Building the Ultimate MMO Society

“Living worlds.” This is the promise that’s been given to us over and over again by the current generation of MMORPGs. From the Guild Wars 2 marketing materials to the Destiny announcement trailer, the promise of a virtual world that grows and evolves at the whim of its inhabitants has been dangled in front our noses for years now. Try as they might, it seems that none of the developers who promised such lofty accomplishments have managed to deliver.

Every time a new MMO comes out, I jump onboard to see if someone has finally found the solution to this long-standing challenge of MMO development. Every time I leave disappointed, with just a few hours of gameplay invested; I’ve discovered that no living world has yet been created for me.

Inevitably, I end up doing more or less the same thing in every MMO. When I play Planetside 2, I shoot other players to gain experience. When I play World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2, I kill goblins and their ilk to gain experience. Whether it's a sci-fi world with laser beams and spaceships, or some Tolkien-esque hodgepodge of fantasy themes, every popular MMO universe is inhabited by thousands of people who kill stuff for a living, to the exclusion of any other profession one can imagine.

This is not the vibrant virtual society I was promised. A world where 99% of the population is engaged in nothing but the slaughter of wildlife for money does not convince me of its realism.

Sure, there's the odd World of Warcraft player who spends their time managing a storefront of some sort, buying and selling goods as their main preoccupation, but they are a tiny minority. What's more, they all got to where they are by fighting stuff, as the core gameplay of World of Warcraft – the meat of the game that you are required to participate in if you want to progress through levels, gear quality, etc. – consists entirely of fighting stuff. You can't reach the level cap by buying and selling items in your storefront, or by doing anything other than killing bad guys and collecting loot, gold and experience points off their corpses.

This is a common theme amongst the current crop of MMOs. Even those which do let you gain some sort of progression from your non-combat feats seem insistent on making you fight people if you want to progress efficiently. I've played several MMOs while trying not to get sucked into the endless goblin-or-player-killing quests that make up most of their gameplay, and been universally unsuccessful.

When I first tried playing played Planetside, for example, I immediately bought a Sunderer (the game's troop transport vehicle) and became a chauffeur for my team’s massive groups of infantry. Unfortunately, it turned out that the amount of experience one gets for having someone spawn on your troop transport, or for someone getting a kill with the gun turret on your roof, is about 2% of what you get for killing a single man with your own gun. To make any sort of progress, I'd have to park in a convenient spawn point and wait for dozens and dozens of troopers to unload from my Sunderer. Meanwhile, everyone else was gaining experience many times faster than me, simply by hopping out of the truck and shooting the bad guys.