The perfect game. We all crave it, we all look for it, we all hope that one day game developers will finally “get it” and make it.
Of course it ain’t that easy. My perfect game would probably be drastically different from yours, and yours again different from the next gamer’s. Obviously publishers and developers can’t afford to build the perfect game just for me or just for you though, games have to appeal to a multitude of tastes.
There’s also the problem that some great game-mechanics or -features don’t work well together. Some even actively contradict themselves. So just cramming every great feature one can think of into one game probably isn’t really a good idea.
But still, one can dream. So here’s how my perfect game would be like. Warning: this is gonna be a long one.
- A virtual world
My perfect game needs to have a world that feels alive and real to me. This is probably one of the hardest goals to achieve, because there are many factors that play into it.
The world needs to be seamless, I don’t want loading screens to remind me of the fact that I’m sitting in front of my computer instead of being immersed in that world. For example, in FFXIV I have to imagine that my character boards a ship and travels across the Strait of Merlthor when I use the travel option from Limsa Lominsa to Western Thanalan. What I see, though, is just a loading screen. In ArcheAge, on the other hand, when I wanted to get from my house in Two Crowns to Lakisa’s house in Solzreed I actually used my ship to cross Feuille Sound, no load screen or anything. I could have teleported, sure, but I chose not to.
Because during that short trip, stuff could and sometimes would happen. Maybe a fully loaded merchant ship would cross my path, and I would alter my course to see where it went. Why pass up an opportunity to maybe snatch a trade pack or two, or alternatively protect said packs and their owners from a pirate attack?
This is an example of another important thing that makes a world seem alive to me. Probably the most important thing: the possibility of the unexpected.
It’s kinda hard to explain, but I’ll try. Try to remember times while playing MMO X or MMO Y when you had moments of “wow, this was unexpected” or “haha, this was hilarious”. I’m not talking about the game’s story quests or the like, but about normal day to day gameplay. The stuff you spend 90% or more of your gametime with.
There are lots of games where at least to me this happens very rarely. Mostly these are games with a Themepark-heavy design. These do other things well, but they rarely surprise or astonish me. Sandbox-heavy designs tend to fare much better with this.
In my opinion a big factor here is the level of interaction between players and the environment as well as between players and other players that the game allows. I do realize that whenever more interaction is allowed there’s also more possibilty of griefing. Still, the less interaction a game allows, the more it just feels like a bunch of areas to level through instead of a virtual world to me.
Can every game achieve this? I guess not. For my above example to be even possible the game obviously needs to allow to steal from players and to fight against players without their consent, at least under specific circumstances. And I know that there are many who don’t want stuff like that. But for my perfect game, it’s needed. Not because I like spending my evenings stealing from and/or ganking others! No, I want this because without it, it’s not a virtual world in my book.
- Freedom of character development
To really immerse myself in a game I need to have a strong attachment to the character I play. To achieve that I need a great deal of control over how he looks and what he can do.
In the last couple of years games have become quite good at the former, although there is still room for improvement. FFXIV has lots and lots of outfits available through ingame means, but the glamour system is highly unpractical. Also, there’s basically two races: Humans and silly Gnomes. Sure, there are also Humans with cat ears and tails, Humans with pointy ears, Humans with scales and very big Humans. Still, they’re humans. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. Everquest 2 does a much better job in this regard, with playable Trolls, Ogres, Rat-people, Lizard-people, even Frog-people and many more. The cosmetics system is also pretty good (now). I wish current titles would borrow more from EQ2 in this regard. Actually it’s a game that does a lot of things really well, I will come back to that later.
In case it isn’t clear by now: I need an Avatar. Essentially being a spaceship is cool and all, EVE Online, but to feel immersed I need legs. So sorry.
What can my character do, and how does it make him special/unique?
Since I want a good deal of freedom, skill based systems tend to satisfy me much more than class based systems.
As far as class based systems go, EQ2 right after launch was really bad with regards to freedom. My Level 30 Warlock had the exact same spells and skills than every other Level 30 Warlock. No differences at all. Later came Alternate Advancements, which make it indeed possible (with enough points in it) to give your character a personal note and to make him better at the type of gameplay you like most. So it’s much better now. Still, a Warlock will always be a Warlock and won’t ever be able to do things a Bruiser or a Fury can do.
Most skill based systems don’t force players to put on a corset of ‘you’re class X’ or ‘you’re class Y’. Ultima Online has probably the most-freeform system, in that there’s just a maximum number of skillpoints you can have, and you can split these among as many different skills as you choose. If you choose many, you won’t be very good with each of them though. Either specialize, or be Jack of all trades, master of none. Skills aren’t raised by gaining XP, but by using them.
The system I liked most was that of Star Wars Galaxies after launch, which also had a maximum number of skillpoints, but the skills were ‘bundled’ into Professions like Bounty Hunter, Smuggler or even Musician or Dancer. The skillpoints weren’t enough to be everything at once of course, but it was enough to mix and match for example one combat profession, one crafting profession and one entertaining profession.
Of course, the more freedom players have at building their characters, the harder balancing everything becomes. SWG at launch was a prime example of this, PvE and PvP both being a hot mess. Still, I prefer messy freedom to constrained boredom/conformity.
Another big either/or these days: action combat or tab targeting?
I don’t really care either way, as long as it feels right. I was always fine with EQ2’s classic tab targeting system. I could have done with a tad fewer skills and spells though. TERA’s action combat felt good, but could get a bit hectic at times (especially in PvP). The global cooldown in FFXIV is definitely too long (2,5 sec), and I could do with a bit fewer ground targets I have to dance out of while tanking.
All in all, this isn’t really my top priority, and until now I could make do with any combat system a game gave me. But please, try to make melee and ranged characters at least somewhat balanced. It sucks to realize that your preferred playstyle isn’t even remotely ‘viable’.
- Quests or no quests?
I have played MMOs that drowned me in quests, and I have played some that had, at the time, no quests whatsoever.
I can’t say that I vastly prefer one over the other. As is so often the case, the truth lies in the middle. Give me quests that are fun, and also give me stuff to do besides quests.
I’m fine with the often cited ‘kill 10 rats‘ quests once, right at the start of the game, to teach me the basics. After that such quest objectives can go the way of the Dodo as far as I’m concerned, as can quests that are nothing but ‘go talk to this guy’, then ‘go back and tell them what I said’. FFXIV is really bad in this regard during some stretches of the main story.
Having good quests is better than having none, but quality is much more important than quantity. And, like I said, quest shouldn’t be the only motivator to do things.
Whenever I log into my game, I don’t want to say to myself “ok, first I have to do these dailies, then I need to do this, then that, and what the hell, my gaming time for the day is already over”. I want to log in and ask myself “what would I like to do today in this virtual world?”.
- Importance of other players
Forced grouping or no forced grouping? Ah, the old debate. Whenever this topic comes up there are those who say “I want to be able to do stuff alone”, which inevitably someone will retort with “don’t play an MMO then, play single player games!”.
In my opinion it is totally legit to ask for things that can be done alone. Remember, it’s a virtual world I want, and even in the real world I can do things on my own, can’t I?
What do I need other players for then? See above, possibilities and interaction. It has no meaning to me that I can craft the best armor if I can’t sell it to other players. It has no meaning to me that I successfully delivered the valuable trade goods if there wasn’t a chance to be attacked and robbed by other players. And yes, bashing the Chief Orc’s head or razing the walls of the enemy faction’s castle is indeed much more fun grouped with gildies or even friends than alone.
Thus my perfect game needs lots of stuff that I can do alone if I so choose, but also other players as well as things that can and should be done as a group.
- Risk vs reward
This has changed a lot since the “old days” of MMORPGs. Most game developers in today’s market don’t dare to implement heavy penalties for failing a challenge or dying, for example. The fact that the few games that do have harsh penalties generally don’t fare too well financially seems to indicate that most players, often despite of what they’re saying, do indeed not want such penalties.
To be honest, I’m not sure about this one.
The possibility of loss gives meaning to things, that much I know. I have quite a lot of good memories of situations where something was on the line. On the other hand, I have also less good memories of similar situations when things went sour.
The prime example for this kind of game is, of course, EVE Online. If our spaceships didn’t actually blow up when destroyed, the game had for sure long ceased to exist. After all, battles fought over nothing aren’t worth fighting. But to get to the point in EVE where I am now I had to endure some very frustrating moments too, moments that would probably have made other players quit the game for good (and many have quit, we know that for a fact). I still avoid looking for combat on my own (i.e. Solo PvP), because I don’t want to lose my stuff, although I’d be easily able to afford some losses.
I don’t have the perfect answer to this, as I do want consequences in my game, but not so harsh as to deter me from doing the fun stuff. But at least let have dying more impact than ‘I lose 30 seconds of my time and 10 silver for gear repair’.
- Must-have features
There are types of gameplay that my perfect game absolutely needs, and not only as an afterthought (as is often the case, tragically) but as a fleshed out, well done feature that also impacts and interacts with other features. An integral part of the world, in other words.
Functionally I want a crafting system that is more than just ‘press button, wait, done’. I like EQ2’s and FFXIV’s systems in this regard. FFXIV’s is on the brink of being too complex and time consuming though.
In the context of the game world crafting has to be meaningful. For every craftable item there should be a player saying “I need this, I want this”. In themeparks this often collides with Dungeon- and Raid-Loot being the pinnacle of gear progression, making crafted gear pretty much obsolete in the grand scheme of things.
Ideally every item in the game should be crafted (see EVE), with maybe a few exceptions like armor, weapons and tools for newbies (one has to start somewhere). To make activities like running Dungeons still desirable, drops from bosses could be a crafting component instead of a finished item, and crafters could make the finished item for the dungeoneers. Some games already do something like this.
Also, don’t make a system where every item is exactly the same. SWG was the only MMO I ever played where my question “where can I get good armor?” was answered with “ask player XY, he makes the best armor money can buy!”. And this was great. This guy had put in time and effort to collect the best resources, built or bought the best crafting stations and tools, and just made the best composite armor far and wide. Wouldn’t you like to do that? I know I would. What I did instead though was become his business partner. Being a Smuggler, I could slice (essentially ‘pimp’) armor and weapons, so I enabled him to sell pre-sliced sets of armor, while earning a lot of credits myself easily through sheer bulk. Now this was meaningful crafting (and also meaningful interaction).
Functionally I’d like a mix of FFXIV (when gathering by hand) and SWG (placing harvesters for automatic gathering). Resources would change locations every few days and have different qualities – not just High Quality or No Quality, rather multiple grades for different possible outcomes when crafting (see above).
A gathering system with harvesters obviously needs space to place them. Admittedly much of SWG’s planets looked like either a barren wasteland (when no houses and harvesters were placed yet) or rather ugly shanty towns and/or industrial areas. So a middle ground would have to be found, but I still love the concept.
No virtual world without solid personal housing!
The biggest fundamental question is obviously: instanced or open world? This, again, is a hard one.
I love open world housing. I experienced it in UO, SWG and ArcheAge.
All three games have/had their load of problems with it though, the most obvious ones being not enough space for the demand, as well as the aforementioned areas chock-full of tightly packed houses.
Instanced housing usually has a lot less appeal for lots of different player types. The Decorator/Socialiser/Roleplayer can’t show off their work to passersby or easily invite friends or guests without navigating them through a menu and a loading screen. The Crafter/Trader can’t advertise their wares to passersby either. To me, it just doesn’t feel like ‘coming home’ when lots of other people ‘come home’ to the same door. On the other hand all problems open-world housing has are a non-factor here.
The best solution might be Black Desert’s, which has kind of a hybrid model. The housing is quasi-open-world, but you can’t choose how the building looks like from the outside and can’t place it anywhere else. As soon as you open a door or a window, the game loads your instance of it (for you). Once you’re inside, you can look through the door or windows into the real game world.
Concerning housing items and placement thereof, no game I know beats EQ2. Wildstar’s housing is said to be awesome, but since I haven’t experienced it myself I’ll just settle for EQ2 with it’s thousands (not exaggerating!) of housing items and good placement options.
By land, by air, by sea
A virtual world doesn’t only consist of landmass, and walking and riding aren’t the only ways to move.
I’d like to have ArcheAge’s seas including naval combat and underwater content. The gliding is also very neat, since it beats walking or riding under the right circumstances, but doesn’t make those outright obsolete like flying often does.
Although, if it’s implemented in a way that does not make every other way to travel obsolete, I’m cool with flying too.
Odds and ends
I want to have enough inventory space to not being forced to devote 15 minutes a day to sorting through stuff and pondering what to keep, what to sell and what to trash. Right from the start.
I don’t want systems that punish playing a lot, or not playing enough.
I want a user interface that’s slick and fully customizable (including keybindings).
I want a great soundtrack and good ambience and sound effects. Be sure that everything’s still pleasing to the ear when listened to for the 1000th time. FFXIV, EQ2 and EVE all do a good job at this (yes, EVE HAS sound!).
I want the game to have systems for artistic endeavours. A musicianship-system with the ability to compose own pieces like ArcheAge’s (plus the ability to mute individual players’ music) as well as options for band performances like in SWG. The ability to write poems or novels, for others to read. Maybe even the ability to create visual art (think of APB Reloaded’s symbols and decals) and use these as paintings or advertisement posters (moderation needed, obviously, unfortunetely).
Let me use stuff that I can see. Where there’s a chair, I want to be able to sit on it. Where there’s a bed, I want to be able to stretch my legs for a minute. If a vehicle or mount has obviously two seats, let two people use it.
There’s probably another two dozen things, I’ll maybe add them later.
- Must-NOT-have features
This list will be much shorter: Pay 2 win and excessive RNG.
I won’t discuss what my definition of p2w is at this time, lest this post grows by another thousand words. Let’s just say I abandoned the otherwise absolutely fantastic ArcheAge because the combination of p2w and RNG is so outrageously huge in that game that I just couldn’t justify playing it any longer.
- Payment model
I don’t like to be nickel-and-dimed. Hence I really dislike having to pay real world money for things like inventory space or the ability to equip high-end gear (often on a per character basis).
My vote goes to FFXIV: monthly subscription with a cash shop that contains only additional vanity items for people who want them. The reason why I’m totally fine with this cash shop is that there are loads of cosmetics I can get by just playing the game, many many more than the cash shop has. For example mounts: there are dozens and dozens of mounts which players can earn through various ingame activities. The cash shop has like four mounts which can’t be earned ingame, but they aren’t any faster than ingame mounts and have no added functionality either. So this isn’t like ‘either buy a 30$ costume or look like a pauper-wizard for all time’-Black Desert.
Of course, since my perfect game would probably only be played by a couple hundred people tops, the monthly subscription would have to be like 150$. But hell, I’d pay that.