The Cub Report – Building a Better MMO

I asked my son this afternoon if he wanted to continue having an active World of Warcraft subscription.

He just doesn’t play anymore.

He’ll log in to mess around on his mounts, he loves flying and swimming and riding. The game doesn’t hold any other attraction for him, though.

He tries, and I think he mostly tries to make me happy. He sees how much fun I take in the game, and wants to like what I do.

With the pre-order for Warlords of Draenor out, the question needs to be answered. Does he want the account to stay active? Is this something he wants enough that we continue spending a monthly subscription for it, and pay the $50 for the expansion to come?

He didn’t really answer it, and I didn’t press him on it now. I know he’ll want to play the expansion when it does come out, but I think we might be safe in letting the subscription lapse until then.

From our discussion came, wholly unprompted, his wish for changes to World of Warcraft.

It started as what he wished WoW was like, and became his idea for making what he thinks would be a whole new MMO even better than WoW. Yeah, I know.

The more he talked with enthusiasm about what he wishes the game were like, the more I found myself agreeing.

This is MMO Design by way of an eleven year old Minecraft devotee and once-upon-a-time Warcraft player.

First, the game world you play in, the questing and villages and NPCs, everything that makes the normal leveling experience should be single player. No other active players in the game world at the same time you are playing your character. The world has one active player, just like Skyrim or other big RPG games.

This way, you don’t ever have to worry about accidentally tagging a bad guy someone else was sneaking up on or farming or trying to skin or any of a hundred other reasons people get angry with you for killing a creature in a zone. Anger that results in foul language and harsh words directed at you, and griefing behavior, all while you’re just trying to have fun and complete a quest.

It also means you can gather herbs and ores and other materials at your own pace, without competition, or fear of someone training a herd of mobs on top of you and vanishing, or swooping in and mining the node while you are busying fighting the bad guy standing on top of it.

The game world, according to the Cub, should be unique and persistent only to you, and should react to your choices and decisions.

It should have terrain that is affected by what you do, terrain that you can manipulate and adjust similar in concept to how Minecraft allows you to change things. If you have a shovel, you should be able to dig a hole. If you dig a deep enough hole, and put a rug over it, an animal could walk over it and fall in. By being your own World, what you do only affects you. If you kill all the NPCs in a village, the consequences only affect you. If you tear down the buildings of an enemy, raze the ground and build a new Alliance village, it only affects you, and the change can be a lasting one. Trees you plant stay there and grow over time, dig a trench away from a lake and it fills with water for a moat, build a castle within what you’ve decided is your demesne and rule as tyrant or benevolent dictator however you see fit.

His biggest complaint about World of Warcraft is that it does not allow for player creativity. You can’t even dye your clothes different colors to make a unique outfit. You can’t cut down or plant a tree, you can’t do things outside of incredibly narrow limits, and the reason for that is everything has to be the same experience at all times for every player that comes along.

Even instanced and phased zones don’t help in his opinion, because they are scripted encounters on rails that you can only play one way, and is reset as soon as you leave and cannot be revisited later. He wants to fight an incredible battle, and if he cannot save his pet and it dies, plant an apple tree at that spot that he can come back to and visit over time, and leave flowers beneath it as it grows in remembrance of his pet and it’s favorite food.

But what about World of Warcraft being an MMO? The whole point is that you play it with friends, it’s an activity you can do with lots of people.

His answer to that one surprised the heck out of me. I hadn’t thought of it this way before.

He said that, really, all I do in the game with others is chat with my friends in the guild and cross-realm with Battle Tags, and do instances or raids with them that are zoned in from wherever I am anyway. I don’t ever just meet up to quest, or beat down a random orc. Oh, sure, I’ve leveled with other people in the past, but leveling is so fast that it’s literally only a day or two, maybe a week and then it’s back to the end game grind. When compared to a year of bumming around solo, that week or two of shared leveling ain’t much.

But still, meeting other people in game is huge fun, you still want to be able to do that. You just need to plan for it, form a group and queue to zone into a public meeting space.

Separate the public meeting parts of the game out. Add in a cross-game chat for battle-tag friends so you still have the private whispers, and add channels to sue for your group of friends and call them guilds or clans. Boom, same experience you have now.

And for group activities or public meeting spaces, how would it be any different than now if the multi-player shared servers still existed, but only for instances and raids, but you add a few new types of ‘raids’ to queue for and zone into.

You form a party with your friends wherever they may be, someone queues the group up for a raid or instance, and when it pops everyone gets moved into one shared multiplayer server to play together just like with Flex runs cross-server right now.

Once it’s done, you leave group and return to your own world hosted on your PC.

If you want to just meet and greet with people, you could set one special ‘city’ raid as something to zone into through queuing, just as if it were an instance. Basically, an instance without enemy NPCs for the sole purpose of having a city to visit with other people, use an auction house, pick up your mail, and /dance with a friend.

He started gushing about how you could have raid instances that were non-combat, the way you could use a mole machine to go to the nightclub at the Grim Guzzler in BRD. Dedicated raid instances without combat, designed around role playing themes like a night club so the group could have a dance night, and there could be a juke box where the raid leader set the music to play and acted as DJ for the night and chose songs. I think that idea came from him watching the TV show The Amazing Race this week, where they had a DJ challenge at a nightclub.

His biggest thing about having your own world was that you should be able to influence the way the story in your world worked, that you should have choices and they should change things, and you should be able to build stuff and do things you’d expect to be able to do. Simple things like dig a hole, or pick up rocks and stack them into a wall around your campfire to keep out wolves. And, since it was your own world, the only thing that had to stay locked by a central server would be the cahracter you use to play in groups with other people. The world itself could be changed and even, if totally hosed up, rebooted to plain starter vanilla.

If you wanted to carpet the land with wildflowers, use animal husbandry to breed unicorns and purple dragons, create a fairy tale castle and live as a princess, that’s your world. But if someone else wanted to go nuts as the evil overlord undead destruction Wizard, they could explode volcanoes on villages and rain down lava on their poor, charred cinder of a world.

Each world could be changed, and would be changed, to entirely reflect one person’s play choices and creativity, without hurting anyone else, and without ever getting griefed.

But if someone wanted to raid it would work just the same as now. Level requirements, gear requirements, whatever. You’d still be able to chat with the friends you only saw in raids.

And then each person could take video tours of their world and post them on YouTube for other people to see.

I’ve thought about his ideas.

I’ve been thinking about them the entire time I’m sitting here writing this down.

I’ve decided I want to play his game. For all the things you’d worry about losing like the auction house, you could place those things in their own instanced world/server that you joined through the queue system, that central city idea of his, and use that place to queue into to retrieve auctions or in game mail.

You could make it work, and about as well as you do now.

The only thing I can see as being the bone of contention is how to have a world resident on someone’s computer that isn’t subject to hacking to duplicate items or create stupid stuff that let’s people cheat on gear for group raids. I don’t know enough about the actual programming of games to know if single player worlds like Skyrim have ways already built in that secure your system so being logged in live to a central computer ensures you can’t hack your system and still link to the servers for shared play with others. I just don’t know if it’s possible. I’d think it could be.

I like it. I like the way it combines both things that I love most, the ability to play creatively in the world my way and change and affect things in meaningful ways like I can when I play Minecraft, and also allows the camaraderie of playing with my friends in group activities, and I also love that he gave thought to using the system to have dance parties and guild meet and greets.

Which brings up my next thought…

Is there any reason why we can’t have a raid instance RIGHT NOW to queue into that was without combat? A peaceful raid environment cross-server to queue for that IS a disco party with jukebox and disco ball? Imagine the RP possibilities if there were a range of non-combat raid instances to queue for as a group.

Meeting halls for guild discussions, even banquet halls with NPCs serving many courses, the possibilities are almost limitless once you kick over that non-combat instance idea.

And when you think about the possibilities of scripted events in a non-combat raid instance, like having those banquet servers wait to bring food out until every player zoned in sits down at the table, or the tank/raid leader ‘pulls’ the majordomo bell signalling the start of the meal, and servers begin bringing platters that you can interact with to get food or drink the way you can with Fong during the Legendary quest line with Wrathion…

The roleplaying possibilities with friends, bringing the world to life for things other than getting together just to kill shit broadens my entire conception of playing with people on a multiplayer world.

Excuse me while I go think for a bit, and wonder why my son sees the possibilities of these things so much more clearly than I do.

16 thoughts on “The Cub Report – Building a Better MMO

  1. That’s probably what my son wants too, therefore I suspect the such a game would be immensely popular. I however, just can’t connect with that type of game.

    My first experience with RPGs were pen and paper in the late 80s / early 90s. D&D, SW RPG, Ninjas & Superspies, 100 different superhero games… To me those were games that encouraged players to be creative. You had to be, the graphics really sucked. In creating your character, and building his story you had the ultimate flexibility, likewise as a GM you could build your world or scenario however you liked. Like you can build a world in minecraft, somewhat. To me that’s only part of the game. I created characters to play them in games that would last a few weeks or span years. I gave them backstories to use them during the games. I feel that in minecraft you build and teardown, build again, but you never get to use your creation. I don’t think the kids either agree with that, or they just don’t care, but for an RPG to work for me, it’s both of those sides to the coin that makes it attractive.

    I remember when I first found MUDs. Players were creating these worlds, and each world was different. There was no template. One particular server I remember had GMs who would run random in-game scenarios on friday nights or something. They’d give quests and you would group up or split up and go try to complete them so you could get some reward that you couldn’t even see. Regular users could become GMs and expand the world, and give other users content and rewards. I thought, wow, if these just had some graphics other than words, this would be amazing. We’d have these virtual avatars, and we’d never leave our 15″ VGA monitors. We’d quest together could see the results of our actions, and it’d all be permanent until someone reset the server.

    They eventually did get some pretty good graphics, but lost the whole community aspect. I think Neverwinter’s idea of the community created dungeons is awesome. I like Warcraft, I like the lore, and think blizzard does a good job as any company out there of creating interesting and compelling stories. I want to see players doing more in game, not be isolated from them. I want to be impacted by their actions, surprised by their kindness or disgusted by their douchebaginess (it’s a word). I want more interaction not less. I want other players to be part of the story and help shape it in some way.


  2. Great post and kudos to the Cub for thinking big. Hope he never stops.

    Saw some of the same myself. My oldest essentially grew up with WoW and eventually jumped in with his own char (and some parental supervision). Eventually, the enthusiasm waned and we merged his char onto my acct so he can still play when the fancy strikes (now as a older teenager, with MOP he levelled to 90, did a few pet battles, got his dragon, killed Garrosh and then was done again).

    He’s much more into sandbox games that allow for more creativity and more emergent gameplay — like building in Minecraft or Terraria, or running around with friends in Rust trying to survive, build safehouses and avoid being sniped.

    Kind of see their points — one of the things I loved about original WoW was immersively exploring a really big world. While it was a timeconsuming pain, it seemed more real to take a boat from Ratchet to Booty Bay or ride across three zones to find a vendor who sold a particular crafting pattern. You could swim around the continent or climb mountains to get from one zone to the next. The newbie run from Teldrassil to Ironforge — where everything along the path could kill you — was a blast.

    Now it’s all about convenience – you spend most of your time a faction capital and zone to — and back from — most everything you need – dungeons, raids, pvp, etc. With heirlooms, you hardly notice — and never in any danger from — the levelling process. Faster and easier true, but much less a sense of a living world. Besides instances, raids and pvp, it pretty much acts like a single player game. And garrisons so far don’t sound like anything new creative, just another gated process for conveniences like easy-access NPCs.

    Not sure games like EQ Next will deliver on their promises, but hope we’ll see more push for sandboxy games that give you a chance to add a little non-rails creativity to your play.

    Maybe the Cub will make it someday πŸ™‚


  3. A lot of what he wants is pretty easy to do in the combat-themed areas of SecondLife. If you have a private region of your own, you can terraform, landscape & build on it to your heart’s content. (However, it does live up in the cloud, not on your hard drive. And it can be expensive.) You can also have pretty much any style or color of clothing you want to buy or make, and for that matter, any style of body you want to purchase or learn how to make. SL is filled with coffee houses, ballrooms and nightclubs where people get together to dance. There is a thriving live music and dj community.

    That said, I wouldn’t send an 11 year old off to SL unchaperoned. 99% of the people I’ve met on SL are wonderful, and I’ve never seen the kind of chat there that often turns up on the WoW trade chat. But there are also a fair number of jerks, as there are everywhere, and a massive sex industry (mostly confined to one particular district, as it would be in a large city). One of the biggest role play communities is based on the Gor novels – but they mostly keep to themselves and I’ve never known one to go out of his way to impose their rp on others.

    The key is finding a SL community that fits you, and this can be difficult. It really is as if you’d moved to a new city. Sometimes you are lucky, land in a great neighborhood, make friends and have fun instantly. But there is no overall quest structure or backstory to guide you, so finding your spot can be difficult unless you know somebody who can help you settle in.


    • I think it’ll give him some of it — it’ll be a place in the world that’s only his and that he can customize — but the customization will be within certain bounds, almost like selecting items from a dropdown menu. It sounds like Cub wants to mix a true sandbox environment — the Minecraft experience (or SecondLife, from the looks of Riven’s descrip below) — with the select portions of the MMO experience that he finds most engaging.

      I’m having a hard time imagining how the heck that’s possible to do in a way that a really large number of people would sign up for and stick with, but then again, I’m thinking under all the constraints he’s not — I’m bound within the hardened armor I’ve built around myself that consists of my perception of the way things simply “are.”


  4. Have a look at Monster Hunter. Awesome game that ticks many of those boxes. Capcom are bastards for their fickle platform support, and having had to buy PSPs and then DSs for the wife and son was a nuisance to say the least. Combat required more skill, IMHO, though you won’t find 25 player raids.


  5. Sounds like a cross between the original Guild Wars (mainly instance, people only met up in the towns) and this whole Landmark thing that EQ have got going on.


    • That was the thought I had. The original GW had towns that felt like lobbies and instanced zones everywhere else. I believe the story advancement state was dependent on the group leader, but I don’t recall much in the way of branching or individualization beyond that. It has some big advantages on paper, but always felt very empty and “not really an MMO” to me.

      Guild Wars 2 on the other hand accomplishes a few points with a shared world, with shared-tagging that nearly eliminates competition. It does lead to some other issues, though, and doesn’t answer everything.


    • Yeah. It may not be impossible, but the juggling act of a highly customizable world that isn’t exploitable sounds really tricky (from my limited perspective on the matter).


  6. On your two final thoughts:

    As far as I’m aware, no one’s figured out how to have private offline loot of some sort without it being subject to hacking or duping. That said, if you forced the game to be always online, like say Diablo 3, even on your personalized individual worlds, you could have all the loot connect to and come from an item server, so the game knows all the loot you get is legit. Of course, this is still open to potential exploits, such as setting it up so that a world boss or something falls into a trap and dies immediately and farming it or something, but I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about that.

    Also, there’s no reason that Blizzard couldn’t implement non-combat instances, they would just prefer you’d hang out in the city instead of a private instance. This is one of their stated problems with housing and guild housing.


  7. That’s a lovely post and there are some wonderful ideas there. I think MMO design has become too restrictive generally in that studios design to more or less the same kind of game template: wall-to-wall combat, quests, dungeons, raids and so on. I don’t know if EQN will allow for things like this but from what I’ve heard it very well may and I’m very excited for the potential there to allow players to leave their mark on the world.

    Anyway, it was a good read. “The wisdom of children” who really don’t see the world the same as we do because they haven’t yet had the years of inoculation as to what the ‘right way’ is. I’d like to play that game too.


    • I agree about the “right way” inoculation — that, plus that we self-inoculate to a large extent as well, by continually organizing and categorizing the world around us until it fits into pieces, and those pieces become the way we expect things to be. Cub has only begun to do that, so he’s more easily able to break free of those expectations — and less likely to feel that those expectations he *does* have are blocked by walls, since many of those walls haven’t been built up yet.

      I disagree that MMO design has become too restrictive. I think that, especially as the technology has developed, it’s actually become drastically more flexible, both in terms of the effect one can have on their world and the sheer variety of activities there are in the game. My favorite thing to do in Guild Wars 2 since I started playing it was complete “jumping puzzles” — areas within the world, usually hidden from plain view, that require problem-solving and dexterity to complete. They’re not a “required” part of the game. All they reward you with is an achievement (and, sometimes, random loot) — and a huge sense of pride and accomplishment, for the harder ones. Many of them are designed with stunning creativity and look gorgeous.

      I think that, as MMO tech continues to improve, we *will* begin to see more of the games that Cub is describing. Not just because the hardware and software will make it more possible to do (I can’t even imagine the complexity required to have, for instance, a Deathwing-destroys-the-world style event that would destroy the individual worlds of 7 million people in ways that overlay seamlessly with the world they had created — without enraging them to the point of quitting), but because it’s literally the Cubs of our current planet who will be designing those games and bringing them to life, and it’s the kind of game *they* want to see.


  8. “His biggest complaint about World of Warcraft is that it does not allow for player creativity.”

    Pretty sure I’ve written about that more than a few times. πŸ™‚ The Cub has a good head on his shoulders, I say. I agree with everything he’s positing here. I especially like the noncombat raids (perfect for my screenshot tourist habit) and the “private world” principle. The only time I’ve actively played with others is in dungeons or in that Raid to the Heart shindig. The rest of the time, other players are either irrelevant or annoying.

    Then again, I’ve long argued that these things really aren’t best thought of as “massively multiplayer” and more “massive world with multiplayer potential” games. We usually only ever play with guildies or real life friends (the two might overlap), or we hit up the Dungeon Finder. How many people actually go play out in the wild open world with complete strangers? I suspect not very many, but that’s just supposition on my part.

    I’ve also argued for private servers (Minecraft is great with these) before, though admittedly, partially as one more way to cut down on the subscription overhead and maybe ditch that business model.


  9. It sounds like Garrisons might be right up his alley!

    In a previous MMO I used to play, Ragnarok Online, the major endgame content was guild vs. guild PVP. Which was fun, we fought for territory and castles which gave us rewards. But one of the nice things was, if we owned a castle at the end of the PVP time, we not only got loot from it, but until the next PVP time it was our guild’s and ours alone – we could go wander around in it, and hang out, and have guild events or meetings or just chill. If you weren’t in the guild, you couldn’t enter that castle until the next PVP phase, period. It was actually really nice having a guild “home” and gave us non-loot reasons to fight and defend our territory.


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