I think modern MMOs are missing an interesting opportunity, and the ones trying it are getting it wrong. We should be able to build teams / parties from the other characters in our own account.
Guild Wars May Have Invented This
Guild Wars 1 or just Guild Wars added a feature near the end of it’s popular life called Mercenary Heroes. See my previous post here. The idea was to allow other characters from your account to play along side you as party members. This was incredibly useful. You needed a party to play at all times since GW is an instance based game. And it was a money making opportunity too since you needed to purchase Mercenary Slots. There was a trick too that you could play. There are two kinds of characters in GW – PVE and PVP. And PVP characters are always level 20 – max level. So the trick is to buy your Merc Slots, then create a PVP character, assign it to a Merc, then Delete the Character. Your Merc remains. Then Rinse & Repeat to build a whole squad of characters of the classes you wanted. Necros and Ritualists are especially useful in your Merc list since there are some powerful Necro skills and Ritualists do powerful heals as well as damage. The Elite Necro Skill Discord does powerful damage and of course the Necro raises every mob you kill into another member of your army. Ritualists cause conditions, which empowers Discord. Anyway, you get the idea.
Why is this interesting?
Let’s take a couple of examples: ArcheAge and Final Fantasy XIV.
ArcheAge Allows MultiBoxing
Let’s look at ArcheAge. It turns out that Multi-Boxing is explicitly allowed in ArcheAge, as long as no “Botting Software” is used, but only manual control is used.
Come to think of it. How can any game make manual “Multi-boxing” against the terms of service? How can they possibly tell whether it’s Multi-boxing or two or more family members playing from the same LAN network? They can’t since the same thing happens. Multiple accounts are logged in from different machines all with the same IP address. And we have to be able to play with family members on our networks, right? Or from LAN parties of friends? Same difference.
Multi-boxing is very popular in ArcheAge. I see dozens of vehicles with lots of toons riding around, and I see groups of so many toons that it is apparent that they are MBox parties and not real players. Here’s an example of such a party. They just are mapping out through a portal to somewhere.
This means a separate account, and computer or at least “Virtual Machine” for every one of those characters. I don’t think that you can open the same account multiple times. Hummmm Let’s confirm that. Nope. Doesn’t work to run two copies from the same account, apparently.
So you can start the second instance of the program, but then it fails. So, apparently, these folks are using a separate account for each of the toons in their MBox party. Sigh. What a headache. Research indicates that these folks are using multiple computers – and probably KVM switches – to run these characters. Costly and a Pain in the Neck.
I guess this is sort of a “Pay to Win” folks Pay a ton for several machines and do multi-boxing. I’m less clear on what the win is tho. They sell things on the auction house presumably, and the more of them there are, the more likely the prices are low for the items they farm. These players make a ton of gold, I guess. But all these games have anti-Real-Currency rules, mostly for tax reasons I assume.
FFXIV has a ton of strange named folks playing with teleports and advertising gold sales for real money. That is of course against the terms of service, but Trial Accounts can’t do that since there is no way to get gold out of a Trial Account. So they are paying real money to have accounts that are occasionally shut down. I see many – 5 or 10 – of these characters blipping in and out of existence around quest hubs all the time.
Final Fantasy XIV Has Two “Broken” Solutions
Not for Multiboxing, but for forming parties yourself. Look, I’m not against playing with other folks, but sometimes you can’t find folks. FFXIV makes it easy and given the popularity of the game right now, very quick to find other folks to play with. Duty Finder, Palace of the Dead, Heaven on High, Fates in the Open World Hunts, etc etc.
But as FFXIV gets bigger and bigger – in terms of levels and content – new players are left behind and need help to catch up. Grand Company Adventure Squadrons were supposed to help with this. But this is totally broken. By the time you do the work to be able to use this, you are beyond needing to use it. And it doesn’t use the Alt Toons in your account, but requires you to recruit new ones by doing another list of quests. or something. I’ve not looked into it.
Trusts in ShadowBringers is broken too. Again, no use of your own Alts, no use beyond a few select dungeons in Shadowbringers. Again. It’s end-game content that everyone is playing and when you do the next expansion, it will either be there or be useless. It should have been available to all players from a low level, like 15 or 30, and used your own toons as well as NPCs if they wanted.
But Won’t This Be a Lot of Work for MMOs?
Actually, no. You see, every video game, at least all those that have Monsters in the World to Fight require building complex and capable Artificial Intelligence software to drive these mobs – Enemy NPCs – and make them interesting to fight. Alas not Arena or Battle Royale style games since the only fighters are players who, to more or less extent, bring their own “Natural Intelligence”.
All MMOs have the built in software to drive all the types of classes that the players have, since all those same classes, or jobs, are used to build the Mobs and Bosses – enemies – in the game. The software to drive your characters in your account automatically to fight along side you, in dungeons or in the open world, is already in the game. It has to be. Only minor tweaking will be required.
So How Will Mercenaries Work?
Here’s a candidate design.
You quest for a few and purchase more, “Slots” for Mercenaries.
You assign these Slots to characters on your account. Later you can reassign other characters from your account to those slots if you like.
When you assign the character to the Merc Slot, a snapshot is taken of the Gear and Level of the character from your account. As that character on your account levels up, you have the Opportunity to Resync the level of the Merc with the Account character, but this is not automatic. This allows lower level characters in your account to benefit from using the merc at a lower level.
GW had a complex scheme to allow you to manually gear your Mercs. Not necessary in my opinion. You could just dress up your character in your account and then Sync it. You should be able to Sync while playing that same character just to make things easy.
Glamour is a Thing for Mercs. Costumes and other Glamour is preserved when the snapshot is taken of the Merc. Whatever. Glamour / Costumes should be a thing for Mercs.
Mercs do not level up as they help. If they did, they might out level a character in your account and not be able to help with further duties. And since the original character in your account may be too high a level now, resync will not fix that.
Mercs do not capture loot or change the loot rules. They are invisible with respect to loot in the party. They are not farming bots.
When you want to do a Duty / Dungeon / Instance whatever it’s called in your MMO, you choose some Mercs to be in your party. Other party members might be real players. You probably can’t queue for a Duty in the Duty Finder with Mercs in your party. Let’s just use FFXIV terms here for less confusion. But you can party with friends and then fill the party with Mercs. Each party member can add one or more Mercs. The party size maximums don’t change because of mercs. They are counted as “Party Members”. So if the max party is 5, and you already have 4 friends, nobody gets to use Mercs. Go do a 10 person Raid and use Mercs to fill that 10 person party.
PreFormed parties can do Any party content in the game with Mercs in your party. Maybe you can’t polish off “Savage” or “Extreme” Raids and Dungeons with Mercs and nobody else. But a few Mercs out of 20 or 40 Raid members can do the content. Mercs are not slouches if properly geared. Not SuperFolk, but not Slouches.
Mercs are smart enough – not the most powerful, but as good as you are at that level and with that gear. Or maybe better since they do their rotations correctly. Not optimally maybe, but competently.
You have very limited control over Mercs in a fight. You can say simple things like: Free Action Mode, Follow Only, Defend Only, Stay Here and Heal Only to one or all your mercs at a time.
I’m not clear whether or how these rules might change if the idea is to extend Mercs for gathering. It is possible I suppose to have a party of Miners or Botanists. It seems unfair to have Mercs take loot if there are other Real Players in your party. But maybe Mercs do take loot – into their own bags or your bags? – if you are the only real player in the party. Maybe that makes sense to allow farming / mining / lumbering / whatevering with mercs. Just give them all picks and go mine the heck out of those mountains. That will change the economy, but maybe not in a bad way, just a different way.
I think that covers most of the issues. This design is based on FFXIV concepts, but I think it’s fair and works for ArcheAge and other games too. This is not exactly “Pay to Win” based on having to buy more slots to have more than a few Mercs.