In a recent blog post, we discussed the most common settings for MMO games. That got me thinking about other settings that MMOs tend to avoid for one reason or another. So, as we usually do here, I thought I’d create a list of settings I would like to see more MMOs explore. You won’t find any specific worlds or franchises here - no Star Wars or Harry Potter MMORPGs - but rather more general themes and ideas.
Now, the settings on this list aren’t completely neglected. In fact, I’ll try and provide a few examples of games that do use them where I can. However, these are somewhat rare, and we can definitely do with a few more of them.
There are so many interesting time periods in the course of human history, it’s a little bit weird that we don’t see MMOs use them as a setting. Sure, we have a lot of Medieval games, but they almost always follow the generic “knights and kings” template, without having any real depth to them. How cool would an MMORPG set in Feudal Japan could be? Or a tactical MMORTS in the Wild West?
Sparta: War of Empires takes place in Ancient Greece and grants players the opportunity to play a pivotal part in the Greco-Persian Wars. More games need to explore the human race’s rich history of conflict, discovery and glory.
No, not “post-apocalyptic” - just “apocalyptic”. There are a lot of games that take place in a post-apocalyptic future, but not many that are actually set during the apocalypse. The most common example of an apocalyptic world is the “zombie apocalypse” scenario, where humanity still has a chance to save itself and its planet from a plague of undead. DayZ or H1Z1 can serve as somewhat relevant examples here.
However, there are plenty of other scenarios players can find themselves in that may lead to the end of the world. We could also see an MMO where the apocalypse is inevitable, and players need to decide if they should work together to prepare for the coming end, or go out in one crazy bang.
How many truly terrifying MMOs do you know? Horror is a relatively popular genre in movies, literature and video games, but not in Massively Online games. I guess you could argue that horror doesn’t work well if you have other people to share it with, but I beg to differ. Seeing other players’ reactions can even intensify your terror, and knowing you’re not safe even in numbers is a powerful notion.
MMOs that do try to tackle horror usually go for a more “cosmic horror” vibe, akin to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. The Secret World is a good example for one such game. Still, it would be nice to see a deep horror experience in an MMO, one that actually utilizes the presence of other players to increase its effect.
Contrary to popular belief, Science Fiction games are a rare breed. The trick with Sci-Fi is that it needs to feel real. Laser guns and aliens are not enough; the player needs to believe everything that happens can actually happen, improbable as it may be. Most of the MMOs people consider to be Sci-Fi are actually Science Fantasy - Fantasy stories in a high-tech setting.
True Sci-Fi is hard to come by. Total Domination kind of manages to pull it off, as it provides quite a lot of backstory and explanations on how the world it takes place in makes sense, and doesn’t ask the player to just “take its word for it”. Sci-Fi requires a rich world and lore to build on, and shouldn’t shy away from grounding itself in reality.
There are still so many other settings MMOs can, and should, explore; these are just the tip of the iceberg. As settings will become more and more diverse, so will the stories being told and the experiences being delivered.
You can probably think of a hundred more settings you would like to see. Go ahead and share them with the world, and who knows - maybe MMO developers will listen.