Players of massively-multiplayer role-playing games (MMORPGs) have been crying out for a renaissance in the genre. They want virtual worlds that are dynamic, worlds they can change permanently and leave their mark upon.
A truly dynamic MMORPG needs human gamemasters and the tools to let them affect the game world. But they alone can't make a virtual world seem alive and welcoming to the avatars of human players. The ideal game must include two other elements: artificial intelligence and player-created content.
Artificial intelligence (AI) gives the world a brain. People and creatures controlled by the computer would carry out little tasks independently using what is called a "planning" system. They would have particular needs and create a plan to meet them. If a townsperson needed help with a plan, he or she might bestow a quest on a human player's character. At its most complex, AI could give computer-controlled characters limited conversational abilities.
Nothing is quite like human creativity, though, and that is where the players come in. Players allowed to create quests, build public structures, and participate in politics feel more invested in the game world. Their contributions make the world more dynamic and breathe life into it for other players. The MMORPG company benefits not just from the free content, but from the happy customers who continue to pay monthly fees.
Dynamic worlds are the next big step for massively-multiplayer role-playing games to take. If the genre does not mature, it will stagnate. Devoting computing power to artificial intelligence instead of graphics is the proper technological approach for future development. Harnessing the enthusiasm of players is the best way to generate the creative activity a living world requires. With these added to a game with human gamemasters, MMORPG players will inhabit a virtual world worthy of the name.