Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Seamless World Design

I've noticed that a lot of experienced MMO players tend to dislike zoning and often go on and on about their hatred for instances. Most players who are were introduced to the genre via World of Warcraft also dislike zoning, but mostly just in the over-world. Instances themselves have become a major selling point in modern MMOs and it solves too many problems to ignore. One only has to search the Age of Conan forums for posts about "The Cistern" to see some of the problems old school public dungeons have.

You'll notice a lot of seamless world design if you look at the top performing subscription based games in the Western market. World of Warcraft is the largest one and has raised a generation of MMO players who are very unfamiliar with the loading screen. Lord of the Rings Online is very similar in its zone transition though it heavily uses instances for quest instances. The last one in the top 5 is probably EVE Online which I think was one of the first games to experiment with a seamless world design. I'm the least familiar with that game but I believe its systems of jumpgates allowed them to build a universe without having to divide it up between different servers.

I can see the appeal for avoiding MMOs that are dependent on loading between zones. Since I'm currently playing Age of Conan I know zoning can be a crap shoot sometimes. I'm not sure if its memory leaks, but the game has a high tendency to freeze up while zoning. EverQuest had similar problems though if I remember correctly SOE managed to make it much smoother as the game got older. Perhaps the biggest problem was the different rates at which computers are able to load between zones. Having a computer better then the rest of your group members could get you killed, if you zoned into a dangerous area long before everyone else.

I'm not a server architecture expect, but I would be willing to bet that seamless world design requires a bigger investment in hardware then a zone design. When MMOs were just getting started I'm sure a lot of companies didn't see the benefit in spending the money since subscription revenue was hard to predict. Now that there are so many games over 150,000 users I think a lot of studios can seriously consider a seamless world design. Also as the market becomes more crowded its going to be a competitive feature for a game to have. Heck, when you consider how many people played World of Warcraft as their first MMO it might be a required feature to have.


Anonymous said...

WoW was my first MMO, and even the quest instances in LoTRO put me off the game...And its certainly one reason why I may not play AOC. Sure it's not that big a deal if the game is great, but if I'm playing an average game (LoTRO for example), its small things like this that all add up to me quiting.

Relmstein said...

I like Age of Conan right now but its mostly because I'm playing with a group of friends. Ok, maybe the ability to decapitate my enemies plays a small part in my like for the game.

Anyways, you're right about the small things about a game adding up. Age of Conan is the polar opposite of a seamless world though it has some things goind for it. Funcom has been doing a good job getting things straighten out but it will proabably be another month or two before its polished up.

If you're not starved for new MMO content I would wait until August for Age of Conan. It's a good game but it needs a bit more care.

Cow Nose the 50 Pound Cat said...

A seamless MMO does require a lot more bandwidth. As more people are in the same area, the bandwith needed increases exponentially. However, as bandwitdth is getting cheaper and cheaper, this may be less and less of a problem.

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