Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Speaking of Pandora's Box

Long time blogger Kurn has tried out Follower Dungeons in Retail WoW recently, and wrote about her experience with it on her latest blog post. To say she was impressed with the NPC groups she had is an understatement.

My original comment on her post, that it was a technical solution to a people problem, is likely the most obvious take. After all, MMOs in general --and WoW in particular-- is infamous for toxic behavior toward tanks and healers in instance and raid groups. This solution, presented in Retail, is an obvious way toward allowing people to see group content without actually fixing the toxicity itself. 

The more I've thought about it, however, the more I wonder whether this will become the ultimate goal toward making an otherwise dead or empty location in an MMO feel alive. 

If you go to a place such as Silvermoon City or The Exodar --both out of the way cities that first saw light in WoW's Burning Crusade expansion-- other than a few bank alts and some new toons running here and there both cities are dead.

Blizzard tried to make them seem more alive by having a few groups of NPCs roam both cities, but the paths followed and statements made are pretty much on repeat. There are similar instances of in-game NPC interactions throughout Azeroth that are gradually more elaborate but still on rails throughout all of the expansions I've played. While I give Blizz credit for trying, it isn't even close to what it's like to having a real vibrant community.

If you hop over to Guild Wars 2 and Divinity's Reach, that's a bit more of what I believe Blizzard is attempting to do. By comparison, Divinity's Reach is a lot more "alive" with NPCs --namely that there are more of them around so that the place feels less empty-- although NPC interactions with the game world are still pretty limited. 

But what if you programmed NPCs to act more like what you find in Follower Dungeons, but interacting in the game world itself?

You know, a step or two away from Westworld...

It's from Pinterest, but it's a screencap
of HBO's Westworld.

Of course, Westworld is what you'd get if a Renaissance Faire were entirely composed of robots who never broke the fourth wall (or never were aware there was a fourth wall).

The bane of MMOs isn't toxicity, but apathy. If there's nobody to interact with, the main selling point of MMOs is dead. But if a game company can fill a game world with NPCs that interact with the game world as if they were real players (minus the toxicity) then you can negate the worst problem of the MMO genre.*

It's a tempting proposition, isn't it?

And holy crap, I just realized how this could be used in "adult" MMOs. (Again, just like Westworld.) 


Whether or not we like it, I think that there will be some game companies that will move video games toward truly immersive experiences, with NPCs that interact in a more lifelike fashion with each iteration of generative AI. 

And I'm not exactly sure what I think about that.

*I guess the bots would quickly follow suit and up their own game, wouldn't they?

EtA: Corrected a sentence from "to to" to "to do". Got all that?

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