Rebuilding the theme park and levels
In the past few weeks Funcom received both positive and negative remarks for their new offline leveling system. Massively had a positive post about the feature, which received a lot of comments.
I think both the author of that post and also Funcom are on the right track here. Many MMO games have run into a trap in that leveling itself in a game has become a key purpose for playing. People talk about speed of leveling, if there is enough content to support leveling to max level etc. And when talking about alternatives to the mob killing/leveling part, we may talk about crafting or similar features.
But these are very abstract concepts and if we do not lose this abstraction the different MMOs become just a grey blur – they all have mob killing, crafting, PvP, PvE or whatever – in one form or another. For some people that is fine and enough. But I would hope that we somehow can get past the pure abstract mechanics and get back into the virtual worlds.
I want to play a game because I can be a kick-ass space pilot, or command demons from the underworld to wreck havoc. Or I can explore worlds with strange creatures that no-one has heard of, or see twin suns set on the horizon.
The mechanics support my fantasies, but do not become the purpose. For some theme park oriented MMOs the focus on the mechanics has been taken a bit too far. I do think there may hopefully be a trend to get away from that though.
Funcom’s step with the offline leveling is a step in the right direction – keep the theme park and leveling, but with small steps lose the focus on the leveling and hopefully to something less abstract.
I have not played Age of Conan for quite some time now, but a game that I have been playing that has been going through a bit of a transformation in the past year is City of Heroes/Villains. Various changes like the super-sidekicking, the more generic difficulty settings and handling of XP and rewards has contributed in dropping the focus on the mechnics and putting the focus more on the content.
The level of the content or the players in teams are pretty much a non-issue for large parts of the content. While there are still some level limits in place, many of the barriers are also gone, which means that there is more freedom in selecting content and still have progression of some kind.
I think theme park MMOs are fine, but in the sense of a real theme park. I can choose to go on whatever ride I want, whenever I want and the focus is on the rides, not how I can use my ride coupons most efficiently during the evening. And if I do not want to ride anything I can just sit out in the sun, or perhaps drink a beer with my friends or some other fun stuff that I can do in the theme park area.
It is good to see that games change, sometimes only in small steps, towards giving players virtual world experiences again, rather than progression bars.