New Laws for MMO Design

It has been years since Raph Koster first collected the wisdom of various MMORPG enthusiasts and developers and wrote down a list of Laws of Online World Design. I don’t even think he has touched it for many years, I bet the last edit happened sometime after Dark Age of Camelot was released, given that one of his references came from a DAoC developer. While I think that he had many rules that were in fact very accurate, I can’t help but think of how the MMO world has changed since he first laid them out. I mean Raph must have learned a world of things from SWG alone, let alone something like the advent of WoW.

Is World of Warcraft really the perfect virtual world?This line of thought leads me to what exactly has changed from those oh so “innocent” times and what has not? While I think that World of Warcraft has changed the way many people think of MMOs, one thing that people don’t like to really mention very much is how much WoW did wrong. At its base, WoW is a very unhealthy game system. People who say that it is all great design point to the 10 billion subscribers that they have. As if McDonald’s makes the best hamburger right? And American Idol is the best television series in the history of television that somehow produces the best and most talented singers the world has ever seen! The bigger point that WoW shows us is just imagine all of the subscribers that game is missing out on.

And with this, I want to kind of revisit Koster’s Laws. I want to battle with the ones that are wrong, ones that are right but may need to be modified with the times, and add new ones that may account for things that he never thought of back then. The reason for this is mostly my own self satisfaction because I have been thinking of game design a lot more of late given that my mind is on my own MMO. And so returning to these keeps me thinking, keeps me refining my thoughts to where they need to be. But I think it is an entertaining exercise as well.

After all, his first rule states as follows:

Ola’s Law About Laws
Any general law about virtual worlds should be read as a challenge rather than as a guideline. You’ll learn more from attacking it than from accepting it.

I’m not entirely sure if this is correct or not to be honest. This is more the board troll’s motto than anything else, but there is truth in it. Even now after so much commercial success, we know very little about how a true virtual world should work. Should it be a world or should it be a single player game that we play online? That by itself is a difficult question these days given that 10 billion people think it should just be a single player game that we play online.

But overall true. He wasn’t really about setting out rules that must be followed. He was just sort of gathering what seemed to be true given the scope of the online game world at the time. And as such this is kind of what I’m doing. However, maybe I’m a bit egotistical or something because I see the faults of games that even though they may be popular, I want to make the perfect game. Which require making better what they have done.

For future laws in this series, I will be creating a new Tag in my list for MMO Laws. With this tag, you should be able to find all these laws in their entirity that I talk about going forth. Hope people enjoy and leave comments on them as I do believe that with all these laws, no single law can be true if it only comes from one person. Laws in game design, I think, generally are a collaborative effort. Which I do think leads the reason why so many games seem to be stealing from each other.

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