Player Control in MMOs

By Jeff Francis
Player control in mmos

One of the more interesting dynamics to examine as mmo games evolve over time (or devolve depending upon your viewpoint) is that of mmo player control. What was considered a staple of online gaming has been regulated to the outlands in recent years. The main reason is the rise of theme park mmos that want to provide a stable and consistent experience for every player. I find this to be a noble endeavor, but you cannot argue the reality that such game design takes away the creativity and spontaneity of the players. Still, this debate of player control in mmos has not abated and flares up from time to time.

Before we begin, let us define exactly what we mean by mmo player control. This is where the game allows players to have a true impact upon the game's environment and institute control over an area, whether it's a simple home, an entire city or town, or an entire region. By their actions, players can make a permanent mark upon the game, and in some games, may lose that control to other players. One common area where mmo player control is evident in some mmorpg games is in a player-driven economy.

Ultima Online housing

When online games first started, mmo player control was a given. Ultima Online was the main example where players could physically build homes and even cities in the game's virtual world. The economy could be directly impacted by players by the simple expedient that they could attack and loot other players. A friend of mine was quite notorious for attacking players who had just finished mining some resources. He would always leave them with their pick so they can continue mining and he would try to ambush them later. Another mmo that featured players controlling their actions and the economy was Star Wars Galaxies. Before the game was ruined, many players actually played characters that were devoted to just crafting. Almost every usable item in the game could be created by players, and the result was a rather complex economy.

However, such games fell by the wayside as the theme park model took over. The complexity and devotion to the game was replaced by a more casual-friendly mode. While such an approach broadened the appeal of online gaming, the devotees of mmo player control were left out in the cold. One game that continues to allow players to chart their destinies is EVE Online. While their subscription numbers pale in comparison to other games, their players are incredibly passionate and loyal. Why else would so many trek to Iceland each year for the EVE Online Fanfest? What this game does is allow players to create the world that they wish using the sandbox nature of the game. Huge alliances of thousands of players will fight one another for control of star systems and the resources they contain. The political maneuvering in the game is truly Machiavellian and are second to none.

While EVE Online was the standard bearer for mmo player control, they're no longer alone. More online games are being launched that allow players a much greater control over the game. Darkfall Unholy Wars allows players to create their own cities and fleets and being defeated in combat has tremendous consequences as your possessions drop to the ground. Another mmo in development that features player-created cities is Albion Online. Player guilds can control a city and gain revenue from taxation, but they're also forced to fight off attempts by rival guilds to wrest control of the city away from them. In fact, all the buildings and items in the game are built by players.

The one game that players are really looking forward to is EverQuest Next, which should be a mainstream success that'll bring mmo player control back into the limelight. Players can physically destroy anything in the game (even though it may regenerate depending upon the location). Gamers will be able to build structures, but other players can add to them or destroy them depending upon their whim. While not a one hundred percent sandbox game, it does allow players to impact the environment through their actions. Say a small farm is being attacked by orcs. If the player does nothing and walks on by, those same orcs may continue to rampage and grow stronger, forcing other players or the NPC authorities to take a hand in putting them down. Another aspect of EverQuest Next is that players can create items that can be sold in the game's shop, generating real world revenue for the player. Being able to create items that other players can purchase is a good example of players impacting the game.

Albion Online harvesting

All in all, many early online games reveled in their mmo player control. Games like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies needed the players to be active to make the game vibrant and alive. That design philosophy was eventually discarded in favor of theme park mmos that sought to provide a stable (if somewhat sterile) gameplay experience to all players. Still, mmo player control refused to die as games like EVE Online kept it going. Now a crop of new mmo games are continuing that tradition, and players of Albion Online, Darkfall Unholy Wars, and EverQuest Next can look forward to having more influence over the game's world and their destiny as compared to most online games.

Jun072014

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