Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
A message of hope

Wolfshead is worried:
The reason why I’m in a perpetual state of angst is that I feel that the MMO industry has squandered all of the great potential that was evident at the cusp of the first MMO revolution a scant 10 years ago during the first MMO revolution heralded by Ultima Online and EverQuest. Sadly, things seem to be paradoxically devolving instead of evolving. MMO after MMO has failed to inspire me. There’s a creeping sense of complacency and predictability infecting this genre right now that worries me.
Victor Stillwater, quoting my elephant story, likewise appears anxious:
Personally, I’d like to be awestuck by awesomeness a second time, because sometimes, if you’ve seen and experienced one MMO, everything else feels like the same damned thing.
Me, while totally agreeing with some of their points on squandered potential, complacency and predictability, and new MMORPGs being éthe same damned thing", I'm responding with a message of hope: Having been around long enough, I've already been "awestuck with awesomeness" at least twice, with the original Everquest and with World of Warcraft. So while I agree that there might be years between truly great games, I'm convinced I'll see more of them. I don't know which game it will be, or how many years it will take, but I'm certain I'll be awestuck and inspired again by some future game.

It is not just that it is unlikely that lightning strikes me exactly twice, without the possibility of it striking again. There are also some solid reasons behind my message of hope: Means and motivation. The means are improving technologies, not just graphics, but also in bandwith, server power, or artificial intelligence, so that future games will have possibilities previously unavailable. The motivation is a huge pot of gold: The number of MMORPG gamers is still small compared to the total number of people owning video games, and there is no good reason to believe that there is a cap at some current number, be that "11 million" or something else. Activision Blizzard has an annual revenue from World of Warcraft of 1 billion dollars, with a near 50% profit margin, and that is a huge source of motivation for other companies to try to reach or even surpass that. Game companies might be slow learners, but at some point even they will realize that making more WoW clones isn't the way to get to the "next big thing". Creativity simply doesn't work in a steady fashion, breakthroughs after periods of stagnation is the norm, not the exception.
developers, sorry no publishers need to get things straight. They have to stop looking at the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but think before they rush after it.
A game makes a good game if it's fun to play. and be happy where you stand. CCP does not do things radically, but are happy with their playerbase and slowly increasing it, yet keep having a profit.

the mmo-market is slowly getting to the status of hollywood, where the mass-market is mostly crap, but there are gems. and you will have indie-mmo's which are just simply gems.
Of course, the huge gamble here is whether it was just the craftsmanship that attracted people. WoW introduced MMORPGs to a whole lot of people, and it remains their primary reference point on what a MMORPG is. The imitators aren't helping in that regard.

Any new sculptor's going to have an uphill battle convincing people that a sculpture of a tiger is not bad just because it's lacking a trunk and large ears. If they manage to do that, great. But I wonder whether the logical step from an elephant sculpture is not a tiger sculpture, but a mammoth: Same great features, but also new detailed fur.
Have we considered that the problem lies not with the games that are being released but with the players? Would-be MMORPG players are now savvy with what the genre can or cannot offer - and the fact is an MMORPG is not just about selling a game, but creating a community. For any game to hit the critical mass that WoW has achieved may not be just about the inherent quality of gameplay or polish, but it could be about capturing that elusive *viral* quality that launched the Blizzard game into the stratosphere. Making something go viral in a population of savvy media consumers is not an easy task, as many ad types can attest.

I along with some others in the guild have started playing D&D Online with it's new free download + micropayment model.

This is a game that most of us wrote off when it first came out. In the meantime they've been working hard it seems, and this latest version has really sucked me in.

I'm finding it far more engaging than every MMO I've played since those first (now rose tinted) MMOs of the distant past (Asherons Call for me).

Perhaps it doesn't qualify being it's old school and 3 years old now, but it does give me hope that not everything has to be based on the WoW/EQ model to survive.

I was also reading a little bit about Guild Wars 2, in which they were claiming that the old quest model has been thrown away to be replaced with more random (or emergent) "encounters" that would force more exploration by the players.

I'm think that whilst inevitably we have copy cat gameplay in the genre, there will be smart devs out there thinking out side of the box to innovate the model. What we need is a dev/publisher willing to do their own thing, and not be slaves to convention!
The other Genre's have gone through this as well. There are less than 10 or so FPS games ever created that drew any type of crowd... I'm talking since Wolfenstein/Duke Nukem/Doom first came out. There however have been THOUSANDS of bad clones.

I'm not worried that another MMO wont be popular. I'm worried that since Blizzard has made WoW so easy the next "big" MMO is going to be TOO easy and lack challenge.
I guess this means I'll have to be patient, in order to re-experience that feeling of absolute novelty or new-ness that comes with entering a genre of gaming.

Thanks for the message of hope. It is much appreciated. :)

-Victor Stillwater
You bring up something that I think we forget a lot: People have been amazed at games before WoW and they were and are still amazed at WoW. There is more amazement to be done, it's just going to take a major change in philosophy, like the shift from EQ to WoW.
it's just going to take a major change in philosophy, like the shift from EQ to WoW.

I fully agree, but have to point out that there are a million people out there who think there was no major shift from EQ to WoW, and that WoW was just an EQ-clone. Which is completely wrong, but serves as a convenient straw argument for the WoW haters.
I agree, something better or rather something new and neat will come, just give it time. That said, copying old stuff is obviously not the way to get there.
Most of the faults people identify with modern MMO’s are unavoidable in any generation of MMO. They will always feel grindy, and after playing them for six months they will always feel stale. Having a dynamic world is a nice idea, but one that always conflicts with gameplay – if you can really kill the dragons you’re left with nothing to do. Telling stories, too, is not intrinsically gamey, and is either well integrated with the game (and therefore really expensive and limited) or just included as text (then why not just read the book).

I feel MMO's are not finished but they are mature. If you don’t like them right now you probably never will.
I think you're right Tobold, even for people who are burned out on MMOs, and people who aren't big MMO players but enjoyed WoW (such as me). It might happen with the next crop of games on the horizon (like Guild Wars 2, which looks promising, or maybe the closer Star Trek Online), or projects further down the pipe (Star Wars, Blizzard's next project), or maybe something we haven't heard anything about yet.

Probably the best advice for those desperately hoping for the next awestruck moment is not to burn out on every hyped game along the way, at least not if it makes the MMO burnout worse...
You want cause for hope? Go check out Love:
The fundamental structure of the next "new" thing has to be different in several respects for the experienced market to feel "wowed" again (excuse the pun).

The model of EQ and wow, notably item based progression and group oriented endgame activities is getting pretty tired.

It can still be a treadmill however. People don't stop playing an MMO principally because they recognize its a treadmill, they know this from day 1. They quit when they no longer derive enjoyment from the bulk of the activities offered in game.

The question is of course, how to provide a varied and fresh experience that won't be spoiled/trivialized/destroyed by websites like thottbot and yet still is highly re-playable.

Will players still want to play a new game whose fundamental quest system revolves around killing 10 foozles? Or who's systems for player impact on the game world are as severely limiting as they are in today's mmos?

What people remember fondly is that sense of freshness, of entering the game world feeling an endless set of opportunities are before you and you can't wait to try them all.

If I had to take a guess as to what the next amazing thing would be, I would guess taking Eve Online and turning it into a much more user friendly, regulated experience. Do the bulk of MMO gamers want to develop a long term relationship with a game world they cannot impact? They've been doing so for years, methinks its time for a change.
On a tangent, I have always felt that you are either a UO player or an EQ player. Kind of like you are either a Stones or Beatles person, or Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath.

Yes you can like the other, but deep in your heart of hearts, there can be only one.
My next MMORPG that shall shake things up for me is something like the Shandalar Project here on this blog:

There are so many possibilities for the business model and PVE or PVP play.

Gear and stats are still be important with things like damage and damage mitigation, but can influence also deck building rules (limitations), card drawing, hand size, etc.

It doesn't by itself revolutionize the general "questing, levelling and story" part of MMORPGs, but at least it would have the merit of having different mechanics.

Before even knowing of the existence of Tobold's blog I was already dreaming of such a game. I'm always finding new ways to use current collectionable card games in a RPG way with players questing, looting, buying, etc. new cards.

Even after all these years when I'm bored of current games, I boot up the old Magic the Gathering PC game of Duel of the Planewalkers.
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