Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Where did the relaxed online worlds go?

When I was very very young, i remember reading some dead-tree magazine talking about online ‘chatrooms’ where people played a role playing game like dungeons and dragons. Its was probably a role-play chat room where people dialed in with their modems. It sounded amazing.

Imagine a whole alternate world where you could be a wizard! a space captain! a ferengi. A completely different existence free of the worries, stresses, concerns and hassles of the real world. Even as a kid I thought it sounded awesome. As I grew up, I found the idea even more appealing. Imagine a world with no boss, where you hang out in a space bar with aliens drinking weird space cocktails and talking about space stuff. No boss, no TPS reports, no income tax, just existing like a giant shared dream.

And then along came MMOs like everquest and killed my dreams.

Te way I imagined these online worlds were pure sandbox. No quests, no missions, no score, no rank, none of the status-chasing and accumulation targets of the modern world. I wanted an online bar. I wanted to be Quark, or morn…


One day I thought I may even get my wish when they did a star trek MMO. it was AWFUL. They were so scared, so paranoid, so terrified that the attention-deficit generation wouldn’t love the game, that the VERY FIRST few minutes of the (hugely goal-driven game) involve an attack by multiple borg cubes. Talk about skipping to the end. This was existing in another life, another world, another place I could call home, this was just a multiplayer LAN style game full of people shouting at each other to join quests. Amazingly, considering it involved real people, the average modern day MMO is LESS human than a singleplayer game. In a singleplayer game there is some voice acting and some interaction with the player. An MMO is a series of bland NPC quest-vending machines stood repeating the same offer like a speak-your-weight machine crossed with spam email.


The standard reaction to my kind of sadness about the state of MMOs is to point out that you have to play with people you know. To me, this misses the point. If there is a group of people I know, and can arrange to do something at the same time as me, I’ll go meet them for a drink or grab some food in the real world. The idea for me of an online existence is to meet new people, to chill out, to maybe explore the world a bit, but to feel no pressure. But this is impossible. I’m only Level 322 and everyone else is level 892, and the cool hats are only available at level 500+ unless you buy one on the market with 23,000 AddictionBucks.

The nearest thing we have to mazes full of human test subjects are MMO games. They are skinner boxes where not only are we all experimented on to extract more and more money from us, but we actually pay someone for the honor of being a test subject. I feel more ‘attacked’ and pressured in a F2P MMO or most MMOs than I do in the real world.

This is backwards.

Star Wars Galaxies (when it first came out) was as close as I got to that Zen State. I was a wookie, I didn’t join clans or go on quests. I knew a few people playing but not many. I spent a lot of time on Tatooine crafting stuff, building up my little hovel with its moisture vaporators. It was fun. I’d go into town now and then to sell stuff, trade a little, see what was going on. It was kinda relaxing.

Where is the MO for relaxed people who don’t want to grind. Is there ANY MMO that doesn’t have scores/ranks/missions? Maybe just Second Life? Is it not really built yet, because game makers don’t realize a lot of us are 30 or 40+ and have jobs and want to chill-out, not get into another rat-race?

19 thoughts on Where did the relaxed online worlds go?

  1. It looks like you would have loved the MMO I released by in 2008, Golemizer:

    What you’re describing was exactly what I was looking for in an MMO and yes I also played SWG exactly for that. In fact, SWG inspired a lot of the work I did for Golemizer.

    Oh sure, it was ugly and buggy but there was no grind, no quests, no XP. Just a complete sandbox experience.

  2. I agree, Cliff. I’m old too, maybe that’s why. Or maybe it’s just because you’re spot on with what you say above.

    Perhaps a chilled-out MMO is in Positech’s future? =)

    1. Dont know about elite, but eve is very gamey. People are obsessed with leveling up characters and money in it. It is only relaxing in 1.0 space, but I accept that it is pretty close to what I’m describing, probably let down by the lack of actual physical space in a human-sense to walk around in. Exploration is also very dangerous.

  3. I just finished reading Ready Player One which is about an “MMO” the whole world basically used to escape the real world. While it’s not exactly what one would want, it still has some quite interesting points to it. I definitely recommend it.

    As for an MMO which is currently in development, is partially inspired by Ready Player One and allows anyone to create their own planet with their own goals etc., “Voxelnauts” might be something that could come close to what you’re looking for – depending on how they manage to implement it.

  4. Obligatory “What about EVE Online?” comment. It’s totally sandbox and you can do whatever you like. Only MMO I’ve ever really enjoyed…

  5. What about Minecraft? Playing on a server with friends is very relaxing. Generally I play with friends of friends so I don’t know them beyond their avatar in the game. And there’s a lot of building and sometimes meeting others to trade.

  6. Yeah, which is why I stick to single-player games. They are more relaxing, and for PC games you can sometimes “tweak” things to get the experience you want. Lots better.

  7. Yes, this!
    Although that’s mostly how I play WoW these days. I log on for a chat, buy and sell some stuff, maybe go explore…. the game doesn’t really support that though, I long for something more to my tastes that my friends would also go play.

  8. The problem with status-chasing MMOs isn’t the grind. It’s that they violate the social dynamic. They up end isolating people rather than bringing them together. Online games are the best when you’re advancing the status of a group rather than yourself.

    Ideally a MMO wouldn’t have any player levels just group advancement. Almost like a big long term team based game of Civilization. You wouldn’t have to log in every day to keep up with your friends, just every once and a while to contribute to the cause.

  9. it sounds like you and I have similar gaming styles (and ages.) I’ve been building an MMO for a while and those are all issues I’ve struggled with because I really don’t like any F2P strategies and am more of an explorer and builder than a killer/collector.

    Miranda is a real time strategy game in the style of Command and Conquer on a 90,000 square KM map where everybody plays together. It doesn’t have quests and will be buy-to-play. Map exploration is something I want to do well and it will be perfectly viable to just spend your time building your base if that’s what you want to do. Not sure about crafting yet…

    I find Guild Wars 2 quite relaxing. It is pretty to look at and I only do PVE and map completion. It doesn’t really have quests.

  10. The closest game I’ve played of this sort, bless its heart, was actually on console: Sony’s Playstation Home on PS3. No pressure, no competition, little to no violence unless you sought out minigames focused on combat. Instead, you had a canvas allowing immense user creativity – with the hundreds of thousands of items available in Home (a substantial amount of which were free), it was possible to spend hours creating a perfect avatar or decorating an awesome and exotic home apartment space. Or, meeting new people and chilling with friends. I met my best friend for life on there.

    Tragically this wonderful, large and relaxing world was recently closed because subsequent Sony management didn’t “get” the point of it, refused to support or advertise, and eventually refused to support the server costs to keep it operational – even though, throughout its lifespan, it was always profitable… sometimes very profitable.

  11. It feels funny suggesting this, but based on your description I immediately thought “Isn’t that basically second life?” Sure it doesn’t have the fantastical or science fiction themes, and sure it’s got a bad rap of being populated by sexual deviants, but it does seem like Second Life was built exactly to cater to 30 or 40+ people who just want to escape everyday life.

    I’m not actually speaking from experience though, just from what I hear on podcasts. And it seems like it’s usually just people hanging out and doing weird shit.

  12. Myst Online: Uru Live is an open source massively multiplayer online adventure game developed by Cyan Worlds.

    Myst Online??’?s gameplay is a massively multiplayer online game, where players interact with others to solve puzzles and advance the story.

    Haven’t tried it but know it as I liked the Uru: Ages Beyond Myst it’s based on. (it’s seems practically single player game but you can have friends there to help)

    The only real bad part about the game is how it starts in the desert, you need to find some things and it takes forever to find them, once you get past that the rest is much more enjoyable and there’s some really cool stuff I haven’t seen in other games.

  13. So, can’t help but suggest, given your reference to being Quark or Morn, the many StarTrek online text-based RPGs that are around. Maybe what you’re looking for is really more of a role-playing environment, instead of an MMO?

    I’ve personally played at on and off since 1999 (my current ship consistently since 2007), when it was originally officially sponsored by Paramount. Most people play actual StarFleet officers, and everyone starts as an Ensign (or lower, at your request), and it’s all IRC-based.

    But there are no experience points, no “fetch quests,” no gold/credits to accumulate, and some ships (mine in particular) are especially “character-driven,” where our primary focus is the hanging out and interaction between these alternate personalities. There are mission orders, but those typically form the context for the character’s interactions, rather than being the main drive for activity.

    For instance, my doctor character with a distrust of authority (and pretty much everything else) and questionable connections to the Maquis in her past, has had to face telling the Captain to her face that she wouldn’t follow orders to design a pathogen for the intent of wiping out an entire species in its past (genocide) in order to prevent them from wiping out the Federation in the present. She’s been thrown in the brig (three days) because she waited too long to report that she was kidnapped from the starbase and forced to cure a convicted smuggler and likely murderer of a deadly disease, and once she did report it, the Captain and XO had already been poisoned against her by an ex-Section 31 agent forced to join the crew who found her a convenient scapegoat on which to divert attention and suspicion. To being trusted by the Captain to step up and run the ship in her absence, after the XO apparently died in a battle with Romulans. To enjoying an evening kicking back with some marines who put up with a commissioned officer for a few hours, while a few other marines and some pilots got into a fist fight nearby. :)

    1. So, it’s not pretty, there’s no graphics, and no achievements to unlock or high score to gloat about…but if that’s still something you’d be interested in, try googling “Startrek RPG,” check out the site, or, well, your system has my email. :)

  14. As far as your comment about ‘not playing with friends’, I have a group of friends from college that I play online games with a few nights a week. It’s a fun way to keep in touch – it combines the entertainment value of playing a sport (sadly without the physical exercise benefits), the socialization of being at a party where you know everyone, and the satisfaction of playing a competitive game with people whose company you enjoy. If my friends were here in town, I’d go hang out with them, but some of them are hundreds of miles from here. I do have a few “internet only” friends I’ve met through games as well, but for the most part, I enjoy social games because they allow me to combine gaming with friends that I already have.

    Pen & paper games with a creative DM (or equivalent title) are still the best for sandboxing, though. No finite computer program can (yet) allow for the infinite creativity humans posess, or react in the thoughtful and hilarious ways that a real person will. You can come pretty close to a pen-and-paper experience by playing play-by-post in forums.

  15. I know its not out yet, but what about No Man’s Sky? It is massive, free roaming, online, and you can play at being anything you want, from an explorer, to a merchant, to a pirate or whatever else you may want.

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