The problem with space, of course, is that it is a setting and not a story. You can't prime an audience by simply shouting, "Space!" The space needs context. Is it "final frontier" space? Is it the space in which your screams go unheard? The greatest space tales have always used the deep black as a backdrop, not a subject.
My perfect MMO would almost certainly take place in space, but the way in which the space is used is what makes it worth playing.
Universe: EVE Online
This probably isn't much of a surprise since I've already written a couple hundred words about how much I love space. But EVE is a special kind of space: an open, emergent sandbox in which players travel great distances to deliver upon each other the rudest kinds of injustice. It is an enormous explorable world with thousands of planets, stars, moons and space stations, and its story is solid as well: People ventured into deep space via wormhole, only to be stranded when the wormhole closed behind them and locked them into centuries of fighting over scant resources.
So the basic universe is a sandbox in which humans of competing factions venture out into space in the hopes of securing fame, glory and riches for themselves and their creed. Nothing super innovative there.
Let's talk mechanics.
Space gameplay: Star Citizen
I don't know whether Chris Roberts can pull off what he's trying to pull off with Star Citizen, but everything I've seen of the game so far is exceptional. In my MMO, the "space" world would be big and travel would work similar to EVE (warping from point to point), but combat would be a real-time, skill-heavy affair in which your piloting abilities were more important than your ship fittings. Even people flying massive capital ships would need to have elite piloting talents, as fleet battles wouldn't just be two fleets firing shots directly at each other until one decides to leave.
Ground gameplay: PlanetSide 2 and Red Dead Redemption
My enormous EVE Online universe is packed with explorable and beautiful planets, each with several continents of persistent multiplayer combat and a bunch of quest hubs and towns. PlanetSide 2's fast-paced shooting should fit in nicely for the multiplayer confrontations, while Red Dead's third-person exploration and NPC interaction is a nice fit for the towns. Your viewpoint switches based on what actions you're trying to complete, and the whole thing has a sort of wild west vibe.
Skills and abilities: RIFT and EVE Online
The best thing about EVE Online, for me, is the fact that characters progress when you're not playing. A real-time skill system keeps the playing field even in terms of "play" time and gives busy people a way to advance. That being said, immense skill gaps can and do crop up between new and old players, making the game harder to get into. This is why I've opted for a layered system that relies on standard class-based mechanics and real-time skill training.
Economy: World of Warcraft and a touch of Team Fortress 2
Yes, World of Warcraft's economy is (relatively) simple. However, it does a fairly solid job of giving players a way to acquire and trade goods, and its cross-faction tools make for some interesting moments between enemies. It's also item-driven, and an item-driven economy is fun and useful -- as long as the items are necessary and players are interested in trading them.
I, obviously, am not a game designer. And there are an infinite number of kinks to work out in a game with fully functional first-person combat, third-person questing, and in-cockpit space fights that allows real-money trading and regional sovereignty battles. But if done correctly, it could be the best space game anyone has ever seen.
Have you ever wanted to make the perfect MMO, an idealistic compilation of all your favorite game mechanics? MMO Blender aims to do just that. Join the Massively staff every Friday as we put our ideas to the test and create either the ultimate MMO... or a disastrous frankengame!