My first introduction into the world of MMOs started as a Hunter during the Burning Crusade days of World of Warcraft. I didn’t understand too much about the game, only that I wanted to collect pets and embark on an epic adventure. Ever since I’ve been hooked on the genre, coming back to it again and again over the years. I’ve played a variety of MMOs from World of Warcraft with a few dear friends to the newly minted Ark: Survival Evolved. I’ve even delved into a couple of card game based MMOs like Hex: Shards of Fate.

While I’m a far cry from the grizzled veteran, the genre is near and dear to my heart. During my stint, I’ve come to expect a few caveats with every title whether it’s free-to-play or one I’ve purchased myself. Based on my experience, here are 10 Things MMOs Must Have.

Character Design

Granted, this is debatable, but I need to be able to personalize my character when I’m starting a new adventure. There have been many MMOs I’ve played that just give the player a generic character, maybe including a few different hairstyles, and that’s it. While it’s certainly too much to expect a character to be one out of a million, I do expect a certain amount of ability to personalize them from the start.

10 Things MMOs Must Have

I’m talking about the ability to make a character at least somewhat unique so they can be told apart from the other characters populating a virtual space. While it might be too much to change the appearance of my character’s body in every MMO, at least having some control over how the face appears would be nice. Deciding on the depth of the cheekbones, the color of the eyes, and other small additions are always deeply appreciated. Later down the line I also like having the option to dye armor pieces to personalize a character.

Overarching Story (That Makes Sense)

Good writing and storytelling are hard to get right, especially in MMOs. I’ve played my fair share of fetch and escort quests, but the storyline needs to be engaging. Giving the player a reason to do the quest instead of just saying ‘here, fetch three mushrooms for three gold.’ I need some more motivation and substance beyond just the gold. Are the mushrooms part of a recipe to cure a dying warrior or are they being used to bait a trap? Will they be consumed to go on a spiritual journey with a great horned owl?

This goes hand in hand with the overarching storyline too since it needs to make sense. I get tired of the ‘one hero has to defeat the evil overlord’ cliché that’s so overused today. While I understand the need for them, the story should still be well-fleshed out enough to motivate me enough pick up my virtual sword to go dungeon diving for the next three hours.

And if the overarching storyline is going to be defeating another evil overlord then at least give me side stories that have substance to them.

Engaging Quest System

The importance of meaningful quests is another aspect I think many players can agree with. While I do like WoW’s quest system of pointing players in one direction and sending them off, it gets old after a while. I prefer quest systems that feel engaging and as if the actions of my character influence the world.

However, this can be hard to balance, especially for MMOs. Guild Wars 2 initially did this with the Living World quests by making them have weight in the overall world, and this is still somewhat true with the dynamic events. There’s a sense of being constantly engaged and that each quest carries real weight, instead of just being another task to complete to keep players busy.

Interesting Combat System

Combat systems can vary dramatically between MMOs. Some have typical Western RPG combat like Ark: Survival Evolved that give players a variety of options, such as judging distances, setting traps, and forcing players to be strategic in combat. Other MMOs, like World of Warcraft, require balancing cooldowns, managing resources, and knowing when a foe is simply out of your league.

Ark 10 Things MMOs Must Have

Combat systems shouldn’t be oversimplified, but they should include a mixture of tactics; no one likes mashing the same buttons over and over. These include things like a player’s ability to utilize the resources given to them, reflexes, and timing. The player’s skill and ability to utilizing their character’s strengths should be rewarded instead of mashing several buttons and just hoping everything works out in the end.

Rewards for Venturing off the Main Questline

Going off the main questline is probably something most players have tried, but many times there aren’t a lot of rewards for doing so. When walking around these vast worlds there should be rewards for players who take the time to poke around. Perhaps finding a lost treasure, encountering a strange puzzle, or even being able to obtain a fun cosmetic item or two.

Encouraging exploration helps players to seek out more of the world instead of just sticking to the main questline throughout their adventure. Even just adding in extra narrative elements for the player to come across would help flesh out the world they’re adventuring in.

Balanced In-Game Economy

I’ve played MMOs where the in-game economy was horrible and there was hardly any way to purchase items or barter without paying an astronomical amount of virtual coin. Balancing an in-game economy can be a bit difficult because many MMOs are starting to offer players chances to purchase in-game currency in exchange for real world cash.

10 Things MMOs Must Have

The biggest problem is this creates an imbalance among players who can’t afford, or won’t pay real world money for, the in-game currency. There should be other avenues for them to take to obtain an equivalent amount of in-game currency, whether it’s creating certain items, potions, or obtaining materials for recipes. There should be options for players to use their time instead of their real-life wallet. This creates a stable economy within an MMO and creates a more lasting experience.

Many free-to-play games that I’ve played suffer from this, but it’s also easy to understand. The people behind making those games need the money to keep the lights on and provide regular updates. This can be balanced out by selling extra items that are cosmetic only, such as special mounts, pets, and maybe even a temporary leveling boost, or by including optional subscriptions. These are just a few examples, but achieving a thriving in-game economy can be done.

Balanced Player Classes

I feel it suffices to say once you’ve played a few MMOs, it feels like you’ve played them all. There are always going to be the warriors, archers, healers, and assassins running about for players to choose from. I’ve seen offshoots and re-skinning of many classic MMO classes and even some new varieties that have popped up now and again.

Player classes should be well balanced to a point that if these different classes were put into a party they should be able to balance each other out. Each class should require a certain amount of skill to work well and be played effectively. Even when up against opposing classes they should be able to hold their own to a point or, if that isn’t an option, team-up with someone who can help them defeat the opposing class.

If Free-to-Play Then Not Pay-to-Win

I’ve seen this one beat around the head with a club for years. At the end of the day I get it, free-to-play means it’s not truly ‘free.’ There are caveats since the people working on those kinds of MMOs do need to be paid. It’s a business after all and to keep the MMO going it requires profits to be coming in through one form or another.

10 Things MMOs Must Have

I have no issues with free-to-play games, but when it results in pay-to-win is where I draw the line. I’m not talking about the ability to buy cosmetic weapons, or the occasional rare mount or pet, but outright allowing players to advance without any effort causes problems. I’ve come across several MMOs where for a set price players could gain extra experience and levels with no work. This is vastly unfair to other players who put in the time and effort to grind out the main questline and level their characters.

If the option to advance is there it should at least come with a few caveats. Perhaps players should max out at least one character before they have the option to pay to raise another to a certain level? Finding a balance between the two can be difficult, but it is there.

Side activities and Mini-Games

I love MMOs for the most part and I don’t mind spending a few hours of grinding to advance to the next area. The downside is that repeating the same tasks can get old after a while whether it’s questing, killing creatures for a chance to pick-up an item, or just harvesting for supplies. Most of the time I’ll have an audio book playing the background while I’m leveling a character to break the monotony.

Being able to have side activities and mini-games can provide players with a nice change of pace occasionally. They allow players to take a break from the main objectives inside the MMO world so they don’t feel exhausted from the constant hours of questing and fighting.

Regular Updates and Future Content

Sometimes an MMO can be great but not receive new content often enough, whether it’s for optimization, new content, or just fixing bugs and exploits. Many MMOs have passed away from either being unable to draw in a new player base or hold the attention of veterans.

A good MMO should have at least have some content or expansions planned years ahead of time. This way players have something to look forward too instead of growing bored and moving on to the next big thing. Even if they do leave, the content or expansion should be engaging enough to have them come back later or offer incentives to bring in new players.

Finding a good balance between these caveats is difficult and for the most part, I respect that. No MMO is ever going to be perfect or please everybody, but a good one will have these features in one form of another. Proper planning and decision making in the beginning can churn out some amazing classics that will have a long virtual shelf life.

Do you agree with our list of 10 Things MMOs Must Have, and what other aspects do you think are required for a fun gaming experience?