Creative Expression, Art, and New Ways to Play

There are many ways for MMO players to express themselves creatively and artistically.  In my second blog post I discussed visual identity through character customization, as well as gameplay systems that allow players to customize their outfits and armor. This is the most immediately obvious outlet for players’ creativity, where many take it upon themselves to create the best-looking or most unique character possible. However, in this post I would like to focus on some of the less obvious ways of expressing player creativity.

One of the best creative outlets in a themepark MMO involves the notion of creating a “build.” This refers to a player’s combat setup, comprised of the skills on their action bar, their passive “traits” or “talents” (depending on the game), and the raw statistics of their armor and weapons. Because mainstream MMORPGs focus their gameplay on combat above all else, players are incentivized to mix and match pieces of these gameplay systems to maximize effectiveness, clearing encounters more quickly and efficiently.

Some games take build-making systems further than others; the first in the Guild Wars series gives us the best example of player creativity in action. The first Guild Wars has a very simple build concept with immense depth; players can take up to eight skills with them into combat encounters, drawn from multiple pools of skills to choose from based on the character’s primary combat profession, their secondary profession, and the supplementary effects of their armor. As each profession has access to hundreds of skills, this means that the skill combinations available to players are nearly endless.

An example of a skill bar from Guild Wars.

Taken from:

Of course, not all combinations of skills work well together, leading to a hefty difficulty curve. However, Guild Wars players are heavily rewarded for experimenting with new and unique combinations of skills. Build-making is almost an art form unto itself—some players have crafted specific combinations of skills that allow a single player to complete content designed for eight, meaning that a profitable encounter will reap eight times the rewards. Others have designed builds that exploit certain skills’ mechanics, allowing a character with the minimum possible health to only take 10% damage per hit, rendering them virtually unkillable when paired with healing skills.

The infamous “55 Monk” pairs a minuscule health pool with a skill that prevents the player from taking more than 10% damage per hit.
Taken from: Salamandra’s YouTube channel

While some sandbox games contain similar gameplay systems, their focus on players making their own fun gives them a bent towards more traditional expressions of “art.” Player-made housing in games like Ultima Online and RuneScape are a great example, allowing players to customize their own little plots of land with hand-placed furniture and customized room layouts. While some players choose to make their house as utilitarian as possible, others opt for lavish, expensive manors designed to entertain guests. Just as in real life, houses in sandbox games are a prime avenue to display creativity.

Some future sandbox titles aim to simply improve on the feature sets from traditional house-building systems (see Albion Online from last week’s post).  An upcoming title, Landmark (previously EverQuest Next Landmark), goes a step further by enabling players to destroy and create terrain and building materials without restriction in a vast open world with other adventurers. Players are able to create unique architecture, dig underground tunnels, and build vast structures. Though its sister game, EverQuest Next, was recently discontinued, Landmark remains poised to take the technology and content-creation tools of the genre to the next level.

Landmark lets players customize terrain and building blocks in miniscule detail with powerful design and content creation tools

Taken from:

While not every method of artistic expression in MMOs is immediately obvious, the wide variety of gameplay systems in both the themepark and sandbox genres allow for many methods of creative expression. From costume design to personal housing to combat theorycrafting, players continue to generate endless creativity with their limited sets of tools.