Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Top 5 Brilliant Ideas in MMOs That Were Subsequently Hamstrung

Today we've got a long one but another good one from guest blogger Dan:

For a long period of my life, I played MMOs.  An MMO is short for MMORPG, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.  Having said that, just imagine if you were playing Skyrim with 100,000 other people at the same time.  Yeah, its like that...

I could write several top 5 lists on MMOs, but I had a conversation with a friend who was down because one of his favorite MMOs was shutting down.  We talked about all the cool and brilliant stuff in the MMO world, and I got the inspiration for this list: the most brilliant, yet completely kneecapped ideas to hit the genre.

5: Ultima Online - I only put this on the list because it was the first, but it being the first, one of the developers made a huge discovery.  The story goes, this Dev was playing his game, and came across a woman playing a woman cleaning some random house.  They got to talking in game, and she invited him to dinner.  They went inside the house, and soon her son logged on, as did her husband.  It turns out, the husband was stationed in Germany, and the wife and son was still in the States.  They logged on a few times a week to have dinner together in a virtual world.  Yeah, MMOs started a form of social gaming that was truly amazing.  In the end, this concept has been throttled in so many ways it's pathetic, as most games tend to ignore this part.  Some got it right, other flat out ignored it.

4: Asheron's Call - This game was the third MMO that was released (maybe; I could be wrong, but it was the third I knew about).  It had many great ‘new’ developments in the genre, but one in particular was unprecedented, astounding, and has NEVER been duplicated.  They called it an "episodic narrative content, period new quests, and events that visibly affect the entire world.”  Most called it “Dynamic Storytelling.”  In other words, every month, you’d log into the game, and the world would change.  

Let me tell you this story: The second big story line had shadows appearing throughout the world.  It was a mystery, these black creatures attacking from everywhere.  A questline appeared and people followed it, they found a spell, and when cast it revealed these crystals that were casting the shadows.  (Note: The game had several servers, and this event happened at different times on different servers.)  After a few months of following quests, it was discovered that there was a giant crystal somewhere, and...it was an egg ready to hatch!  On every server but one, the thing hatched, and some HUGE marauding beast wandered the entire world, from town to town, killing whomever it got near, before eventually being taken down.  That one server where it didn’t hatch? Several people from several guilds banded together, and fought the shadows around the clock, 24 hours a day for almost a month.  That creature never hatched on that server, and the Devs erected a monument to those guilds and people which still stands to this day (in the game). 

The game is still up and running, but is horrendously dated.  Yet no one has come close matching the concept of a world that changes as time goes on due to storyline and plots.

3: Star Wars Galaxies - This game has a history that breaks my heart.  It closed down in 2011 for good, but still has a ‘emulator’ which is player created out there.  The game came onto the market as an economy based game.  People would play this game and do quests only to get items that had to be crafted into something.  On top of that, there was a third bar (most games have 2, health and magic) which was called ‘fatigue.’  The only way to fill the bar was to visit a player entertainer.  At one point this game had the highest ever player base of women, because all the women wanted to play this social dancer whom people HAD to visit.  The hard core players griped, and Sony Online Entertainment completely changed the game.  To this day, in some business classes in colleges, they will point to Star Wars Galaxies as an example of what not to do in business...

2: EverQuest 2 - For a brief moment in time, EQ2 was an amazing place to play a social game.  It seemed as though the corporation that ran it, Sony Online Entertainment, wanted this social game to thrive.  Players made their houses in to ‘bars’ that opened up on certain nights.  Role Players would come in and play as their characters, interacting and making story lines.  There were even a group of people who played bards who went to these taverns and performed.  (Yes, I was one of these with El’Mindeeya Do’Katal, the Emerald Bard.)

But what EQ2 did, just before they completely hamstrung themselves, was add something unbelievably user oriented to the game.  EQ2 already had TONS of books.  In fact there are quite a few websites dedicated to the cataloging of all in game books, and all the lore contained within.  But then one day, they added Player Made Books to the mix.  This meant not only could people make books to put in their houses, but they could fill them with their own content.  My character alone wrote over 20 books.  Several poem books and several story books.  They were widely collected, and wonderfully cherished things, and created so much more foundation to the game.

There were plenty of signs that changes were coming to the game before the inclusion of books.  Almost directly after they arrived, SOE, the same company that destroyed the truly unique part of Star Wars Galaxies, turned their backs on the current players and started to slowly revamp the game to make it more like the current #1 MMO in the world, which destroyed the uniqueness of the game, and alienated a high percentage of the player base.

1: City of Heros - On November 30th, 2012, this MMO shut down.  It was a very sad day to a friend of mine, because he enjoys games, and enjoyed that game.  There were two major things this game did that have never been duplicated and made it a really amazing experience.

As most people know, RPGs have are based off of gear.  You get sword with x stats making you x better.  CoH did not do this, it was stat based.  You increased your stats as you grew.  It made the game so much more of a ‘how well do you play’ game instead of a ‘how good is your gear’ game.  This concept is unbelievable in the genre, and it’s a shame its not looked at more closely as MMOs are getting so ‘gear-centric.’  If you were a skilled player, you could go far, and your accomplishments felt like your own.

The other thing about this MMO was player made content. You could go on missions that were designed by players.  It added a whole new aspect to the game and increased the playability.  In the end, there’s no explicit reason for it shutting down, except to point out that Marvel came out with its own Super Hero game and had tried to sue the developer on occasion, and it had changed publishers a number of times.


In the end, my history with games is long and varied.  I’ve seen lots of games make it, and lots of game fail, but some of the ideas that games have are truly amazing, and then they dropped the ball on so many other aspects.  These particular 5 have varied reasons for their issues, but all 5 have a cherished memory attached to them.  Share your MMO stories in the comments below, and find us on Facebook to get more of the good stuff, every day.


Dan Bonser is a voraciously passionate writer and blogger.  Having started A Brainless Nod in June of 2012, he has gotten a welcoming applause from his readers.  There, you can see more of his talents in photography, poetry, articles, and take part in reading his serial webfiction stories, as he shares his life and passions with the world.


  1. Shame how SOE killed SWG because it just didn't listen to the fans, and is in the process of killing eq2. Wonderful games all, though, and I have wonderful memories of each.

  2. I have to say I played UO, and this was the best game ever and what all MMO's should aspire to. The social aspect of the game has yet to be repeated in any MMO I have played. NO one even comes close. I could spend a day fishing in the game. I still remember the 1st day I was PK'd in the game it was traumatizing. I have played just about every MMO out there and no one even comes close to UO. To bad the game graphics became dated. Great top 5.

  3. It's amazing the amount of work and creativity that goes into this kind of world building, and the passion that players have for them. I've never been a part of one myself, but I'd be curious to know what Dan's current faves are. Well done.

  4. Just fyi Dan, not sure if you check in on this ever, but you got a question up there ^

  5. Honestly don't have faves anymore. EQ2 and SWG were my favorites, but Sony raped the game. Rift was awesome until the end game, then it was a WoW clone. In the end I've stopped playing MMOs all together.

  6. Thought I had subscribed to the post, guess not. Hehe, thanks for the heads up!

  7. The best social aspect for me was EQ2, simply because the community banded together in certain places and created an RP community. The sheer fact that you could schedule large events, and the developers would come in and set up decorations around a city for you was truly wonderful.