I have been thinking about MMO grinds lately and how much I start to hate a game once I start to hate its more grind-y elements. If you think about what you are asked to do in your character’s “free time” to satisfy some faction or impress some group, it tends to be really meaningless or stupid stuff. It can be very petty and not realistically how you would choose to spend your own free time.
And yet, games need fluff. It can’t all be about saving the galaxy/planet/universe. You need to have your down time. Just like in life, when you aren’t working, you want to fill your free time with interesting pursuits. In real life, some people watch TV and movies, some read books, some play games, some play a lot of games, some meet up with friends, make arts and crafts, travel, work out, etc. So why shouldn’t our game characters do the same kinds of things?
The biggest problem isn’t giving us fluff to do in downtime in games, it is how that fluff is designed. In MMOs, that design tends to encourage serious boredom and repetition as well as start to feel meaningless and never ending. I would love to see some creative thinking in MMOs for better mini-game designs. We can’t be stuck with time sinks that feel like work, or time sinks that are too mundane. Don’t ask me to dust or weed or mow my lawn, I do enough of that in real life. Build mini-games that make sense within your world, but that I and my characters both look forward to doing. I’m not talking Sims stuff, if I wanted that level of micro-managed world I’d just play the Sims. There has to be a change in how MMOs design their time sinks.
If I enjoy watching entertaining content or reading entertaining content, then games that include that tend to be more interesting to me. I really enjoy good voice acting and cinematic content as well as good writing. If I enjoy playing games with friends, then why wouldn’t I enjoy having my character sit down with a group of in game friends and our characters play cards from time to time? Why can’t we look at the types of things we do for fun in real life, and see those types of things mirrored in a game world?
The thing is, there would need to be a lot of them, a lot of variety in them, and the reasons for doing them would need to stop being tied into a mold that makes them feel like work. To really make this succeed, maybe MMOs have to open up the development of mini-game content to their player base. I know this could impact game stability or even open avenues for exploitation, but surely there are ways to allow some form of player made fluff content?
PVP seems like one area that could benefit from player made content quite a lot. Sure, people worry that someone would try to cheat or skew their content in their own favor, but how many would do that, versus those who would genuinely try to make stuff to share that was challenging but fair? And who would want to put a lot of time and effort into making unfair content, if no one was willing to use it because it was poorly made? There is a lot of passion in the PVP community and a lot of opinions of what is fun versus what isn’t. Not all of it would have to center around beating each other in combat. Maybe it would center around racing to see who could build the fastest go-cart? I think most of it would be spent designing fiendishly clever gauntlets of destruction, but what is the harm in that?
So when I think about the next generation of MMOs and pushing the boundaries or changing the model, I think more along these lines than I do along the lines of the basic world stories or quest lines. Those have to exist and be well designed, but having fun and varied fluff to do when you want a little down time, that is where some games could really shine. I don’t think I’d enjoy an MMO that focused so much on the fluff that the game was pretty meaningless, but I’d like to see some nice balance added. Then again, I already spend WAY too much of my free time playing computer games. Maybe I don’t want a game that I “can’t put down” as much as a good book that I can’t stop reading. Hmmm.