Tobold wrote an article today on his blog about the future of story-telling in MMOGs. In it, he states,
It would be a lot easier for a new MMO to stand out from the competition with a unique and better coherent story, than to create a better virtual environment. And the AoC example of Tortage even shows how a well staged story can give the players the illusion that they actually had an impact, changed something in the virtual world, even if real change remains elusive due to the multi-player aspect of virtual worlds. Epic stories and better story-telling could really be the “next generation” of MMORPGs.
That is the truth. The next-generation of MMOGs is one that includes solid storytelling and a great solo experience. By solo experience, I don’t mean not grouping to play, I mean making each player feel involved in their own character development and story line. Some MMOGs already do this in the form of cut scenes (FFXI, LotRO, AoC) that play for each individual, but that must extend throughout the full level range and the story must unfold smoothly and drive progression.
Once that is accomplished, the stories must be able to change in RPG fashion based upon your responses/actions. I know that is a lot to ask, but that is where the MMOG experience needs to move. It is fine to innovate and be revolutionary, but you’ve got to give people a reason to play. Grinding is not a reason to play, nor is it fun. Some players may excuse it, or justify it, but I will not. The game must continue to be fun and engaging for me to continue playing, especially if I am paying a subscription. Just as with any other subscription service, if it ceases to be useful, I cease to pay.
Of course, the games are not just about me, and I am only one opinion on the matter, but games such as Portal are a testament to how good gameplay coupled with an integrated story and quality presentation are what players enjoy the most. Success is not achieved with one blanket solution, nor is it defined equally across all stakeholders, but when games expect to survive on a subscription model, the retention of subscribers and gaining new customers are very important. Should MMOG developers look to print magazines and newspapers for ideas on how to market leverage subscription revenue better? Or is the problem with the products being offered?