A recent Massively post asked the following question: Does instant travel trivialize MMO worlds?
Coming from an Everquest and Ultima Online background, my answer is definitely yes.
It may seem a little too Old Timer of me, but back in my day, we used to take boat rides from one continent to another, and not in the World of Warcraft sense. In Everquest, riding the boat took forever – roughly 30 minutes in fact. It was also a rather harrowing experience for someone like me, who was worried my brother was going to pick up the phone and get me kicked off the 56k line. If that were too happen, there is seriously no telling where my character would be when I got back in the game.
But I do miss that damn boat. If you weren’t there in the Everquest days, you might think I am crazy (you might even if you were). Riding the boat reinforced the community aspects of the game when I played. Instead of silently riding some fairly quick means of travel or god help us just clicking a menu, riding the boat meant you had other individuals in close proximity who had nothing to do for the next half hour but chat. Often, you would get players training their race-specific languages while riding the boat.
However, I do know that an ever-increasing group of MMO players prefer quicker access to content for shorter overall play times. I wouldn’t dream of making long rides on a relatively boring ship the only means of travel.
When it comes to friendlier quick travel, I think Ultima Online did it best. The world was rather large, with many islands to find on your boat (hey, it’s a theme!), but you could easily get from one city to another via the Moongate. In addition, every player could use the Mark and Recall spells either by using scrolls or by knowing a little Magic skill, which allowed players to mark specific locations anywhere in the world that they could instantly recall to when needed.
In addition, highly skilled Magic users could open up their own moongates to locations they had marked. This allowed players to all travel together to the same location. Also, the runes used for marks could be put in runebooks which made organizing them far easier. This also created a market where players would sell runebooks loaded with all of the major hot spots (dungeons, cities, player-run shopping malls,etc.).
My ideal system would mix these two with some additional tweaks. The game world would have boat rides and moongates hidden in the woods. The boats in particular would take longer than World of Warcraft’s but would definitely be shorter than Everquest’s. Again, I think this helps you relate to the world a little better, helps to make it feel as large as most MMOs really are before all of the fast travel kicks in.
There would also be a Mark and Recall system very similar to Ultima Online’s, though it would be more widely available (i.e. not require any level of magic skill) but still function as a gold sink. It would cost money to buy the runes to be marked and it would cost money to recharge your book so that you could recall more often.
Finally, for some people I do recognize a need to very quickly get to where the action is at. As a replacement to ‘hearthing’ from World of Warcraft, I believe everyone should get an hour long cooldown to teleport to the location of any guildmate, friend, or major city. I believe the major city aspect limits this enough that it can effectively promote exploring, because it gives you a way to get back if you adventure too far out, but it doesn’t let you zip around the world with no penalty. The other two aspects would helpfully curb some of the socialization lost by having more quick travel elements in the game since you would need to make friends, join a guild, and hopefully talk to them.
What would your ideal system be?