Why MMOs lack immersion
By Michael Sagoe (mikedot), OnRPG Journalist
When was the last time you felt like you were living in the world of the MMO you played? Or the last time you felt like you were one with your virtual character? Chances are, you probably haven’t felt that feeling in a long time. For me, I haven’t felt immersed in an MMO since I was a kid. Maybe it was because my sense of childhood wonder helped fill the gap of being connected to the game world, but whatever the case, many MMOs just don’t seem to have that spark. Many MMOs today lack immersion and while some of the issues are a bit more apparent than others, here are some of the reasons that have the most impact:
Not a lot of MMOs have this issue, but the ones that do can break the experience a bit. Like WoW’s custom UI feature: The more the UI fills the screen, the more it detracts from the actual gameplay, thus taking immersion out of the experience. And then there’s hotkeys and hot-bars. Sure, they might be the most efficient solution to control schemes in MMOs nowadays, but come on, we’re in the year 2010 and we’ve been using the same setup for years now. If it were up to me, I’d say that MMOs should have the smallest, most compact UI possible so player won’t be overly distracted with them.
Too much UI customization can be a bad thing.
Lack of penalties for dying
Now I know that this kind of thing would be almost impossible to include in most MMOs, but the lack of penalties for dying removes any real tension from battling out in the game world. One MMORPG, however, went into an interesting direction about death in an MMO. Shaiya Online was an MMORPG that contained a special game feature for anyone that wished to take the challenge through Ultimate mode. The reward for playing in Ultimate mode was huge, but the fact that you could get killed and have your character deleted if you weren’t revived in three minutes gave most players a sense of tension in making sure their characters stayed alive.
Shaiya Online – The only MMORPG to feature permanent death
Excessive grinding and lack of quest variety
Grinding. Grinding everywhere. A lot of MMOs out there seem to fall back on this. It is fairly common for MMOs to use grinding as content filler. This might be fine for offline RPGs, but when you get to the level of grind in an MMO where you’ll spend over a day just to get one level or you know that you can’t get an ability until after you’ve sunk in months and months of game play, it stops being fun and you start to ask yourself why you’re doing it.
This is what most MMOs seem to resort to.
And also lack of any quest variety can also be comparable to excessive grinding. A player doesn’t feel any sort of accomplishment or attachment to the world they’re in if they are forced to slaughter a million rats or boars or deal with NPCs that just act like vending machines to give players more quests so they can do more grinding just to advance. Most MMOs have been designed around the grind system for so long that the companies see this and the profit they generate, and refuse to evolve. I guess as the old saying goes: “If it’s not broke (for them,) why fix it?”
Imitation of other MMOs
A lot of companies these days like to take the most popular MMO and create copycat MMOs to bank on its success. Imitation as they say is the ultimate form of flattery, but I see this as incredibly unimaginative game design. I cannot see how any player would feel any sense of attachment to the game world of these copycat MMOs especially if they previously played the MMO it’s imitating. Perfect example of this experience would be from my time playing Elsword and then switching over to playing Fists of Fu (also known as “East Fantasy Online”.) As much as Fists of Fu tired to throw in some originality, I had a major sensation of “been here, done that”. I couldn’t feel like a part of the game world for East Fantasy Online simply because I felt as if I played this game before.
Here is the biggest and most important part of immersion in an MMO: The overall community. Just imagine this: You’re playing your favorite MMO, roaming around town and generally enjoying yourself. You stop to look around and start asking players if they want to party up with you for dungeon raiding or something, and the only response you get from a random player is “no, piss off plz”. While dealing with rude people may be true to life, dealing with rude players that talk like they’re on an IRC can make the game world feel out of touch. This is just a small scenario that adds to the many other situations you might have playing with others in an MMO.
Trying to enjoy playing with a group of random players is fairly difficult (for me, anyway,) because I would typically end up with players that complain a lot and are greedy looters. Playing with people you actually know in real life, however, can be far more enjoyable. It’s almost impossible to have every player in an MMO talk coherently or role-play accordingly to make the game world feel alive. There are some MMOs out there that have a strict role-playing only rule, but even then, some people like to break out of character and talk as they would normally because they think it would be funny or something.
One more thing I’d like to add: Bots and gold farmers. Seeing characters roam the game world with no one playing them and gold farmers that spam messages all over about how you should buy their bot gathered gold breaks immersion on so many levels.
UIs, death penalties, grinding, imitation and communities; all of these factors can make or break immersion, and since a lot of MMOs do not seem to break away from these conventions, they lack immersion. Single player games can create a better sensation of immersion since the game worlds are fixed. If a game developer truly wants to create an immersive experience, stricter play rules would have to be enforced and lots of polish and refinement of typical MMO norms would have to be made.
I suppose if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t care to be immersed in the game they’re playing, most of these issues won’t bother your. As for everyone else that does: They may have to look elsewhere.