Innovating the "Skilling" MMORPG Genre! MASSIVE Opportunity

Rewind the clock back to 1996. We have one of the first ARPG’s ever created. Diablo 1. It was so special because it’s something we haven’t seen yet. Just like buying your first Nintendo or owning your first PC. Diablo 1 showed the world what an “ARPG” genre could look like. Fast forward to 2001+ Diablo II: Lord of Destruction in it’s current form. It took the ideas of Diablo 1 and expanded it into something truely amazing. True innovation!

The reason for this post is not about Diablo or ARPGs but rather MMORPG’s. MMO’s are far more complex than ARPG’s in the sense that there could be many different sub-genres (Such as Eve Online vs World of Warcraft vs Albion Online vs Runescape, all completely different genres but all MMORPG’s) as well as the cost of creating.

The sub-genre we will be looking at today is “Skilling” MMORPG’s!

1.) Old School Runescape
2.) Runescape
3.) RPG MO
4.) Damascus
5.) Genfanad
6.) Eternal Lands
7.) Curse of Aros

What is a “Skilling” MMORPG? Well, it’s an MMO that focuses on your character “skilling” up a variety of tradeskills from mining, smithing, fishing, cooking, etc but I guess it doesn’t necessarily need to be exactly that either. The list of games above are the only “skilling” MMO’s in existence. The first being OSRS (Old School Runescape).

Let’s pause for a second and look back at my first paragraph talking about Diablo 1 and then Diablo 2. Diablo 1 gives us a taste of what an ARPG could look like, almost like an empty canvas waiting to be innovated upon. And so we have Diablo 2:LoD which takes that empty canvas and really shows us what a “next level” ARPG would look like. And I’m sure there is plenty of room for even more innovation but this not about ARPGs.

Back to “Skilling” MMORPG’s. So if we look at the “Skilling” MMO genre as a whole, they all suffer from the same exact problem(s). They are the Diablo 1 of the “skilling” genre. NO ONE is seeing this. NO ONE is taking advantage of this. Yet, OSRS as well as a few of the other games I listed are still extremely popular relative to a few things. OSRS for example has millions of players. Small crossplatform “skilling” games like Curse of Aros and RPG MO have close to 100,000 users spread out across the globe (Both are global games with multiple language servers)

Let’s take another detour. So if no one is taking advantage of the fact that “Skilling” MMO’s haven’t been innovated upon AT ALL, what are these developers doing? Surely someone has played OSRS in there childhood. Well, we have games like Stardew Valley, Rust, ARK, Forager, Valheim, Wild Terra 2, Minecraft etc… All sort of scratching a different kind of itch. The fact that players like to go out and gather, mine, chop, and kill monsters with large loot tables where the loot is probably used in crafting/economy but isn’t an MMORPG and not really tapping into what I am proposing.

Back to “Skilling” MMORPGs. So if all these “skilling” MMO’s are “Diablo 1” level of innovation, what seems to be the problem?

After playing every “skilling” game in existence, they all share the same problem(s).

[Problem #1] The core gathering loop isn’t fun. In every game I listed, the gameplay loop is for example: Mining Node —> Bank —> Mining Node —> Bank FOREVER. If you want to work on woodcutting then Tree —> Bank —> Tree —> Bank FOREVER. OSRS had a very large and well-designed world but it didn’t mean anything because you only went on “mini adventures” that lasts 4-5 minutes. Go out and fill your 22 inventory slots then go back to your bank.

[Possible Solution] This has 2 problems. The first is the inventory size which limits the length of your “adventure into the open world” and the second is the resource nodes are STATIC which creates this back and fourth gameplay loop between the resource node and your bank. Imagine if OSRS had randomly generated resource nodes like World of Warcraft as well as larger bags. The gameplay loop shouldn’t be about going to one location, it should be about exploration, “accidently” finding a resource node but you also have your armor/weapon equipped so you are also going out to kill monsters and find loot from the monsters as well. And since your inventory size is bigger, your “adventure” will last longer and it will feel like you are playing a real open world “skilling” game rather than a back and fourth between points of interest FOREVER.

[Problem #2] The core crafting loop isn’t fun. In every game I listed, once you gather your 1,000,000 ore, wood, etc you are then going back and fourth between your bank —> forge ----> bank ----> forge FOREVER.

[Possible Solution] If there is one thing I learned from playing Wild Terra 2, Coral Island, or Forager it’s that a crafting loop doesn’t need to be manual, nor does it need to be made easy. What it needs to be is “fun”! There should be systems in place where we can build machines in our player housing with there own progression systems that require “fuel” to work as well as time which is balanced in a way to simulate the effort it would take to craft it all manually. I’m not asking for “easy” I’m asking for “fun” but it still requires work to “skill” up.

[Problem #3] The loot we craft after gathering 8,000,000 ore is the same thing and usually vendored. In every “skilling” game, this is also an issue. We spend hundreds of hours “skilling” but what we are crafting for equipment is the same “Iron Sword” “Iron Sword” etc… “Mithril Sword” “Mithril Sword” and we craft thousands to level up but end up vendoring them.

[Possible Solution] Why not take inspiration from ARPG’s and when we craft the items, it can have valuable outcomes? Heck, the game Curse of Aros even has ARPG combat. When people think of “skilling” games they usually think of OSRS and a skilling game doesn’t necessarily need to be turn based combat. Curse of Aros is proof of that. The gameplay can even be ARPG minded where we kill lots of monsters for a wide variety of loot which is used for crafting. As well as bossing.

I’m extremely passionate about gaming. I mostly play ARPG’s and MMORPG’s and if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would have never played a “skilling” game. During the pandemic, I played Old School Runescape for the first time and it sent me down a new path of gaming. I was instantly intrigued on the game design and why people are so attached to this specific style of “skilling” game. So I had to find more games like OSRS in which I stumbled across the list of games above. All of which I have spent over 2,000 hours in each game. I’m telling you right now, there is a MASSIVE, absolutely MASSIVE, I’m talking 2002 World of Warcraft level of MASSIVE opportunity as well as potential.

I’m a random nobody, sure. I understand. Please read this and put your role-play goggles on for a second. It doesn’t matter who I am, what matters is that there really is a massive opportunity/potential here.

-Massive Open World Sandbox “Skilling” MMORPG

Gameplay loop would be the following:

You create your character and you are thrown into this massive world with a large list of skills which are all level 1. You as a player are intrigued as to what to do next. You soon realize that there is a single spell in your spellbook called “Home” but it requires some reagents to use. Luckily, there is a dead adventurer next to you in which you loot and somehow manage to find the reagents necessary to cast the “home” spell.

You are teleported to your own “Home” instance which is empty. Beautiful, but empty. You notice some form of teleportation pad, almost like a waypoint and so you walk over and discover there is a single waypoint which teleports you back to where you started, minus the reagents needed to cast your “Home” Spell.

From this point forward, you are on your own.

Go out and discover the world! Learn to craft a Mining Pick! Chop down some trees! Kill some monsters! Explore deep caves! Get ambushed by bandits! Find hidden boss lairs! Loot keys to open treasure chests! And along your journey, you will earn XP in every “Skill” you work on. Whether it’s combat, crafting, or gathering. And on your journey, you will loot reagents to cast your “Home” spell. When your bag is finally full, you can go back to your “Home” and start building. A house, a furnace, a forge, a cauldron, etc etc… Your gameplay loop will consist of going back into the world scavenging, discovering, exploring, to finally cast “Home” spell to slowly build your base. Until finally you have a whole processing station in your base and so you are now going out on adventure while your processing stations are doing some extra work for you! And maybe! Just maybe along the way you can even hire NPCs along the way to help in your processing station affairs in your “Home”. And while all of this is happening, you even have access to a player market, in which you can buy/sell goods from other players!

To get a better vision of what I am describing here. Let’s look at an alternate version of World of Warcraft. Not WoW, just using WoW as an example. So let’s say your hearthstone instead brings you to your player housing. Inside your base, you have forges etc built to queue up crafting tasks. The world is 20x larger than what it is now. The idea of the world is sort of the same where there are caves/mines (Like the Kobold Mines in Elwynn Forest, but a lot bigger/deeper). You go out and explore wherever you want. You find mining nodes, trees, gems, treasure, runes, monsters, etc on your journey. When you find reagants to use your hearthstone and your bags are full, you teleport back to your base to queue more crafting tasks and so the loop continues. You work on “skilling” in the large open world.

I think this is enough to get my point across / vision of what I am seeing. I suggest playing all of the current “skilling” games and see for yourself. Some of them have some incredible ideas. For example, the game “RPG MO” has one of the coolest Questing systems out of all the “skilling” games. Very well designed. Curse of Aros is the only one with action combat. I’m not a fan of questing in OSRS.

TL:DR Version: An MMO that mixes Forager, World of Warcraft, and a “Skilling” game. Dynamic/random resource generation as opposed to static to emphasize the world/exploration. A home base which is your hub to queue up crafting tasks via machines/NPCs that do a lot of the monotonous work for you but balanced around fuel/monster drops/economy. And the loot you craft is inspired by ARPGs where you don’t just craft the same item everytime but rather randomized loot with rare outcomes.

Thanks for reading if you actually read the whole thing! Have a great day! (Probably see you all in Diablo IV!)