So last time I posted about character progression, how it was a key characteristic of MMOs, and something clearly from D&D. The idea that your character is dynamic and grows in abilities and power over time is not unlike the level mechanic from AD&D of old.
This somewhat ties into what I feel is another key characteristic of MMOs, exploration. MMOs might remain in a fairly static game world, but the pull to explore this world is a major driving force for gameplay. Successful MMOs offer up a variety of environments, lands, and creatures to fight. That feeling when you move into a new area in the game world, and see the different art and environment which it possesses, ramps up the desire to see and explore more.
MMOs constantly thrive on pushing a player to explore more. To travel the game world and adventure. Fighting new monsters, investigating new dungeons, or just seeing the new sights, this is such an important part of the game experience. To remain in a uniform environment, with little variety of creatures and places to explore makes for a disastrous MMO. Variety is a must, simply because the players truly have a wanderlust and desire to explore these virtual worlds.
This dips a little into the story of the game world too, but I find it less so. Some might really want to know more about the history and lore of an MMO, while others might think it secondary. However, if you can structure the game lore to be something mysterious and engaging, it can be a definite plus. Something I think is key in understanding what makes a game enjoyable.
D&D caught on to this long ago. That excitement of opening a crypt and imagining the sights, smells, and sounds as your DM described the room. The choices of branching paths and doors to take, or the choice of heading back with a small bounty verses the thrill of exploring a set of ruins further for even greater treasure, it’s all such a powerful force for the game. I think exploration is such an important point of D&D and really taps into the feeling of traversing a wondrous world of fantasy.
This also touches on the characters players helm. Typically, they might have a precursory idea of their character when they first start. As they play and go through adventures, they learn more about themselves. They begin to explore more about what makes the character tick. A good DM will reinforce this process putting in elements of the character’s life into adventures, or at least put them into situations that make them make moral and ethical choices.
However, this is also one thing I think MMOs fall a little flat on. While a player can learn a little about legends and history of the game, maybe even align themselves with certain factions, most MMOs do not have the dynamic content to allow a character to explore who he (or she) is. I expect that this will be something that changes in the future. I completely expect MMOs to allow players to explore the different political and social interactions of different NPC groups. They’ll get wrapped up evolving stories where their choices make an impact on their play experience. I think it is that desire to explore and experience new things that will drive this. Something all ready that most players experience in their own D&D games right now.