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Excessive Scripting In MMORPGs, Does It Need To Go?

In single player open world games, it is thanks to the script of the plot throughout their adventure that players reach the immersion required to identify themselves to their character and its universe. Developers had the idea to incorporate the same mechanisms in the leveling phase of MMORPGs to make it more attractive to players. By doing so, the aim of make players stay as long as possible and reach the end game, which is more often than not the most interesting part of a MMORPG.
 
Because unlike a solo game that ultimately get forgotten once you finish it, a MMORPG is a product that has to last in time, a marathon video game that should offer enough compelling content to keep players online and make them spend (subscription, cash shop, etc). The developers are, legitimately, here to make money and will stop at nothing to get you to swipe your credit card. Email advertisements, invasive cash shops, in-game pop-ups, all telling you that while it is optional, you’ll have an easier time if you spend. But let's leave that for another time, the point here is that is that they want you remain active in the game. Even if you do not intend to spend, the community needs to be active enough for the game to attract those we call “whales”.

Back to solo games, this script is therefore an essential mechanism that will tempt the player to continue his progression to learn more about the history, the characters or for the sole purpose of defeating the final boss. But once the story ends, and even though the game offers the opportunity to keep playing in one way or another (via missed side missions, developing relationships, getting the best gear or competing with other players), there will be an inevitable emotional breakdown: your character has no role to play in a world that continues to exist whether you are there or not.
This sudden dissociation leads, in most cases, to the players dropping the game to find this exhilarating feeling of living an adventure elsewhere, to actually feel like their character counts for something and has an impact on the world. Of course, some individual games will be appealing enough for most players to remain once the story ends, be it through the quality of their gameplay, the secrets and lore to discover, the quality of the writing and new game+ content, their online modes, and so on, but these are not truly common.

With the arrival of The Secret World, Star Wars - The Old Republic, Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn, Guild Wars 2, or The Elder Scrolls Online, players have discovered a leveling remodelled in a solo RPG style, where the progress is rooted in a main story that will follow you to the max level.

An effective method that then places a previously disembodied character (often a carbon copy of that of thousands of players on your server) in a position where they are truly personalized and identifiable as a hero in the world. Epic cinematic, story-driven quests, dialogue choices, NPCs who call you by pet names, mechanical phasing so that the universe is changed only for those who have reached a certain stage of the scenario. All means are good to make you feel unique and involved.


But like in single player open world games, once the leveling phase is complete, and therefore the story completed, when your character falls into anonymity and there is only the end game where a players is intended to farm, take part in PvP and complete daily quests, the urge to play does it not disappear at the same time?

Is this not one of the reasons why modern MMOs tend to have a large population drop 3 months after being released? When the majority of the server has reached the maximum level? Don’t the players start looking for a new MMO that will make them relive an epic adventure in which they occupy a central role? With the exception of the (large?) minority that will plunge headlong into what the end game has to offer in scoring and challenges....until the death of servers.

Old-school MMORPGs did not have these fancy scripted cut-scenes, all that customization of the player’s avatar in the universe. Yet the players had no need for those to feel at home when they roamed the territories of their favorite MMO. A good background, a coherent universe, the little details that go well (such as the guards of the main cities that begin to greet you when you reach a certain level) were sufficient to give life to the universe. The most immersion craving players would even roleplay in taverns and dungeons, guilds prevailed and helped each other (or were at war). It was the imagination of the player that created the story and not a cutscene or a few NPCs who call you "hero" and then send you on a quest to pick mushrooms or "defeat" rats.
 
We can not, however, disparage writers who do a great job integrating a coherent story in the universe and make it epic enough to boost the ego of the player. The true downsides are rather that players end up on a solo adventure to the end-game, the level of maturity of these scenarios that quickly fall into the basic RPG clichés, or the fact that they conceal a progression corridor where there is little room for exploration and make us believe that our choices will have any impact on the game, like with SWTOR, for example.

Out of all these modern MMOs I've played, The Secret World is probably the most advanced in its script which has the merit of being dark, mature and extremely immersive. Yet, it also pushes the players towards a solo experience, with the difference that at no time did the story makes you think you could really change things.
 
But perhaps is this the key to the balance between the script and the MMORPG. To not make your character the One, the hero, but a witness so that there is always another epic adventure to live, another battle to fight where you are not the adorned savior, but just a pawn on the board. A pawn that you can shape as you wish.
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