Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Ebb And Flow of MMO Cities

Thank you Gamasutra for including this on your weekly VG Criticism. I would not have found this gem of a piece from Samantha Nelson at AVClub about the abandoned cities of World of Warcraft.

As WoW hit it's peak, and it's initial interest in new towns with the release of each expansion, eventually begin to taper off in their population and players move with the money. Mules make their way to larger cities to sell goods. High level players prance around the town to show off their super shiny armor, and tug at other high levels to go to a dungeon. In the wake, the other cities, starter zones, outlyers, areas that once saw a bustle of activity are now left alone with only the rumbles of the zone's music, and NPC actions to give any hint that the area is still alive.

This isn't restricted to just WoW. Dozens of MMO's, and dare I say pretty much every one of them, experience the same thing. This was habitual with Final Fantasy XI during my years playing the game. With every new expansion pack, people would migrate to the new areas and the towns would be busy once more. The Wings of the Goddess expansion pack in 2007 attempted to draw users back to the starter towns and become more involved in their home nations. And it worked for quite a while, until people began to complete the missions and drifted back to Jeuno, the core of all commerce in the world, once again making some of the cities and towns desolate of real player activity.

It's eerily beautiful.

There's a calm in knowing that, for both new players and veterans alike, that you don't have to deal with the throng of crowds in certain areas when you want to do the fetch quests, or you need a place to silently craft in peace without being bombarded by the chat bubbles of others.

Nelson brought up an interesting point at how unlike human cities, these digital spaces do not decay. You can go from town to town and see it exactly like you remembered months ago. Well...until WoW and FF14 blew up their worlds, but some of the core cities are still in one piece. I would be curious to see an MMO with an ever evolving landscape. Literally. If people migrate away from Town A to Town B, it would be interesting to see Town A change as it happened. Over time to watch the town actually decompose, I have to wonder if that would prompt players to be more active in those zones? Less they want to see their previous world fall apart. Curious...social experiment time!

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