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MMO Mechanics

The best of Massively's Field Journal and MMO Mechanics columns

Culture, Game Mechanics, Massively Meta, Guides, Miscellaneous, MMO Mechanics, Field Journal

MMO MechanicsDuring their tenure at Massively, Tina Lauro and Matthew Gollschewski were responsible for two generalist columns on the site: MMO Mechanics and Field Journal, respectively. The Field Journal was dedicated to covering interesting elements of mid-tier games, the sorts of MMOs that are popular but not quite popular enough to merit their own dedicated columns, whereas MMO Mechanics represented a deep-dive into the game mechanics and systems that influence the entire industry. Though the columns had short runs on the site, they both still represent some of our most compelling and interesting work. Enjoy this roundup of their material!

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MMO Mechanics: Predicting the future of MMO game mechanics

World of Warcraft, EVE Online, EverQuest Next, Elite: Dangerous, Path of Exile, MMO Mechanics

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I've been thinking heavily about the future since our parent network's budget cuts were announced, so I decided it would be very apt to pen my last edition of MMO Mechanics with that same train of thought. The industry has changed remarkably over the last decade with trends like the free-to-play revolution and innovations in everything from loot distribution to quest design. In my previous article, I looked at the trend toward using procedural generation and what that might mean for the future of MMOs.

In this article, I'd like to give a better overview of where I think the genre is headed in the coming years and what that means for game mechanics. My predictions are based on market patterns and technology developments, including the great indie revolution, the effects of declining subscriptions on investment, and upcoming virtual reality technology. Pie-in-the-sky fantasy or an accurate predictor of things to come? Let me know what you think.

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MMO Mechanics: Procedural generation is the future

City of Heroes, EVE Online, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Opinion, RuneScape, Love, EverQuest Next, Sandbox, Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous, Trove, MMO Mechanics

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MMOs are infamous for the exorbitant amount of both time and money that is required to make a fantastic end product. Much of this effort and expenditure goes into producing very specific content such as leveling zones, quest chains, and dungeons. The classic themepark MMO in which all the rides are carefully engineered and maintained is compelling for a time, but the content therein tends to take longer to create than it does to exhaust. This invariably leads to redundant content that ends up on the scrapheap once it has been enjoyed for a time.

Procedural generation corrects much of this redundancy by providing essentially limitless variations of content, adding replayability and variety to the usual MMO repertoire. It also opens up some unique mechanics, like Elite: Dangerous' planned procedurally generated galaxy that is a full-scale replica of the Milky Way.

In this week's MMO Mechanics, I will look at how the genre is evolving because of how accessible procedural generation techniques have become to developers. I'll also explore how this might affect the future of MMOs by examining the mechanics that upcoming titles will incorporate.

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MMO Mechanics: Three old mechanics I want back

World of Warcraft, EverQuest, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Humor, Neverwinter, MMORPG, MMO Mechanics

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My column has typically heralded modern MMOs as superior advancements of the genre we all adore, but in this week's MMO Mechanics I want to share a small list of some old mechanics I still mourn today. Many older MMOs featured gameplay that could simultaneously exasperate and impress players, especially when the mechanics in question supported a real sense of immersion or realism in otherwise virtual worlds. Recent titles have aimed to open up the in-game world by making it more accessible and much less infuriating, but this has put some of my favourite mechanics and little touches on the development chopping block.

I'm particularly fond of game mechanics that make real-world sense. Real life would not reward you for falling off cliffs, running headlong into a crowded room of enemies, or stumbling off the well-beaten track into the untamed wilderness. Consequences in real life can feel rather scary, so I really enjoyed the fear factor of some older MMOs because this allowed for a much more thrilling -- and ultimately rewarding -- gaming experience. I am going to talk about just three older mechanics I particularly enjoy that have fallen out of fashion, but feel free to lengthen my list by adding your favourites in the comments below.

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MMO Mechanics: Comparing vertical and horizontal progression

World of Warcraft, Game Mechanics, PvP, Endgame, PvE, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, EverQuest Next, Sandbox, MMORPG, MMO Mechanics

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MMO players strive to obtain some kind of tangible progression each play session, but the method by which that progression is delivered varies greatly across the genre. Archetypal themepark titles frequently rely on level-based progression that culminates in climbing through gear tiers at endgame, but the freeform nature of sandbox MMOs lends itself to a more open progression system that focuses on the holistic development of characters. These two progression systems are described as vertical and horizontal progression: Traditional gearing or leveling is commonly described as a vertical climb, while wider choice-based progression is more often expressed as a non-linear journey.

The relative merits of these two diverging approaches to progression are commonly debated by modern MMO players. Many players wish to see a blended hybrid approach to progression that emphasises the horizontal, multi-faceted growth of their characters over rattling through yet another gear tier. Despite this, players still favour a goal-oriented attainment system and perhaps progressive gear that doesn't require a long run on the grinding treadmill. This balance can be very hard to achieve, so titles such as Guild Wars 2 have taken some knocks on the path towards perfect horizontal and vertical progression balance.

In this week's MMO Mechanics, I will look at what is meant by both vertical and horizontal progression, how they are mechanically implemented in MMOs, and what each type of progression means for the playerbase.

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MMO Mechanics: Encouraging the daily grind

World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Economy, Game Mechanics, Guilds, MMO Industry, PvP, Endgame, PvE, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, Runes of Magic, Sandbox, Player-Generated Content, MMORPG, MMO Mechanics

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I've written before about how developers use clever mechanics to lower the barrier to entry in order to encourage more people to play MMOs, but how do they keep players interested after they have rolled a new character? More often than not, MMOs greatly benefit from hanging onto players for as long as possible, so encouraging regular play is a massive priority for development teams. As a genre that thrives on creating a connected and dynamic community, MMOs are strengthened by keeping up the number of players that log in daily. This also encourages longevity since players make meaningful connections with the people they are linked to through daily play.

Utilising daily quests, creating an ongoing need for crafted equipment, and necessitating the farming of materials for the good of the collective are all very accessible ways to encourage players to log into their favourite MMO world on a regular basis. As useful as developers may find them, though, the appeal of repeatable daily content is hotly debated by MMO players. For some, low-octane daily content is a brilliant way to unwind that doesn't require a regimented schedule to complete, but many others find the repetition inherent in some daily content tiresome and uninspired.

In this week's MMO Mechanics, I'm going to look at the various applications of daily content in today's MMOs while weighing up the pros and cons of several of these techniques.

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MMO Mechanics: Balancing game economies

World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Economy, Game Mechanics, Endgame, Final Fantasy XIV, EverQuest Next, Crafting, Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous, MMO Mechanics

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Most players won't need an economics degree to play an MMO, but strong mechanical forces under the bonnet still guide our actions in our favourite titles. Virtually every financial exchange can be broken down into an effort equals economic gain equation: We put in our hours, and the game economy churns out new gear or money.

Since so many in-game actions financially reward players, MMOs have developed mechanics that attempt to curtail the inflation game economies usually see. Charging your character for goods and services, bind-on-pickup gear, regular destruction of valuable goods, and player-controlled auction house and farming systems all combine to keep the spiralling amount of coppers falling into player hands in check.

In this week's MMO Mechanics, I'm going to look at some ways both sandbox and themepark MMOs automatically rebalance weighted economies by exploring the systems that restrict the free trade of goods and curb players' constant accrual of money. I'll look at how each system functions and how player manipulation adds a new layer of realism to game economies.

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MMO Mechanics: Exploring death mechanics

World of Warcraft, EVE Online, EverQuest, Guild Wars 2, Star Citizen, MMO Mechanics

They say death must come to us all, and that inevitability extends to our characters in MMOs. The death of our characters may be inconvenient when we want to plough through content, but penalising failure is an essential part of any MMO and further incentivises success by making you learn from your mistakes. As much as players crave gratification through rewards and progression, they also need to feel that such progress has been well-earned and greatly deserved.

Rewards become that much sweeter when we must risk something to secure them, and failure without consequence would render the gains made in our favourite MMOs insignificant. Without a considerable death penalty, it becomes possible to mindlessly crush content through brute force. I don't know about you, but I don't find fun in bashing my skull repeatedly with a rock in an attempt to crack it!

In this week's MMO Mechanics, I compare various death penalties and the effects they have on the MMOs that employ them. I'll explore just how tangible death penalties such as corpse running, gear durability loss, and XP drain make our character's demise feel.

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MMO Mechanics: Lowering the barriers to entry

Dungeons and Dragons Online, EverQuest II, Business Models, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Endgame, Opinion, RuneScape, Guild Wars 2, Free-to-Play, Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, Subscription, MMORPG, MMO Mechanics

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In the increasingly competitive MMO genre, games have to do all they can to keep you as a customer. MMOs have traditionally been quite difficult games to really get into since they typically require a considerable time and money investment and we tend to play them for stretches of several months to years at a time. The gameplay in MMOs is inherently social by nature, forcing you to relate to others, and there are some even more fundamental barriers that get in the way of new players signing up. I'm sure we've all enthused and rambled to our friends in the hope that they might check out our most recent gaming crush, only to see a repulsed look on their faces when they realise it's an MMO.

The classic subscription model is a substantial paywall for the average gamer, and this is what has traditionally kept MMOs niche. The early game can be daunting to those who aren't familiar with the genre, and developers pour a lot of effort into easing newcomers into that gameplay. In this week's MMO Mechanics, I'm going to look at how some MMOs manage to break down these barriers through the use of clever mechanics in order to open up MMO gaming to more people than ever before.

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MMO Mechanics: Kill 10 rats can be fun!

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, EverQuest II, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvE, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, MMORPG, MMO Mechanics

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Quests are increasingly an MMO enthusiast's bread and butter, often becoming the staple component of a game's typical serving of progressive content. Over the years, developers have tried to serve up this familiar progression mechanic in many different ways: The modern themepark MMO makes us fetch, carry, explore, and investigate our way to the endgame through countless quest types and story arcs. Among the varieties of quest on offer, kill quests seem to cause the most tears and tantrums amongst picky players. No matter what developers do, there just isn't much love for missions that send characters off with a shopping list of mundane creatures to crush.

Kill quests have become so common that plenty of MMOs have cheekily referenced the "10 rats" trope by literally making us smash in some rodent skulls, but killing cute, twitchy-nosed creatures is not the real problem. It's the uninspired kill list mechanic that often incites complaints of developer laziness, an argument that I don't think is justified. Kill quests exist to hone your skills through repetition, but they don't have to feel like an arduous grinding task and are actually a very useful mechanic for game designers.

In this week's MMO Mechanics, I stand up for the unloved stepchild of questing; I'll show you that killing a list of creatures can be both contextually engaging and mechanistically interesting, depending on how it's presented.

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MMO Mechanics: Three fair ways to distribute loot

World of Warcraft, EVE Online, EverQuest, MMO Mechanics

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I mentioned last week that players throw their precious characters into the MMO meat grinder in the pursuit of higher levels, new achievements, or shinier gear. We gladly jump on the seemingly endless PvE treadmill, cranking up the speed with each new patch in an attempt to catch the dangling carrot of character perfection. Of course, we don't just punish ourselves like this to say we overcame some previously impossible challenge; there's shiny new loot to be had! The best booty usually comes from completing group activities like dungeons and raids, but not everyone can agree on how to share the spoils of joint pursuits.

Several different loot distribution methods have been devised over the years to solve the problem of fairly distributing the swag, with most methods starting life as player-made agreements that weren't officially supported by hard-coded game mechanics. Players have long since rolled for gear or took turns to claim items round-robin style, leading developers to implement the most popular methods as actual game mechanics to avoid ninja-looting and then the inevitable public pity parties associated with player-led arbitration.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I'll break down three of the most equitable loot distribution systems used in MMOs today and look at why this age-old problem doesn't have a one-size-fits-all solution.

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MMO Mechanics: MOBAs vs. MMO battlegrounds

World of Warcraft, Game Mechanics, PvP, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, MOBA, League of Legends, MMORPG, MMO Mechanics

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It may feel as if MMOs have always existed as a core part of our gaming repertoire, but the genre made its indelible mark on the industry just over a decade ago. MMO titans like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and City of Heroes shaped the mechanics we now use as markers and basic standards for the quickly growing genre, and those mechanics have been reiterated and reforged by the countless additions to the MMO clan that we know and love today.

This new MMO Mechanics column aims to navigate the mechanical minefield that is the modern MMO through in-depth opinion pieces, comparative analysis, and a little bit of Irish wit, starting with a peek at what distinguishes MMO PvP battlegrounds from Massively Online Battle Arenas.

If women are from Venus and men are from Mars, MMOs and MOBAs must be from different galaxies altogether. Despite the similarities between MMO PvP arenas and MOBA matches, the two take very different approaches to progression, persistence, and matchmaking. This leads to two very separate yet equally engaging ways to test the mettle of your character against the might of a human opponent.

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