When copying is a good thing

It’s no secret that plenty of games in the MMO space borrow from each other, and from their community. Each new game is, in many ways, a response to the games that have come before — and, of course, many of us bemoan that fact, or deride new MMOs as WoW Clones, and so on.

And yet it’s not at all uncommon to play a new game, stumble across a feature, and think “oh, ffs, [Game X] did that so much better; this is so clunky!” Or, more often, stumble across the lack of a feature, and be frustrated that “bah, [Game X] managed to get this right three years ago, why isn’t everyone doing it?“.

It’s terribly unfair of us, of course, to criticise games on the one hand for being too similar, and yet to complain on the other when New Game Y is missing the convenience features we’re used to in Old Game X. But apparently it’s human nature, so here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Looting: DCUO gave us one-key AOE looting. RIFT, WoW and SWTOR now have AoE loot; TSW and GW2 have keybound loot. Other MMOs are still catching up, but few games have matched DCUO’s looting convenience. Every time I kill a mob in SWTOR or RIFT I lament again the lack of a loot key – TSW and GW2 have spoilt me.
  • Selling junk: RIFT has a “sell vendor junk” button on every vendor window. Why doesn’t every game do this? (In fact, why even have vendor junk?) GW2 followed suit. SWTOR comes close with your ability to send off a companion to sell your junk for you. WoW solved the problem with addons. Other games missed the boat.
  • Character customisation in game: SWG had a brilliant “image designer” system back in 2004, people. LotRO caught up with the release of Barbers in Book 12, early 2008. WoW matched them with barbershops in Wrath of the Lich King, late 2008. RIFT only brought in stylists a month or so ago, and SWTOR still doesn’t have them. TSW launched without it, but is implementing them shortly; GW2 lacks any kind of in-game character customisation and ArenaNet’s said nothing about it.
  • Crafting: It’s no secret that I have strong opinions about how games implement crafting systems, but however else you feel about it, SWTOR did one thing brilliantly right: crafting from the bank. RIFT wasn’t far behind in implementing that, and players everywhere loved it, yet GW2 launched without it (as did TSW, though that was probably an inevitable effect of its crafting system).
  • Group-finding tools: I’m not sure whether WoW was the first to implement such a feature, but despite criticism it revolutionised gameplay for many many players. There are those who don’t like group finders, but they make it much easier to find groups for the majority of players, and especially in games with low (or spread-out) populations, one could argue that they’re vital. And yet they don’t seem to be a priority for many games at launch, oddly, despite grouping woes being one of the single biggest turn-offs for player retention.
  • Customisable UIs: WoW obviously set the bar here with its addon system (although it wasn’t the first by a long shot), and other games followed suit. Even games without addons allowed players to move and resize stock UI elements for their own comfort. Some devs, on the other hand, seem to be very precious about their beloved UIs, refusing to allow players to customise their layout in any meaningful way (which is a bad move on accessibility grounds, if nothing else). BioWare, thankfully, wised up with SWTOR and implemented a system like LOTRO and RIFT; ArenaNet, on the other hand, are very resistant to letting players customise GW2’s (intrusive and unfriendly) interface. It’s certainly not winning them any friends in my neck of the woods, I can tell you.

I’ve probably got a whole bunch of these wrong, in terms of who first pioneered an innovation, but the key point is not “who did it first” but “why isn’t everybody doing it now?”. I understand that devs want to set their game apart, but eschewing features that make gameplay better, more convenient or more satisfying is really not the way to do that.

So, what have I missed? I’m sure there are plenty of other features that should be industry-standard by now — and aren’t.

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3 Responses to “When copying is a good thing”

  1. Celendus
    September 17, 2012 at 03:41 #

    Reward for exploration: WoW gives a token amount of XP for it, but it is minor in the grand scheme of things. Rift felt like more XP (but I never got above level 30 or so) plus the fun of finding artifacts; GW2 offers quite a significant chunk of XP if you include finding vistas and points of interest. It lines up pretty well with WoW’s “sit down on the quest train, buckle in, and you’ll see all the good stuff in time” design, and GW2’s “wander around and do stuff and you’ll get xp for it one way or another” style.

  2. October 14, 2012 at 02:12 #

    You left out what I consider to be the #1 most important thing, what I consider to be the clear and defining line:

    Non-Instanced-Housing

    If the MMO that I’m playing doesn’t have it, if the developers don’t even know what it is, if the community have never experienced it.

    Only few, and by few I mean I can only name 2 MMORPGs that have ever even boasted Non-Instanced-Housing, knowing it’s rare I’ll explain to those who have not experienced it. It is when your house in the game is not a decoration, it is terrain, it directly impacts other players as not only can they see it but they are forced to walk around it, it is as real as the rest of the terrain in the entire game, when you open the door you are transported to an imaginary place that only you and invited friends can see, for ALL CAN SEE AT ALL TIMES, NON-INSTANCED-HOUSING defined whether an MMORPG is worth dedicating the time to stay in or not, because most don’t have it most aren’t worth wasting time on.

    The entire game changes with Non-Instanced-Housing, bad neighborhoods, turf wars, good neighborhoods, alliances, wars, battles, it becomes more than a place to store your crap, it becomes the game itself, property value, real estate, economy, there are so many factors I can’t list them all, but when an MMORPG has Non-Instanced-Housing instead of Lame Instanced-Housing, or no housing at all, that game you know is going to be serious, you know a game with Non-Instanced-Housing is going to be kick ass. For those who haven’t experienced it are missing A LOT.

    • October 14, 2012 at 10:26 #

      I adored non-instanced housing in SWG; it was an amazing part of the game, and made it what it was, IMO.

      The problem is that non-instanced housing is impossible to implement in almost every MMO, simply because the worlds are not big enough to have room for a house for every player. You need massive, massive zones which are largely empty of content in order for people to place their own houses, or empty cities full of prebuilt houses waiting for people to move in. It’s simply not possible in the vast majority of MMOs. Where would you fit non-instanced housing in WoW, or RIFT, or LotRO, or GW2, or TSW? You simply can’t.

      It worked, and brilliantly well at that, in SWG, and I miss it a lot. But it’s never something I’ve been able to imagine other games implementing successfully, because it just wouldn’t fit.

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