How MMOs Can Escape Their Creative Slump

An editorial on PC Gamer tries to come up with ideas that could revitalize the slumping MMO genre. Their proposed solution is to embrace the mundane, and take notes from sandbox games filled with emergent gameplay, like EVE Online. Here's an excerpt:

“BRUTOR WITH A RIFTER,” began a classified ad I posted in EVE Online one Friday night, looking to advertise my services. “I have a ship. It has some guns on it. And I have little regard for my own safety. Pay me, and I’ll use them to shoot at whatever you want. All offers considered.”

I was a fairly low-level character with some experience in mid-scale PvP as a tackle ship, a tiny frigate that keeps bigger ships from being able to warp away. But I hadn’t played in over two years, my corporation had booted me, and I was just looking to have some fun and make some cash blowing up spaceships. What followed was one of the most entertaining nights of gaming I’ve ever had in an MMO.

I got hired onto a small, ad-hoc pirate crew led by a cheerful Frenchman who loved to drag newbies into his little criminal underworld. We jumped out to nullsec (EVE’s open PvP area where the NPC space cops won’t save you) to raid some player-run mining freighters and split the take between us.


The biggest MMOs in the world encourage everyone to follow the same path. Quest for glory. Be the hero. Slay the dragon and wear its mandible as a hat that looks just like the dragon mandibles everyone else is wearing. Black Desert Online and Guild Wars 2 may have polished, well-written quest content, but they aren't immersive ecosystems where you have to find a niche and fight for an honest (or, in my EVE crew’s case, rather dishonest) living. Most MMOs are more like singleplayer games where lots of people are sharing the same play space and can sometimes team up to defeat a challenge.

In World of Warcraft: Legion, you’re 'The Guy.' You’re the protagonist that the entire world revolves around, surrounded by hundreds of others who are being sold the same story—without much room to wriggle out of it. If you want to play a different role in the universe, you pay the price of having fewer systems for you to do that sustainably and enjoyably. And the experience for other players is worse for it—instead of a rich, living society that takes all types to run, everyone is the proverbial Luke Skywalker in a sea of legendary Jedi masters.

Sure, EVE Online has its Luke Skywalkers—the hot shots leading vast armadas and flying death-defying missions to turn the tide of PvP wars—but they got there by fighting, lying, stealing, befriending, or buying their way through a simulated society. Becoming a hero is meaningful in EVE because the community itself decides what's heroic.

As a lowly buccaneer in EVE, I was more like a Han Solo. I was broke. I had some very powerful people who wanted to blast me into space dust for ganking their corp-mates. I got by only on luck, quick thinking, and a lack of scruples. I didn't make history, but I had ownership over a fantasy and identity that I'd built myself.