Yesterday’s post garnered some interesting responses both here and on G+. Several pointed out that MMOs do contain a gameplay element that cannot be satisfied in single-player games. This is quite correct, but not particularly applicable to my own situation, where it’s not strictly an issue of not having the hours to play but of an irregular schedule. I would have to win the guild lottery to find a group that fits with my itinerary.
Also, so I’m being crystal clear here, single-player sandboxes, Skyrim included, have a number of fairly predictable flaws. A search on YouTube for something like “Oblivion goofs” will reveal some of the many glitches from that game, and Skyrim shares that in addition to having a UI that’s (implausibly) worse in many ways. Opening up options and increasing a world’s interactability also increases situations that weren’t forseen by either the developers or the code. This tends to result in a game that is, as Tobold points out, in a game that’s easier to break than your average MMO.
This is so because MMOs, to a far greater extent than single-player games, see ongoing development where such oddities and balance problems get smoothed over. In this process the openness of a Skyrim would inevitably be lost. Ported as-is, it would make a very sloppy MMO.
Still, there are lessons that MMO developers could learn from Skyrim and the Elder Scrolls series in general. Just off the top of my head, World of Warcraft has chairs that you can sit in, for example – most MMOs don’t. It’s a tiny thing that makes the world more interactable. What else might be done, even in the context of WoW?
A decent crafting system would be a good start. One of the more popular starting areas is a forest, for example – what if there was a lumberjacking harvesting ability and a tradeskill you could use lumber for, and you made trees – every tree, mind you – interactable? Well, obviously a lot of areas would be promptly deforested! But there are ways around this. You might have a (possibly repeatable) quest for the Arbor Society of Azeroth, where you’re given a packet of seeds and asked to replant them across the zone. Or the tress could be coded to regrow naturally over a period of time. You might want to make a forest zone bigger to compensate, but I don’t think bigger zones is a bad thing – and fast or instantaneous travel is considered a necessity these days anyway.
Weather is another thing that increases interactability and immersion. What if there were ruins out in a desert that were covered up by rolling sands most of the time, and only occasionally revealed when the winds were right (i. e. at intervals not easily predictable)? What if, in truly appalling weather like we have here in Ohio, you took exposure damage unless you were in shelter or had some level of magical protection?
You can see that we’re swiftly moving away from something like WoW, despite its nice little touch of having chairs you can sit in. As we can come up with these ideas, we move farther and farther into that territory, and the game we imagine gets bigger and bigger. I’m tired of small games, and the most hard-beaten path of MMO development is leading to smaller and smaller.
Skyrim is a big game, and I’m not talking about the size of the landmass, which is incidental. Weather has a real effect on gameplay (without doing damage, normally,) and there are even abilities that let you control it. I can sit in the chairs and pick up the items on the table. Every single person in the game can be talked to or stolen from, most can be killed and they have actual behavior. When I showed up at the Jarl’s hall in Whiterun early one morning, the Jarl and all of his coterie were sitting around the table eating breakfast. I know these procedural behaviors break down from time to time and cause things that may be amusing or frustrating in equal measure, but they also grant the game a depth that is simply not present in any MMO I’m aware of.