Friday, September 11, 2009

Random Shots: WoW and The Next Game

  • Back in August, Darren from The Common Sense Gamer joined the chorus of bloggers growing dissatisfied with the current crop of MMOs. Specifically, he's tired of everyone copying World of Warcraft instead of innovating. While I still find myself drawn to WoW-alike games (see my 17 posts about Champions Online), I am also looking forward to the next generation of MMOs. The question is: where do we go from here?

  • I personally view MMOs as occurring in three broad generations based on the dominant games of their times: Ultima Online, Everquest, and World of Warcraft. Each new game reacts to the ones that came before them, but these three icons shaped the MMO landscape in ways that are far reaching. UO was the prototypical virtual world game. EQ went back to the MUDs to make it less world and more game. Blizzard designed WoW as if it was a game with virtual world trappings. That's only one vertical slice of the changes made over time. Each successive generation has built on the prior, tweaking, modifying, and eventually challenging the precepts of the earlier games.

  • Games like Warhammer Online and Champions Online have tried to improve on the WoW model. But they are firmly in this generation, just like DAoC and CoH/CoV were in the EQ generation. It takes more than iteration to make that kind of change. World of Warcraft and Guild Wars ushered in the newest MMO generation, not by mimicking EQ, but by challenging the assumptions it was built on.

  • For those of you looking for the next big things, that's the hurdle some company has to overcome. Most of the ideas I read in the blogging community about how to make a better MMO relate to pushing them one direction or the other on the simulationist/gamist axis. Others just want to roll back the clock on MMOs so they play just like the good old days. Which is ironic for people waiting for something new.

  • Innovation is not easy. Some day, someone brilliant will have a flash and MMOs won't be the same. That's not me. It's not most people I know. Until then, we are most like going to see iterative designs where new ideas are folded into a proven mix. And every so often, we'll get something crazy like EVE Online or Darkfall to fill a sadly ignored niche.

  • If you are bored with MMOs, I don't think there is much hope for you. Change is going to be slow (unless something brilliant happens). But change will happen. Maybe everyone should step away from the genre for a few years. Eventually you'll actually be able to notice a difference.


  1. I think that developers have a damned if you do damned if you don't issue as well. They can create a game that is alot like WoW cause it works, and be told they lack innovation. Or, they make a game that does try to break the mold and be told that they such because they venture too far from what has worked.

    I'm like you, I don't mind the WoW-alike games as long as they have their own identity, something that makes them feel unique.

    That might be part of my problem with Aion, the gameplay experience doesn't feel unique enough to excite me about the game.

  2. Why does EVE always get left out of these discussions?

  3. @ Jayedub - That is exactly why I'm so frustrated with the recent wave of negativism in the blogging community. I think this is all code for burnout anyway. WoW is not their problem, though. It's the feeling of excitement they miss. Nostalgia and "the good ol' days" are starting to cloud everyone's judgment.

    @ Ardwulf - 3 reasons:

    1. I'm really not equipped to say more than "Hey look, there's EVE." Only people who have really played the game have any business talking about it.

    2. EVE (like Darkfall) is that niche case I mentioned. They're going against the grain, trying to show everyone there is a different way. But EVE isn't aiming for the WoW audience in any serious way. The game is too opaque to take on all comers.

    3. No one is bored with EVE. No one looks at these types of games and asks how to do it better.

    All of that said, now I have to post about EVE, damn you. :)

  4. @Ardwolf: IMO, EVE has shown what the largest possible audience for a sandbox MMO with a steep learning curve and FFA PvP can be. That it's even been able to get into the same league as the second teir MMOs like LoTRO and FFXI is damn impressive. However, it's likely never going to have more than 500K or so players. Thus it's irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    @Anjin: I agree with you 100%. It bugs the shit out of me when MMO commentators mistake their burnout for the entire genre sucking. Dig up the first post on my blog, that's pretty much why I started it. It's unfair to judge any given new MMO based solely on whether it sets the genre conventions on fire.

    An analogous concept to the "give me innovation or give me death" MMO concept is the "hopeful monster" from evolutionary biology. The "MMOs aren't innovative enough" crowd by and large seem to want a hopeful monster that caters to their peculiar tastes. Unfortunately, much as in the history of life, extreme mutants rarely prosper.

  5. @ Yeebo - I went back and read that post. Agree with you completely. Probably why I like your blog so much. :)

    I did write that post on EVE. It'll be up here soon.

  6. I'm in the same boat with you and Yeebo. Lots of bloggers/commenters seem to be looking for something new and revolutionary, but no one seems to have any idea what that would be.

  7. @ Blue Kae - Thanks for stopping by! I almost put in the post (though I pulled it because it didn't fit) that I would rather developers execute the standard MMO tropes properly than try to get overly innovative. If they can't get the basics down, what makes them think that the new shiny stuff will make up for it.

    I'll point to WAR to illustrate this. They put a lot of new ideas into the game like PQs and Tome of Knowledge, but ended up with boring PvE since they took it for granted.