In this post I’m talking about player-player interaction models and found the following:
- Parallel (WoW): you quest next to each other but not together. You earn rewards and progression merely by playing by yourself. If you do group content, you get your own personal, soulbound rewards when the boss dies.
- Trading (Black Desert): you can exchange rewards for currency with other players. (The anti-RMT fixed prices are not theoretically relevant).
- Trading + PvP (EVE): you can exchange rewards with players or take them by force, causing progression loss for the other player
Every MMO fits into the three models. I now offer a fourth that opens up a very different kind of gameplay and design, the “neighbor model”. The idea is that players control their own areas (may they be kingdoms, islands, planets, ethereal planes or whatnot). They can only interact with their neighbors and not with players with further areas. May it be trading or hostile raid into their lands, you can only play with or against with these players.
The main benefit would be consistent playing with certain other players who are distributed randomly when land is assigned to players. You can’t just grab whatever random you can find on LFG, you are stuck with a neighbor and you must make something out of the situation via diplomacy, trading offers or warfare. You can’t just shrug and find another player.
The secondary benefit would be full trading without the risk of RMT. A goldseller could only sell gold to his neighbors who are randomly chosen and most likely are not interested in offers. This allows a wide range of cooperative play without the risk of the whole thing comes down to “who has more money to give to botters”.
There would be multiple downsides of course:
- An inactive neighbor is a burden if you need his resources. The game must quickly remove and replace inactive players to allow their neighbors to progress. This is a problem for on-and-off players, imagine leaving your game for a month and find that your lands are taken and you must start from the beginning.
- The above is even bigger problem if the population shrinks, which is unavoidable after the launch hype. If more players quit/go inactive than new players arrive to replace them, the game has no choice than to relocate players at the edges to fill holes in the middle. This can break immersion if done with assets teleported, unfairly resets progression if not.
- A toxic neighbor is even more of a burden. Imagine if all your neighbors are active but are not interested in trading with you because you are a woman, Trump supporter, gay, Chinese or whatever out-of-game dislike. You can’t progress and must delete your progression, starting over somewhere else, hoping for a better situation.
- Playing with real life friends is limited. While it’s probably not a big deal to implement a “place us together” feature for players who start together, finding a spot next to an existing player can be impossible. You can’t just evict his neighbor to make space. Also, placing a new player next to an established one can be enabling RMT.
So obviously such game would not be for everybody. But as I wrote, game developers must aim for niches instead of competing with existing titles, where they will most definitely lose.