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What MMOs can learn from Monster Rancher
by Joshua McDonald on 02/16/12 06:57:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


The Monster Rancher games, like them or not, had a unique approach to having multiple characters (or in their case, pet monsters) that could dramatically increase the longevity and depth of MMORPGs if applied. This article will briefly go over how it worked and what potential applications could be used.

Note: I know that there was a Monster Rancher MMO that came up a few years back and died before it ever made it to the states, so I can't comment on how well it may or may not have applied these principles.

Key points of Monster Rancher:
In Monster Rancher, the top achievement of the game was to become a master breeder, which essentially meant that you would raise a monster and get him through a series of really tough arena fights. If it was designed with the current MMO mentality, the player would make a monster, play him up to this point, then if he desired, take other monsters up to this point as well (i.e. level up a few characters and take them all through the hardest content).

In Monster Rancher, however, the game isn't set up for each monster to go through the same process. Because of the limited lifespan of each one, they could only accomplish so many tasks. As a result, players trying to raise an "everything" monster would never be able to achieve their ultimate goal, no matter how many attempts they made.
Instead, players would succeed by raising monsters with different intents. One would be to get lots of money, another would be raised for breeding, a different monster would be sent on expeditions to get rare and useful items, etc. Ultimately, each of these monsters would be used to prep a highly powerful monster so that he could actually get through all the hardest content.

How would you implement this in MMOs?
While it would take a VERY different MMO for characters growing old and dying to be a good thing, there are aspects of this that could be very applicable, sometimes with only moderate change to existing games.

The first thing this would require would be to have a strong level of interactions between characters owned by the same player. Items that bind to an account would be the norm, rather than the exception, and an interface for easily interacting with each other would make the experience much smoother.

Also, this design would work best if raising some of the alternate characters didn't take as long as the leveling process in an MMO usually does.
Once these changes were implemented, the designers could be focused on content where characters support each other. For example:

1. The ability to build a character who sacrifices fighting power for increased ability in other areas such as crafting: The hardest part about this option is, of course, having a game with non-fighting progression that is sufficiently interesting. Your specialized blacksmith wouldn't be able to go through top level fighting content, but he could make amazing stuff you couldn't get any other way.

2. Level-capped content with wide-reaching reward: What if the only way to get a component for a powerful item was to do a level 20 instance with a group made of level 15's or less? While many players currently consider leveling to be the boring part of an MMO, adding specialized challenges like this would make this experience a lot more enjoyable.

3. Content designed with non-standard challenges: Picture a 3-man instance full of glass-cannon type enemies whose damage output was so high that it was nearly impossible to clear without a group focued on burst damage and crowd control. Not every character would even be capable of being in a group that would be able to make it through. As long as there was enough variety in this type of content that no character type felt underutilized, this would allow a greater degree of new experiences with a new character, while at the same time, acquiring rewards for your account that your main high level character is not capable of.

There is far more that could be done with this, but I wanted to keep my suggestions in line with what would fit into the standard MMO (i.e. WoW, Aion, Warhammer Online, Guild Wars, etc.). The most important thing to keep in mind would be to focus on ways characters in an account could support each other, rather than treating each character as an individual experience.

Don't overscript it:
The one danger here would be making the mistake of having all of this work in highly scripted ways. Examples:

Bad: You have to be a mage to enter this dungeon.
Good: This dungeon was designed to be most doable by mages, but we're letting players have the room to be creative and find alternate means.

Bad: Your character can either ally with Faction A or Faction B, each of which offers a unique set of tasks and rewards.
Good: Faction A and Faction B both offer a unique set of tasks and rewards but the style of challenges from each faction are vastly different, making it difficult for a character to progress far in both.

Besides the fact that the scripting would make gameplay feel confining, it would also encourage lazy design. In both of the above examples, it is far more difficult to design the good content than the bad, but it would be far more gratifying to players who would feel like they solved and conquered a challenge, rather than just being handed something because they made a particular choice.

Though imperfect in its implementation, the design of Monster Rancher, encouraging monsters/characters who fill different roles that support each other, would go a long way toward taking MMOs to the next level.

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Jason Carter
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I have fallen away from playing MMORpgs in recent months/years. There hasn't been anything that really draws me to play a game, sure I try out the promising ones, but nothing like this has come out yet. I love this idea. It goes against the grain of current MMO philosophy and it's great.

There are so many things I want to see in MMOs that are edgy and non standard. This idea would fit in so well with some of the things that I think could bring a new level to the MMO world.

1. Player ownership of persistent housing and land: While difficult to balance and work with in it's concept, by having smaller population servers with large land areas, it would be awesome to see players able to purchase land in a game, build their house, maintain their land, protect their land, and have something that can be shared across all their characters (of their family, think Legacy from ToR).

2. Worthwhile crafting: When I say worthwhile, I mean a crafting system that gives you great reward and a high investment of time and skill. I hate basically every crafting system out there. You click x5 boots and you sit there and make x5 boots while waiting boredly. And the boots sell for .1cents each. What is the point of making worthless boots? I want a crafting system that is based off of skill, and rewards you for being skilled, for collecting rare ingredients, for investing the time. For example a mini game based crafting system: Blacksmithing / Smelting- You have to time hammer strikes on a piece of metal to determine the quality of the metal, skilled crafters will be able to produce high quality reagents and items by being good at the mini games.

3. Freeform world PVP: I would love to see a game where at any point, I could go up to someone and kill them and get say half the items they were holding. (PvP servers only of course) And that would flag me as a player killer in which I would drop 100% of my items were I killed by another player. (and they would suffer no penalty). This type of factionless PVP system where anyone can kill anyone (with PK tags in this type of game) would lead to the development of 2 factions (even though there is no set faction) of PKers vs Bounty Hunters (PKer-killers).

There are many things I've though of that I would love to see in an MMO, but these three fit in very well with your take on the monster rancher design. With faster leveling players that eventually die, you can have a wide assortment of characters and invest in them as a "family" especially if you can own property.

Thanks for a great read!

Jason Carter (aka WakeskaterX)

Joshua McDonald
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Thanks for the comment. Some notes

1. Land ownership of buildings and lands is something I expect to see soon but only in an instanced form (i.e. no actual geographic location on the map). Actual ownership of a geographic location on the map will be a major design task but awesome if someone can pull it off well.

2. Agreed on the crafting. I'm actually surprised this hasn't been done, yet. Casual MMOs have done a lot of minigames (usually puzzle-style), and a well-designed one could be nicely implemented into a crafting system.

3. Definitely a divisive mechanic. Some people love it, some hate it. I know there are games like Mortal Online that try for a more open PvP focused gameplay, but I'm not aware of any higher budget ones that have taken that on.

Jason Carter
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What I would love to see is all of this combined in 1 MMO. Of course you'd split the pvp and pve servers so that people who love pvp and don't mind the pain that comes with it can play that and people who want to play safe and kill monsters can do that as well.

For land ownership, yes it would be a large task to pull it off, however it would make players invested.

As it stands now these ideas are not popular among mmo designers. Not sure why from a design standpoint, however I completely understand from a business standpoint. Easier game = more money = better funding. So they draw as many players as they can by making the game fairly simple (simple crafting, simple gameplay, simple pvp, etc: outside of high end content (pvp and pve) in some games.

Honestly I would love to see an MMO that has an amazing crafting system, and NO auction house, and no major vendors. As in, players go out in the wild, kill powerful beasts, get lots of really great materials, and make epic armor to sell. Of course you'd have to have vendors to generate some sort of revenue by selling extra things, but imagine:

You are out hunting with your guild, and you come across a pattern for gold dragonscale gauntlets. And this pattern is really awesome and you are the highest crafter so your group lets you have it. You then join up with 10 people or so to bring down the elusive Gold Dragon in the highlands. This beast has the power to decimate complete groups. So you bring it down finally and it drops (not items or gold or anything) but something that would make sense, TONS of ultra rare meats, ultra rare scales, leather and bones, all sorts of epic crafting items. Then your group splits up the spoils and the crafters make gear for their group with what they got.

Yes this type of system requires you to be social for the high end, but I think that it would be immensely fun. You would have opportunities to do things that truly felt epic. And each piece of gear would be precious and feel like a reward.


Saul Gonzalez
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Realm of the Mad God seems to be an step in this direction.

Jason Carter
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I will have to check that out, I haven't heard of that. Granted I've been out of the news loop lately and am trying to catch up on things ;D