What Designers Can Learn from MMOs (And What They Can’t)

The recent trend in games is to full-on open world. Toss people into a massive environment and let them sort themselves out. It’s a feature that seems to be working. I mean, we have games like Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Final Fantasy XV, and NieR: Automata that are running with the concept to critical acclaim and rabid fan enthusiasm. Then there are others, like Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Watch Dogs 2 that are stumbling along the way. While it may seem like these games are only clinging to open world elements, it’s actually a whole other genre they’re mimicking. These AAA titles are becoming a lot like MMOs like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and even Queen's Blade Online.

Think about the elements developers are packing into such games. People are being given an opportunity to go hog wild in a huge world. They’re going through a bunch of quests that don’t have a major impact on the actual story. They may even suddenly have multiplayer elements in experiences that didn’t necessarily need to be there. These single player epics are becoming more like MMOs, and that may not be such a positive thing.


Let’s take the open world as a first example. Most MMOs have these huge, sprawling environments to go through. Enemies are scattered across these maps, as are dungeons and sometimes raids. They’re open fields perfect for multiple people to run around on at once. These AAA open world games are the same way, minus the multiple people. While this works in MMOs for obvious reasons, there can be a sense that too open is too much in a game designed for a single player experience. We might not have enough to do in these large spaces and, the second we can start fast traveling to skip it, do. It’s too much.

The meaningless quests are another MMO injection that can have a detrimental effect on our games. In MMOs, these sorts of missions are grudgingly accepted because these are grind-fests. You’re trying to find an excuse to play every day, prepare for raids, and hit level caps. In AAA games, they’re an unnecessary chore. There’s no need to pad the experience, hit caps, or create an incentive to make the game a part of your daily or weekly schedule. Instead, they feel like filler to pull people in and keep them going when the main story is done. While that filler works in a game where the main story is constantly being written and expanded, it doesn’t in a concise package.

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Then, there's the online multiplayer. These AAA games that don't really need such elements keep finding way to shove them into the package. While you expect and need other people around for any MMO experience, these major titles are finding ways to shove in unnecessary multiplayer for a similar experience. Watch Dogs 2 was one of these games, and its multiplayer was a delayed mess. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is best played with others, if you can find them, making the single player feel less substantial. While GTA V's GTA Online is entertaining, it's a rather obvious cash grab. One can only wonder how Final Fantasy XV's multiplayer will work when shoved in, and if it will feel like Final Fantasy XIV.

This isn't to say MMO don't have some great elements and ideas implemented. They do. It's the reason why people keep going back to games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. They're an amazing genre. It's just that some elements of that genre really only fit and work well within those confines. When they're harvested and brought over to other games, it takes away from them. It feels like some open world AAA titles are adapting those aspects, and it's potentially hurting otherwise promising projects.

Jenni Lada
Jenni Lada

Site Editor
Date: 04/04/2017

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