could be implemented in a MMORPG. Different factions could select representatives through PvP tournaments, elections, crafting prowess, or any number of other common MMORPG elements. The chosen representatives could then decide on various issues: what improvements to build for the server, allocation of limited crafting resources, what punishments to mete out to player killers.

Another simple way to gently “encourage” co-operation is to beat players with the plot stick. A near-universal component of LARP events is a Big Threat which requires a good chunk of the players to defeat. This doesn’t mean they all gather round and smack it in a fashion reminiscent of the “Don’t Stop Me Now” scene in Shaun of the Dead. Instead, smaller groups will need to go out and discover information, scholarly types will piece it together and formulate plans, crafters may bang together Macguffins to take down the Big Threat and spell-farters gather to perform a big ritual while the meatshields protect them.

There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be the case in MMORPGs. WoW has attempted content requiring server-wide participation, but that’s not the same is co-operation and generally boils down to individuals completing daily quests for a few weeks. Spelling everything out for the players isn’t necessary. Give them limited information and let them figure out what they need to do. Let completely cocking it all up be a distinct possibility. Any game designer worth their salt should know that failure can be just as interesting as success.

Open PvP and player killing are always contentious in MMORPGs. For some they are the prime source of enjoyment, for others they are an annoyance, with more powerful PKers ganking lower-level players for no reason beyond their own perverse amusement. Many LARPs have open PvP, without anything artificial in place to stop you strolling up to someone and killing them. Indeed, randomly stabbing people up in the dark is so commonplace that “toilet murder” is an established LARP trope. Friends don’t let friends go to the portaloos on their own!

To prevent all-out slaughter, murder has consequences. It’s nigh-on impossible to know the capabilities of a given player, so that lady you tried to off might be a considerably better fighter than you and turn the tables. You may be tracked down and executed. And shuffling off this mortal coil actually matters. Resurrection exists in most LARPs, but is rarely cheap or easy. Death usually means creating a new character. Scale and social pressures further discourage disruptive behaviour. With over a thousand players on the field, even a hypothetical group of a hundred dedicated player-killers would quickly get shut down and shunned. Repeated problem behaviour of any kind can eventually result in banning by the event organisers, but it’s rare that things get that far.

What if the same things were true in MMORPGs? Making gear more of a personal aesthetic choice and less of a visual power indicator would immediately make PKing a riskier prospect, especially if the game had broader, flatter progression, narrowing the power gap between lower and higher level players. Make death matter. Permadeath is a possibility and is far less of an inconvenience than in LARP. In a computer game, it just means loss of progress. In LARP, it means putting together a new costume. It’s often joked that you should never declare your character’s costume finished, because that guarantees your swift death! Flatter progression and the natural variance caused by a detailed sandbox structure would make starting a new character a considerably more interesting proposition than grinding through the same theme park content again.

Looping back to the political structures I discussed earlier, those in power could cast judgement on those found murdering their fellow citizens. Imprisonment is perhaps off the table (does anyone really want to spend their free time sat in a cell?) but fines, compensation, or the restriction of access to services could all punish lawbreakers without preventing them from playing the game. These systems would organically create new play opportunities for others. For example, what if banishment from towns was an option? Assuming that certain necessary goods could only be obtained from towns, you can guarantee a black market would soon spring up. Which would cast players in the role of smugglers. Which would then create more opportunities for law enforcement. And that doesn’t even touch upon the idea of paying someone to assassinate your rivals.

Not only does the more organic nature of a LARP with human referees make all this commonplace, but LARP designers are well aware of certain players’ love of nefarious deeds and systems are designed with the scope for illicit activity built into the framework of the game. One notable example is found in the Outcast system. It sets up the players as broadly co-operating against demonic enemies, but includes a skill which allows players to sacrifice other PCs or NPCs to those demons in exchange for undefined powers.

All of these ideas make role-playing a more natural part of the game. Many people have an image of role-playing being about talking in cod-Shakesperian English, full of clumsily-inserted thees and thous. One look at LARP would show you that this couldn’t be further from the truth. While many players do like playing diverse, complex characters, others effectively play themselves with a lick of fantasy paint. As long as you’re not discussing real-world sportsball or Swift Tailors or something, it doesn’t particularly matter. If players do breach this etiquette, simple social pressure is almost always enough to get things back on track. Interference from referees is rarely needed.

Of course it’s easy when you’re communicating naturally and simply talking about what’s going on around you. However, if the game mechanics in an MMORPG aligned with the reality of the setting, even players with no interest in explicit role-play would find themselves talking in a more realistic and less immersion-breaking fashion. MMORPGs are heavy on stats, jargon and explicitly out-of-character topics of conversation. Players need to discuss raid bosses, tanking and strength bonuses, all of which fall outside of the fiction of the setting. If the essential topic of conversation was assigning guards to protect Lord McSnobbybritches from assassination by House Non’morgoth, it immediately becomes more immersive.

Games are a much broader medium than the electronic ones found on our PCs and consoles. While the same tired tropes and mechanics get wheeled out again and again, there are plenty of good ideas that don’t get stolen enough, especially once we look outside of the games we’re more familiar with. MMORPGs may be the most popular multi-player fantasy RPGs, but they’re not the only or even the first game in town and designers could profit greatly from a little walk in the woods.

All photos are of the Hardenstein Adventurers Group and were taken by Ralf Hüls.

111 Comments

  1. Melody says:

    Great article, I didn’t even know what LARPing was!
    Now make a kickstarter for an MMORPG and let us throw money in your direction! :D

    • Caelyn Ellis says:

      I get told that on fairly regular basis. Apparently I’m a good game ideas person!

      • Vojta Kolar says:

        You exactly spelled my opinion on multiplayer games in general. I would love to have content based on other players decisions, and not on generic monkey-written scripts. For example simple theft performed by one player can create many possibilities for questing for many other players. I imagine such a game everytime I go to sleep, and it is perfect. I just hope that I will see the day, when such game is released. Not that I am old, but I fear that game industry is not yet mature enough and sadly, when you look at all these games released in last few years, it is not getting any more mature. And by that I dont mean content itself, but the way, how content is created and how games are “meant” to be played.

        • airmikee says:

          Sometimes users are good at creating content, such as with the Foundry in Star Trek Online that allows people to create their own content for other players to enjoy. The problem here is that most of those missions are simply repeats of prior missions, or other Star Trek stories, that are unimaginative and boring.

          WoW and SW:ToR have large Roleplaying communities that create their own stories and interact with one another exactly as LARPers do in their games. Is that not enough to cover your itch, or are you expecting a game that is dedicated to your desired play style?

          link to archeage.gamepedia.com
          Some games do have realistic systems, the problem is, those games just aren’t fun.

  2. aliksy says:

    If more MMOs were less about vertical progression and more about doing interesting things, I’d be happier.

    Unfortunately, a lot of players don’t seem to want that. A lot of players also don’t seem to want to make their own goals. I saw some of that in Guild Wars 2, where people would walk out of town and not interact with anything.

    • tlwest says:

      > A lot of players also don’t seem to want to make their own goals.

      I think this approaches the crux of the MMO problem. In order to be commercially successful (not even mega-successful, just enough not to go bankrupt), you need to cater to a huge swath of players who:

      – want to roleplay
      – don’t want to roleplay

      – have a meaningful experience a few hours a week
      – play 18 hours a day, 7 days a week and see progress for every hour they play

      – be able to immerse themselves in a complex, interactive world
      – enjoy a few hours with all the immersion of Tetris

      – forge a band of brothers who work closely together
      – play solitaire or perhaps with a single friend

      – enjoy fighting for their life with a sense of threat each minute they’re on-line
      – be able to watch TV and cook a meal while playing the game

      and so on and so on.

      MMO’s aren’t stagnant because designers are stupid. They are what they are because that’s the only model that meets all the horrible design constraints for any MMO that doesn’t fold after a month.

      It’s a testament to the desire for something wonderful that new MMO’s who throw off these constraints are constantly being developed, bankrupt their owners, and disappear.

      Or to put it another way, could all the wonderful things about LARPing survive if it was professionalized and one had to pay all its workers full-time salaries? Or would it become, in a desperate attempt to broaden its revenue base to avoid going broke, something that lost all the qualities that make it wonderful to its current participants?

      • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

        By that logic, you can’t make a game in any genre. I mean, let’s make an FPS. You need to cater to players who:

        – want a linear game that they go through several setpieces
        – want a open world game that lets them do whatever they want

        – want combat to be difficult and want to feel triumphant when they succeed
        – want combat to be easy so they can enjoy the game to the end

        – want realistic guns that are based on real military hardware
        – want fake guns that are fun to use and primarily improve the gameplay

        Etc etc etc. And yet, the FPS genre is not overran with lookalikes. There is Call of Duty and Far Cry and Team Fortress 2 and Halo and ARMA and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Paranautical Activity and those games are very different from one another because each one owns the player base it’s trying to please. It’s not of any importance to Paranautical Activity’s players that CoD players wouldn’t like the game, or vice versa. So if I want to make a game about roleplaying, it’s OK to turn to players who don’t like roleplaying and say “Sorry, you won’t like my game”. It’s much better to try to care deeply for a single kind of player than to try and care shallowly for many kinds, because people want to feel like they’re cared for deeply.

        • tlwest says:

          FPSes seem to be able to survive appealing to a niche market, as, have role-playing games and any other number of genres.

          MMOs, on the other hand, are barely viable beasts at the best of times (with one exception). As such, the only way to financially justify sinking a few million dollars into one is the chance of making it huge (i.e. appealing to everyone).

          After all, the ground is littered with the corpses of MMOs that did appeal to niche audiences (although many didn’t intend to :-)).

          In the end, if your business case is “Give us five million dollars. We’ll spend it over the next few years. Then, if we somehow beat the odds and turn out to be successful, we’ll… be take in as much as we spend!. Well, at least for a year or two.”, it may be difficult to talk funders out of their money.

          Once again, my thesis is that MMO developers aren’t greedy or stupid. The very dynamics of the MMO market *require* the games to be “meh”… at best.

          That’s one lesson I’ve seen relearned with many tears again and again. Most experiences don’t scale. You simply can’t reproduce the experience that delights 6 players when you have 60. Likewise, what works with 60 *cannot* be scaled to 600. And onwards and upwards. Everything that makes a LARP successful with a few hundred players will disintegrate with tens of thousands.

          It’s a bitter experience seeing it happen. After all, more people should just be more successful, shouldn’t it? But no, we will never be able to allow the crowds to experience what enchanted our small group.

    • Enkinan says:

      GW2 did do a lot right, but eventually started drifting to gated content and grinding which is why I ultimately left.

  3. aliksy says:

    Oh, and LARP video of choice:

  4. Turkey says:

    If I were a billionaire I’d make an incredibly expensive MMORPG that just looks like LARPing. It would be meticulously rendered to look like reality, and I would even have LARPers come in so we could motion capture them. Also, I’d get blur studios to make a ridiculously expensive 3D intro/promotion video of just a group LARPing that we could have shot for almost no money in reality.

  5. RedViv says:

    I haven’t been to a large LARP event in two years now. Maybe if the one my circle of friends visits wouldn’t take place in the middle of increasingly hot summers, which I don’t really feel like enduring any longer…

    But it definitely is something awesome to behold, that is still very true.

    (*throws confetti for Caelyn*)

  6. Hex says:

    So I skipped the article, because I don’t care about MMOs, and this is why: “… the genre has become stagnant, like the fetid dregs of your drink once you’ve dragged yourself to bed after an all-night raiding binge.”

    I don’t know that it’s become stagnant so much as MMOs are, by their very nature, required to be stagnant.

    It’s a game for a limitless number of players, for all intents and purposes, but the game experience is designed to be identical for all of them, fluff and trappings predicated on starting race/class aside.

    As far as I can figure, the ideal and the implementation are diametrically opposed. The ideal is to create a living, evolving world populated by people who work their will on that world.

    But everyone is special, and everyone should get to do and be and experience all things, so therefore an MMO cannot grow and change in any meaningful fashion, or some (unfailingly vocal) subscribers would feel cheated.

    As long as humans with too much time on their hands are whiny babypants, MMOs can’t do anything interesting.

    So. Fuck ’em.

    • ironman Tetsuo says:

      Did you just skip a great article to whine about something you profess not to care about? I think you did….

    • Ditocoaf says:

      If you’d actually read the article, you’d find that it’s talking about ways you might try to FIX some of those problems you’re talking about.

      It starts by describing the problem, then it moves on to more interesting ground from there, discussing all sorts of fun possibilities and ideas. Then your comment takes us back to describing boring old regular MMO’s, because you couldn’t be bothered to read the article. Good job!

    • Kala says:

      “I don’t know that it’s become stagnant so much as MMOs are, by their very nature, required to be stagnant.”

      I don’t know how to phrase this tactfully…
      But you sir, are the problem. You personally are why we can’t have nice things. It’s all your fault.

      MMOs are not, by their nature, required to be stagnant, it’s that people *equate* those stagnant elements to *being* MMOs. They are used to it, they come to expect it, so that’s what they get. But of course, they don’t actually HAVE to be those things (the standard elements of the EQ formula that WoW has popularized so effectively and conclusively) because Ultima Online *didn’t* and that was in 1997.

      And seriously, if we can have a game in 1997 which has basically NO QUESTS and NO RAIDS (it has a few scattered dungeons, but not the same thing) but has PVP which has REAL LOSS where you can kill someone and take all their stuff – whatever is in their backpack, their sword, their armour – that has thievery BUILT INTO THE GAME AS A MECHANIC and a talented and well thought out heist may not just mean picking gold out of someone’s pocket, but robbing their house or boarding their boat…

      (and really, does all that sound like stagnant content to you? seems like amazeballs to me)

      …we could do it now. Easily.

      But we (mostly) don’t.

      Because many people now think that WoW is the only way to ‘do’ an MMO – that the point is just to rush through for phat loots on easy mode as an identikit hero. (and certainly the financial success of WoW probably hasn’t hurt cement the idea with publishers that this is the way to do it, either).

      It seems just as obvious to me though, that it isn’t the only way.

      • Reapy says:

        Shadowbane.

        It didn’t work on a technical level unfortunately, but the groundwork for a unique pvp experience certainly was there.

        Most of these ideas here are nothing new and have existed in the MUD space in one form or another for years.

        I honestly… I’m not sure that they work with a large player base. Player run stuff sounds ok as long as the people running everything have the interest of entertainment in mind, but too much player run shenanigans and you end up with the same problems you have in real life and for me end up not being a fun game.

        Part of the issue is I just think genuine mmo with 1000 players at the same location in a game is still tech we can’t get to work properly, or nobody has written it yet. MMO’s went instanced because, well, suddenly you started having quality experiences because they became much more controlled.

        I’ll take early open world wow pvp. I hated it because it consisted of either ganking or getting ganked by some combination of higher level or more people. Either you put no effort and therefore no joy in killing or you were getting killed by something you had no chance to even try against. Eventually things escalate till there are a ton of people such that if you stick your neck out once you get smashed down in .05 seconds and the game has no art and becomes a zerg spamfest.

        The idea of it sounds cool, but in practice it is not.

        Many of these ideas have been cores of developing MMO’s and existing MUDS. The ideas are cool, but people have yet to find a way to implement them in a way that works with an ‘internet’ population.

        Well anyway, I do wish mmo design had not stagnated post wow. Before wow everyone was trying something a big different, there were many creative design docs out there, but really, I don’t know that we’ve come too far with what we can do. Bandwith availability hasn’t changed in a long while and when you point 1000+ people in the same direction you end up with a slideshow and dropped connections rather than an epic battle.

        • Kala says:

          I haven’t played Shadowbane, but maybe it was similar to Darkfall? Which I played briefly as it promised – not a unique pvp experience, but one that is becoming more unusual since UO and EVE, which is pvp with actual consequence and loss. I.e someone kills you takes your stuff, rather than you just respawning with everything you had. (Which makes no sense to me. Why *wouldn’t* someone be able to loot your corpse? Surely that was the point of killing you?) But no, unfortunately, Darkfall sucked when I briefly played it. It’s a sad fact that one element alone is going to be enough – it still needs to be in a good game to be enjoyable :)

          I think there’s perhaps a…stumbling block over exactly what is meant by ‘player run’. Many people here and thinking tightly organised scripts and planned events and while that’s…fine…(particularly in small roleplay environments) but I don’t think that’s quite what was meant?

          If the motivations exist to do so, players will make their own content. Not by planning it meticulously amongst themselves, but on a more spontaneously level – just that if there is a reason to band together, i.e for resources or survival, people will do so automatically. It will scale from there.

          I’ve seen it work really, really well in EVE. Where huge wars have broken out over territories between alliances, or someone had planned to infiltrate another alliance and bring them to their knees. That kind of…dynamic, emergent gameplay. Really it is a matter of “if you built it, they will come” in that regard. (as long as it doesn’t suck, of course). The players really will do the rest if given enough motivation and opportunity to do so.

          For example, here is the political map of influence/territory of 2008: link to eve-files.com

          and in 2014: link to dl1.eve-files.com

          all of that is entirely player generated content. the rise and falls of power, the different alliances that have held them and the wars that have been fought to keep that area of space ‘theirs’.

          they haven’t sat down and decided when to have events to decide who gets what. It’s happened naturally.

          I would again point to EVE in saying that everything is on one server and there aren’t any instances (well, there wasn’t. tbh, a sort of an instance thing was introduced with missions I think, but they aren’t a huge part of the game). Though yes, the epic ‘blob fights’ of 1000s of people in the same space is…laggy. I think they’ve had to strengthen the nodes in the areas where there’s most contention to support it.

          And yes, I’ve always preferred roving with small gangs and having dog fights, than the huge space battles. It’s more fun and less laggy.

          I’m not at all sure about your point re: instances providing a quality experience, though. Your experiences are still dictated by the setting and the community. And if that setting is simply just to provide a theme park for grinding loot…and the people you’ve met up with are only interested in gaining loot for themselves and will then move on to something else… well, it gets a little shallow however good the latency may be.

      • Hex says:

        Huh. Not sure how my refusal to be involved in MMOs due to the above reasons makes me, personally, responsible for all of their failings. But I guess thanks for letting me know.

        • Kala says:

          It doesn’t, there was an element of facetiousness there :p

          That said, the prevailing opinion that you seem to share, that they are creatively stagnant due to their very nature and it’s all they can ever be, is the problem.

    • Raiyne says:

      How small-minded of you.

      • Hex says:

        Don’t get me wrong, I could see how MMOs could be great. Just, not for humans. Large groups of people are the dumbest, most destructive force on the planet. I don’t think any MMO will be able to change that.

        Now, if someone were to create an MMO for cats….

  7. TeraBat says:

    Long time reader, now de-lurking to comment! I’ve played in LARPs, and spent 2.5 years running one of the largest and longest-running games in my area. I would *love* if MMOs could be more like LARPs, but I seriously think the ceiling is right now restricted by the state of AI technology.

    Basically: a LARP has a plethora of ‘AI’s in hand. If I want to send in a merchant or a city guard… I spend eight minutes briefing the player on who the character is, what they want and the narrative goal behind sending the character in. They spend another eight minutes rifling through costumes and maybe another eight minutes at the makeup table if they’re playing something really ambitious, like an elf or lizard-kin. All told, less than half an hour of prep time.

    That’s just not possible for an MMO. It can take hours just to put together a merchant NPC, and it’s impossible to break that character out of his programming. My LARP merchant can adapt and respond to a variety of situations, and if the players do something *really* unexpected, I can adapt the game script easily.

    All that being said… I think that MMO designers could learn a lot from LARP conventions, and I would adore the chance to play an MMO which attempted it (*glares at CCP for tanking their World of Darkness MMO*).

    • mechabuddha says:

      I don’t LARP, but I’ve been running a D&D game for some coworkers, none of which have played before. Some of them play video games, and are constantly telling me how amazed they are by the flexibility and freedom of roleplaying. In an MMO, that barrel over there is a static decoration. In a roleplaying game, it can become cover, a weapon, or a plot device. In an MMO, an NPC will say the same lines over and over again, and will respond to the player the same way. In a roleplaying game, there are near infinite possibilities. Maybe the merchant is having a bad day, or maybe she didn’t like the way a player greeted her. In an MMO, there is THE plot. You can ignore it if you want, but that is the only plot. Maybe there are a few branches from predetermined choice options. In a roleplaying game, if my players choose to ignore the presented plot, we have the freedom to create our own stories.

      I guess what I’m saying, in a long-winded way, is that while my experience with roleplay is different, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

      • TeraBat says:

        I totally agree. When I ran games, it wasn’t a question of *if* the game script was going to get tossed out and rewritten mid-event, it was a question of *when*. Players had an uncanny knack to not just zig when we expected them to zag, but to rewrite the map entirely. We had the flexibility and capability to respond to those sorts of decisions and agency; but I can see how it could be hair-pullingly problematic to do that for an MMO.

        That being said, I really like some of the ideas put forth by this article. I play both LARPs and MMOs to play with my friends, and I’d love an MMO which really fostered the working-together element of LARPs.

        • WyldFyr says:

          Totally with this and the article. It was a little before my time, but I seem to remember hearing the reason Blizz did away with world events was because of the things that individual players did that totally messed it up for everybody. Right now, the game developers create the new content off screen, carefully script it all out over a period of months, then inject into the game when its finished. What needs to be done is find a way to reduce that cycle from months to weeks, days, or even just hours. Maybe find a way to replace 100% scripting with some live human intelligence. With all the money that sub based MMORPGs make, would it really hurt the bottom line much to try running each server in a “real” GM fashion?

          • TeraBat says:

            I think that would be an amazing experience! It reminds me a little bit of For the Win, by Cory Doctorow. The game system has something very similar going on, with basically Mechanical Turks employed to make the NPCs seem more human and the game feel more immersive.

            One would need a huge budget for human resources, though – especially if you’re paying not just for NPC flavor, but for the skilled creative work of putting together dungeons and crafting mission objectives.

          • halcyonforever says:

            that reminds me of working as a guide for EQ. I spent a great deal of time running little mini events or telling scripted stories as an NPC.

            there are a great many options, but it is hard to break a formula that was proven successful once.

            EVE has great potential for some of this, but the fun bits are just so far apart that it was difficult for me to really get into.

            Things I ran into in EVE that I thought were great.
            Extortion, role played well. A group was claiming an asteroid belt and if you were poaching there they sent you a warning shot, demanded payment, and if you declined they blew you up. It was handled well, they were “playful” about it so it really felt more fun than just a random Gank.

            I took to running a deep space ammo depot. I was out on the edge of 0.0 leasing manufacturing from a corp to provide them with a constant supply of ammo, drones, and other expendables. I would make runs from 1.0 to 0.0 with a shuttle full of blueprints, so trying to dodge multiple corps territory with no weapons or defenses was a challenge I will not soon forget.

            I really like the wide instead of vertical progression. but there are just so many people programmed to grind.

        • RayEllis says:

          That sounds about my experience when running tabletop games.

          “No scenario survives first contact with the players!”

    • Kala says:

      I think you may have highlighted her point, though.

      It’s not that we’ve reached a technological ceiling with artificial intelligence that is limiting us – it’s that we’re overlooking that a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game has an automatic built in social element.

      (which we do overlook, when so many games are now geared up ultimately to be single player experiences that you just happen to have in a world with hundreds – sometimes hundreds of thousands – of other people).

      we don’t use the artificial intelligence. we use the players intelligence. we give them a world and, via the mechanics of the world we have created, actively encourage the players to interact with eachother in meaningful ways as a basis for the gameplay.

      I don’t think the inspiration from LARPs she’s talking about is necessarily a question of scripts, it’s more a broader question of ethos. Which is; the game part should be facilitating the massively multiplayer part. not the other way around. (i.e the game encourages you to band together with people, and your interactions with them are the gameplay – be it fighting with them, against them, buying from them, betraying them etc).

      • Reapy says:

        We did do this! Is everyone left over too young to have played EQ or UO, or any of the MUDS that came before and after it?

        What we learned time and time again was that carefully and heavily controlled interaction with other players is the only way to succeed in making the game fun, else you have a a few people having a ton of fun and a ton of people having little fun, you know, sorta like real life.

        If you give another player an ounce of or even a mechanic exists to screw another player, they will use it. For every great EQ story where someone helped with a corpse run I have 10 more of getting trained by random dudes. EQ had the non instanced raids, and while some servers were cooperative, just as many had higher level guilds swoop in and kill the content you had to do to keep you out of their progress level.

        I mean if anything these mechanics make you hate people so much that if you ever succeed it is awesome, but was it worth all the frustration for that moment of triumph?

        MMO design is just an exercise in saying “this is why we can’t have nice things” and really, on a large scale, we cant.

        This is why a lot of games now are doing the 4 or 5 man experiences. You can control how the groups interact, and count on people being able to find 4 others of a like mind to enjoy the experience with, and even ensure that the resultant interaction is a balanced and fun encounter, rather than 20 people killing 5, or the game turning into a slide show, or just the resultant mess that is 100 people doing stuff every half second.

        • TeraBat says:

          Yeah, it’s much easier to stop grief play at a larp than in an MMO. There are real, social consequences to being an arse at a game – far fewer than in an MMO. Not just PVP, but trolling and harassment and general asshattery are more difficult to pull off when you have to look your victim in the eye and know that being said asshat means you’re not going to be invited to come along when everyone goes to the movies next week.

        • Kala says:

          Yes, we have done this – precisely. We did it in 1997, for gods sake, so there’s no reason – and certainly no valid technological reason – why we couldn’t again.

          (Though UO far more than EQ, in my opinion, and for the sandbox MMO akin to UO, the only game to have made a success of it since is EVE afaik)

          That said, I think we’re seeing far more of the formulaic, grind-for-loot, level up to end-game type MMOs as the ‘only’ type of MMO, since everything decided to play it safe in copying WoW (which, in turn is not too dissimilar in approach to EQ).

          Which is a shame, because it’s overlooking the interesting thing about the genre. Which is people and their interactions.

          (Re: what controls you put on behaviour, and far more to do with who the community is and what they want out of the experience. I’ve seen better player behaviour from a game when mechanics actually allow griefing and worse player behaviour from a game that only allows you to be a minor inconvenience).

      • Malibu Stacey says:

        we don’t use the artificial intelligence. we use the players intelligence. we give them a world and, via the mechanics of the world we have created, actively encourage the players to interact with eachother in meaningful ways as a basis for the gameplay.

        So you’re saying we should make EVE Online? That game that people who’ve never played it will happily say “I love hearing about this game but I will never play it” with their reasons for not playing it being that it is exactly not the ‘theme park’ style MMO a la WoW?

        • Kala says:

          Essentially more sandbox style rpgs like UO and EVE Online, yes.

          Given we have…2 of those, and only one is particularly current. (I’m aware there’s been others, like Darkfall, but I don’t know how successful they’ve been).

          Whereas the EQ mold was popularised by WoW and then the formula was endlessly reused. I don’t actually believe that’s because people just want to see another skin on WoW over and over again – in fact, they don’t. Invariably they try the similar game, and go back to WoW, because it did it better in the first place.

          EVE is an example of what she’s talking about, yes. A very player oriented game with choice and consequences. The gameplay tends to be dictated by the players, not the game. The game is the environment which facilitates that.

          But I’m not suggesting every sandbox game needs to copy EVE; as that would give us the same kind of problem we’re seeing with WoW clones. For example, EVE has the same ethos as Ultima Online, but you would not call it a clone. Despite similar underlying principles, they were clearly different concepts.

          But we do need more MMOS that comprehend that ‘massively multiplayer’ is part of the game and factor that into the equation. It is, of course, perfectly fine to like both approaches or either one (I’ve enjoyed both WoW and EVE, for example. They scratch different itches), just that one style of doing things is criminally under represented compared to the other. And I don’t think it’s because there’s not a market. I think it’s because MMOs have essentially become a victim of WoW’s success; meaning publishers view other more inventive approaches (with some reason, in fairness) as financially risky.

  8. Burius1981 says:

    Great article, I whole heartedly agree. I have grown sick of MMOs and I have played a fair few: WoW, Warhammer Online, City of Heroes, Defiance, LoTRo, and Asheron’s Call. Too often they feel like single player games with other people milling about near auction houses, world events, and general chat. The ideas you put forward have great potential.

    My favorite MMO is still Asheron’s Call. There was a fair bit of intrigue going on between players. There is a feudal type fealty system where you pledge to someone and for every 1000xp you make they get a bonus 10xp. The flip side to this is that they don’t have to do anything to keep you as a vassal but it was good practice to out fit your vassals with equipment and cash as well as taking them through dungeons that they normally couldn’t do on their own to acquire interesting gear. When that relationship broke down there were more than a few ways to mess with other players. I witnessed large clans with hundreds of members split by feuds and battles fought over leadership.

    I burned out of it eventually but it is interesting to me that memories of events in AC easily trump anything I did in other games including WoW where I may have spent even more time.

    • Rizlar says:

      Heard a lot about Asheron’s Call but never played it. That fealty system sounds amazing, where you provide xp to an overlord überplayer, while it’s in their interest to kit you out and help you perform better thus earning them more xp – why has noone else copied that?!

      And I agree with the general sentiment of the article, MMOs need to encourage player interaction better. And not ‘/greet five people to win your daily reward!’, but through systems that allow for meaningful cooperation and conflict.

      • Reapy says:

        Holy god, its happening. I’m old. I might as well just dig out old MMO design docs and code, start a kick starter, take all your money, then wait for a year or two while you leave all these flawed systems behind for a WOW alike because of how horrible they end up in practice.

        The AC feudal system was good, whaaat?

        • Rizlar says:

          Well that explains why noone copied it. :P

          Clearly it would be open to exploitation, but I dunno, it sounds like a really great idea. Creating relationships between players that wouldn’t exist otherwise. And connecting the super hardcore players with very casual players or beginners in particular, that sounds really cool.

  9. Monggerel says:

    This and cosplay. I am not exactly a tolerant person, it’s true, but something about these two is just… cringeworthy. Can’t even understand let alone articulate why. And it’s not the fact people are wearing costumes. Or the roleplaying.

    Maybe it’s like throwing away dignity?
    I don’t fucking know man.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      I have never role- or cosplayed (in any form), but I often wish that people would be less concerned with their dignity. That could make the world a better place.

      That makes these things good things in my opinion.

    • Michael Anson says:

      I think you may be conflating “dignity” with “behaving in a manner society expects.” It is quite possible to maintain your dignity while doing admittedly silly things. It’s all in the manner and surety with which you comport yourself.

      • Jackablade says:

        I comport myself with a pair of fuzzy satyr trousers. Kiss my horn, society.

    • gwathdring says:

      LARPing ranges from throwing on a fantasy costume in DnD style to Mock Trial to Model UN to Murder Mystery parties to Jeepform in which, as best I can tell, you show up in normal clothes to a house full of people and play out a story designed to pull at your emotional well-being.

      It’s a diverse practice and it’s an absolutely fascinating design space.

      I don’t understand where “dignity” is lost in having fun exploring those design spaces. You’re spending at least part of your time tapping buttons with your fingers to communicate to people you have never met about interactive light-shows during which you sit down at a computer largely immobile and press buttons.

      … so …

      That’s a bit of an odd double standard, no? Bigotry isn’t cool. You should probably find some way to ease yourself out of that mindset.

    • Reapy says:

      I have had the same issues but I’ve talked to a lot of friends that have done larping and the like and I think the consensus is that once you show up to the groups, they become the majority, and social/cultural pressures do their magic again and you would end up feeling weird in street cloths.

    • mejoff says:

      Very much your loss. Probably a good thing from our point of view.

  10. AIAndy says:

    I think the main issue with standard theme park MMOs is that your actions change nothing except for your progress on the level and loot treadmill. And most will only do that treadmill in an MMO once before getting sick of it.

    Everything you do in an MMO either changes only for you or will return to the hand-crafted original state soon after. And your interactions with the world are very limited anyway, mostly there is just slaughter fodder that will respawn quickly.
    There are reasons for that of course: It is far easier to make theme park content (while also fitting the typical game studio employee distribution) and you use far less server power for such simple interactions.

  11. EValdr says:

    Wow, a game reviewer that isn’t trying to convince me that this tide of pure garbage F2P MMOs is totally great and provides a level of quality anywhere near the ones we used to pay for? Now that is refreshing.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve never understood why nobody tried copying some ideas from Ultima Online for a modern MMO. It’s the only one that I spent any serious amount of time in, and I really enjoyed the skill system.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Shroud of the Avatar seems to be copying a fair few ideas from UO, as well it might.

    • Kala says:

      EVE is the only one that did, and was successful with it AFAIK.

      (because while UO is traditional fantasy medieval, and EVE is spaceships, some of the fundamentals are direct inspirations in ethos. the fame and karma systems are very similar to EVE’s security status; regions protected by concord and sentries and not dissimilar to “guards! guards!” and in both the PVP had real loss and consequence).

  13. LokiEliot says:

    For me LARP is about collaborative story telling between its players and the GM. I used to LARP in my early years but have moved onto virtual worlds where i have found a lot of my experience as a LARPER and GM has crossed over to the Steampunk Communities of Second Life where everything is created by it’s users. Characters have vast backstories and in some cases over 6 years of stories created within the Virtual World. Everyone has the freedom to do what ever they want, even Grief/Troll each other. Thankfully its rare for people to disrupt a good story event and most just react and engage in roleplaying. Users strive to out do each other in terms of building and creation skills to look the best and share the fruit of their efforts with the RP community.

    The freedom we have in Second Life to create and set our own goals is what lends it more to LARP than MMORGPs. Users don’t have the restrictions imposed on players of MMORPGs by game dev. Instead the Users do what ever they think they should do, and the GM running the experience has the freedom to react and change the story depending on users decisions. In virtual world Second Life I use the same skills i used to use running LARP events but i get to do a lot more impossible story lines thanks to the freedom to create anything.

    I share this recent video from the Steampunks of New Babbage, a roleplaying community in Second Life who build and maintain an entire smoggy city, and between them hold annual traditions from which accidents can occur that change the landscape and history of the Town, continuing the story of New Babbage.

    link to zippcast.com

  14. Wulfram says:

    Guild Wars 2 had a great event with the Twisted Marionette that created a lot of cooperation on a fairly large scale – more like a couple of 100 people, but still pretty large and fun. Though also a lot of aggravation at times when things went wrong.

    Renaissance Kingdoms seems to have a political structure like you describe.

    Though honestly most of the time I don’t want to have too much interaction forced on me. People mean stress.

  15. Gap Gen says:

    I admit I often enjoy metagaming more than an actual competitive game. If I ever LARP, I’m going to pretend to be a noble then get super angry when people call me “thou”.

  16. Scurra says:

    As a freeformer (which is our name for LARPs that don’t involve foam-rubber swords and camping in woods) I can endorse much of this, We generally play indoors in shorter form games (although that doesn’t preclude weekend-long events) but the main joy for me is in writing some sort of general plot and a bunch of characters with conflicting goals and then watching the players take it apart in directions that I couldn’t have dreamed about.
    And, with the best will in the world, a constrained MMORG is going to struggle with that. As noted above, it’s places like Second Life that are, essentially, glorified chatrooms that are the only way that the limitless imagination of both players and writers can collide without breaking.
    I’m not suggesting that it can’t happen, but even experimental computer-based games struggle with players trying to step outside of the boundaries compared with face-to-face experience.

  17. pepperfez says:

    This is a great, on-point article, but I couldn’t really focus on anything other than how phenomenal those faun costumes are.

    I…kinda just want to wear one around.

  18. Jockie says:

    Probably flogging some kind of dead animal, but Neverwinter Nights Persistent Worlds were/are far closer to Larp than MMOs. Live dungeon masters running events for small groups that cohere into larger plots, people running around pretending to be wizards, permadeath, Pvp with stakes, collaborative storytelling. All that and you don’t have to take that step of actually dressing up like an elf.

    The NWN and NWN 2 multiplayer scenes were like nothing else I’ve ever played and sadly no other developer has picked up the gauntlet of allowing worlds designed and ruled by players.

    I’m not even sure it was ever Bioware’s intention to create the scene in the first place as their tools were supposed to be for a pnp-like small scale experience and somehow morphed into servers with hundreds of characters populating them, fighting in the wildneress debating in the town, writing their own newspapers on internet forums and generally being fucking creative and awesome (and yeah, sometimes being incredibly creepy).

    • gwathdring says:

      Indeed! The communities that sprung up around NWN had a surprising percentage of people who were actually interested in rollplaying games and the results were very impressive.

  19. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Yep, cRPG in all its glorious forms never quite fulfilled its promise of making the game less systems centric for the player and more about the roleplaying, by taking away the systems management. Instead it’s all gone the other way, the ability to automate systems seems to have encouraged developers to just add more. Players don’t roleplay in MMOs because the game isn’t about roleplaying, it’s about balancing numbers.

    Has there seriously not been one mention of MUDs in this article? That was surely the closest online roleplaying got to being like LARPing.

    EDIT: I meant to say “in these comments” not “this article” – obviously that isn’t what the article is about :)

    • gwathdring says:

      I was also reminded of MUDs, only I feel MUDs were frequently very solitary experiences and often had progression systems that sharply limited the player’s ability to interact with the world in a way that was all that interesting and they frequently suffered from the same theme-park-i-ness of MMOs but with a higher probability of being ganked for no reason.

      That said, I feel like MUDs were a better example of how to make a single-playing RPG that was more about world than system than, say, CRPGs. But … well the M part of MUD was very often lacking in my experience.

  20. Frank says:

    I’d love to see MMOs become something else, yes.

  21. Dachannien says:

    It’s kind of like Caelyn has never heard of A Tale in the Desert.

    I guess that’s excusable, for one big reason – the reason why MMOs cater to the grind and not deep social interaction – it’s nowhere near as popular, in part because years and years of PUGs have taught people that random morons on the Internet suck.

    At least when you’re LARPing, there’s a self-selection process involved where LARPers say, “Yes, I’m willing to put on my cardboard armor and/or pajamas and walk around in public with you yelling ‘Lightning bolt!’ because it’s fun. Let’s be friends.” The bar for MMOs is much, much lower, in part because most developers want to accommodate everyone who wants to play, because more players means more money; and in part because the Internet confers at least some anonymity.

    The key, then, is to make an MMO that is more compelling to its target audience but intentionally less popular, so that the only people who want to play it are people who really want to play it.

    • Kala says:

      I wouldn’t assume that.

      I’d never thought of LARP as an inspiration before, but her criticisms on the trajectory of ‘the modern MMO’ are not dissimilar to my own.

      And I’ve played ATITD and it was great. It was innovative, the players had plenty of freedom of choice and shared goals and could even enact their own laws. (though, in other ways, it was very restrictive – you could be a force for good or…not. there was no real way to murder, steal or particularly minorly inconvenience others, as I recall).

      That said, I’m not sure I would consider ATITD any kind of mainstream success as many people *haven’t* heard of it. It’s important as an example of what can be done with some imagination, and functioned in many ways as a social experiment, but is still comparatively niche compared to the big players.

      • Dachannien says:

        That’s exactly it – the things that she was talking about with respect to LARPing *are* a niche product. If you want those features in an MMO, it will have to be a niche MMO.

        • Kala says:

          Not at all.

          UO wasn’t and neither was EVE.

          Both had that sandbox world with emphasis on player freedom and choice and letting the social element dictate gameplay. Both were huge.

          It’s an ethos and a choice that has now been completely forgotten in the aftermath of the commercial success of WoW that everyone has since tried to emulate. (Which has inevitably failed, as we have WoW already and none of the clones have actually exceeded what it does).

  22. onodera says:

    I’ve played some RP-enforced MUDs, probably the closest you can get to a LARP on a computer, and the problem is it is:
    1) too intensive, sometimes you want to go explore the world or just kill some stuff for that next level without having to RP. Or you alt-tab while resting and piss off someone who tries to talk to you.
    2) the metaplot moves on without you. You create your char, and there’s too much going on around you. Okay, you get down to business and learn who’s who. But you never get to witness anything cool or take part in anything cool because everyone’s American and you have to go to sleep. Or you are American, but you catch a nasty flu strain and get kicked off the council.

    A MMORPG built in a more larpy tradition will also suffer from the rigidity of the systems. Imm to player ratio is much higher on a MUD, and imms are willing to fudge the rules to keep the game going.

    • Premium User Badge

      DuncUK says:

      There is life to RP gaming outside of MUDs… there’s a collection of communities that run GTA San Andreas roleplay servers based on one of the multiplayers mods. For example:

      link to gta-sarp.com

      I played for nearly a year on one such server in a world largely populated by a variety of street gangs, with it’s own player-run police force. I was roleplaying a news reporter using my ability to broadcast to the server as a way to antagonise and martial the playerbase. I also sidelined as a hitman, stalking real world players to settle player grievances was heart pounding fun. It was the most immersive and truly social gaming experience I’ve ever had, I only quit because of the shocking amounts of time I was spending in it.

      There are also Half Life 2 RP servers, though I’ve never investigated these:

      link to lemonpunch.net

      This is based on Garry’s mod and I’ve read there are many incarnations and variances, but the common theme is acting out combine occupation and human resistance.

      I strongly suspect that there are a great many other games that have been community extended for RP, but the crucial point for me is just that… none of these are commercialised, they are all player run. I don’t know how you’d monetise this sort of play and frankly I think that’s a good thing.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        I also sidelined as a hitman, stalking real world players to settle player grievances

        Yikes! I’m all for immersive roleplay but that’s going a bit far surely?

        • Kala says:

          …Why?

          • Premium User Badge

            Harlander says:

            I dunno if there’s some idiosyncratic use of language going on here, but talking about “stalking real-world players” sounds like you’re, well, stalking players in the real world.

            Legality issues aside, I personally prefer to keep a degree of encapsulation between roleplay stuff and my actual life.

        • Kala says:

          Ah, ok. I just took ‘stalking real world players’ to mean ‘not npcs’ rather than any information or connection out of the game.

          I have no problem with killing other players in games for perceived slights. In fact, wars have started for less. And then the in-game politics of that become really interesting.

  23. cpt_freakout says:

    Great article. I still think the problem is not with MMOs themselves, because we all know deep down that they have tons of potential; the problem is that they’re no longer games that cater to the imagination while setting everything up for interacting with other people, but gamified apps designed to keep customers paying for as long as possible through any means necessary. As long as the drive to make an MMO is to make a shitload of money and not to make a game for the enjoyment of people the design decisions that will configure the game will all be about aping WoW and mobile mini-games. The genre is stagnant not because devs can’t come up with new ideas but because the very base upon which it is now built is driven solely by profit. What I’m getting at is that we could propose a million ways to make MMOs fun again, but as long as the dominant reason to make one is the almighty dollar they’re going to stay pretty much the same, and as long as WoW keeps its quadrillion subscribers all the publishers will keep making exactly the same mistakes they’ve been making for the last 10 years or so. Hopefully the Kickstarted MMOs will change that, but until then, I think we have little choice but sit and wait.

  24. iZen says:

    From first to last point of this piece, I thought:
    He wants a Dark Souls MMO.
    Because DS does all the things the OP described. Saying that as an experienced LARPer ;)

    • jrodman says:

      I expect Caelyn is a she. I’m also curious how you can impact the world in Dark Souls, having not played it.

    • Caelyn Ellis says:

      I am indeed of the lady persuasion. It’s funny you should mention Dark Souls, because there’s an article in my head about which really, really good bits of Dark Souls aren’t mentioned enough, what they did horribly wrong and what other developers should be pilfering. Some of it is based on my experience with LARP and steel combat.

  25. MacBeth says:

    In my experience of LARPing (a few of Curious Pastimes’ Renewals and related events) it seemed to be mostly about socialising and drinking (LOTS of drinking) with a bit of plot occasionally and then two bloody good big fights at the end (one half of the attendees playing their characters, the other half playing baddies, then swap over so that everyone gets to win). I got rather disillusioned with it because there seemed to be so many people pulling in so many different directions that it was just incoherent and only briefly did the shared illusion stutter into life.
    However – it did sort-of work because everyone was there for one (long) weekend and the plot could move, the climactic event could happen (or not) and no-one who wanted to take part would miss out on what was happening. With a handful of events per year this was manageable.
    For an MMO (which, I admit, I don’t play) the problem would surely be that the players need something to be happening all the time, so that they can contribute – hence instances, meaningless territory battles with front lines moving endlessly back and forth and all the rest. It seems to me to be simply impossible to have enough directed content to keep everyone entertained without permanently recycling it, even if billions were spent on it. And, as pointed out above, it’s a business, not really a fun game any more. If LARPing ever became a serious money-spinner then it too would change, and not in a way most current LARPers would enjoy, I suspect…

    • mejoff says:

      PD have really limited the extent to which that CP/LT ‘everyone is just sitting around drinking out of character’ problem affects Empire. Somewhat through actual creativity in the world building, also to a large extent through designing a world and systems that are geared towards actually engaging with them being rewarding, partly through having a brilliant and dedicated crew who keep story gushing onto the field. But mostly by a making it really obvious what they wanted from the game to begin with. Also having a strict policy against out of character harrassment and bigotry put a lot of the ‘old guard’ off and left more creative and inyeresting players feeling safe to tuen up and play.

  26. Synesthesia says:

    This is an utterly fantastic piece. All of my yes. These problems you describe are not only appearing in the mmo camp. In my opinion, the ingrained behaviors from gaming killed a number of potential gems, like dayz and most of it’s iterations.

  27. ComradeJohan says:

    This is an absolutely brilliant article, and tackles things that I’ve often found lacking in MMOs ; I am much of the same field in that I like them conceptually, but the execution over the past ten years has been cripplingly depressing.

    Add to that that LARPs seem like a super awesome thing and it makes me super sad that such a thing simply does not exist in Australia (at least not within a thousand kilometers of me)

  28. airmikee says:

    If MMO’s are so stagnant, and falling behind LARPing, why are more people playing them today than ever before in history?

    link to numberof.net
    From 2010, estimates of over 60 million MMO players in the world.

    link to mmo-addicted.com
    From 2014, estimates of over 100 million MMO players in the world.

    With as many video games as are being published and released today, if you can’t find a game you like, that’s about you, not the games. Your standards are either way too high, or you’re too lazy to write your own game.

    • Kala says:

      …If Justin Beiber isn’t a great artist, how come he’s so popular?

      • airmikee says:

        With as many musical acts that are being published and released today, if you can’t find an artist you like, that’s about you, not the music. Your standards are either way too high, or you’re too lazy to write your own songs.

        Or are you seriously deluded enough to think that your opinion is the same thing as a fact for everyone else? If you don’t like Beiber, good for you. I don’t believe for a second that someone doesn’t like an artist when they keep bringing them up in conversations that aren’t related to the artist itself. But just because millions of people like Beiber, and you allegedly don’t like him, doesn’t mean that music is stagnant. $20 says your parents didn’t like your music when you were young, does that mean music was stale then? And another $20 says your grandparents didn’t like the music your parents liked, so again, does that mean music has been stale for the past five decades?

        “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

        John Lydgate originated that quote, and he died almost 600 years ago. Maybe it’s time you actually learned what it means.

        • Kala says:

          None of that is particularly relevant to what I said or the context I responded to.

          Which is – popularity is no objective measure of quality.

          (Which should be fairly obvious, given there *IS* no objective measure of quality, it’s all entirely subjective to begin with).

          Therefore your listing of subscribers is not a great point re: a genre stagnating creatively.

          • airmikee says:

            Of course you don’t find information that contradicts your opinion to be relevant. It’s a very human quality to ignore evidence that proves a human to be wrong. Since you already know that it’s all subjective, why do you have such a hard time accepting that lots of people like things that you apparently don’t like? Why do you have a hard time accepting the FACT that your opinion that MMORPG’s have stagnated isn’t shared by millions upon millions of other people? Go ahead and keep thinking that your opinion is somehow related to the truth, it’s quite hilarious. :)

        • Kala says:

          “Of course you don’t find information that contradicts your opinion to be relevant. It’s a very human quality to ignore evidence that proves a human to be wrong. Since you already know that it’s all subjective, why do you have such a hard time accepting that lots of people like things that you apparently don’t like? Why do you have a hard time accepting the FACT that your opinion that MMORPG’s have stagnated isn’t shared by millions upon millions of other people? Go ahead and keep thinking that your opinion is somehow related to the truth, it’s quite hilarious. :)”

          ….That still has nothing to do with ‘popularity = quality’ not being a compelling argument.

          To demonstrate that MMORPGs as a genre have not stagnated creatively, you’d need to point to a wide variety of innovative ideas represented, that have gone on to be successful.

          Showing that many people enjoy the same idea repeated does not disprove creative stagnation.

          (I don’t actually believe in objective truth when it comes to human perception, only to measurable data outside of ourselves, so no, I don’t take my opinions on subjective media as fact, for the record…I just, subjectively, thought your argument wasn’t very good)

    • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

      So you are saying that, because a medieval-themed MMO with Eve style player-driven gameplay doesn’t exist, it’s Caelyn’s fault that she can’t find one.

      No, that’s extremely silly. Just because there are a lot of games being made it doesn’t mean that games to fit every desire are being made. Case in point, Kickstarter has revived many genres that were dead for about a decade; if the game someone wanted was a game like one Kickstarter revived, that that game literally didn’t exist before, and there was nothing the person could do about it.

      A growth in the number of people playing MMORPGs is meaningless. The number of people playing video games is also increasing, so it’s normal that the number of people playing a center genre would also increase. I also question the methodology of your sources. They appear to be taking developers’ claims of active users at face value, when devs have reason to inflate their user bases.

      The idea that ‘if you don’t find the game you want, make your own’ is one I’d usually agree with, but MMO’s are complex enough that you can’t just fire up TWINE or GameMaker and make one. They are the most technically and financially demanding kind of games and this demand remains indefinitvely for as long as they’re live. The most that someone could do would be to try to describe their vision and see if it takes hold – which is what Caelyn did here, so I don’t see why you’re complaining.

    • Caelyn Ellis says:

      Hi! Thanks for reading the article. While I stand by my statement that MMOs are stagnating, that doesn’t mean I think they’re bad or unpopular. I still play and enjoy them myself! I just find that I do so for completely different reasons to the ones I imagined when I first read about UO (and before that, MUDs.) WoW is now a decade old and “you have to dodge out of the way of attacks” is supposedly innovative. In ten years, that’s it?

      I’d argue that the lack of evolution in the genre is one of the reasons for WoW’s continued popularity. How many times have you seen people check out a new MMO, play for a few weeks and go back to WoW? It’s not surprising that this happens. MMOs take a long time to bring to market. WoW is a mature product with a heavily-invested player base. If a dev started making a WoW-like MMO and somehow produced one that was just as good in only four years, the game is still going to be at a massive disadvantage. It’ll probably only have as much content as Vanilla WoW, if that. On top of that, WoW will have had another four years of polishing, tweaking and refining, and Blizzard are very good at polishing, tweaking and refining. Oh, and another couple of expansions will have been released.

      Even this hypothetical, best case scenario MMO is still going to be four years behind WoW in terms of development and fourteen behind in content. Players will give it a shot, enjoy the novelty for a bit, then swiftly realise it’s the same thing, but not as good, and then go back to WoW.

      The market for MMOs is huge, I’d just like to see more diversity. Making a jack-of-all-trades WoW-like is a terrible idea. MOBAs are very popular amongst people who enjoy MMO PvP and in many ways are a distillation of that. A while back I read a great piece about doing the same thing for dungeons and making a game that was all about co-op instances without the open world stuff. Great idea! I just wanted to suggest a possible direction for MMOs drawing from a source a lot of PC gamers wouldn’t know about.

      Criticism, for me, is all about making the things I love better. I don’t waste my time writing about things I hate.

      • airmikee says:

        So WoW stagnated because Blizzard got complacent about their popular game and don’t feel the need to alter it much, and that is somehow your best evidence that the entire genre has stagnated?

        SW:ToR added some innovations to the genre, especially with character development on light/dark side, and companions being able to help through missions. GW2 added large world events that don’t require one to be a part of a huge guild in order to play through. Star Trek Online practically removed the need to play with other people in order to progress characters with bridge officers that make it easier for people to play through content solo. ArcheAge adds in a criminal justice system that lets people do something about griefers.

        As a former WoW player, from version 0.7 to the day before 4.0 and hasn’t been back since, your argument about WoW being the only game people play doesn’t hold any water. I don’t compare games to WoW in order to determine if they’re viable to play, maybe that’s the reason you can’t find anything new to play that has new ideas? Go to a few WoW Anonymous meetings and maybe your addiction will let you find a new game.

  29. Pundabaya says:

    Ironically, what put me off Empire was in part the fact that it seemed too MMORPGish. Looking at the information on the various factions, all the information there seems to be ‘A member of this nation dresses like this, behaves like this, talks this way, eats this food, poops at this time’ they even lay out what sort of music they play. (No ukulele, no sale). It feels like a fan game. I prefer games with a bit more personal creativity.

    The other things being the crap site and the preponderence of costume nazis that PD attracts.

    • mejoff says:

      It’s about creating a coherent world. one issue with other big fest LARPs is that there’s so little structure that you never end up with anything that feels real.

      Empire’s nations each have a distinct look and feel, so that when you walk into their camp, you know who you’re looking at, and the cultural markers and attitudes mean people play as a nation. Factions with no culture written to back them up are just player groups.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Complaining about having to play a role in a live action role playing game…

  30. Reefpirate says:

    Something I never understood about these type of LARPing activities is combat resolution and the whole hitting each other with ‘foam’ weapons things… How do the rules usually operate with that? Are there no dice rolls? How do you ‘defeat’ people? Do they have to submit from getting beaten by foam weapons? What if you have two martial artist players who just continue to wail away at each other without submitting? What if a guy is playing a Warrior type but he only weighs 100 lbs.? Is he going to get his ass kicked by a 220 lbs. Bard?

    Is it supposed to be full contact? Or do you just ‘tag’ the other person with a weapon? Then there’s the inevitable, ‘but you didn’t hit me!’ arguments… Have fist fights ever broken out? With 1000s of players I imagine there’s a large chance of someone getting hurt, no matter the combat rules, just from the sheer amount of pointy costumes and weapons everyone is swinging around.

    • mejoff says:

      In general, in a LARP combat system, your character has hitpoints, just like in a computer game. When someone lands a blow you lose hitpoints (some systems have a standard number that you lose when hit -generally one- while others require the striking player to ‘call’ out the number of points their character hits for, and that will be determined by their stats and weapon). Reaching zero hit points has predictable effects, normally requiring you to lie down and look dead or unconscious (generally, in a big fight, nobody is going to be too concerned if you choose to stagger off to one side away from trampling boots, this is also the time to break out the fake blood if you’re carrying!). At that point most systems require you to start your ‘death count’, counting in your head a set number of seconds (again, frequently determined by your character’s stats) during which you can be healed by someone with the appropriate skill. If you’re not healed up in time, you then need to start statting and kitting out a new character, because that’s it.

      Players are generally expected to pull their blows, as causing out of character injuries is neither the objective, nor cool (and frankly, those swords, especially the good ones, don’t come cheap). I’ve not known personally any incidents where it’s got properly out of hand to the point of an out of character fight starting, but I’m sure there have been a few in the 30 odd years the hobby has existed.

      You just have to take it on trust that people are playing in good faith. If you play online games yu’ll have seen whining and accusations of hacking, true or false, and we do sometimes suffer the equivalent in people not taking their hits. Human nature and all that.

      Injuries do happen occasionally, and well run games have qualified first aid crew on site at all times.

      Think I’ve covered everything :)

  31. Chaedi says:

    This is why I am so excited for the Pathfinder Online game which implements some of the ideas you have listed in the article. It is said to be a Sandbox MMO with a lot of freedom to do what you choose. It was funded in part by Kickstarter and is being based around the Pathfinder Pen and Paper game. The graphics for the game seem a bit outdated, but the ideas behind the game seem very solid and I am excited to give it a try when it is released, likely sometime in 2016. Give it a look!

    For all those interested head over to:
    link to goblinworks.com

  32. ssh83 says:

    Your points are not about LARP specifically, but about freeform roleplaying where living DMs are able to cater to each individual players in smaller groups. In order for this to work in MMO, there needs to be volunteer DMs. The only MMO like this are the persistent world servers in Neverwinter Nights 1. DMs can make content and actually be there while players are playing to cater to each individual players’ dynamic behaviors and reactions.

    Try it and write an article about it.

  33. saturday says:

    MMO’s could do with monster players. AI and scripting will not be at a state to compete for many years.

    Many good LARP events use a format where everyone monsters for a day normally as a faction. This leads to more cohesive bad guys and lets people be something new for a bit. If you are good and don’t act like a asshat you get given better roles.

    This could be applied to MMO’s to give them some more life. And same goes online , you act like an asshat your account gets flagged and don’t get to play mobs anymore.

    You might say why not just have pvp but then who has old lady of the forest 4 as a character. Also there is the factor that people don’t want to risk losing something they have built up. With a mob toon there is no risk as it can simply be recreated if need be.

    And even with the more disposable nature of mob toons I do think there would a good take up on those wanting to play them , even if it is a small number. Though that may be a good thing to have a smaller but more mature group that helps inject some life back into a game after all the one thing MMO’s can do well is legions of mindless grunts to throw at players ;)