Teleportation: The ability to instantly transfer matter from one location to another without actually ever moving in the space between those two locations. Scientists have been chasing this dream for decades, and Science-Fiction writers and/or movie directors have been using it as a plot-device and/or a generic method of transportation for even longer.
In the context of MMORPGs, it is more and more often used as a way of letting players quickly “return to base” after having done some random quest in a far-off area of the game, instead of forcing them to spend what is seen as unnecessary time and effort fighting their way back the way they came. Usually it comes disguised as some sort of “fast-travel ability”, but whether it’s described as a map you use to find your way quickly (LotRO), as a special traveling ability using your knowledge of the “hidden paths between here and there” (AoC) or as magical spell that instantly transports you (World of Warcraft), the effect is exactly the same – you instantly teleport from one location in the game-world to another.
Another common feature comes in the form of fast-travel to specific parts of the game-world by the use of “space shuttles” (SWG), “wagoneers” (AoC) or just plain ol’ magic portals (UO, WoW).
In some games, you can also summon teammates to your location by magical spells, or to the entrance of a dungeon by the use of magical “meeting stones”, or open magical portals of your own which other players can step through to travel half way across the world. And as added in the most recent World of Warcraft-patch, the ability for members in a group to instantly teleport to the entrance of any specific dungeon, and when leaving said dungeon later on, being teleported directly back to one’s original location.
All of this is very handy, of course; it makes content instantly accessible to the players, makes it less of a hassle to team up with random players for a dungeon-rump, and ensures that you can meet up with your friends and guild-mates at short notice.
How exactly is this NOT a good thing?
As a long-time fan of the “virtual world“-part of MMORPGs, it seems to me that all these instant teleportation features are providing the foundation necessary to really turn MMORPGs into theme parks where people jump forth and back between rides to get short bursts of instant gratification instead of becoming the living, breathing virtual worlds I envisioned and hoped for back in the days when the first (graphical) online roleplaying-games started emerging.
Of course, my hopes at the time were crushed rather effectively after logging into Ultima Online and actually encountering other “living, breathing” players – but the dream never died, that one day MMORPGs would develop into “proper” virtual worlds where people would live out their alternative lives, everything was possible and unicorns would shit chocolate cookies all year round.
Instead we’ve headed in the opposite direction, and with each new generation (or step-brother/sister) of MMORPGs the list of “worldly” features has kept shrinking, and the focus on features that offer instant gratification has kept growing. We’ve gotten more instant teleportation instead of developing further the DaoC-style horse-routes or the WoW-style flightpaths, for instance.
Yes, I am aware that MMORPGs were developed this way for a reason. The size of the potential market has increased steadily, and there are more and more features being added to make gameplay more easily accessible by the unwashed masses who will potentially give the game a try, features that will hook them on the oh-so-famous leveling-treadmill.
I’m pretty certain, though, that in my own case it wasn’t easily accessible dungeon-raids with pick-up-groups that attracted me to a game such as World of Warcraft. It was the opportunity to experience the world of Azeroth with it’s lore and setting, being able to take a close look at a seamless universe that I had priorly only seen bits and pieces off in the Warcraft-games, and the thought of seeing female night-elves dancing topless on tavern tabl… err… hum… Let’s stop that thought right there.
Neither was it the prospect of being able to instantly teleport to anywhere in Britannia using runebooks and teleport scrolls that made me drool over early previews of Ultima Online. It was the idea of a living world where both NPCs and characters lived their own lives separate from yours, the thought that even while I was logged off and asleep in my bed, other people from all over the world would ensure that Britannia would keep changing, never staying the same from one day to the next. And the availability of a lumberjacking-skill, of course; I never wanted to be in game development, I always wanted… to be a lumberjack!
We Create Theme-Parks
Anyhow, I find it really sad that the general development of MMORPGs went down the route it did. I now long for the days of yore when game development companies still had mottos like “We Create Worlds” and actually tried to do stick to those mottoes, instead of constantly trying to develop the “Next Big Ride” that players will devour in a very short time before moving on to the next one…
In short, to summarize – bring back virtual worlds, bey0tches!