Over the years, I’ve played several MMOs. Partly for fun, but also for research since I work on them!  I started playing the Champions Online beta this week and was having a blast.  Then one of my friends logged on and I wanted to join him so we could play together.  Sadly, I couldn’t find any way to just teleport to him.  I’m not sure if the feature is there and hidden by an obfuscated interface, or if I’m just daft.  I hope it’s there somewhere.

Let’s face it.  Traveling from place to place is usually pretty boring once you’ve gotten to know the game and the world a bit.  After the initial “ooos!” and “aaahs!” over the pretty landscape have passed, all that is left is the ticking timer saying you have ten minutes before you arrive at your destination.

One of the major draws of an MMO is playing with your friends (both real life and online).  Some people simply don’t have all evening to play, and spending 30 minutes traveling is time you could be spending kicking butt with your buddies.  So, why not just let players teleport to their friends?  Sometimes, there are technical reasons, but these can almost always be overcome (depending on server architecture).  Sometimes, there are design reasons like the desire to gate how many players are actually in a zone at a time to ensure the world isn’t too crowded.

When we were building Pixie Hollow, one of the first things we decided was to enable players to teleport to their friends.  This decision was partly made because the demographic could easily grasp the concept, and partly because it’s just a fun thing to do. You are, after all, playing a magical flying Fairy!  We experimented with the server a bit, and were finally able to teleport with ease.  There really weren’t many technical problems because the server architecture was so flexible.

Naturally, there are design headaches associated with allowing players to teleport, at any time, to their friends.  Any time we added a feature in Pixie Hollow, we had to ask: “Will teleporting to friends break this feature?”  Often, we had to design around this problem.  A good example of this is the fairy parties.  We had to build functionality that checked to see if someone could be teleported to, and explain to the player requesting teleport that “you can’t fly to that Fairy right now.”  In some prototypes, we actually disabled the friends list so you could not initiate a teleport.  Even though it took more time for the whole team, the teleport to friend feature is useful and seems to be pretty popular among the players.  This feature was definitely time well spent!

Of course, teleporting to your friends does not completely solve the boring travel problem, but it helps.  At least you can team up with your friends quickly and start playing rather than wasting time sitting on a giant bird while you go make a sandwich. Ideally, a combination of making normal travel fun and teleporting to friends could be implemented.  Champions Online did a pretty good job with the first one.  Their Fast Travel powers are really fun and keep traveling interesting (at least for now). However, like I said before, they need some way to teleport to friends.  Games with multiple shards you can move across (like Champions), only make tracking down your friends harder.

In summary, MMOs are really fun with your friends and spending a bunch of time tracking down what shard they are on, and traveling to them is not much fun.  As players become more accustomed to concepts like shards and multiple instances, and the server technology advances, more MMOs should allow players to teleport to each other.  Sure there are design and technical challenges, but the rewards to the players are well worth the extra effort.