Like a significant number of people, there is a non-trivial distance (14 miles, in my case) that I travel each work day to get from my home to my office.  I generally take the same route every day, in large part because it is by far the most direct one, and thus the quickest by a significant amount of time. 

As is typical in such situations, I suspect, I have found that I have become, um, “less than attentive” during such drives on most normal days after 12 straight years of daily commuting.  In short, I get in my car and start moving, my mind moves to planning for the day ahead or other concerns, and “suddenly” I realize I’m at the turn into the parking lot for the office.  If I make the effort, I can recall stopping for stop lights, the progress made on the major landscaping effort in one spot, the state of fence repairs after some straight line winds did some damage last month… but at the time of the actual drive, my mind was obviously largely elsewhere.  I was effectively on “auto-pilot”… and I doubt I am alone in having that experience.

What has that got to do with MMO design?  Well, I’ve been contemplating for some time the viability of a “memorized route” concept, which would effectively mimic the above experience in a couple of possible ways.

In play, the idea would be that the player at or near any “end-point” or “subsection” of a route could “activate” that route, and the character would then auto-navigate the distance between the two points… interruptible by the player at any time, of course.  Such a concept would allow the player to do such things as chat, manipulate inventory, review quest logs, and so on, while still moving… even going AFK might be possible (tho potentially not advisable).

It’s already somewhat possible to do these things using “auto-follow” and “auto-run”… this simply adds a level of AI to the equation behind the scenes.

Out of play, this could be a mechanism to allow the player to enter play at variety of different locations while still enforcing some reasonable limitations.  Known routes could determine where the character could travel while “out of play”; finding and creating new routes are yet another activity a player might desire to undertake during play as a result.

The devil is in the details, of course, but I think there might be some interesting side effects to adding such a concept to an MMO.  What worries me is, how could it be exploited, and are there ways to mitigate the impact of such activities?

Edit: I see this going beyond such concepts as the gryphon routes in WoW, or the original mounted routes in DAoC, in that you as the player could effectively create your own routes between any two points.  I realized that wasn’t clear from the text after re-reading it, sorry about that.