Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Impossible, or just never done right?
"Fantasy MMORPGs are more popular than SciFi MMORPGs", "Classic autoattack/hotkey combat is more popular than action-oriented combat in MMORPGs", "<insert your favorite MMORPG prejudice here>". It is tempting, but often misleading, to extrapolate the success of individual games into industry trends. Tempting, because game developers would like to have a magic formula on how to make a successful MMORPG following simple guidelines of what works and what doesn't. Misleading because in the end the only thing that 9 million World of Warcraft players tell you is that World of Warcraft is a very good game.
Although Vivendi already made it official more than a year ago that WoW isn't the last Blizzard MMORPG, a recent job posting on the Blizzard website for "Lead 3D Character Artist and a Lead 3D Environment Artist to work on a next-gen MMO" recently fueled speculations about the next Blizzard MMORPG. Although we have no confirmation whatsoever, there is a general assumption that that "next-gen MMO" would come out before World of Warcraft dies of old age. Thus a WoW2 or World of Diablo fantasy MMORPG would cannibalize the subscribers of the original WoW, and business managers don't like slaughtering cash cows. Which leads many people to believe that the next Blizzard MMORPG will be based on the Starcraft brand. Whether it will be called World of Starcraft or something else isn't really relevant. But the combination of the strength of the Starcraft brand in Korea, the boost that the Starcraft brand will receive from the soon to be released Starcraft II, and the growing importance of the Asian market for MMORPGs all make a Starcraft MMORPG seem like a plausible bet.
At which point we are back at the perceived truths stated at the start of the article. Of course even "Blizzard can make a second multi-million subscriber MMORPG" is just a perceived truth. But there is at least the tantalizing possibility that Blizzard could make an action-oriented SciFi MMORPG which sells as good as WoW. Nobody really knows whether SciFi games are *really* less popular than fantasy games, or whether it is just a statistical fluke that the most successful games up to now have been fantasy themed. Nobody knows whether the current type of MMORPG combat used in so many game is the best possible solution, or just the sad evidence of copycat game design. It is totally possible that with Star Trek Online, the possible Star Wars themed Bioware MMO and the next Blizzard MMO we might see some very successful SciFi MMORPGs in the coming years. And by changing the genre, with the possibility of having some of the action take place in space and not on a planet surface comes a good chance of us seeing some new forms of MMORPG combat. Then we all might have to think over our prejudices. Maybe all the things we think don't work in fact just were never done right.