What are the problems majority of MMOs have and how could you fix them?

The majority of the systems in MMOs revolve around combat when you get down to it, and the combat sucks. It sucks because it’s a DPS efficiency race. They don’t really integrate movement or counterplay. If DPS is a major term in your game, you’re doing something wrong. Damage per second shouldn’t be a major factor. It’s a major factor because the two combatants are standing around, and strategies don’t really counter each other. It’s not a question of whether you will do damage, you pretty much inevitably will. It’s a question of what rotation of spells/abilities will do the most damage and reduce the opponent’s damage the most. You move during boss raids because the bosses have AOEs announced in advance which you step out of. It’s a lame existence.

Look at Dark Souls in comparison, in a lot of ways it feels like it’s an MMO even though it’s smaller scale. I think that a lot of elements of dark souls’ combat could be scaled up, and a bigger world could be made. The primary engineering problem is client server communication. As I understand it, the reason MMOs are constructed as they are is because handling more variables is extremely intensive on such a massive scale. Dark Souls keeps the scale down, and the connections are peer to peer with all data held client-side, so the server has a minimal load in comparison (it only provides matchmaking services essentially). I’ve asked about why MMOs don’t do action combat more or have weak facsimilies of action combat and the answers I get are usually that action combat is too network intensive to reasonably handle.

I imagine that issues there could be solved with instancing, to prevent having to communicate all the data to everyone, and having the clients bear more of the load for PvE, in line with how Monster Hunter handles some of those interactions. In Monster Hunter, smaller monsters are each handled locally with the host player remembering how much HP they all have, so they will not be synced between sessions, each individual player fights the monsters in their own session. This means you can’t really enact group tactics on the smaller monsters, but the bigger ones will be in sync and they count for more. The trouble with having clients handle more of the load peer to peer is that if you pass data to the client, it’s in the hands of the enemy. The more you trust with the client, the more the client can abuse the game with things like Cheat Engine. This is why there are so many cheaters in dark souls because there’s no data authentication in any of the souls games. The server isn’t involved enough to double check everything is legitimate. In Dark Souls, this doesn’t matter so much, because there’s no competition to be top of the server, and nobody can really obtain anything via cheating that normal players can’t. There’s a definite cap on how close to the top you can be and at worst individual sessions are ruined.

I’m not gonna go over how to make a good combat system, there’s a billion and one ways to do that that I’ve talked about to no end.

What I feel deserves more attention is other game types. It’s kind of inevitable that mining/farming/crafting will be involved at some level, and it would pay to have those roles be involved instead of being about waiting until bars fill up. Star Citizen and Star Wars Galaxies seemed to have solutions to those, like in star citizen, apparently miners are expected to fly through asteroid fields to harvest materials, making it risky and dangerous. The Star Wars Galaxies crafting and profession systems are so complex it’s difficult to sum them up here. Raph Koster did a good summary on his blog, www.raphkoster.com/2015/04/27/did-star-wars-galaxies-fail/ This one links to the other posts explaining how the different systems worked.

The other thing is, I think we should reconsider how all MMOs are basically hamster wheels, how you’re always working to earn something so you can kill monsters slightly faster, how everything is just a number going up or a progress bar, metaphorically speaking. Comparing Dark Souls to WoW made me consider that. In MMOs there’s such a large volume of shit and it’s so hard to access it, that not everyone is really expected to ever do everything. In Dark Souls or Bloodborne, it’s practically expected that everyone has or can get everything, and people willingly stay at a lower level than necessary because that’s where everyone else is. Not to mention that the game is designed so nobody can get excessive bonuses or benefit too much from bringing extra consumables to a fight (at least, in bloodborne). It’s something people come back to because they enjoy it more than because they have an investment in it.

That and there’s probably more ideas you could do for MMOish gameplay. I might cover that in a future article or something.

Anything I missed? I feel like I forgot something or didn’t cover everything here, but I can’t remember what else there is.

4 thoughts on “What are the problems majority of MMOs have and how could you fix them?

  1. tradamtm May 18, 2015 / 9:16 pm

    MMOs do not have complex combat gameplay because their test is different from a single execution standpoint. The performance of any single player cant count for much and the combat complexity cant be too high or else the game becomes a systemic clusterfuck.

    DaS functions well in the space is in, a contained multiplayer experience, however if you created a boss that would require a 24 man raid in it, its systems would fail. There would be too much focus required for singular combat performance to keep track and coordinate that amount of people, not to mention the balancing of such a boss would be a nightmare with this kind of single performance combat complexity.
    f.ex. If theres a player that can carry a team by single performance the challenge set for a group fails as the performance of the group is irrelevant.

    And we are talking smallest endgame engagement in MMOs here. Truly massive begins at coordinating 1k+ players in EVE, theres a reason that single combat in that game is click and wait for bars to fill up on automatic. My massive qualms with EVE aside, theres a reason for its combat and engagement design.

    MMOs are designed to test groups, not individuals.

    MMOs have different and far more severe problems than good combat, after all theres a “billion and one” games with good single combat around to hold that against them considering their purpose is different.

    Like

    • Chris Wagar May 19, 2015 / 4:36 am

      I said there’s a billion and one ways to do it, not a billion and one games that have done it, that number is closer to like, 5 maybe.

      Regardless of whether the “goal” of an MMO is to “test the group” or not, the majority of players will be playing by themselves the majority of the time they spend in a given MMO. Going up against single monsters and other single enemies.

      That and do MMOs really test co-operation? Do they really test skills on the part of the group? Compare to say, Counter Strike, or Fortress Forever. I don’t think there’s any real argument that Counter Strike isn’t a team game, but it’s still one where a single player can carry the group (see ninja defuses or other comebacks.)

      I don’t think that Dark Souls’ system would fail in an MMO, about the only component that’s overly focused on single player is the AI that can’t prioritize targets for shit. The key component really is making it so that players need to find a place where they can complete their attack animation in range of the enemy during a time period where the enemy will not hit them, meaning they need to watch the boss’s animation state for periods where they’re vulnerable relative to the attacks they have, find safe spots that change dynamically as the fight goes on, and find opportunities to get away to heal or buff. Look at bosses like the Four Kings, Artorias, Manus, Kalameet. Or in BloodBorne, the One Reborn, Amygdala, Vicar Amelia, Rom The Vacuous Spider. The key thing missing from most MMOs is that ability startups are nearly instant, there isn’t a space for enemies to interrupt the player. Players aren’t trying to find a spot where they can finish the animation they’re attempting, they can always finish it, they just need to move out of the way when an AOE indicator comes up. It’s not a question of whether they should block (easy timing, committed to blockstun, take stamina damage, less stamina regen, potentially get guardbroken), dodge (hard timing, costs stamina, can go through attacks and reach positions otherwise impossible to reach, leaves self open to multihits), or simply walk (most vulnerable, lowest cost, greatest frame advantage if successful), it’s always walk because the other options don’t usually exist, and if they do (as in GW2 or TERA) they don’t have the assortment of tradeoffs as in the dark souls system, they’re just another part of the rotation because they don’t make you vulnerable for performing them.

      Hell, you could integrate more group and cooperative mechanics by including things the group either needs to do simultaneously or in rhythm/order with each other in order to execute efficiently. Here’s some examples:

      You could stun bosses or big enemies by all attacking at once in a short period if everyone is able to make a simultaneous push on the boss. Individual weapons could have different stun ratings, so the bigger weapons would count more here, seeing as they’re the hardest to actually get in range of the boss for a stun between attacks. Different sources of stun could even be rated as faster or longer to recover from, so certain people can optimize for high stun damage that takes a long time to recover from, making them more instrumental in building up stun and pushing for stun. This also helps get damage away from being exclusively about DPS.

      Some areas of the boss could be uniquely vulnerable for periods of time, triggering an effect like a stun if hit there enough times before they close up, prioritizing speed of hits over damage directly. So you have some members of the ground who prioritize small and fast attacks to snipe these areas as they come up. Alternatively some attacks could be interruptable, but only if hit enough times before completing. Number of attacks over time would add another metric.

      Perhaps different sections of the boss become vulnerable as you damage each successive one, so you have many people stationed at these weak points to hit them as they come up while you’re all avoiding boss attacks.

      Bosses could have components that act independently from one another, as in The One Reborn boss battle in Bloodborne (which is a ton of parts that act independently, and entirely separate enemies on top of that), or battles with 2 bosses at once. This lets them cover their flanks and backs independently even when one part is occupied. That or go the monster hunter route and include some mooks. Arenas can be designed like The One Reborn arena in Bloodborne, with enemies that attack from up high that can divide their attention and need to be dealt with regularly. One attack can cover multiple people, two or more simultaneous attacks (or attackers) can cover leftover people trying to exploit the safe zone from the first attack in a way that isn’t consistent every time. Bosses could also fling projectiles that of course move independently of them to threaten ranged targets, like bunker busters.

      Ranged attacks could be ultra long to charge/setup (so that the ranged attacker needs to intuit the path of the boss in the far future, such as whether the boss will hit them or be in line of sight/range). Perhaps ranged attacks themselves confer status conditions (poison, stun, slow) to sweeten the deal or give them a unique utility relative to the other attacks. Maybe ranged players need to set up nodes like little towers that deal damage like mines or shoot laser beams if not interfered with. Their stacking damage could be reduced based on their proximity to one another (to encourage the ranged person to move around setting more up as they are taken out), or alternatively multiplied (since it’s easier to take them all out and they cover a smaller area). They could need guards with huge shields to actively protect them as they charge their ranged weapons. Naturally this is all to prevent slow cheesing of the boss with fast low damage ranged weapons.

      Healers and buffers could be forced to move close to companions to confer buffs/heals to them, and animations could be made longer, so either healers need to move up to the front in order to heal, putting themselves at risk, or combatants need to pull themselves off the boss in order to be healed, this in itself being an interruptible process that the boss AI may prioritize. Debuffers may need to move into the zone of danger to carefully debuff the boss, or ward areas to set up effects on them. Perhaps like ranged characters, they can set up like totems or something that create an area of effect buff/debuff or healing zone that can be destroyed by the boss, so they need to consider whether to place it far so players need to migrate away from the boss to benefit from it occasionally, or close so their team can benefit from it more directly as they fight the boss at greater risk of it being destroyed.

      And tank could probably be a more nuanced role in of itself, by acting as an aegis of near invincibility for those around them, so they need to choose where to place their attention, even aim their shield so as to protect from the correct direction. Perhaps like the buffers they can spend time to erect temporary/fragile walls that guard things and/or deflect attacks. These could be specialized versus melee or ranged attacks probably, and bosses could have attacks that specifically do way more stamina damage to shields to break up tank formations. Tanks could cover people about to die as they exit to seek healing, they could cover people attacking the boss directly with high stun weapons, they could as mentioned above cover ranged weapon users from threats as they ready their attacks, or people erecting totems/towers/mines/nodes that have various effects on the area around them. They could move around to said nodes when projectiles are hurled at them to protect them. In individual combat, people wielding greatshields could attack by essentially swinging their shield at people, but it can’t inflict hitstun on enemies that are in the startup of their attack, so the goal is to hit them on trade (with a slight leniency time), with the shield blocking their attack as you hit them, or to punish their whiffs.

      The balancing of the boss is just a matter of multiplying its HP exponentially based on the number of combatants it is facing really (or doing a good calculation relative to the number of combatants), and making sure that it has moves that adequately threaten groups of people, and its AI knows how to prioritize targets so that it continues to threaten the entire group without overfocusing on anyone or being too easily distracted so it pulls focus off targets when it should be following up on them, prevents any zone from being permanently safe. No one should be able to start an animation that has the potential to hurt the boss without the possibility of it being interrupted.

      Bonus: Add friendly fire, and now you have all these people trying to coordinate while simultaneously not tripping over each other.

      My general stance is that testing groups is lame. I’ll admit that I’m a bit biased there, I prefer 1v1 game modes over all other types. When you focus so hard on testing group skills, the tendency I find is that games become more and more about repetitively doing a job from each individual’s perspective when I can see a way they could retain individual roles, but also allow each player to be individually entertained and challenged. MMOs have weak cooperation and weak individual skill testing in my opinion compared to what is possible.

      Does my case seem plausible/make sense?

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  2. tradamtm May 19, 2015 / 4:03 pm

    “Regardless of whether the “goal” of an MMO is to “test the group” or not, the majority of players will be playing by themselves the majority of the time they spend in a given MMO.”

    No, thats not regardless, and thats the far more fundamental issue of MMOs than good combat.
    The modern majority is built around grinding and being “solo friendly”, but it wasnt always like that and it doesnt HAVE to be.

    Besides, anyone knows that MMOs are geared and designed towards the “end game”.
    Its why its called end game.

    “That and do MMOs really test co-operation? Do they really test skills on the part of the group? Compare to say, Counter Strike, or Fortress Forever. I don’t think there’s any real argument that Counter Strike isn’t a team game, but it’s still one where a single player can carry the group (see ninja defuses or other comebacks.)”

    CS or TF are games that test (small) groups, but we aren’t taliking MOGs, we are talking about MMOGs where we have the word MASSIVE, which 4-8 players aren’t.
    CS and TF are also PVP games making the test group vs group not vs AI unless you want to split that aspect away from the discussion as most MMOs with few exceptions are decidedly not PVP focused.

    “I don’t think that Dark Souls’ system would fail in an MMO, about the only component […] they don’t have the assortment of tradeoffs as in the dark souls system, they’re just another part of the rotation because they don’t make you vulnerable for performing them.”

    They dont have to have them because the test isnt single performance based and the tactics and strategies arent in the moment to moment single player gameplay.

    “Hell, you could integrate more group and cooperative mechanics by including things the group either needs to do simultaneously or in rhythm/order with each other in order to execute efficiently.”

    You mean like in any modern mmo raid?

    “The balancing of the boss is just a matter of multiplying its HP exponentially based on the number of combatants it is facing really (or doing a good calculation relative to the number of combatants), and making sure that it has moves that adequately threaten groups of people, and its AI knows how to prioritize targets so that it continues to threaten the entire group without overfocusing on anyone or being too easily distracted so it pulls focus off targets when it should be following up on them, prevents any zone from being permanently safe.”

    Again, you mean like in any modern mmo raid?

    “My general stance is that testing groups is lame. I’ll admit that I’m a bit biased there, I prefer 1v1 game modes over all other types. When you focus so hard on testing group skills, the tendency I find is that games become more and more about repetitively doing a job from each individual’s perspective when I can see a way they could retain individual roles, but also allow each player to be individually entertained and challenged.”

    Rather it becomes a resource management game than a test of agility or reflexes. If that is “repetitive” or not depends on other factors.
    I considered personal single skill based combat to be the holy grail of MMOs at one point as well but since i tried a variety of them i actually realized its not, and it doesnt “fix” MMOs.

    “MMOs have weak cooperation and weak individual skill testing in my opinion compared to what is possible.”

    Out of curiosity, how many MMOs, and for how long, did you play to form this position?

    Like

    • Chris Wagar May 21, 2015 / 4:42 am

      People won’t always have groups to play with. The majority of guilds in WoW consist of literally 1 or 2 people (62%). This isn’t a fault of the game necessarily in my opinion, I would expect similar statistics from any MMO. As a result, many people play alone for a lot of content.

      Gearing towards the end-game is dumb, the entire game should be the end game, or the end game should come extremely early.

      My primary point for bringing up CS and TF is that you assume that the game should be deliberately designed so no single player should be capable of succeeding. I say fuck that. It should be hard, nigh on impossible, but it’s dumb to design a game where the raid is wiped if the tank dies. It’s dumber to design a game where both the boss and you and 40 other people stand practically still and damage flows like two bank accounts trying to withdraw each other’s funds. If you can create a system where the AI entities can reasonably challenge a group of players, you can scale that system arbitrarily as much as you like by allowing it to divide its attention more, acting with more simultaneity, and a good prioritization algorithm. You want an army of 100 dudes fighting a single, entity, let that entity spawn some projectiles that themselves have interactions, let the entity move around a bunch between them (think legendary samurai or some such business, bashing through a crowd of people), give that entity the capability to interrupt potentially anyone raising a sword against it.

      That and it’s dumb to address my point that essentially said, “They could easily test single players without breaking the whole damn system, by adjusting this existing template” By saying, “Yes, but they don’t because the point isn’t to test single players.” It’s sidestepping my underlying point which is, their point of making play only interesting from a team perspective is dumb. They could win on both fronts and have a more deep game overall for doing so. And what, you think they shouldn’t do so because testing exclusively the group is the point? Adding in tests of agility and reflexes aren’t just testing purely agility or reflexes, real time combat with commitment adds in new types of decision-making based on spatial and temporal reasoning. These are currently lacking in modern MMO combat structures.

      “You mean like in any modern mmo raid?”

      Yes. I did mean like in any modern MMO raid.

      “Again, you mean like in any modern mmo raid?”

      Yes. I did mean like in any modern MMO raid. (Dark Souls does this one too)

      If you don’t have objections to the systems I brought up, some way that they wouldn’t work, why point out that I am basically and effortlessly recapturing the team dynamics present in MMOs, without leading to errors of imbalance as you predicted? You’re not pointing out how my proposal could not work here.

      It’s not even just individual combat that is the holy grail, it’s individual everything if you get right down to it. It’s making it so all the boring grindy MMO tasks that are constantly handed off have risks, rewards, successes, failures, and depth dependent on personal skills and decisions. Much like what Star Citizen appears to be trying to do with all of their different roles, like making miners have to practically play asteroids to actually mine things out, like giving someone on the ship the dedicated assignment of focusing shields where the ship will be hit. It’s making games in games.

      With current technology, MMOs with any number of combatants could have individual skill challenges that work perfectly find independently, and enable challenges for multiple players simultaneously. The point of each system I mentioned was to integrate both aspects together, so they could make individual play challenging while simultaneously requiring teamwork from the group, and having decisionmaking elements of both contingent on the other.

      I’ll list every MMO I can remember playing:
      Final Fantasy 11, Ragnarok online, fly for fun, rose online, maple story, the secret world, raiderz, TERA, guild wars, dofus, planetside 2, spiral knights, runescape, some vindictus, and I was watching someone stream a boss raid in wildstar as I wrote the prior post, it was boring like hell. The guy just stood in place, then marks would appear on the ground showing where the boss was going to attack, and he’d move off the marks and continue standing in place.

      The problem with team games is they’ve almost always been focused down so that everyone is playing a single role. It’s not about decision-making on any individual’s part by and large, it’s about doing your one little job that you’re too overspecialized to do anything else but. Do you know why I didn’t mention TF2 and instead mentioned Fortress Forever? Do you know why I mentioned Counter Strike? Because both of those games have teamwork, Fortress Forever even has specialization, but they also enable people to act independently and carry the team if need be. They make it an interesting and fun challenge for every individual in addition to a teamwork exercise. If you don’t do that, then teamplay games fall into patterns, and become more about efficiency than rock paper scissors, and efficiency is boring from a strategic point of view, as well as an individual point of view. The majority of team games have weak cooperation and weak individual skill testing compared to what is possible, because everyone is stuck in this narrow paradigm where it doesn’t matter if everyone is having fun, because you gotta test the group.

      I see no good reason among your objections why my proposal is infeasible, or even undesirable.

      Like

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